20 April 2008

Religion 'is the new social evil'?

A new survey carried out by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in the UK has sought to identify the so called 'social evils' in Britain entitled: What are today’s social evils? (pdf.)
Amazingly, for me, religion and the impact it has on society has been identified as being a major problem by the 3,500 respondents to the survey (or rather, as reported in the press - note).

I am wary of quoting figures and data, it is far too easy to use methods which ultimately don't give a true picture, are vague, misleading or have hidden paymasters who use surveys to promote products or ideas in order to make money or to prove a point.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have admitted that the survey results were not representative of all groups within the UK but were more than likely to have been weighted more towards white, middle-class residents - although they did try to target black people and other marginalised groups through social networking sites and online adverts.

Unfortunately, certain sectors of the press have leapt on the 'religion' angle and when you actually read the report it shows that of the 12 issues grouped as part of the coding process these 6 areas were considered primary:

1. Individualism, consumerism and a decline of community, 2. Drugs and alcohol, 3. A decline of values, 4. Families and young people, 5. Inequality and poverty, 6. Institutions, apathy and a democratic deficit

The next 6 were:

7. Violence and crime, 8. Gender inequality, 9. Religion, 10. Social diversity, immigration and intolerance, 11. Health and care, 12. Environmental issues

I think it would have been more useful for journalists to extrapolate the information in an intelligent way (i.e. first of all reading the report?) rather than search/scan for headline-grabbers. They somehow appear shocked that people have had a negative comment about religion. Anyone reading the report may have the same view as I do, whether believer or non-believer.

Some respondents stated that religion and belief in the supernatural has the ability and often does create division within societies and whips up hatred from one group to another. Others that state funding for religious educational establishments should end.

It is heartening to know that people, from a homeless man on the street to a company director, can and do use the power of their voice to share their experiences and ideas which may enable the UK to move forward without historical religious baggage blinding our future path.

I don't want to use any information to score points - not even if it appears to support my argument, but hopefully this will inspire someone somewhere to conduct a more credible survey of these issues, primarily in the area of religion, sometime soon.

Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon than the Word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize
mankind; and for my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that
is cruel. -- Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason (1794)

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