New survey says people think Britain is in moral decline and religion could help

By staff writers
7 Sep 2007

An overwhelming number of people believe that Britain is experiencing a moral decline according to a BBC/ComRes opinion poll for The Big Questions, a new BBC belief and ethics programme. 83% of those asked agreed or strongly agreed with that statement, as against only 9% who disagreed.

ComRes telephoned 1000 adults (aged 16+) between 31 August and 2 September 2007. Data was weighted to be representative of all British adults. ComResis a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

The majority of people surveyed also believe that religion might have its part to play in putting the situation right. 62% agreed with the statement that religion has an important role to play in the moral guidance of the nation with 29% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with that statement.

But when asked questions about tackling some of the issues that affect society people gave a mixed response. Asked whether they were prepared to intervene or help a victim a massive majority - 93% - said they would if they saw someone collapsed on the street – although surprisingly, for some, those with no religion were slightly more likely to say they would help – 97% - as opposed to those who said they were Christians – 92%.

Some 61% of people said they would intervene if they saw two children fighting. Although if someone was talking nosily on a mobile phone on a train or bus less than a quarter 24% said they would intervene with 76% saying they would not. And if they saw a group of teenagers graffiti-ing a wall only just under a third - 32% - said they would intervene as opposed to more than two thirds – 68% - who said they would not.

Surprisingly the 16-24 age group was the most likely to agree with the importance of religion in aiding the nation’s moral guidance with 68% strongly agreeing or agreeing, which is slightly higher than older generations.

The issues behind the poll will be debated on The Big Questions - BBC One’s new ethical and religious programme which launches this Sunday 9th September at 10am – with a discussion on whether religion reverse our moral decline.

The panel for the first The Big Questions programme, produced by Mentorn Oxford, makers of BBC One’s Question Time, is: journalist Amanda Platell; Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the theological think-thank Ekklesia; Dr Jeevan Deol an academic specialising in religion and politics; and the scientist and broadcaster Dr Alice Roberts.

In an initial comment on the survey, Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow said: "Overall this seems like good news. The great majority of people of all outlooks are seeking for a better society and recognising that consumption and technology aren't enough. The results look like ethical commitment rather than simple 'moral panic'. But there remains a gap between intentions and behaviour, and the lack of moral consensus in an increasingly diverse society poses a challenge."

On the role of religion, Barrow added: "On the one hand it is clear that people of faith do not have a monopoly on morality, and almost a third of the population reject religious influence. On the other hand, a majority believe religion can have a positive effect - but the real question is 'what kind of religion?' and indeed 'what do we mean by religion?'"

The Ekklesia co-director said there were no grounds for triumphalism in the survey, either by advocates or detractors of religion.

He added that whereas the survey's approach might suggest that 'morality' is primarily about personal virtue and decision making, "it is also about the structural questions of wealth, ecology, violence and human dignity. And effective ethics means acting as persons-in-relation, not 'heroic individuals'."

Concluded Barrow: "What we need is not a vague debate about values, but people from different backgrounds and outlooks who are prepared to work together to build concrete alternative practices like hospitality, civility, non-violence, economic sharing, reconciliation, nonviolence and so on. It is about making a different world possible, not just talking about it."

Ekklesia believes that the Christian churches can play a positive role in encouraging ethical collaboration, but that if they are true to their Gospel message they should not be seeking sectional advantage or moral superiority.

"What makes morality is working together, not against each other or in disregard of the needs of the other. Recognising common humanity is part of the search for a justice and peace that Christians call 'communion'," Barrow said.

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Ekklesia's Simon Barrow on negotiaating the moral muddle - Guardian Comment-is-Free.

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