Does the decline in religiosity lead to a decline in civic values?

The good news:

Nearly a third of Australian teenagers have no religious beliefs, new research has shown.
The bad news according to The Age: it’s because they are all narcissistic, tight-arse, loners or they soon will be due to their lack of religious faith:
God on the nose with the 'Me' generation.
The research on which said newspaper article is based was carried out by Dr. Michael Mason and Assoc. Prof. Ruth Webber (both from the Australian Catholic University), Dr. Andrew Singleton (from Monash University).

They argue, according to The Age, that:

those with serious spiritual and religious beliefs were likely to be more involved in their communities and donate money … and be more concerned about their society than their non-religious counterparts.
Webber claims that the apparent disparity between secular and religious teenagers is worrying:
If you are secular and there is no other way that you can get an entry into those values, then that's some kind of concern to society as a whole.
I quote the newspaper report because the conference paper and/or journal article is not yet available. I have emailed the authors requesting it.

What is available online, however, is the survey questionnaire (pdf) used in the research. The questions asked cast doubt on the validity of the findings as presented by The Age and the concerns of Webber.

The two questions on volunteer work specifically exclude gaining information on the “organisation or cause” to which teenagers donate their time. Similarly the three questions on donating money ask nothing of the charity, cause or organisation which is benefiting from the respondents’ generosity.

These two omissions are disappointing and somewhat surprising. It may be that much of the time and money religious teenagers are donating is going towards their own church. If this is the case there is little correlation between religious faith and generosity as such. Rather these donations can be better classed as a hobby.

If, in fact, as the researchers and the newspaper article seem to imply, religious faith is correlated to generous actions which benefit wider society then there is cause for concern. As religiosity declines, such a correlation would mean that donations of time and money will also decline.

Yet is religious faith really the important variable here? It’s much more likely that participation in church life gives teenagers more opportunities to donate time and money. It forces them, as such, into situations where collective action is more likely.

If this research proves trustworthy, and the inevitable decline in religiosity leads to a decrease in teenagers donating time and money, it may be up to the secular community (if there is such a thing), among others, to foster spaces in which young people can come together and become more involved in the wider community.


plonkee @ the religious atheist said...

It's not really surprising. But not all those teenagers with religious beliefs will remain religious. And I wouldn't be surprised if they were more likely to stop believing than stop being involved in their communities.

Australian Atheist said...

I guess the point is that without regular church attendance people are forced into community building situations as often.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you AA that it has more to do with taht they are 'forced' (or expected) to help.

Some people will always want to 'do good works' the church is just one way like minded people can get together. If there were no churches, these people will still find a way to get together and do good works.
There are a lot of atheist charity and volunteer organisations. It's just that most of these are not advertised as 'atheist' or even realise they are 'atheist'.

Peregrinus said...

[i]“I agree with you AA that it has more to do with taht they are 'forced' (or expected) to help.”[/i]

I don’t think you can say that. The claim is not that donation of time/money is correlated with church participation or involvement, but that it is correlated with the holding of religious or spiritual beliefs. This may be quite different, especially where teenagers are concerned.

I’m also a little bothered by AA’s assertion that the donation of time or money to a church of which one is a member should be classed as a “hobby” rather than generosity. I think this is a false dichotomy. If I donate time or money to, say, Amnesty International because I am motivated by the values I hold with respect to freedom, justice and the rule of law, is that a hobby? If I volunteer for the Vinnies or for the Smith Family because I acknowledge a moral obligation to assist others, is that a hobby? Does the answer depend on whether my acknowledgement is rooted in Christian faith, or in secular humanism? If I volunteer to lead a study group, is it “generosity” if the subject is adult literacy or local history, but a “hobby” if the subject is the Gospel of Mark?

Nearly everybody who volunteers for anything does so because of a personal interest in the work, and affirms that they derive personal benefit from what they do. This does not depend on whether their motivation is religious or non-religious.

Anonymous said...

for dawkins & randi and the rest of the so-called "critical thinkers"...

The *MODEL* of mental health:

"Look at the ANGLE OF THE KEY....see that, see that...."

what a fucking idiot this Randi is.....a REAL CRITICAL THINKER.....


to see how we stopped James Randi's fraudulent MILLION DOLLAR PARANORMAL challenge.....

watch carefully the consequences of Randi's *idea*…..

For over 40 years James Randi Zwigert (is this even a REAL NAME?) has had total control over who and how the testing was conducted, yet despite all this he has terminated the challenge.

The ONLY REASON why the challenge was stopped is because he lost and refused to pay.

Apparently, Randi likes to break the rules when it serves him:

"14. This prize will continue to be offered until it is awarded. Upon the death of James Randi, the administration of the prize will pass into other hands, and it is intended that it continue in force. "

Great's over......


PS: Almost Forgot: Love the IRONY of the *BULLSHIT* sign over Randi's ugly little head....

Anonymous said...

Jonathan Baker said...

I think most donors give to what you could loosely call "hobbies", whether it be partisan politics, clubs, societies, the arts or sports. Why are you so insistent that only religious people who give to religious bodies (many of which are charities) should be considered hobbyists?