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Atheist teens lead the way

Posted by on Jun. 9, 2009 at 4:44 PM
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Atheist teens lead the way

Posted: June 03, 2009, 7:37 AM by Yoni Goldstein

Can we be good without god?

This may become a defining question for our time. University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby's has written a new book, The Emerging Millennials, which, while clear on the unprecedented rise of atheism, seems to suggest two irreconcilable answers to this fundamental question. 
 
Bibby polled Canadians on the significance they placed on certain key values, and found that believers rated as more important values like forgiveness, patience and trust. But at the same time, he found that teenagers - the demographic group that has witnessed the highest rise in non-belief since 1984, from 12% to 32% - are increasingly less permissive and more mature regarding issues like alcohol and drug use, smoking or sex .
 
The question then becomes: Is the rise of atheism among youngsters going to lead to civil anarchy, or are we actually improving? As Bibby himself said: "The thing that really surprised me were the positive results that point to the fact that we're making a lot of progress with teens."

To reconcile these two patterns, let me suggest that actions speak louder than words. As unlikely as it sounds, perhaps those polled do not live up to their own high standards. A person can claim to be any number of things; televangelists, for example, would certainly score high on Prof. Bibby's test of values.
 
When comparing the values of an atheist to those of a believer, one must bear in mind just which values we are talking about. Many, including Bibby, who claim religious upbringing is necessary to guarantee social values consistently choose exclusively biblical values on which to base their statements.

Kindness, politeness and courtesy are important, but so are social justice, equality, freedom of expression, accountability and commitment to democracy. These are the sorts of secular values I would wager atheists would score high on. But they are rarely used for such comparisons. 
 
Instead of wondering where society would find its ethical moorings in the absence of religion, the more interesting question is where our youth are already finding such alternatives and how they can be encouraged.  As church membership fades, society should grant the same funding opportunities to secular and humanistic community groups who can fill the void in a way that ignores religious differences. 
 
Let us also not forget that many atheists do not need a building with a partisan logo on the front to engage in building strong communities. Many parents sit on school councils, coach sports teams or form community groups at animal shelters, blood clinics or food banks, and in other countless ways atheists blend anonymously into the secular volunteer community. Atheists have always found ways to improve society while passing on civic virtues to the next generation. It's time those researching society's trends figured out how to measure that. 
 
-  Justin Trottier is Executive Director of the Centre for Inquiry Canada. www.cficanada.ca

"The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion," Founding Father Thomas Paine.

 

by on Jun. 9, 2009 at 4:44 PM
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Intrepid
by on Jun. 12, 2009 at 6:16 PM

I would like to see personal responsibility added to the list of coveted values too. I believe that those who value personal responsibility inherrently show greater courtesy, patience and kindness than those who do not. And amazingly, a sense of personal responsibility comfortably exists exclusive of belief in any diety or fear of eternal damnation.

DaniT
by Head Admin on Jun. 13, 2009 at 1:46 PM


Quoting Intrepid:

I would like to see personal responsibility added to the list of coveted values too. I believe that those who value personal responsibility inherrently show greater courtesy, patience and kindness than those who do not. And amazingly, a sense of personal responsibility comfortably exists exclusive of belief in any diety or fear of eternal damnation.

We're teaching the "six pillars of character" at our Rational Sunday School: 
Trustworthiness, Respect, Fairness, Caring, Citizenship, and yep, Responsibility!

"The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion," Founding Father Thomas Paine.

 

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