Is Belief in God Required to be Moral?

Posted by Jerry Roth on

The Pew Research Center continues to provide us with insightful studies of the changing U.S. religious landscape. In October, 2017, they released an update on a multi-year survey around the question,

Do you need to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values?

The survey compares the change in responses to this question from 2011 to 2017. The overall trend breaks out this way:

      Not Necessary - % of responses increased from 49% to 56%

      Necessary - % of responses decreased from 48% to 42%

The report concludes that a majority of “U.S. adults now say it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values ...” Increases in this belief were present across both religiously affiliated and unaffiliated categories as noted in this graphic:

 Pew Research

The author of the study, Gregory Smith, believes that there are two main factors contributing to this trend:

  1. The continued growth in the share of the population that has no religious affiliation (Nones)
  2. The changing attitudes of the religiously affiliated who share the belief that God is unnecessary for morality


In a Star Tribune article by Jean Hopfensperger, she asks Joel Nelson, director of expansion for Converge North Central, for his thoughts on this trend. “God is the author of morality,” said Nelson. “Whether I acknowledge that or not, it doesn’t mean the individual can’t make the right decisions in day-to-day life.” But Nelson believes a belief in God helps. “It’s that foundation to build from ...”

My own belief parallels Nelson’s. I believe that God, as our creator, is within all of us. Our life’s journey and formation may not have brought us to a conscious belief in or acceptance of God, but this does not deny the Spirit’s presence in our life. And given the many forces that can tempt us into an immoral life style, those of us who do believe in God should give thanks every day for this blessing.

As church leaders, how would you answer this question? Does your belief in God guide your moral decision making? Do you see this trend of a disconnect between belief in God and morality in those you work with, live with, interact with in your neighborhoods? If the documented trend (see Pew Research’s America's Changing Religious Landscape) of an increase in those who are not affiliated with organized religion continues, this will remain an important topic for all church leaders.


The Center for Parish Leadership can provide relevant consulting and training for your staff and leaders that is responsive to this changing church landscape. Please contact us to explore how we can support you on this journey.



Jerry Roth

Research Analyst

The Center for Parish Leadership


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