Canada

Poll underlines sharp divide on religion

The world is deeply divided on the question of whether religion is a force for good, a survey by Ipsos Reid suggests. The survey was commissioned as a backdrop to a much-anticipated debate on religion Friday night between former British prime minister Tony Blair and writer Christopher Hitchens.

The world is deeply divided on the question of whether religion is a force for good, a survey by Ipsos Reid suggests.

   Is religion a force for good?
  Country  % who agree
  Saudi Arabia  92
  Indonesia  91
  India  69
  United States  65
  Russia  59
  Italy  50
  Turkey  43
  Canada  36
  Australia  32
  Great Britain  29
  Japan  29
  France  24
  Belgium  21
  Sweden  19

  Source: Ipsos Reid

 

The pollster found that 48 per cent of the more than 18,000 people it reached online in 23 countries agreed that "religion provides the common values and ethical foundations that diverse societies need to thrive in the 21st century."

A bare majority — 52 per cent — thought otherwise. They agreed with the sentiment that "religious beliefs promote intolerance, exacerbate ethnic divisions and impede social progress."

There was wide regional variation in the results. Respondents in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, where there are large Muslim populations, overwhelmingly said they believed religion was a force for good, while respondents in European countries tended to disagree with that.

About two-thirds of Americans polled thought religion was a force for good, but only 36 per cent of Canadians thought the same.

The survey was commissioned as a backdrop to a much-anticipated debate on religion Friday night in Toronto between former British prime minister Tony Blair and writer Christopher Hitchens.  

Be it resolved

The two men will debate the question of whether religion is a force for good in the world.

Taking the "No" side is Hitchens, author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.
Former British prime minister Tony Blair and author Christopher Hitchens meet Friday ahead of their debate on religion in Toronto. ((Mark Blinch/Reuters))

The avowed atheist has written that organized religion is "violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children."

Hitchens, who is battling esophageal cancer, added that if "religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world."

Blair will argue the opposite side. He converted to Roman Catholicism after leaving 10 Downing Street in 2007.

Blair has spoken often about the role of faith in his life since leaving office and has formed the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which promotes "respect and understanding" among the world's major religions.

He will argue an understanding of faith is necessary in a world of globalization and rapid social change.

"Religious faith has a major part to play in shaping the values which guide the modern world, and can and should be a force for progress," he said earlier.

Debate sold out

The moderator of the debate said it's not about the existence of God.

"We have asked Mr. Blair and Mr. Hitchens to wrestle with the more immediate question facing developed and developing nations: is religion a force for peace or conflict in the modern world?" said Rudyard Griffiths, co-organizer of the Munk Debates.

The debate, at Roy Thomson Hall, quickly sold out. A live video stream of the debate can be watched online for $4.99.

The Munk Debates are a series created through the Aurea Foundation, a Canadian charity established by businessman and philanthropist Peter Munk.

Notes on the poll: Ipsos Reid said its online panel included respondents aged 18-64 in Canada and the United States and 16-64 in all other countries. The respondents were polled between Sept. 7 and 23. About 1,000 were polled in each of Canada and the United States.

With files from The Canadian Press