How does religion affect people?

By Nathan Clark and James Smyth

The purpose of this experiment was to measure the effect of religious beliefs on the morals, ethics, and activities of high school students. To accomplish this, we created surveys 21-question surveys and randomly passed them out in the halls of Carmel High School. We asked twenty-one moral and ethical questions; at the end, we asked whether the person considered himself “Religious,” “Spiritual,” or “Non-Religious/Non-Spiritual.” We then compared the opinions of these groups.

We printed over a hundred surveys and analyzed ninety-three. According to the American Research Group’s Margin of Error Calculator (http://www.americanresearchgroup.com/moe.html), our margin of error was 10.08%. This margin of error is uncomfortably large, but we passed out as many surveys as we could print and some were never returned to us. Also, we surveyed a disproportionate number of sophomores; I suspect this is because we are naturally afraid to bother people older than us and we primarily conducted our polling in the vast open area near the pillars and Greyhound Station. In retrospect, we also should have surveyed in the senior hallway, freshman hallway, and cafeteria commons, but we ran out of surveys before we could do that.

We hypothesized that religious people would have stricter moral codes than the non-religious. They would be mostly Republican and more trusting of the media; they would also pray to God for assistance in their life and be more disposed towards teaching their children their religion. They might have better grades due to a heavier faith in their parents’ way of life and perhaps even help from God due to prayer.
We hypothesized that non-religious people would have looser morals and more tolerance for other religions. They would be less likely to believe that people and the world are good, but more likely to believe money is good. They would not attend religious services as often, but some would probably still attend religious services. They would feel more independence from the “system”; thus, they would be more politically liberal, would not trust the mainstream media, and might have lower grades.

“Spiritual” people were the hardest to predict. “Spiritual/Non-Religious” would have been a more accurate moniker for this group, but we thought it would be interesting to see how many people would be reluctant, or even ashamed, to call themselves Religious. We suspected that their opinions would be a compromise between religious and non-religious, but more sympathetic to the non-religious, because a spiritual person would answer to himself, rather than a religion, for his beliefs. Thus, he would probably not have many set opinions about anything.

(Results are enclosed.)

Results generally followed our hypothesis, with a few exceptions. Though religious people generally had better morals and were more socially conservative than their counterparts, in some cases they were also less cynical and pessimistic, despite the stereotype that churches hate everything that challenges them. Over 40% of religious people considered the world essentially good, compared to about 5% in the other two groups. While almost half of religious people and a quarter of spiritual people believed the world and humanity is essentially bad, only 14.7% of religious people shared these sentiments. In addition, 16.7% of non-religious considered money the source of all evil, compared to 0% of religious and 2.9% of spiritual people.

There was no great difference in grades between religious, non-religious, and spiritual people, even though religious people pray to God for assistance more often. Religious people had a higher average than non-religious by 0.34 points, a relatively small sum.

Few people believed that religion is the only way to a happy life. The religious people were nearly split in half, while the spiritual and non-religious people were almost unanimous in rejecting religion as the only path to happiness. When asked if religion is the only path to a happy afterlife, however, 85% of religious, 37% of spiritual, and 10% of non-religious people concurred. The non-religious contingent is interesting; though these claim to have no religion or spirituality, a small minority still sides with the religious.

Question #11, on plans for the religious education of children, should be thrown out. I was asked many times for a compromise choice between teaching the faith and giving the kids freedom; this indecisiveness may have colored the numbers.

In ethical issues like cloning, abortion, and genetic engineering, religious people are more strict than the other two groups, yet they are divided on how strict they should be. The majority of religious support cloning for medical purposes and genetic engineering to eliminate diseases and a strong contingent of religious (and spiritual and non-religious) people support conditional abortion. About a quarter of religious people break from the platform even on the issues of assisted suicide and pre-marital sex.

Spiritual people and non-religious gave roughly the same answers for several questions, forming a small front against the religious. Compromise choices were the most popular among spiritual people, as we expected. None of the groups was a strong supporter of a world of completely black and white morals.
Our 20th question, “Do you believe that everybody is equal in America?” brought interesting responses. The majority of religious people believe everyone is equal America, but only a quarter of non-religious and 14% of spiritual people agree with them. Perhaps spiritual and non-religious people do not believe in American equality because of the intolerance that many face.

Another question stands out: “Do you trust the mainstream media?” We expected the non-religious to be alone in their distaste for newspapers, television, and radio, but according to our poll, about 80% of every group distrusted the media. This could be danger for our telephone companies.

In short, our experiment was a success. For a high school project, it was excellent; if asked to perform this experiment, however, I would make some changes. I would give some of the questions clearer answers and I might add more questions to the poll. Most importantly, I would pass out surveys randomly in every location at Carmel to draw a more diverse group. Nevertheless, we drew many observations from our experiment. Religion does affect people, after all.

1. What political party do you consider yourself?
A. Republican (Religious – 47.1%; Spiritual – 20%; Non-R/S – 20.8%)
B. Democratic (Religious – 5.9%; Spiritual – 22.9%; Non-R/S – 8.3%)
C. Independent (Religious – 8.8%; Spiritual – 11.4%; Non-R/S – 12.5%)
D. Anarchy (Religious – 0%; Spiritual – 11.4%; Non-R/S – 25%)
E. Don’t care (Religious – 36.1%; Spiritual – 34.3%; Non-R/S – 33.3%)

2. The world is…
A. Essentially good (Religious – 41.2%; Spiritual – 5.7%; Non-R/S – 4.2%)
B. Balanced (Religious – 44.1%; Spiritual – 74.3%; Non-R/S – 50%)
C. Essentially bad (Religious – 14.7%; Spiritual – 20%; Non-R/S – 45.8%)

3. People are…
A. Essentially good (Religious – 23.5%; Spiritual – 20.6%; Non-R/S – 0%)
B. Balanced (Religious – 61.8%; Spiritual – 47.1%; Non-R/S – 45.8%)
C. Essentially bad (Religious – 14.7%; Spiritual – 32.4%; Non-R/S – 54.2%)

4. Money is…
A. The source of all evil (Religious – 0%; Spiritual – 2.9%; Non-R/S – 16.7%)
B. The source of all happiness (Religious – 5.9%; Spiritual – 14.3%; Non-R/S – 29.2%)
C. Necessary (Religious – 52.9%; Spiritual – 40%; Non-R/S – 29.2%)
D. Good as long as without excess (Religious – 41.2%; Spiritual – 42.9%; Non-R/S – 25%)

5. Do you ever pray to God for assistance in life?
A. Yes (Religious – 94.1%; Spiritual – 62.9%; Non-R/S – 33.3%)
B. No (Religious – 5.9%; Spiritual – 37.1%; Non-R/S – 66.7%)

6. What is your approximate GPA?
A. 4.0 (Religious – 20.6%; Spiritual – 22.9%; Non-R/S – 8.3%)
B. 3.5 (Religious – 29.4%; Spiritual – 25.7%; Non-R/S – 33.3%)
C. 3.0 (Religious – 41.2%; Spiritual – 40%; Non-R/S – 33.3%)
D. 2.0 (Religious – 8.8%; Spiritual – 8.6%; Non-R/S – 16.7%)
E. 1.0 (Religious – 0%; Spiritual – 2.9%; Non-R/S – 8.3%)
AVERAGE GPA: (Religious – 3.26; Spiritual – 3.21; Non-R/S – 2.92)

7. How often do you attend religious services?
A. Weekly (Religious – 79.4%; Spiritual – 28.6%; Non-R/S – 8.3%)
B. Occasionally (Religious – 14.7%; Spiritual – 37.1%; Non-R/S – 20.8%)
C. Holidays (Religious – 5.9%; Spiritual – 8.6%; Non-R/S – 20.8%)
D. Never (Religious – 0%; Spiritual – 25.7%; Non-R/S – 50%)

8. Do you believe that religion is the only way to a happy life?
A. Yes (Religious – 52.9%; Spiritual – 8.6%; Non-R/S – 0%)
B. No (Religious – 47.1%; Spiritual – 91.4%; Non-R/S – 100%)

9. Do you believe religion is the only way to a happy afterlife?
A. Yes (Religious – 85.3%; Spiritual – 37.1%; Non-R/S – 9.1%)
B. No (Religious – 14.7%; Spiritual – 54.3%; Non-R/S – 68.2%)
C. I don’t believe in life after death (Religious – 0%; Spiritual – 8.6%; Non-R/S – 22.7%)

10. Do you trust the mainstream media?
A. Yes (Religious – 17.6%; Spiritual – 22.9%; Non-R/S – 13.0%)
B. No (Religious – 82.4%; Spiritual – 77.1%; Non-R/S – 87.0%)

11. When you have children…
A. Will you teach them your religion (Religious – 81.8%; Spiritual – 37.1%; Non-R/S – 8.3%)
B. Let them choose their own way (Religious – 18.2%; Spiritual – 62.9%; Non-R/S – 91.7%)

12. Do you believe that scientists should be allowed to clone
A. Yes (Religious – 20.6%; Spiritual – 29.4%; Non-R/S – 45.8%)
B. Not humans, but for medical discoveries (Religious – 61.8%; Spiritual – 58.8%; Non-R/S – 45.8%)
C. Never (Religious – 17.6%; Spiritual – 11.8%; Non-R/S – 8.3%)

13. How often do you drink alcohol?
A. Once a week or more (Religious – 0%; Spiritual – 11.4%; Non-R/S – 16.7%)
B. Once a month (Religious – 8.8%; Spiritual – 11.4%; Non-R/S – 20.8%)
C. Occasionally (Religious – 20.6%; Spiritual – 29.4%; Non-R/S – 25%)
D. Never (Religious – 70.6%; Spiritual – 48.6%; Non-R/S – 37.5%)

14. How often do you use drugs (besides alcohol)?
A. Once a week or more (Religious – 2.9%; Spiritual – 5.7%; Non-R/S – 8.3%)
B. Once a month (Religious – 5.9%; Spiritual – 5.7%; Non-R/S – 4.2%)
C. Every few months (Religious – 5.9%; Spiritual – 11.4%; Non-R/S – 16.7%)
D. Never (Religious – 85.3%; Spiritual – 77.1%; Non-R/S – 70.8%)

15. Do you believe there is a set right and wrong and no in between?
A. Yes (Religious – 36.4%; Spiritual – 11.4%; Non-R/S – 12.5%)
B. No (Religious – 63.6%; Spiritual – 88.6%; Non-R/S – 87.5%)

16. Do you believe that abortion should be allowed?
A. Yes (Religious – 5.9%; Spiritual – 47.1%; Non-R/S – 58.3%)
B. Only in rape cases or cases where the mother will otherwise die (Religious – 41.2%; Spiritual – 41.2%; Non-R/S – 29.2%)
C. Never (Religious – 52.9%; Spiritual – 11.8%; Non-R/S – 12.5%)

17. Do you believe genetic engineering should be allowed?
A. Yes (Religious – 17.6%; Spiritual – 25.7%; Non-R/S – 50%)
B. Only for ridding people of diseases (Religious – 61.8%; Spiritual – 65.7%; Non-R/S – 37.5%)
C. Never (Religious – 20.6%; Spiritual – 8.6%; Non-R/S – 12.5%)

18. Do you believe that assisted suicide for the terminally ill should be allowed?
A. Yes (Religious – 26.5%; Spiritual – 68.6%; Non-R/S – 75%)
B. No (Religious – 73.5%; Spiritual – 31.4%; Non-R/S – 25%)

19. Do you believe that pre-marital sex is wrong?
A. Yes (Religious – 70.6%; Spiritual – 40%; Non-R/S – 16.7%)
B. No (Religious – 29.4%; Spiritual – 60%; Non-R/S – 83.3%)

20. Do you believe that everybody is equal in America?
A. Yes (Religious – 64.7%; Spiritual – 14.3%; Non-R/S – 25%)
B. No (Religious – 35.3%; Spiritual – 85.7%; Non-R/S – 75%)

21. How do you consider yourself?
A. Religious (34 – 36.6%)
B. Spiritual (35 – 37.6%)
C. Non-Religious/Non-Spiritual (24 – 25.8%)

NUMBER OF SURVEYS: 93

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