Two in three Australians think religion does more harm than good

A bigger share of Australians than respondents in most other countries think religion does more harm than good in the world, new polling has revealed.

But we are also more comfortable with religious diversity than the international average.

The survey of more than 17,000 people across 23 countries by polling firm Ipsos found opinion is evenly divided about the influence that religion has in society.

It showed 49 per cent of respondents across all countries agreed with the statement "religion does more harm in the world than good".

But the proportion of Australians agreeing with that statement was well above the international average at 63 per cent.

"Australia is one of the more negative countries regarding the perceived harm that religion does," David Elliott from the Ipsos Social Research Institute said.

Only Belgium (68 per cent) had a higher proportion than Australia who agreed religion does more harm than good, while Germany and Spain were on par with Australia.

Even so, Australia had an above-average share who felt "completely comfortable" being around people with different religious beliefs to their own (84 per cent).

"While many of us do not have a positive view of religion, we are not translating this negativity to fear or dislike of individuals who have different beliefs to our own," Mr Elliot said.

"In this regard, we are among the more tolerant nations globally. This tolerance may reflect our multi-cultural society or maybe driven by beliefs that negative impacts of religion are more an issue globally than locally."

The 2016 census, released in July, found a record 29.6 per cent of Australians described themselves as having "no religion", up from 22 per cent five years earlier, while a further 9.6 per cent did not state a religious affiliation.

Just over 60 per cent of the population identified with a religious faith on census night.

But the Ipsos Global @dvisor survey found only 27 per cent of Australians agreed with the statement "my religion defines me as a person". That was well below the share of Americans agreeing with the statement (49 per cent) but higher than in Great Britain (23 per cent). Japan had the lowest share who felt religion defines them as a person (14 per cent).

International opinion was also split when it comes to the importance of religion to a nation's "moral life". Half of those across the 23 countries surveyed agreed with the statement "religious practices are an important factor in the moral life of my country's citizens". Only about four in 10 Australians concurred with that statement, a much smaller share than the two in three Americans who agreed.

One in six worldwide said that they "lose respect for people" after finding out that they are not religious. The share of Australian respondents sharing that sentiment was even smaller at one in eight.

In Australia, 25 per cent agreed that religious people make "better citizens", a much lower share than in America (45 per cent) and Russia (44 per cent) and India (62 per cent). The international average agreeing that the religious make better citizens was 32 per cent.

Japan was least likely to think that religion does more harm than good in the world (26 per cent) followed by Russia and South Korea (both with 36 per cent).

The share in the United States who think religion does more harm than good in the world was also well below the international average at 39 per cent.

The story Two in three Australians think religion does more harm than good first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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