Jewish religious leaders have reacted to a national survey last week which showed that the majority of Brits thought religion did more harm than good, but that young people thought far more positively about religion than their parents’ generation.
Over 2,000 people from various backgrounds took part in the poll, and while 30% of 18-24 year-olds believed religion to be positive, only 19% of 55-64 year-olds agreed.
Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner said this was reflected in the movement’s youth groups and student initiatives, and in cross-communal projects such as Limmud, Mitzvah Day and the Jewish Film Festival
“Young people continue to be highly involved in Jewish life,” she said. “Many of them connect with the religious aspects of Judaism whilst others do not necessarily regard this engagement as an expression of a religious identity.”
For Rabbi Andrew Shaw, a director at United Synagogue, the figures were “shockingly low,” adding “that is the impact that phenomena such as Islamic extremism and the like are having on people’s perception of religion”.
As well as suggesting a surprising generation gap, the Huffington Post study also found that six in ten non-religious people thought religion caused more harm than good, and that 55% thought it did not make you a better person.
Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet of Mill Hill Synagogue said it was “unfortunate, but not surprising” that there was such negativity, blaming “the many atrocities that are committed in ‘the name of G-d’ today” as well as “people’s subjective distortions about religion” and “the liberalism and laissez-faire of our modern world”.
Linda Woodhead, professor of the sociology of religion at Lancaster University, said this only added to the feeling that religion had become “a toxic brand” in the UK.
Rabbi Shaw added: “When a person with little or no understanding of what it means to believe in G-d, looks around the world, all they see is religion wreaking havoc… No wonder 60% think it causes more harm than good.”