Study: As religion declines, morality remains

by Gregory Tomlin, |
REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

MANCHESTER, England (Christian Examiner) – A new study from the University of Manchester claims that while religion has declined in Europe the level of public morality has not.

In the academic journal Politics and Religion, author Ingrid Storm claims that the relationship between religiosity and morality is "understudied," but it is clear that Europe has undergone a nearly complete transition to secularism.

To Storm, it has been to present been "unclear what the process of secularization means for the morality of Europeans. Previous research shows that religion is associated with low levels of political and economic development. A potential explanation is that religion provides an alternative moral authority to the authority of the state."

In and of itself, such a statement seems to echo the philosophical theory of Karl Marx or the modern statists in Europe, but Storm insists the results of her sociological study are factual. They are not necessarily groundbreaking, however, as U.S. researchers have also measured shifting views on morality related to religious decline.

Storm studied the results of the European Values Survey from 1981-2008, which covered 48 countries and tested Europeans' responses to "moral and cultural transgressions." The results, she claims, betray a sharp decline in religion in many countries, but not a corresponding decline in morality.

Two categories were investigated, including behaviors (abortion and homosexuality) that run contrary to culture and tradition, and crimes against the state and others (theft, cheating, and lying).

Storm found that as Europeans rejected religion they were "willing to justify behaviors that go against tradition," such as homosexuality, but they didn't feel the same way about issues of lawbreaking or inflicting harm on others."

"As religion has declined in Europe there has also been an increase in acceptance of personal autonomy on issues concerning sexuality and family," Storm wrote. "Each generation is more liberal on these issues than the one before. In contrast, we find no evidence that moral values have become more self-interested or anti-social."

That comment, however, seems counterintuitive, as many in the homosexual lobby (and even the U.S. Supreme Court) have defended the behavior in terms of personal choice and individual autonomy, as well as by the rejection of religion-based morality and the authority of the state. In other words, self-interest seems to be the sole determining factor in what is deemed moral in U.S. religion surveys. Storm's findings are also only possible if morality is divided into the two divisions: personal and public.

Not surprisingly, the study showed a strong connection between morality and religion in traditionally religious countries. The connection was weakest in more secular countries.

United Press International (UPI) claimed Storm's findings come less than two months after another study proposed that religion hinders the development of morality and altruism in children.

In that study, conducted by psychology professor Jean Decety from the University of Chicago, said "kids from atheist and non-religious families were, in fact, more generous."