Moral of the story: Religion no more effective than any other source of morality, says Manchester University expert

Europe is just as moral as it always has been despite the continuing fall of religious beliefs, according to a Manchester University expert. 

The fast decline of religion is having no effect on our moral values, according to research gathered by University of Manchester Sociology academic Dr Ingrid Storm.

Dr Storm’s findings, based on analysis of data from the European Values Study, suggest that the sharp decline of religion across Europe does not equal a moral decline with people’s capacity to be honest and kind generally going unaffected.

The Manchester academic’s research has been published in journal Politics and Religion.

Speaking to MM, Dr Storm said: “We found that religious people tend to have a stricter morality for the questions where personal choice comes into conflict with tradition, such as abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia.

“But when it comes to universal conduct like lying, cheating and stealing, we see that secular laws and social norms are successful in motivating a sense of right and wrong.”

The research was based on respondents across 48 European countries over the period from 1981 to 2008, who were asked how often they would justify contentious behaviours, which she classified into two moral dimensions.

The first dimension covers the individual acting against tradition, such as justifying abortion or homosexuality, while the second extends to justifying behaviours that oppose law and could be harmful, such as lying and stealing.

“As religion has declined in Europe, there has been an increase in acceptance of personal autonomy on issues concerning sexuality and family,” Dr Storm explained.

“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.”

Across Europe, religion is becoming less important to people’s lives and Dr Storm doesn’t see this trend slowing down or stopping any time soon.

“I don’t think religion will become non-existent but I do think it will continue to decline in lots of countries across Europe.”

In a week where it has been revealed that the number of people in the UK attending Anglican Church once a week has dropped to less than 2%, Dr Storm’s research shows that more people are using sources other than religion for their moral values. 

“I do have a great amount of sympathy for people who say that their religion inspires their morality.

“But there are lots of non-religious people who get their morality from their own conscience, from social norms or even from laws and regulations.

“Religion is obviously one source of morality but on the whole it doesn’t seem to be any more effective than other sources of morality.”

Image courtesy of mrehan, with thanks.

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