Research suggests morality can survive without religion

Attitudes toward crimes against the state and those harmful to others haven't changed much over the last 30 years, despite a decline in religiosity.
By Brooks Hays  |  Jan. 13, 2016 at 4:08 PM
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MANCHESTER, England, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- Results from a longitudinal survey suggest morality hasn't declined with the decline of organized religion. The findings were published in the journal Politics and Religion.

"Religion has been in sharp decline in many European countries," study author Ingrid Storm, a researcher at Manchester University, said in a press release. "Each new generation is less religious than the one before, so I was interested to find out if there is any reason to expect moral decline."

Between 1981 to 2008, respondents from 48 European nations shared their attitudes toward a variety of moral and cultural transgressions.

In analyzing the responses, Storm differentiated between two types of moral offenses. The first category encompasses behavior that offends tradition or cultural norms, such as abortion or homosexuality. The second category includes crimes against the state and those harmful to others -- lying, cheating, stealing.

The survey's results show the link between the first category and the decline of religion is strong, while the link between the second category and religion is weak.

"More Europeans are now willing to justify behaviors that go against tradition, but attitudes have not changed when it comes to breaking the law or harming others," Storm explained.

"As religion has declined in Europe there has also been an increase in acceptance of personal autonomy on issues concerning sexuality and family," she added. "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."

The findings also showed the link between morality and religion was strongest in religious countries and weakest in less religious countries.

Storm's conclusions arrive on the heels of a study that late last year suggested religious upbringing actually hindered the cultivation of altruistic behaviors.

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