The end of religion lessons in schools leads to a general decline in belief but not in morals | Torsten Bell
Losing My Religion was one of the defining songs of my youth, thanks to REM. More importantly (unless you care a lot about teenage angst), our collective loss of belief matters enormously to the evolution of society. When I was born there were twice as many of us Christians had no religion. Today, more of us are atheists than Christians and it only seems slightly higher half of British Christians believe in God. We see a similar picture across Europe, although overall religion is less in the background.
We tend to view religiosity as a personal decision, but new search examining the role of the school shows that collective choices have a role to play. The authors use data from Germany, exploiting the fact that religious education mandated by the postwar West German constitution was suppressed in different states at different times starting in the 1970s. abolition greatly reduces religiosity, both in private (less prayer) and in public (church attendance). The effect was greatest in Catholic areas.
Before social conservatives mobilized, note that there was no impact on moral or ethical views, life satisfaction, or political orientation. This may be because religious education has been replaced by non-denominational ethical education, rather than more math.
But less religion has had wider effects, reducing the prevalence of people believing gender should determine who does what work or that women can’t use technical devices as well as men. It is no coincidence that labor market participation and incomes have increased and the number of marriages and children have decreased.
Religion has shaped our societies immensely for millennia, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that its decline does the same today.