Study Asks, “Does Morality Decline Without Religion?”

by Avery Foley on February 3, 2016

There was a time when Europe was considered culturally Christian and missionaries were sent to the corners of the world from European churches. In those days, morality was largely governed by Christian principles and the church was the center of moral life. But those days are gone. Every year the number of self-professing Christians in European nations drops and more churches close their doors. Indeed, last year the former Archbishop of Canterbury warned that the Church of England is only “one generation away from extinction.” Secularism and Islam have seemingly replaced Christianity and, unless the expected trends change, will continue to do so in the years to come.

Dawkins Praises Christianity

While many Christians understandably bemoan this situation, one person that one would not expect to have negative feelings about this decline of self-professing Christians is avowed atheist Richard Dawkins. But in 2010 he made some rather astonishing statements (for him) during an interview. He said, “There are no Christians, as far as I know, blowing up buildings; I am not aware of any Christian suicide bombers. I am not aware of any majority Christian denomination that believes the penalty for apostasy is death. I have mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse.”

Dawkins’ heart is hard and unresponsive to the truth of God’s Word and the gospel because he has been blinded.

Why does Dawkins fight so hard against Christianity if he believes it might be a bulwark against something worse? Because he is suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18), and the darkness of his heart hates the light (John 3:20). Christianity demands a response. It is not a passive religion, but one that demands a personal response and personal repentance, change, and trust in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9–10). It’s one thing to acknowledge some of the side benefits of Christianity; it’s something completely different to repent and throw yourself on the mercy of Jesus Christ. Sadly, to this point in time Dawkins’ heart is hard and unresponsive to the truth of God’s Word and the gospel because he has been blinded (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Morality Without Religion?

A recent study in Europe notes this religious decline and the growing secularism across the continent. The authors of the study wanted to see if morality was declining along with religion. At the end of their study involving people from 48 European countries, they concluded that morality was not declining along with religion.

As with anything, before Christians puzzle over these results it’s important to examine the study. The authors of the study arbitrarily divided morality into two different categories. The first category they defined as “behavior that offends tradition or cultural norms, such as abortion or homosexuality.” In the second category are “crimes against the state and those harmful to others—lying, cheating, stealing.” Of course, the immediate observation is that the idea that only some things are “harmful to others” is arbitrary—try telling the unborn infant that is being ripped apart and killed in its mother’s womb that no one is being harmed. All sin harms someone! There is no distinction in God’s Word between sins that harm and sin that doesn’t. The penalty for all sin is death and eternal separation from God—sin harms (Romans 6:23)!

The Growing Secular Religion

The authors of the study noted that “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.” All this study really showed is that the authors have been influenced by secularism and have changed the definition of morality. They wanted to see if the reported decline of Christianity was linked to the decline of morality, but then they defined morality on secular, not biblical terms. The study was flawed from the very beginning.

In reality, religion isn’t declining in Europe—religion is growing, but it’s the secular religion that’s growing.

Furthermore, they observe that “more Europeans are now willing to justify behaviors that go against tradition [really, against the Bible!]” and that “as religion has declined in Europe there has also been an increase in acceptance of personal autonomy on issues concerning sexuality and family. Each generation is more liberal on those issues than the one before.” What they have observed is the secular religion! The idea that man decides morality and that each person can choose what is right and wrong for themselves are key parts of the secular religion. In reality, religion isn’t declining in Europe—religion is growing, but it’s the secular religion that’s growing.

Although the survey found that Christianity is on the decline in Europe, the vestiges of “cultural Christianity” are still there (cultural Christianity often leads to a form of biblical morality and a token respect for the Bible, but it focuses on external behavior, not internal reformation). This influences perceptions and prohibitions against certain behaviors such as lying, cheating, and stealing. Also, God is known to everyone. Even if someone professes to not believe in God, they still know that God exists, and they have an understanding of right and wrong because of God’s law (Romans 1:19–21). So we shouldn’t be surprised to see some remnants of morality even in a post-Christian continent because of this.

God’s Word—The Absolute Standard

Although morality in the secular worldview changes with each generation, Christians have an unchanging standard for morality. God’s Word gives us a proper understanding of right and wrong. Without God, there is no absolute standard for morality. Actually, without the God of the Bible it’s impossible to consistently call any action right or wrong. After all, if there is no absolute standard, then what do you appeal to when you declare something right or wrong? It might be wrong for you, but why does that make it wrong for your neighbor? If he doesn’t have the same convictions or ideas as you, who are you to tell him what he is doing is wrong?

There is no foundation for morality apart from the holiness of God, which He has revealed to us in His Word. But with God’s Word we have an absolute standard for declaring things right or wrong. And this standard doesn’t change with each generation. It lasts throughout all ages and cultures:

Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because

All flesh is as grass,
And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass.
The grass withers,
And its flower falls away,
But the word of the Lord endures forever. (1 Peter 1:22–25)

But the decline of cultural Christianity and the decline of morality is not the ultimate problem. The real problem is our sin that separates us from God. This problem began when the first man, Adam, rebelled against God and introduced sin and its penalty, death, into creation (Genesis 2:17, 3:6; Romans 5:12). God, our Creator, has given all mankind a standard for morality, and we all come woefully short of this standard (Romans 3:23). Because of our sin, we deserve the penalty for sin—death (Romans 6:23). But Jesus Christ stepped into history, lived a sinless life, and died on the Cross, taking our sin penalty upon Himself (2 Corinthians 5:21). He then rose from the dead, defeating death, and now offers forgiveness from sin and eternal life to all who will repent and trust in Him (John 3:16). That’s the message that this broken world needs to hear, and that is the heart of true Christianity.


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