The Rt Rev Patrick O’Donoghue, the Bishop of Lancaster, recently claimed that graduates are spreading scepticism and sowing religious dissent. Bishop O’Donoghue, who has recently published a report on how Catholicism can be renewed in Britain, argued that mass education has led to “sickness in the Church and wider society”.
The bishop suggested that mass education has resulted in “a fragmented society that marginalises God, with many people mistakenly thinking that they can live happy and productive lives without him”. He also claimed that influential Catholics in politics and the media had been compromised by their education, which he claimed had a “dark side, due to original sin”.
Attendance at Mass in 1991 was recorded as 1.3 million, a drop of 40 % since 1963, and by 2004 it had fallen to 960,000. The number of priests in England and Wales has slumped by nearly a quarter in 20 years, from 4,545 in 1985 to 3,643 in 2005.
Professor Nicholas Lash, the former Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University, was amongst those concerned by O’Donoghue’s allegations. Lash responded, “Quite what constructive purpose could possibly be served by such irresponsible and wholesale scapegoating of the educated, I have simply no idea”.
To a lesser extent
At university, we encounter ideas that surprise us, along with beliefs that are radically different to our own. Quite understandably, this causes many students to doubt their preconceptions, leading to scepticism and perhaps making (Catholic) virtue ethics seem less viable. At the same time, university is an inherently social environment where most will feel a need to make new friends. Therefore, students seek out common ground, usually in positivist terms, and usually agree to disagree where common ground is unattainable in order to get along. Since leadership roles are commonly filled by graduates, it follows that these attitudes will become ingrained in the structure of society, in turn dictating the terms of ordinary discourse on topics as disparate as the existence of God, the war on Iraq, and relationships. This is an oversimplification of the issue, but not a gross one.
However, education is not inherently opposed to religion, as the Christian origin of Western Universities suggests. The Church (and not just Catholicism) is itself to blame for declining belief by failing to challenge the terms of public debate. It has, among other failings, too readily accepted a naturalistic world-view that suggests we can have absolute knowledge of God, neglecting its ancient and better doctrine that God can only be understood analogically, leaving Christianity open to scientific attack and emptied of much of its potential transformative value. If Church leaders were more concertedly to challenge the assumed right of modern science to dictate the full terms of knowledge, its spiritual, moral, and intellectual claims might regain some of the credibility they have lost among students and the society at large.
To a greater extent
The reason that an increase in the amount and proportion of people getting a higher level of education is resulting in the secularisation of society is as follows: the education system is based upon the scientific method of obtaining and verifying human knowledge. People who study at university become accustomed to having facts scientifically deducted and proven, and as a result invariably adopt a naturalistic world view. This view has spread through society as scientific discovery has been increasing knowledge and improving the lives of individuals, and as such has ‘proven its worth’ as a world view.
In the same time period a decline in religious belief has also taken place, as science has provided alternative explanations for many of the questions religion had to previously answer. As it turns out, and as Tim concedes, a naturalistic world view led through to its conclusion leaves no place for belief in God. Therefore, the more people adopt such a world view, the less religious society becomes.
To put it very simply, a highly educated individual who understands the many scientific theories which explain how the world works, is less likely to believe in a God, than someone who is uneducated and does not posses that knowledge. This is especially true as often such people are more likely to be religiously indoctrinated through their surroundings and cultural experiences.