Luxembourg’s New Prime Minister Wants to Replace Religious Instruction in School with Ethics Classes

The country of Luxembourg, population just 525,000 (but an international powerhouse of finance), just became the first nation in the world whose top two leaders are openly gay.

While I imagine that few local voters care with whom prime minister Xavier Bettel (left) and vice prime minister Etienne Schneider share their beds, one of Bettel’s proposals may ignite controversy:

The new leader, previously the mayor of Luxembourg City, is expected to introduce changes like replacing religious instruction in school with more general ethics classes.

Then again, maybe Luxembourgers don’t make a big deal about such things one way or the other. While 80 to 90 percent of the population is classified as religious (with Catholics being by far the largest faction),

According to a 2005 Eurobarometer poll, 44% of Luxembourg citizens responded that “they believe there is a God”, whereas 28% answered that “they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force” and 22% that “they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, god, or life force”.

I wasn’t able to find specifics about Bettel’s plan to scrap religion classes, but I’ll keep an eye on this story. Readers from Luxembourg, or with knowledge of current events there, feel free to post what you know in the comments. More as further news develops.

(Image via AP)

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • $925105

    Imagine the cry of persecution from the fundies, “The government wants to replace Christian values with ethics?!?!”

    • Sven2547

      Hahahaha, seriously!

      “Ethics? In MY child’s school?!”

    • Rogue Medic

      But ethical values discriminate against Christianity!


      • Randay

        Because ethics have a well-known liberal bias, like facts.

        • Rogue Medic


          Facts and ethics do not care about politics or religion.

          Either, or both, may be ignored by liberals, or conservatives, or others.

          Liberals tend to be fond of alternative medicine and other woo, which is just as much anti-science as climate change denialism and Creationism.

          All political parties tend to satisfy biases by applying cognitive dissonance.

          Plenty of religious people do behave ethically, but they may not be aware of the religious privilege they enjoy.

          The gay rights laws that have been passed would not have been passed without support from ethical Christians overturning the traditional Christian laws that mistreat gays.


  • C Peterson

    Nothing like formally learning about ethics to shift downwards the number of people who claim religious belief!

  • Ray K.

    wait a minute. “…80 to 90% of the population is classified as religious.” But later a 2005 poll suggests that 22% don’t believe in anything. I am not a mathematician, but I don’t think those numbers fit together so well.

    So what’s the real situation on the ground in Luxembourg?

    • Ray K.

      By the way, I am totally in favor of this. As an atheist, I am always excited to hear about initiatives that free children from having no choice in having religion of any kind forced upon them.

      Hope they get this done. Maybe the Scandinavian countries will follow suit.

    • Guest

      There are many examples of “nones” who end up classified as religious in censuses. Often they just identify themselves with the religion of their families. Some groups, such as Jews, often have a very strong sense of the “Jewish” community, regardless of the particular individuals beliefs.

    • Sven2547

      More on the subject here:

      Basically, many people get lumped in as “religious” in censuses, despite being “nones”. The reasons vary, but it’s typically a case of just associating with the same religion as the rest of the family, regardless of individual beliefs.

    • Terry Firma

      Wikipedia says that for the past 33 years, it’s been unlawful for the government of Luxembourg to ask people about their religious affiliation. Don’t know what that’s about, but starting that year (1980), accurate numbers became hard to come by. The “90 percent are religious” estimate is from the 2000 CIA Fact Book, and the “22% don’t believe in anything” stat is from a 2005 European poll.

      It’s possible that both are nominally “correct,” depending on how these data were arrived at.

      If you take the country’s national churches at their word, they probably classify everyone who’s ever been baptized as Christian, even though an unknowable number of those infants became “nones” later in life.

      • Dávid Kerekes

        “it’s been unlawful for the government of Luxembourg to ask people about their religious affiliation”

        Just as it’s unlawful to ask people about their ethnicity in some places, as part of anti-discriminatory laws. And it’s also considered a bit rude thing to do.

      • Matt Davis

        In the UK, the 2011 census had far more people listed as Christian than a survey that asked the question differently. The census simply said “What is your religion?” whereas the survey said “Are you religious?” and “If so, what religion do you believe in?” The results were much, much lower. In the UK, even though the government said that religion figures should only be taken as affiliation, not beliefs, it didn’t stop certain organisations from trying to use the figures to promote their religious agenda. This is the danger.

      • Glasofruix

        Unlawful as in job interview and such i would guess.

      • Rogue Medic

        On a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being so superstitious you can’t get through the day without a ritual/prayer/alternative medicine/psychic reading/. . . ., and 0 being that you aren’t superstitious at all –

        Just how religious are you?

        Tell me. And remember, this is for posterity so be honest.


        • Terry Firma

          Some single-digit number. What does that have to do with this discussion though?

          • Rogue Medic

            I did not mean to ask you, but to provide it as an example of a way the question could be phrased.

            It is all in the wording.


        • rtanen

          Does holding beliefs you know to be inaccurate (i.e. phobias) count?

          • Rogue Medic


            Does holding beliefs you know to be inaccurate (i.e. phobias) count?

            Excellent question.

            Knowing the belief to be false would seem to be not a superstitious.

            An example would be someone with a fear of heights, who tries to overcome the fear. Another example would be someone with a phobia who does not try to overcome the phobia, but tries to avoid situations where the phobia affects his/her behavior.

            I do not consider them to be superstitious.

            On the other hand, there are the people who have phobias, but only consider the evidence that justifies their exaggerated response.

            I do consider them to be superstitious.

            Then there is the middle ground of people who are doing a bit of both. They are aware it is a phobia, but have varying levels of belief about the justifications for the phobia.


            How much of religious superstition is within the control of the person?

            If the person begins to consider the lack of evidence supporting his/her religion, or that other religions are just as valid as his/her religion, or that there is evidence that contradicts his/her religion, is the response as visceral as a phobia?

            If the belief is due to involuntary chemical responses (release of adrenaline in response to fear of addressing a legitimate weakness in what the person believes) in the body, is it superstition?

            I can see a way to make good arguments supporting a variety of approaches.

            Is superstition only what we believe?

            Is superstition only a belief that we act on?

            Is superstition only a belief that we can control?

            Is superstition on a belief that we choose to try to examine to see if we should control it?

            It is probably all of these, and more.

            Superstition is much more than religion, and some of religion is more than superstition. Will we evolve to where some people no longer feel a need for religion?


        • Pofarmer

          Thinking about my wifes family, I just had a little heart flutter. Does the scale go above 100?

          • Rogue Medic


            One of the questions about pain is – On a scale of 0 to 10, with zero being nothing and 10 being the worst pain you can imagine, how bad is your pain?

            People often give numbers above 10.

            This is a failure of the imagination. The problem is that we do not like to think of our pain getting worse, although it almost always can get worse.

            It is similar to the sport coaches who state that we should give 110%. there is a reason they are not math teachers.

            We can only give 100% of what we have. It isn’t money.

            Too many of use use Nigel Tufnel math – Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?


            If it goes above the maximum, then we did not start low enough in our initial estimation of seriousness/pain/stress/anxiety/phobia.


        • ecolt

          You win for the Princess Bride reference.

          And religion is just like Humberdink’s torture machine, in that you should never turn it up all the way because the consequences are unbearable.

  • baal

    I’d sort of hope the religious would welcome this as surely good ethics would drive people into the welcoming arms of god and all*.

    *were religion and god as good as they claim.

  • Kathleen

    I would have LOVED Ethics classes in high school.

  • paulalovescats

    Their clothes will coordinate at press conferences.

  • Glasofruix

    In Belgium, parents (or children) have to choose between an ethics class or a religion (christian, muslim, jewish) class. Nearly every public school has those classes in its program and apparently most of the catholic establishements too. Heck, aside from a few crucifixes and other religious imagery there’s pratically no difference between the two.
    Luxembourg seems to have a German-like school system, in which you can opt out of religious stuff if you want to.

  • Pofarmer

    I like it. I really think that’s what we need in the U.S. A shared Ethic to get away from the religious dogma.

  • Anymouse

    I can almost hear the outcry already, “How can you teach ethics without teaching that ethics come from Gob?”

  • CottonBlimp

    Does anyone else want them to get together?

    Is that wrong?