Losing My Religion

Trends suggest that organized religion is "on the wrong side of history."

Posted Aug 17, 2018

“The latest research on worldwide trends shows that religious beliefs are deteriorating,” reports onenewsnow.com, adding that at the same time “those adhering to a secular belief system devoid of God are on the rise.”  Various recent studies have also shown that secularism—literally the separation of religion from government—is proliferating, a function of the decline of both church and state.  Churches all over the world are shutting down as more people lose their religion and, in its place, acquire a moral compass grounded in humanist values.  (Humanism is a philosophy that does not incorporate a divine entity or supernatural beliefs, and assigns people the responsibility of living ethical lives.)  Atheism and agnosticism are thus growing, so much so that in some countries (notably Great Britain and Norway), there are more non-believers than believers.

Even in the United States, a profoundly religious nation, more citizens are adopting secular humanism as their creed of choice.  About 80% of Americans have consistently claimed to be members of a particular religion, but that figure is gradually dropping due to a generational effect.  Baby boomers have turned out to be significantly less religious (but more spiritual) than their “greatest generation” parents, and millennials are showing signs of continuing this pattern.  As older churchgoers die off, houses of worship are having trouble filling their seats, with no great awakening on the horizon to reverse the drift.  In fact, it’s now atheists and agnostics who are increasingly banding together either online or at Meetups to share their beliefs (or lack thereof) with like-minded people.  Growing up in a predominantly Christian community may have been tough for the non-religious, but that is fast changing in America and elsewhere.

While in some areas of the world such as sub-Saharan Africa, religion (Christianity, to be specific) is gaining ground, that is more the exception than the rule.  With its 1.4 billion population, China is highly secular, a function of the Communist government’s successful efforts to steer people away from religion.  Secularization is also rising in nations with official state religions because of anti-government sentiment.  In the West, Islamophobia appears to be fueling what has been termed the New Atheism, as many come to see religion as a whole as more of a problem than anything else.  Both financial security and education are tied to secularization, making it not surprising that religion is on the wane in developing nations with a growing middle class.  The increase of women in the workplace and of households with fewer children also correlate with a decline in religious values, and the aging of the global population is likely another contributing factor.  The Internet too is promoting secularization by exposing people to alternative forms of spirituality and by allowing non-believers to connect.

Despite the growing numbers of Muslims in the world (Pew Research estimates that their numbers will increase from roughly 23% of the global population in 2010 to around 30% in 2050), it’s difficult to make the case that fundamental religion will play a greater role in most of our lives in the future.  Ever since the Renaissance, in fact, the philosophy of secular humanism has spread throughout much of the world, along with a growing faith in the promise of science versus religion.  (“Science and religion are incompatible because they have different methods for getting knowledge about reality,” Jerry A. Coyne wrote is his 2015 book Faith Versus Fact.)  A long view suggests that official forms of religion are, as the saying goes, “on the wrong side of history,” and that humanism will seed further secularization in the 21st century.