The Decline Of Religion

I’m not sure what this poll really amounts to, but I sense that it’s another indication that religion is on the way out. When I say “on the way out” I don’t predict a total rejection of religion in America in my lifetime (which I figure to be roughly another 30 years if I make it as far as my father). No. Religion, like race, is something that’s with us for the long haul. But like race, it’s almost inevitable that it will disappear.

With the slow mixing of races, and the wide distribution of populations and ability to move around the globe, I think the human population will become more homogenized, with skin tones darkening to a nice shade of coffee, eyes slanting ever so slightly, and hair color deepening in hue. In short, we’ll all look much alike, matching the relative genetic similarities we presently share at the molecular level. This is something that will take time, over many generations, maybe thousands of years. There will always be pockets of isolated exceptions, but on the whole race will be an ever-declining attribute of differences among humans.

Similarly, religion will eventually go the way of all flesh.

If you believe Christian revisionists, America was founded as a Christian nation, which means that most if not all of the original population of the 13 colonies were Christians. I happen to believe this is true, up to a point. Individually, most pre-revolutionary men and women were Christians (let’s ignore the native American population for the purpose of this discussion), primarily because they came from European countries that were Christian. But the government that formed the basis of the country was decidedly not Christian; in fact, it was religiously neutral. Most of the Founding Fathers were nominally Christian (though unrecognizably so by modern fundamentalist standards), and their political philosophy may have been embraced, partially by Christianity, but it was primarily notable for having arisen out of the predominately secular Enlightenment. In short, America was comprised of Christians, while being founded on principles that had little to do with Christianity.

So, say 99% of pre-Revolutionary Americans identified as Christian. Compare that to the figures in this current poll, where that number has declined to about 78%; a roughly 21% decrease in a little over 200 years. A lot of this is due to an influx of immigrants, but a lot also has to do with the global dissemination of ideas, coupled with the advances of science as explanations for reality, and a lack of need for religious comfort in a modern society.

Religion is still an idea, a mental construct, something based solely on faith and beliefs. As society advances into the 21st and 22nd century, unsupported beliefs are going to fall to the wayside, in favor of factually supported reality. We are already there in many regards. When is the last time a country engaged in an all out war with another country over competing religious beliefs? How important is religion in the day to day structures of our society, compared to say, technology, science and medicine?

Religion may provide succor and comfort in times of stress to individuals, but no longer to monolithic populations. The structure of religion is breaking down into more and more liberal interpretations of theological belief, in order to accommodate the reality of life one see all around us.  Facts can no longer be ignored. Does anyone ever remember a time when a religious leader said it was OK to steal? Much of the  recent American phenomena of fundamentalism can be attributed to a knee-jerk, backlash reaction as a counter to this increasing theological liberalism in our fast changing modern society. The final result, however, I see, is the end of faith-based reality.

So, as civilization advances, we shed the primitive structures we developed in the early part of our progress, in favor of more realistic and encompassing structures that provide for the needs of humanity. Religion had a place in this progress, early on, and it was most likely needed, given our relative ignorance concerning how the world worked, but as we learn more and more, as we educate our populace, religion becomes not only no longer useful, but a hindrance to further advancement.

Eventually we will shed it, and move on.

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14 thoughts on “The Decline Of Religion

  1. I think that religiosity will continue to decrease with time and, hopefully, with more focus on education and learning (a development of a better system).

    As a note, however, the most widely used criticism of the first five presidents was that they weren’t Christian enough. And I think that they would have been more publicly against religion if social convention tolerated it (as we all know, there were a number of those enlightened thinkers who had correspondences criticizing nearly every Church and religion).

    I’m wary of using polls for predicting anything.

  2. I think that White men are going for Asian women these days, while White females are all going for Tiger Woods….based on my own limited inductive reasoning (I wonder if further research will prove that hypothesis).

  3. I wouldn’t count on religion being “on the way out” any time soon. Religious beliefs have a remarkable tendency to hang on, and in certain conditions, to expand.

    A worldwide pandemic would likely result in an outpouring of religious fervor like it did during the Black Death in the 14th century. No matter how civilized we like to fancy ourselves, it is just a veneer.

    Apart from that, even if we start to explore space, all sorts of religious cults can arise that will be influenced by it and incorporate it into their belief system. If you are a part of a cult that seeks to isolate itself from what it views as a corrupt society, then making off in a space ship somewhere would provide you with all the isolation you could want.

  4. I’d like to think that religion is “on the way out,” but will probably have to settle for “declining in public significance.”

  5. Religion will probably never go away entirely but I’m hoping it declines in popularity and influence significantly over the years so that it is no longer the 800-lb gorilla in the room. Certainly I’m hoping that fundamentalism goes down in flames and ceases to exist at all, but I think it’s obvious that there are enough crazy people around to keep even the most ludicrous beliefs alive indefinitely.

  6. I think organized religion may be on the decline, but faith and woo are doing just fine. Younger generations seem to be far less inclined to joining groups and are more cynical about authority, so I expect the trend away from joining churches to continue; however, they’re completely full of themselves which means they’re more inclined to trust their own opinions and that they’re important enough for a personal god.

  7. I think organized religion may be on the decline, but faith and woo are doing just fine.

    Yeah, the Catholic Church, for example, is losing Latinos to Pentecostal churches which provide their congregants with more active and emotional experiences, whereas a Catholic mass is sit, stand, kneel, stand, sit, stand, sit, kneel.

  8. This is something that will take time, over many generations, maybe thousands of years.

    Spanqi, didn’t you get the memo? In about a hundred years, give or take, the few humans surviving will likely be reduced to hunter-gatherer status and living a pathetic existence. They will, of course, be possessed by the same idiot religious beliefs they hold today. In large part the crash will be due to the fundamental stupidity of religious ideas informing the operations of civilization – dominion over the earth and all that crap for starters. You can argue religion until you’re blue in the face, but you can’t argue with physics.

  9. I’m not sure how tongue in cheek Ric’s assessment is, but I think he’s at least as likely to be right. As humans keep breeding, and finite resources dwindle, who’s to say what cataclysmic events might occur that might push us right back into a pre-enlightenment world? We have religious fanatics ruling whole societies of superstitious throwbacks. Probably plenty of secular megalomaniacs waiting in the wings as well. Hope for a non-religious future is just that-hope, and not much more. At this point in history, I’m not sure anybody can make the call with any degree of certainty.

  10. jim,

    I’m not sure how tongue in cheek Ric’s assessment is, but I think he’s at least as likely to be right.

    Do you have any evidence for that?

    As humans keep breeding, and finite resources dwindle, who’s to say what cataclysmic events might occur that might push us right back into a pre-enlightenment world?

    What, you never saw Mad Max?

    Hope for a non-religious future is just that-hope, and not much more. At this point in history, I’m not sure anybody can make the call with any degree of certainty.

    Ha! Now isn’t that interesting… So then, is hope in that which nobody can call with any degree of certainty okay, just so long as it’s not in God?

    • Evidence? Laws of physics, applied globally, dictate the results of continuing to pump GHG into the atmosphere. Results: A) Continued rise, without relent, of global temperature, leading to mass extinction, or B) Failure of the thermohaline circulation, leading to an ice age, possibly killing off most humans, leading to a severe reduction of GHG and a rebalancing of the biosphere. The evidence is all around you. Your question is a waste of time and an indication of willful ignorance.

      The only certainty about gods is that there is zero evidence for their existence. Physics, on the other hand, will start to kill you, with certainty, when the carbon dioxide in your environment reaches ten percent of your available air. Put your money on your superstition or on physics, your choice, but don’t drag your superstition into the real world and expect it to do anything other than drag the biosphere down into the muck it started from.

  11. Ric, I’ve been trotting out my old sci-fi books from the ’50s and 60’s. A Canticle for Liebowitz is being read right now. Seems appropriate, these days.

    Also, I am a flint knapper, and I make a pretty tolerable projectile point and other tools. Gimme a call when the shit goes down, I’ll hook you up with an atlatl and a dart or two ;-).

    I don’t know, Spanqui. I’ve been in holes in the ground wondering if I’ll still be around that same time next day, and I sit in the oncology clinic a couple of times a month.

    As long as those activities are abroad in the world I think you’ll have people who want to believe that Something Is Out There, and In The End There’s A Plan And It Is For Good.

    Not scientific and (horrors!) “anecdotal”, but in listening to the conversations around me, these people who people who are looking to a deity, an afterlife, really haven’t had much happening with the one they are at present living. And the end, when it comes, isn’t going to be fun (you get to see what’s coming on clinic days) and how will you handle THAT with any kind of dignity or aplomb? Or even endurance?

    So, if some sharpie (well meaning or opprotunisticlly) in effect, takes a crayon, draws a door on the wall and says it effect that through this magic door everything will be fine, just surrended your nasty worldly assets and intellect…well, it’s no surprise that people will try to find the knob.

    Maybe we’ll have freedom when the last king is strangled by the entrais of the last preist, but it’ll take bigger changes inside of us to make it stick.

    • I remember reading Liebowitz a long time ago. It’s jumbled in my memory now, but I remember it was interesting. Of course, I was young and immortal then.

      Put me in for a dozen points, an atlatl and three darts, and a nice axe suitable for battle and trees. And put me on the priest-strangling squad, please.

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