Religion in developed countries is declining - but why so fast? It is estimated that soon 9 countries will be comprised entirely of non-believers.
In most other developed countries there has been recent significant decline. The UK for example took just 10 years to make a full u-turn and tilt the balance from being a country comprised mainly of religious believers to a country predominantly of non-believers.
The decline is even seen in the USA, a country known for being very religious. In the years 1990-2008, the percentage of Christians in the population fell from 86.2% to 76%.
As our societies change and develop, so too must our understanding of them. So why is it that our developed countries are seeing such a dramatic fall in religious adherence?
- Upbringing. Today, with more rights and more freedom, it is more present in cultures to give children the choice to believe in a religion or not. There is no longer one clear way of behaving, and the need for parents (consciously or subconsciously) to protect their children from prejudice by raising them from a young age to conform with the community's faith has greatly fallen.
- Multiculturalism. With the relatively new acceptance of new peoples and their cultures and views, people see that there are in fact alternatives to what they were taught as children and so understand that perhaps their way was not the best one. Thus, parents now have the choice of teaching many different views and morals, and children have the choice to choose them - all as a result of the new knowledge of the different ways people can live.
- Diffusion. Naturally, with the introduction of new choices, religion will have lost some of its members to non-belief simply because it is was a new choice to take.
- Spoiled for choice. Many children now see that there are over 100,000 different denominations of religion and none of them have any more evidencethan the other. Hence, there being no clear way of choosing one specifically, many people conclude that they are simply unable to choose one at all - the decision being one that forms the most fundamental beliefs a person can have: What is right and wrong? Is there an after-life? What is our purpose?
Linking back to the idea that there are more choices and rights; the modern schooling system accelerates the effects of new choices by allowing for an unbiased teaching of different cultures and ideas. In many countries, it is mandatory for all schoolchildren to go through religious studies and understand the basic views of at least a few religions. This then goes back to the idea that each religion is given less weight because children are no longer taught that only their parents' religions are correct and all of the others are ludicrous. They now see that religions have very large similarities and that one is not worth any more than another.
With the invention of the internet and its availability to citizens of modern societies, information is no longer a luxury reserved for the richest. People can now check certain facts that religious leaders have claimed in the past and see that they were simply lies. An example of this was Pope Benedict XVI's view that condoms are evil, which lead to more AIDS in Africa and saw widespread opposition. Thus, whereas before religion had authority over information because leaders seemed to know certain things that the masses did not, now, everyone has the liberty to double-check any bold statements they were sceptical or curious about.
- With the improvement of science, many questions that could not be answered before such as what is in space or how did organisms come to be, have been answered. Questions that would have otherwise lead people to religion because no other option was offered to them, now have many different theories. There is no necessary need for a God because other alternatives have been thought up of and so naturally some people will choose the different alternatives.
3. Bad Press
In recent times, the media has featured news relating to crimes that religious leaders and authorities have committed. Stories of catholic priests committing crimes of paedophilia and the pope opposing homosexual relationships make some people wonder whether religion really helps create morality and whether the beliefs are at all valuable. Ideas such as female circumcision and inequality of women in particular religious societies also throw up questions of whether being religious is at all valuable to a person or society.
4. It's Unnecessary/Counterproductive
Many people view religion as a burden on society or themselves. Ideas such as having to take time out to go to church every Sunday, praying regularly, not eating pork, sexual abstinence, fasting, circumcision, being against homosexual relationships and abortions etc. can seem like a waste of time or immoral to some people. Therefore, many people simply decide that since they do not know which religion and set of rules they should follow (and which one would mean they wouldn't be punished eternally for not following is the right one), religion is simply irrelevant to their lives.
Also, some people find religious people and organisations who try to convert them such as jehova's witnesses and religious programs irritating and think that religion is too forceful, making them reluctant to associate themselves with these religions.
5. Controlling Method & Wars
- Many people find that since so many wars have been waged because of religious reasons, the world would be better without them.
- Others see religion as a method of controlling the masses and cite politicians who use support of popular religions as a simple method to seduce voters.
6. Free Thought & Logic
With the introduction of new rights and the encouragement to think freely and rationally, many people see religion today as something that is fundamentally irrational. In a literal sense, turning wine into water or healing people's ailments through touch may be seen as contradictory to modern science which can be said to have more proof/grounding.
Also, large problems arise with the very concept of God. The Abrahamic God (the one in Christianity, Islam and Judaism) is defined as having Omnipotence, Omniscience and Benevolence which many people argue is logically impossible.
To conclude, religion is declining because of the increase in choice, education, information, bad press, the idea that it is useless/counterproductive and the realisation that its fundamental principles are illogical.
Perhaps it is a natural progression of society to leave religion and begin instilling morality through education and understanding, rather than fear and fallacies.
Religion is like the scaffolding of a society - it has helped support us on our ascension into the modern era, but we must now let go of it in order to expand.