Religiosity Declines Worldwide

I'm on the road, again. I've been in New York City since Tuesday, and I am currently sitting in my tiny room at a Comfort Inn near Central Park on 71st Street. Alas, I've been sworn to secrecy regarding the purpose of my trip (ooooooh), but suffice it to say that after this afternoon the business part will end and the pleasure will begin. I'll be back n Virginia on Sunday.

It was nice, during my morning internet round-up, to come across this encouraging article from HuffPo:

Rocked in recent years by sex-abuse scandals and crises in leadership, the Catholic Church in the Republic of Ireland has been struggling to keep its members close.

But this week, a new global survey on faith and atheism has revealed that the crisis of faith in Ireland may be much worse than previously thought.

Skipping ahead:

According to the global index, there has been a notable decline in religiosity worldwide.

Across the globe, religiosity fell by 9 points. The number of people worldwide who call themselves religious is now 59 percent, while those who identify as atheist rose from 4 percent in 2005 to 7 percent.

The U.S., France and Canada joined Ireland on the top-10 list of countries to have experienced a “notable decline in religiosity” since 2005.

Yay! Of course, I would never dream of oversimplifying a complex, global, sociological phenomenon by attributing it all to one simple cause. But I think we can say with 100 percent certainty that this decline in religiosity is solely the result of the tireless efforts of the New Atheists. Discuss.


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Seems logical to me.

I violently disagree. 99.9%, tops.

I decided to stay a non practicing Catholic instead of becoming part of the new fundamentalist movement due to my dislike of doctrinal teachings on either side; so I realize that's not a disprove of your 100% theory (as I'm not formally part of the decline, so my mom surely thought so).

I'm afraid that we, reluctantly, must grant at least some credit to the Catholic Church for this shift. They certainly have been working hard recently at driving people away from religion.

I have never been religious despite being raised in a non-traumatizing religion, and am also not a member of the "atheist movement" (I qualify as an atheist by current standards but have no interest in the "movement").

I think it's 99% due to the behavior of people who claim to represent religion.

The original, now long-forgotten response of religious leaders to post-war secular societies was to promote religion as a moderate, flexible source of ethics and comfort in emotional times. E.g. Vatican II, support of the civil rights movement by US churches, many more examples. Some "mainstream" Protestant denominations are still doing this.

However, the heady allure of religious extremism and authoritarianism was too great. Thus, the "religious right" in the Anglosphere, Islamic fundamentalists, far right Jewish religious organizations, Hindu fundamentalism, etc, etc, etc, promoted in the US (which has a worldwide cultural footprint) as allies of right wing economic policy, came to dominate from the mid-seventies to present.

The major driver of their success was the "sexual revolution"; available contraceptives giving women greater equality and a move toward gay rights.

The result of the shift of religion toward exploiting social-sexual resentments in a political way was an initial burst of seeming success followed by what is now a slow and gentle but growing rejection of such religion.

Many of those 59% are also either:

Not christian
Afraid to say otherwise

"I think it’s 99% due to the behavior of people who claim to represent religion."

I think it's because the fact of religion's inability to do anything useful in and of itself has been around long enough now that generations are being born into a world that KNOWS religion is just a story about an imaginary friend.

Alas, I’ve been sworn to secrecy regarding the purpose of my trip (ooooooh),

-New York pizza? Remind Jerry, its better than the Chicago version.
-Film/interview yet to be announced?
-Elopement (either yours or a friends')?

Enquiring minds want to know.

As someone who has lived in New York on and off for years (recently moved to take a new job) -

Some New York pizza is better than some Chicago pizza, although good Chicago style pizza is much better than crap New York style pizza.

A "New York style" pizza is the same thing as the default American/Canadian pizza (not intended as an insult to good American pizza), and is actually pretty similar to a Neapolitan pizza. What crappy pizza chains serve is a bad version of "New York style" pizza. If a product is sold as "pizza" in the US or Canada, without other qualifications, it's New York style pizza. Round, flat crust, tomato sauce, standard coating of mozzarella - that's a New York style pizza.

Chicago style pizza is a different product, made with the same ingredients, historically related, but no longer the same thing. Like many foods in Chicago, it tends to be very tasty, but serve in insane portion sizes and not all that healthy.

New York pizza places typically make a square-cornered, thick-crusted product known locally as "Sicilian" pizza, although not known in Sicily. It is a bit like a hybrid between New York and Chicago styles.

"But I think we can say with 100 percent certainty that this decline in religiosity is solely the result of the tireless efforts of the New Atheists."
Absolutely not.
Like Ken I want to mention the bankruptcy of belief systems. If he is right the upcoming census in Suriname will be an anomaly and register about 4% atheists again, like a few years ago. You see, there is hardly any fundamentalism over here.
Improving education also helps, as even Santorum seems to have realized a few months ago (and don't forget the new law in Missouri). I'd suggest that that works slower. This factor relates to Wow's remark at 12:37. Critically thinking and such.

I don't think it has anything to do with belief.

I think it has to do with acknowledgement of what was always there, atheists and agnostics who stay "religious" for all the reasons other than believing in god, i.e. ceremoneis at birth, confirmations, bar mitzvahs, marriages, sickness, death and a plethora of holidays each with its own special glow, and communities of like minded people who use the same ceromonies and holidays.

Its a huge step to reject or abandon all these good aspects of life, just because you don't believe in the particular religion you were born in or were saved into, and you don't believe in god.

When religions get too intrusive, people start thinking that maybe it isn't worth it.

By Michael Bernard (not verified) on 09 Aug 2012 #permalink

I think this is largely influenced by a younger generation. Those 25 and under have had access to the internet for the majority of their teenage and adult lives. The data possibly could speak for this as well; The countries who reported being the most religious generally had very low internet usage per capita, according to wikipedia. Additionally, children raised in the industrialized world during this period have seen firsthand the harmful effects of the major world religions on society. New Atheism might have helped push some people over the fence, but I don't think enough people read Dawkins or Hitchens (or read at all, for that matter) to believe that NA played the leading role here.

I doubt if the New Atheists have very much to do with global trends in religiosity. Religion just isn't that relevant to people who aren't personally miserable and who live in societies that aren't in imperative need of a master symbol of identity. In lieu of a world where the various groups we belong to are nested concentrically—family, clan, religion, nationality, race—most of us inhabit a very different world in which are connections are networked and identities overlap. Think Venn diagrams, not Euler's circles. All of which makes for a social fabric that is resilient without being coercive and lessens the need for allegiance to manditory irrational beliefs.

Unfortunately, if the shit hits the fan again, I expect that religion will reassert itself again because it is the default basis for order when all else fails.

By Jim Harrison (not verified) on 09 Aug 2012 #permalink

Holy crap—check out the U.S. results. The study has us as 60% religious, 30% non-religious but not "committed atheist" (WTF's with that adjective?), 5% "committed atheist," and 5% don't know/no response. Those are 2012 numbers; the previous run of the survey in 2005 had the U.S. at 73% religious and 1% "committed atheist"--leaving 26% total for (non-religious non-"committed atheist") plus (don't know/no response).

Those are astounding numbers, no? "Committed atheists" quintupling since 2005? Religion losing 13% of the population in market share? (That's something like forty million people who would be religious now if the country had maintained its 73% religiosity from 2005—but aren't.)

If the U.S. is now 35% non-religious, that means that there are well over a hundred million irreligious Americans....

Anyone here have the polling-procedure chops to see if these numbers can be taken seriously?

Facetiousness aside, do not flatter yourself. Militant atheism has been around for generations. One thing that has changed, however, is the Catholic Church since Vatican II, or at least the Church's leadership. Catholic schools in the UK, for instance, no longer teach traditional apologetics and doctrine. Standard texts were withdrawn, and "religious education" classes have been emptied of all religious content. Ask the average (baptized) Catholic what "sanctifying grace" is and you are likely to be greeted with a blank stare, even though it is a critical concept of Catholic theology.

"Yay!" indeed for you, but it is not an intellectual victory.

On the other hand, if the New Atheists go mainstream with the "no free will" position, I suspect it will hit your numbers too.

Whrere, precisely, are you seeing atherists saying that god doesn't exist because we hve no free will, kev?

As to the decline of religion in Ireland, could it be a result of reduced social pressure to consider oneself a Catholic?

I'm reminded of the fall of Communism in eastern Europe. If you had asked me in early 1989 or the decades before if it had been likely to happen, I would have said no, I think it's most likely that Communism will continue for the next few decades, though at least some countries may have become China-style capitalist roaders.

But by the end of 1989, the Communist regimes of East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria were all gone, and they were followed over the next 2 years by those of Yugoslavia, Albana, and the Soviet Union.

By Loren Petrich (not verified) on 10 Aug 2012 #permalink

I think your math is off ... it is 200 percent certainty, not 100 percent.

"I think your math is off … it is 200 percent certainty, not 100 percent."

This is off-topic, but I can't help mentioning how percentage inflation has reached amazing proportions. In the last series of Britain's Got Talent, David Walliams gave several contestants a vote of "A billion per cent Yes". When he awarded a mere thousand per cent Yes to a subsequent contestant, it seemed like quite a disappointing result by comparison.

Which brings me onto another pet peeve. The term "exponential" has been deprived of its mathematical meaning in everyday speech. For most people "increased exponentially" just means "increased very fast". I heard an example of this yesterday from a presenter of a TV current affairs programme, which is why I thought of it now.

Peeve over.

By Richard Wein (not verified) on 11 Aug 2012 #permalink

I agree with you, one trillion percent

If there is no renewal of the base then it is just a matter of waiting for the existing cohort to pass on to bring an end to high polling numbers on religiosity. BUT, what will replace it.
The Financial Times has an article today that cites a 2011 study by the Barna Group that indicates 60% of Christians leave church life after age 15 with many citing church antagonism to science as a cause. The article, “Valley of the Gods”, explores faith in Silicon Valley. It is an interesting read.…

Kevin, so the increase of atheism is because Catholics aren't brainwashing the children as well as they used to in the olden days? (Makes you wonder what a proper education could do for the numbers.)

By Hayden Scott (not verified) on 12 Aug 2012 #permalink

Kevin, the "no free will" position is not essentially atheist at all. Calvinist Christians have been believing this for centuries. Neuro and psychological scientists have been arguing for a version of Limited Free Will fro some time now. It has become increasingly clear that humans are controlled by forces and environmental influences that we had not been aware of in the past. There is, however, no mainstream scientific doctrine that humans are complete automatons with NO free will. In fact, this position is about as real as the equally non-existent position that everything a person is and will be is caused by genetics and that environment has no role at all.
The argument, in both instances, is the EXTENT to which humans are shaped by environment or genetics, on the one hand, and the extent to which they can realistically freely choose to do something, on the other.
It should be fairly obvious to anyone who thinks carefully for a minute or two, that humans are not free to choose a path that is unknown to them or that they do not believe they are capable of doing or accepting. Free will is always carried out within a matrix of what is known and what is believed to be possible. Humans can never have boundless free will.
Although they appear to the naive novice to be mutually exclusive the doctrines of free will and/or determinism are not incompatible when viewed within the usual matrix of biological complexity. Neither are the all-or-nothing doctrines confined to either atheism or Christianity.

By Rosemary Lynda… (not verified) on 12 Aug 2012 #permalink

The two main theories used to explain religiosity in the industrialized west are:
1) the competitive market theory and
2) the security theory.

The competitive market theory says that if religions are free to compete then they will begin to tailor themselves to appeal to consumers. The citizens of these countries will on average be more religious. The US is a prime example. Countries with little or no competition will be lower on average in religiosity. Germany, Denmark and England are prime examples of low competition, low religiosity. Relgions in a competitive market have little incentive to concern themselves with truth and only with marketing and maintaining consumers.

The security theory says that the more secure a person is, the less religious they will be. Countries with low security are free market individualist countries like the US. High security states like Denmark which is social democratic would offer more security. You might call this the frightened animal or no atheists in fox holes theory.

I think it's the Internet and the Web letting people know that there are other people who also have doubts, who don't believe, and who aren't afraid to say so.