Is religion declining worldwide?
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Religion has always been a major part of human existence. Whether it was citizens in Ancient Greece praying to the head God Zeus or Christians now celebrating the Lenten season, people have always affiliated themselves with different belief systems. However, the existence of religion in the modern world is in danger.
A recent study done by the American Physical Society predicts that religion will be near extinction in nine different Western nations in the next century.
While the idea of the decline of religion has been a part of modern culture for years, this study’s results give quantitative data that backs up what people have been predicting. The nations in question include Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
While there are many other nations worldwide that have been experiencing declines in religious participation and affiliation, these nine countries are some of the few that take census data pertaining to religious affiliation. Some have been compiling this information for more than 100 years.
According to the study, the fastest growing religious group is “unaffiliated,” meaning any person who either does not believe in any religious doctrine or does not wish to affiliate themselves with any specific religious doctrine. In Switzerland, the percentage of respondents saying they were unaffiliated went from near zero in 1950 to roughly 5.5 percent in 1990. The largest percentages of those responding as unaffiliated were in the Czech Republic with roughly 60 percent and the Netherlands, where 40 percent responded similarly.
The major religious overtone of the past century seems to be the questioning of the existence of a higher power. The unofficial beginning to many of these thoughts being popularized was in Friedrich Nietzsche’s 1882 book The Gay Science where he famously proclaimed that “God is dead.”
Over the course of the century these three words took on a much deeper meaning. The bold statement was put into question form, when the phrase “Is God Dead?” was prominently displayed on the cover of the April, 1966 Time Magazine cover in bold red on a stark black background. The accompanying article analyzed the problems that were facing theologians at the time to make God relevant to a very secular society.
Much has occurred in the ensuing 45 years since the article was published. Not surprisingly, modern theologians are facing much of the same problems in an accelerated form.
The rise of these ideas to the front of popular culture and the uncompromising recent statistics showing the decline of religion forces those who are either currently questioning their own religion or deeply rooted in any religious doctrine to question where this decline originated. Why are people less inclined to not only practice a certain religion but also to even affiliate themselves with any specific doctrine?
One way to look at the matter in question would be to compare different types of nations. It is true that a recent study has stated nine specific countries where there is statistical evidence that religion is declining to the point of extinction, but this data must be taken for what it is. It may apply to other nations similar to the ones that are contained in the study, but there are also many nations that still hold a tight bond to a particular religious affiliation and some that are even becoming more fundamentally connected to religion.
For example, look at a country such as Saudi Arabia. Although there is no law in place that requires citizens to be Muslim, almost all Saudi Arabian citizens are Muslim. Religious freedom is severely limited to non-existent. In 2004, the U.S. State Department declared that “freedom of religion does not exist in Saudi Arabia” and that “non-Muslim worshippers risk arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation and sometimes torture.”
Is the religious freedom that is offered in countries such as the U.S. the factor that causes religion as a whole to decline?
Obviously, a claim such as this is not 100% fault proof. It insinuates that people only follow a religious doctrine because their state commands them to and that if they had the chance to not practice religion they would.
In a country such as the U.S., freedom of religion allows for more people to be exposed to different sorts of beliefs. This can lead to a questioning of their own beliefs, or possibly that their beliefs are bolstered by the knowledge of what others believe.
In the past 129 years, since Friedrich Nietzsche, the center of the community in many countries has shifted from being a church, mosque, temple etc. to more public buildings and settings found at schools and jobs. Others claim that social network sites have added to the rapid decline in religious affiliation. They believe that these lead to an increasing number of connections between people who would not necessarily interact before and that connections to those who are unaffiliated with religion is enough to prompt the change.
Religion may be allowed to thrive in countries that acknowledge their citizens right to religious freedom, but this allowance does not necessarily correlate with the actual thriving of religion.