Religion is leaving us. It is quitely and politely walking out the back door. Though once the life of the human party, it now sulks, irrelevant and tragically incompetent, out the patio door.
Take a look here at a recent analysis which depicts the increasing proportion of people who don’t care about religion:
Sociology, as a science of human beliefs, can tell us why this is the case.
Humans “believe” things because they feel obvious. Beliefs really feel, from a subjective, individual’s point of view, more like observations. Beliefs have this taken-for-grantedness feel to them simply because others share them with us.
If person A is told by Person B that this guy Jesus died for their sins, Person A holds this story in memory. However, if Person A then develops friendships (through everyday random interaction, or perhaps through one’s parents) with Person C and Person D, both of whom are positive of the story of Jesus, Person A begins to see this story as a fact, as he comes to see it as a generally accepted (i.e., factual) aspect of the world around him.
People follow and adopt the beliefs, values and worldviews of others because they FEEL factual, and what is factual is what is “confirmed” in the accounts of others.
Now, as an aside, it was of course the Enlightenment which helped humanity ditch this abysmal method of developing beliefs. We know now that no matter how many people believe something, it doesn’t make it true. Why? Because there is an objective, stable, external world out there which we can measure. Beliefs do not determine truth, only measurment determines truth.
So as for whether or not Jesus died for our sins, the question is nonsensical through a scientific lense. Again, it is an issue of measurement, this time of the biology of life. If Jesus was ever a man, he must have been subject to the laws of physics, chemistry and biology. Did he rise from the dead to absolve our sins? Well, do the atoms which comprise the human body operate unimpeded after the electro-chemical activity of the body ceases? No, they do not and cannot. On the scientific account, spontaneous resurrection is fucking ridiculous.
But for everyday people, as opposed to scientists, facts are things confirmed by the beliefs of others.
Ok, but, importantly, for a religion to survive, its belief system must be transmitted to subsequent generations. Religions “survive” to the degree that they pass down a relatively coherent, intact doctrine to the next generation.
There is a kink in this process of generational transmission, though. Several good studies by the sociologist David Voas have revealed that when parents of different religious backgrounds marry, they tend to raise kids who ignore religion.
In other words, if two Catholic people marry and have 2 kids, there is a high probability that they will successfully transmit their Catholic belief system to at least one (and probably both) of their children. However, if a Catholic and a Buddhist (or Muslim, or Hundu, or agnostic) marry and have 2 kids, there’s a good chance neither child will grow up to claim membership in any major religion in adulthood.
And, as it turns out, this “intermixing” of faiths in marriage has been on the rise ever since WWII.
As America’s technological/scientific sophistication and wealth have increased, increasingly larger amounts of people are leaving home for college, living in a state other than where they were born, travelling more and building ever-more extensive social networks across geographic borders.
All of this activity and movement of people has facilitated demographic inter-mixing in marriage. Racial inter-mixing in marriage is also at its highest rate, as part of the same sociological trend.
So, modernity brings a truly profound intermixing of people, ideas and ways of living.
And this beautiful flowering of human culture is so bright, it blinds us. We are blinded by multi-cultural movies, foods, music, religions, technologies to the point that we don’t even see culture anymore. We all increasingly seem to share in each others’ culture, so as to make the monolithic idea of a single, better culture implausible.
It makes increasingly less sense to ask “Which culture is superior?” in a modern society, and increasingly more sense to ask “Which cultures interest you?”
The transmission of belief systems depend on their perceived (from the believer’s point of view) superiority over other belief systems.
We se this everyday as parents attempt feverishly to transmit belief systems deemed crucial (whatever they may be) to their children. Those belief systems which seem more and more arbitrary, more and more unlikely to be crucial in later life, are not actively disliked, but simply ignored.
A parent in a traditional society (or, in America, one who has low levels of education) asks themselves, “How do I encourage my child to believe what I believe, for their own moral and social health?”.
A parent in a modern society (or, in America, one who has higher leverls of education), by contrast, ponders another question : “How do I encourage my child to actively and successfully pursue their own interests?”
The traditional parent thinks their religion is superior — they will have fewer friends from other faiths, will be less likely to live in a diverse city and less likely to be educated about religion (even, hilariously, oftentimes their own).
The modern parent thinks that all religions are equally valid descriptions of the sacred — they will have more friends from faiths other than their own, will be more likely to live in a diverse city, and more likely to successfully answer survey questions about the religious faiths of others.
The diversity of religious beliefs surrounding the individual ( generated from diverse friends and experiences, as in attending college), makes the idea of one special, superior system of beliefs seem unlikely. Intolerant and ignorant, even.
So, when parents begin to see the faith of their upbringing as just one among infitinely valid expressions of the sacred, they are heartened by the idea of their child’s OWN pursuit of THEIR sacred.
Yet, the consequence of this is that religion as a system of coherent beliefs will dissolve as well. When everyone pursues their OWN truth, there is no longer THE truth.
Thus the transmission of any ONE belief system, from generation to generation, begins to slowly decline, as it has been all across the Western world for about 200 years.
Religion is walking, quietly out the door.
What’s fascinating is that sociology tells us that humanity will simply forget to wave goodbye.