Is the industrialized World becoming less religious?

Discussion in 'Religion' started by Seattle, Oct 9, 2013.

  1. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    Do you think the industrialized world is becoming less religious? What are your thoughts? I'm looking for a discussion rather than to be absolutely accurate with our terms.

    I'm really just asking what do you think is going on?

    There are polls that show fairly large increases in atheists but the increases seem a little too large for the time period involved (since the last poll).

    In general, I think over time people are becoming less religious (whatever that means to you) in industrialized countries. I think in the U.S. for example the number of people who are counted as being religious has probably always been too high.

    Now that it's more acceptable to say that you're not religious I think more people are just being accurately accounted for now.

    I think the way the questions are asked skews the result in favor of the religious as well in some way. If you asked how many people are "Spicks" Italian Americans would be under-represented as that's a slur.

    It's similar with asking if you are an atheist. In the U.S. at least "atheist" has negative connotations.

    If the polling was more along a continuum such as "how religious are you" with 1 being not religious at all and 10 being "I'm certain of God's existence" I think you would see more and more people from 1-5.

    As it is everyone generally says that they are religious unless they are willing to be labeled as an atheist.

    I think the population as a whole has never been as religious as it might appear and as time goes on that number gradually declines as well.

    The numbers showing 90 % (or whatever) of Americans believing in God is that high only because of the way the questions are asked and because of the culture that makes people say they believe in God or are religious even though many never go to church, think in religious terms and really don't think much one way or another regarding the concept of "God".

    It's just easier in our culture to say "sure" rather than "there is no God".
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  3. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    I think it possibly has to do not so much with industrialisation but with the spread of the internet, where communication with like-minded people is no longer limited to those at your school, in the same club as you.

    If atheism was seen as a minority position, perhaps people tended to keep quiet about it, with few people in one's immediate vicinity willing to speak about it with you.
    With the internet, one can find many websites devoted to just your tastes, your philosophies, discussions about the differences etc, so the viewpoint becomes more widely aired.
    Someone who may have thought themselves alone in their view can now see that they are not, and that they do not need to be afraid about saying it, with a much reduced stigma from association with the term.
    People are perhaps becoming more aware, through the internet, that it is okay to say that one is an atheist.
    And so numbers rise.
    Although whether the numbers are really rising, or just more people are openly admitting to it....?

    This may also apply to a number of other views, opinions, etc, that the internet has enabled to be aired more openly, thus empowering more people to admit to holding them.
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  5. Hapsburg Hellenistic polytheist Valued Senior Member

    Less religious? Somewhat. Religiosity comes in peaks and valleys; that's nothing really new, not even to Industrial society.
    What is different is that religion in the Industrialised West is becoming more pluralistic. Irreligion and nontheism are growing; but so are Eastern religions, Neopagan faiths, alternative religions, New Age spirituality, and minority forms of Christianity. The real trend is that religion is diversifying. Traditional Christianity is withering, perhaps because its message appeals most to the poor and marginalised, and not the prosperous. In the Industrialised West, prosperity is what defines the large middle class.
    Now, in industrialised nations in Asia, traditional religion is still pretty strong. Their established religious tradition has a different message than that of Christianity in the West. Maybe it's more adaptable. Maybe it just appeals to narratives of social prosperity.
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  7. (Q) Encephaloid Martini Valued Senior Member

    IIRC, statistics show that while Christianity and Islam are increasing around 5-8%, atheism is increasing 113%. It would seem that both Christianity and Islam are following just behind birth rates.

    As well, Dawkins added a poll to the last census conducted in Britain, in which the questions posed were towards those who checked the "Christian" box of the census. Almost half answered that they thought being a Christian was simply being a good person.
  8. Mazulu Banned Banned

    You are so wise; and you have a cool avatar.
  9. spidergoat Liddle' Dick Tater Valued Senior Member

    Yes, the influence of religions are decreasing in many ways. Hapburg is correct in that there is increasing diversity, but there is also another factor. Social democracy and the rule of law are taking the place of the traditional role of the church. People are realizing that the police can intervene in a conflict, we don't rely on god or fear of god. Welfare can take care of you if you are in trouble, we don't need the church's charity.
  10. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

    Recently, I read an insightful article that highlighted how Christianity is on a rapid decline in the US, but how spirituality seems to be considered a positive concept. Included in the article, was one study's findings that 77% of Americans feel that religion is not necessary, but 75% of Americans feel that American should be more religious.

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    Thought that was oddly interesting.
  11. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    I think that what people really have in mind is that people should be more inclusive, nicer, not so self-absorbed, more moral, ethical, more humble, etc. Somehow, particularly in the U.S., this gets thrown into the concept of religion.

    So, these questions always depend greatly on how the question or concept is structured or asked.
  12. Hapsburg Hellenistic polytheist Valued Senior Member

    That doesn't work as well as you might think as a critique. Not for the typical reasons you might hear; I'm a socialist myself.
    No, the fact is that even mediaeval societies had a form of social welfare programs. The poor and needy were serviced by government handouts and protection; granted, it was local government most of the time. But it was still a state-welfare venture.
    Hell, go back even further and you can see the Romans and Egyptians doing much the same, but a lot more centralised. The Roman state conducted numerous land reforms that literally split up large estates and gave land to the poor, to say nothing of the many times prominent politicians (Emperors especially) would just give money to the Roman plebeians. The Egyptians, during the Nile inundation season, employed thousands of peasant farmers as conscript labourers for massive public works projects, employing people that otherwise would have been a massive drain on their economy.

    And I don't think that we can doubt the strong religiosity of any of those societies. It's something that is well-recorded and was a major part of their cultures.
  13. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Religion is abating as the quality of life steadily improves. In the not-so-distant past, life was so difficult and uncomfortable that people needed to believe in a wonderful "life after death" in order to be motivated to keep working and carrying their weight.

    Bear in mind that from the Stone Age all the way up to a mere 150 years ago, the infant mortality rate was eighty percent! This means that practically everyone, practically all the time, was mourning the fairly recent death of a child. If there's an old cemetery near you that's no longer in use, take a stroll through it and notice that perhaps a majority of the gravestones are tiny. Now imagine living with that constant grief.

    No wonder people simply had to believe that they'd be reunited with all those beloved little kids in an "afterlife."

    But there were other aspects of life that were just as dreary. There were very few medicines, surgery was primitive, and painkillers were limited to what could be extracted from plants. Illness, pain, suffering, amputations and impairment were rampant.

    And how about the "career choices?" Until the Industrial Revolution kicked into high gear in the late 19th century, 99% of the human race were doomed to "careers" in the food production and distribution "industry," working 100-hour weeks for nothing more than subsistence and the profits from an occasional crop, meat or wool surplus.

    Literacy was reserved for the nobility until a couple of hundred years ago, so information traveled slowly at a low bandwidth and was subject to censorship by political and religious leaders. Travel was limited to mule-drawn wagons unless you were rich enough to own a horse; and most people never traveled more than 20 miles from their birthplace.

    The entire world economy was scarcity-driven until the late 19th century, so people were lucky to have what they needed and could only dream of toys, vacations and other luxuries.

    So is it any wonder that people believed in an afterlife?

    Of course there are still sick people today and those who suffer other kinds of misfortune, but most of the people in the Western nations live fairly pleasant lives most of the time.

    We simply don't need the promise of an afterlife.

    Personally, I would not want to be reunited with my parents or my ex-wife.

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  14. Hapsburg Hellenistic polytheist Valued Senior Member

    But not all religions contain a specific afterlife. Rebirth features into several ethnic religions. And even in the religions that have a belief in human souls going to a pre-defined place or afterlife, that place isn't necessarily good or beautiful or paradisal. It's usually grey and boring, e.g. the Asphodel Fields in Greek religion.

    People in the pre-Industrial period actually worked less than we do today, especially in agriculture. Several breaks throughout the day, long rest periods, and numerous days off for Feast Days and other religious festivals--the total number of holidays and days off usually equalled a little under half of the year.
  15. spidergoat Liddle' Dick Tater Valued Senior Member

    They still had disease, minimal but brutal law enforcement, a minimal judicial system, ubiquitous poverty, class differences, not much social mobility... I think that the modern social welfare state is rapidly making religion obsolete. I think it's the root cause of the Republican dislike of government. Religion doesn't want competition.
  16. arauca Banned Banned

  17. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

    There are people who have died that I would like to see again. I would also like to have a money tree in my back yard but having a decent job that pays the bills is a more practical, real solution for financial problems. Remembering the people I have lost is a more practical, real solution than an empty hope of seeing them again in another life.
  18. Mazulu Banned Banned

    Well, then, that is exactly what your afterlife will be like. It's fixed in stone now.
  19. arauca Banned Banned

    Well I love my parents It would be nice to see them , If you did not appreciate the of course you would not give a hot to see them.
  20. Hapsburg Hellenistic polytheist Valued Senior Member

    That simplifies the issue far too much. If you have to tack it to anything, it's class and ethnic differences. The non-moderate Evangelical wing of the Republicans see the erosion of middle-class White privilege and the protection of the rights of minorities and the poor as an assault on their culture.
    Because there are loads of religious moderates--hell, by definition, most religious people are probably moderates. And there is a very definable--though small--religious left. I consider myself solidly a part of the latter category.
  21. Balerion Banned Banned

    No religion features oblivion, which is the point. It's either "We're all going to see each other again," "We're all going to paradise," or "We're all going to be born again."

    As for the Asphodel Fields, you're talking about a mature religion, not the birth of a tradition. Certainly, Greek traditions of the afterlife did not begin by dictating a boring, gray existence for the vast majority of people. And even at its height, not everyone accepted that Asphodel was drone country. Later, many began to blur the lines between it and the Elysian Fields.
  22. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Religiosity may be a human universal. Every society known, everywhere in the world in all periods, has included some form of religiosity. It's true that the forms that religiosity takes are all over the map, but they always seem to be there.

    I think that's true in most modern urbanized places. Just think of Singapore.

    The internet really promotes it. Every religion on earth (and on 26 other planets) is just a few key-clicks away. So every culture that possesses the internet will be exposing its people, particularly its young religious seekers, to varieties of religion that aren't native and traditional in that society.

    Travel and immigration promote it too. Silicon Valley where I live is a veritable United Nations, and representatives just about every religious tradition on earth live within a few miles of me. There are Christian churches of all conceivable varieties, Jewish synagogues, Buddhist temples and centers, Hindu mandirs, Muslim mosques, there are Sikhs and Jains and Daoists and...

    Life here in California, and increasingly everywhere else too, is starting to resemble a spiritual supermarket. People choose a little of this and a little of that, according to taste.

    It's both good and bad, I guess. On one hand it kind of reduces subtle and deep traditions to simplistic caricatures of themselves. We can observe that whenever we enter a 'New Age' bookstore.

    But on the other hand, the new juxtiposition of traditions is almost certainly opening up a period of religious change, adaptation and cross-fertilization that's probably unpredecented in human history. Religions change and evolve as they spread into new cultures. (Look at what happened to Buddhism when it spread from India to China.) Now everything is everywhere while it's simultaneously being forced to confront and come to terms with scientific rationality.

    Yeah, exactly.

    Some of the new forms that religion is taking aren't immediately identifiable as religions at all.

    There's the 'flying-saucer faith', an absolutely fascinating new religion that's appeared in the last century, the UFO believers who think of 'the heavens' in a new quasi-scientific way and have reinterpreted heavenly visitors, traditional angels and demons, as space-aliens.

    There's Marxism, which removed God from messianic Judaism, installed the proletariat in the role of the messiah, interpeted the apocalypse as a revolution and then gave a political socialist spin to the coming Kingdom.

    Freudianism and all sorts of pop psychology have religious characteristics as well, promising to root out the deeply hidden causes of suffering, not all that dissimilar to psychologized traditional religions like Buddhism.

    My own view is that 'religion' is a much broader category than many people realize.

    Seen in that light, I wonder if humanity's basic underlying propensity towards religiosity is really changing all that much. I remember reading poll results about religious belief in Denmark and the United States. It seemed that significantly fewer Danes than Americans said that they believed in God. But... when Danes were asked if they believed in a 'higher power', their 'yes' results went up considerably, to the point where the results were very close to the number of Americans who believe in God. And of course, many Americans mean nothing more by 'God' than 'higher power'. So some of these differences might be smaller than people think.

    What does seem to be changing (and changing very rapidly and dramatically in my opinion) is a dramatic growth in the variety of forms in our human religiosity is expressed. It's less and less the case that each society has its own native religion that all members of the society adhere to. It's more and more the case that each individual has a style of religiosity unique to him or herself.

    (That's one of the big reasons why traditional legalistic Islam finds itself on a collision course with the rest of the world.)
  23. Hapsburg Hellenistic polytheist Valued Senior Member

    Buddhism does. The liberation of oneself from the cycle of reincarnation is often interpreted as obliviation of the soul/self.
    And Egyptian religion featured oblivion of the soul. Early forms believed that only the Pharaoh had a soul that would be judged; everyone else just kinda went poof. Then gradually they developed more complex ideas on the afterlife, with all souls being judged by Osiris. If one was judged to be evil, their soul would be eaten by Ammit and be obliterated.
    And there are some Christian theologies that speak of the obliviation of the soul as the ultimate reward of the faithful, as opposed to eternal torment.

    But otherwise, yeah, you're mostly right. Obliviationism is an outlier.

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