• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Not Dead Yet: Predictions of Religion's Extinction Miss the Mark

    In 1966, God was pronounced dead. More recently, it was determined that God is back. But now a team of researchers has put him on the endangered species list.

    “Religion may become extinct in nine nations,” says a BBC headline today reporting on a presentation made at the American Physical Society meeting. Based on census data showing increased religious non-affiliation, the study “indicates that religion will all but die out altogether in those countries.”

    “The idea is pretty simple,” says one of the researchers. “It posits that social groups that have more members are going to be more attractive to join, and it posits that social groups have a social status or utility.”

    If these researchers are right that religion is on its way to extinction in Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Switzerland, the more interesting question to pose is: Why these countries, and why in the 21st century?

    Religion has not only continued through the course of human history but thrived in a variety of cultural contexts. Clearly, the social group competition idea could not explain early Christian history and other episodes over the centuries where religious minorities—even persecuted minorities—have continued to attract adherents and grow dramatically. And in modern societies, Islam is rapidly growing across the globe, and worldwide Pentecostal membership is surging.

    The assumption that political and social progress will increasingly marginalize religion has dominated many academic circles. However, data on religious belief and practice in the U.S. and around the world defy that theory. Recent commentary and books have contested the notion. The latest—launched at an event earlier today at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center—is God’s Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics. Authors Tim Shah, Monica Duffy Toft, and Dan Philpott analyze how and why religion’s worldwide influence is increasing.

    Even with an increase in religious non-affiliation, religious belief and practice continue to be strong in America as well. More than 60 percent of Americans have no doubt that God exists, and almost 40 percent frequently practice their faith. The majority of Americans still hold to some religious belief.

    The American experience also demonstrates the diverse nature of religion in religious affiliation as well as in individual religious practice. Even among the religiously unaffiliated, which might seem like a homogenous group, there is debate about whether the rise in those claiming “none” on surveys of religious affiliation are actually not religious—or whether changes in religion have left researchers asking outdated questions that no longer fit many people’s actual experience. While affiliation with organized religion may have declined, and among young adults in particular, individuals are not necessarily becoming less “religious” or “spiritual.”

    According to the Pew 2007 Religious Landscape Survey, about one-quarter of the “non-affiliated” group (16.1 percent of the overall population) are either atheists or agnostics (about 1.6 and 2.4 percent of the adult population, respectively). Among the remaining three-quarters of the “non-affiliated,” who describe their religion as “nothing in particular,” about one-half are “secular unaffiliated”—i.e., those who say religion is not important in their lives (about 6.3 percent of the adult population)—and the other half are the “religious unaffiliated”—i.e., those who say religion is either somewhat important or very important in their lives (5.8 percent of the adult population).

    Suffice it to say that there’s more to religion and its future than current surveys of religious affiliation can capture. The endurance of the transcendent will continue to be the subject of projections using finite models. But rather than continually revising those estimates, here’s an alternative hypothesis: As long as human nature persists, man will be wrestling with God. In other words, religion is a permanent feature of the human race.

    Co-authored by Christine Kim.

    Posted in Culture [slideshow_deploy]

    6 Responses to Not Dead Yet: Predictions of Religion's Extinction Miss the Mark

    1. Kurt Grimes says:

      I think it's no coincidence that Christianity throughout history has been predicted dead, and then been revived: it mimicks the very roots of the Chritstian story – Jesus was crucified, buried and pronounced dead… only to be resurrected. It's funny how such an age old story can continue to keep us on our toes to this day – only shows just how mysterious our God is.

    2. Lou, PA says:

      What all these studies fail to show is the difference between "Religion" and "Faith." Religious differences have been, and continue to be, a cause of much strife in the world – "My god's better than your god." Religion is an outward expression, through ceremony, of a belief in a higher power. Faith is an internal belief system, not dependent on a "social" aspect. When his disciples asked Jesus how to pray. he told them to go to their rooms and pray in secret, so that the Father, who heard them in secret would answer their prayers. This is faith-based, not religion-based. I dare say there are many more people of faith than there are strict religious adherents.

      So, to the surveyors and scholars I say "You got the question wrong, thus your answers are flawed."

    3. Nev, Australia says:

      I think the "the social group competition idea" depends on some kind of critical mass. In America there are enough Christians to keep things going and growing. In Australia religion of all kinds is virtually invisible to those not inside one of the religions. So why in the 21st century? Because we now know a great deal that religion claimed to know in the past and was shown to be wrong about, and in places where religion has lost its influence people turn to real knowledge instead of dogma and faith, further reducing the pull of the remaining congregations. In places where a significant proportion of the populate believe the dogma, have faith, ignore or fight science, and are educated by like minded people – like large sections of the US and the large sections of the Middle East, just to name the two obvious examples, religion is growing quite happily.

    4. Dr. Henry D. Sinopol says:

      God is far from dead. One only need to check out the Sunday morning hucksters selling every type of salvation our guilt ridden, relationship needy population is searching to find.

    5. Pingback: A.R. Show 048 — Religious Extinction | Agnostic Radio

    6. R. C. of Kansas says:

      Nev – "Because we now know a great deal that religion claimed to know in the past and was shown to be wrong about, and in places where religion has lost its influence people turn to real knowledge instead of dogma and faith" Thats very funny – the science I study invariably does not disprove whats been stated in the Bible, but proves it to be truth. Real knowledge…?

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.

    ×