A Godless Future?

This article contains some speculation on the future of godlessness and religion.

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Growing Irreligiosity

Australian Bureau of Statistics census data shows that those reporting 'No religion' remained at less than 1% from 1901 to 1954, then increased to 38.9% by 2021. Over the same period, Christianity decreased from 97% to 43%.

In the early part of the 20th Century, almost all Australians were Christian. They were brought up in an environment where Christianity was assumed and taught and where no other options were given serious consideration. Now, in the 21st Century, enough people are non-believers that this is no longer the case: in most homes and schools, children are not indoctrinated into the faith. Thus it might be expected that this trend of increasing irreligiosity might continue.

Similar trends are apparent in Europe and the US. In 2021, 25.5% of people in the European Union reported as atheist, agnostic or no religion (Religion in the European Union, Wikipedia). The 2021 census in England and Wales showed 37% with no religion and only 46% Christian (compared with 59% in 2011).

The graph below shows the breakdown by age in France in 2013. The green is those reporting 'No religion'. Only half of those aged 18-24 had any religion.

Religion in France 2013

By 2018, 61% of young people (15-29) in the United Kingdom reported as 'atheist'. In the same year 'atheist' and 'non-religious' together made up 60% of the 15-29-year-olds in France and Australia and 53% of those in the USA (https://colinmathers.com/2021/05/29/age-patterns-of-religiosity-and-atheism-in-the-usa-europe-and-australia/). As the older, more religious people die off, it might be expected that they will be replaced by more irreligious people, again suggesting that present trends will continue.

Pew Research reports that 66% of Czechs (of all ages) say they do not believe in God; only 29% say they do.

Will the Trend of Growing Irreligiosity Continue?

The data above is for Western Countries. The same trends are not observed in other parts of the world, particularly Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

Prevalent religions - world

Furthermore, birthrates in these regions are significantly higher than in Western countries. In fact, Pew Research reports that Western Europe averages 1.6 babies per woman, whereas worldwide, Muslim communities average 3.1. In Niger it is 7.5. Conflict and hardship in these areas tends to lead to the movement of refugees into Western countries, replacing falling Western populations.

Pew Research predicts that the non-religious will be a declining proportion of the world's population by 2050 and that Islam will show the greatest increase, the number of Muslims rising from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.76 billion in 2050, a 73% increase.

Many Muslim-majority countries today are almost 100% religious and in fact almost 100% Muslim. People in these countries are less likely to leave their religion than are people in the West. By Sharia law, blasphemy and apostacy are capital offenses. Although this is presently enforced in few countries, leaving Islam can still be very difficult.

People of many religions see the whole world adhering to their religion as ideal. For Islam, this may become a feasible scenario in the future. As Islam forms a larger proportion of the world, pressure from non-Muslim states might become less significant, allowing Islamic states to impose full Sharia law, effectively preventing movement away from the faith. Western Europe managed to ensure that its population remained almost uniformly Catholic for hundreds of years in the medieval period through the less religiously condoned methods of persecution of heretics, the Inquisition etc.

Could the World as a Whole Become Less Religious?

The increase in the number of Muslims in the world is not the result of conversions. Similar numbers of people leave Islam as are converted to it. It is the result of population growth. Implicit here is the idea that children born to Muslim parents will be Muslim, children born to Christian parents will be Christian and so on. Most people adopt a religion, not because it is right or better than the others, but because it is the one their parents held to and the one they were indoctrinated into.

Indoctrination requires the child to be exposed solely or almost solely to the ideas of that religion. Any information about other religions is necessarily presented in a negative way.

One way to prevent this indoctrination is to expose children in school to all the commonly held world views. This might take the form of philosophy education. Students could study and compare these world views through their years of schooling. A major culminating project might be to decide which view they consider best, to present a structured argument for their decision and to present reasons why other people might not make the same choice.

It would seem likely that people would choose different views rather than everyone going with the one that's dominant in their culture. Anyone who chooses religion then does so for good reasons rather than just by default. It is quite conceivable that many, if not most, might go for the non-religious options.

The trouble is, of course, that parents and societies that are immersed in a particular religion will do what they can to prevent their children from being led away from 'the truth' and into trouble, evil and damnation. Islam tends to keep a tighter rein on its young people than many other religions, so it would seem unlikely that the spread of Islam can be slowed this way.

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Image Acknowledgements

French graph: Wikipedia

Map: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=99839635