Declining Religion In the Modern World
Religion in developed countries is declining - but why so fast? It is estimated that soon 9 countries will be comprised entirely of non-believers.
In most other developed countries there has been recent significant decline. The UK for example took just 10 years to make a full u-turn and tilt the balance from being a country comprised mainly of religious believers to a country predominantly of non-believers.
The decline is even seen in the USA, a country known for being very religious. In the years 1990-2008, the percentage of Christians in the population fell from 86.2% to 76%.
As our societies change and develop, so too must our understanding of them. So why is it that our developed countries are seeing such a dramatic fall in religious adherence?
. Upbringing Today, with more rights and more freedom, it is more present in cultures to give children the choice to believe in a religion or not. There is no one right way of behaving anymore. It used to be that parents would teach their children to be of a particular religion from a young age. This was because everyone else in the community was too, and it would be good for the child to fit in with the community. There was simply no alternative. People did not want their child to be looked upon as an outsider because they failed to teach their children the views that everybody else had taken.
. Multiculturalism With the relatively new acceptance of new peoples and their cultures and views, people see that there are in fact alternatives to what they were taught as children and so understand that perhaps their way was not the best one. Thus, parents now have the choice of teaching many different views and morals, and children have the choice to choose them - all as a result of the new knowledge of the different ways that people live.
. Diffusion Naturally, with the introduction of new choices, religion will have lost some of it's members to non belief simply because it is was a new choice to take.
Spoiled With Choice- Many children now see that there are over 100,000 different denominations of religion and none of them have any more evidence than the other. Hence, the value of truth that one religion has over another simply isn't there for them, many then decide that choosing one to follow on no more grounds than another is illogical.
. Schools Linking back to the idea that there are more choices and rights; the modern schooling system accelerates the effects of of new choices by allowing for an unbiased teaching of different cultures and ideas. In many countries, it is mandatory for all school children to go through religious studies and understand the basic views of different religions. This then goes back to the idea that each religion is given less weight because children are no longer taught that only their parents' religions are correct and all of the others are ludicrous. They now see that religions have very large similarities and that one religion is not worth anymore than another. Many choose then to believe that all religions are worthless since they cannot choose the right one.
. Information With the invention of the internet and it's availability to citizens of modern societies, information is no longer a luxury reserved for the richest. People can now check certain facts that religious leaders have claimed in the past and see that they were simply lies. An example of this is Pope Benedict XVI's view that condoms are evil which has seen widespread opposition. People can find different views on topics such as these on the internet or in libraries, and see that perhaps the Pope's view is incorrect. Thus, whereas before religion had authority because leaders seemed to know certain things that the masses did not, now, everyone can know as much as everybody else thanks to the better information availability.
With the improvement of science, many questions that could not be answered before such as what is in space or how did organisms come to be, have been answered. Questions that would have otherwise lead people to religion because no other option was offered to them, now have many different theories. There is no necessary need for a God because other alternatives have been thought up of and so naturally some people will choose the different alternatives.
In recent times, the media has featured news relating to crimes that religious leaders and authorities have committed. Stories of catholic priests committing crimes of pedophilia and the pope opposing homosexual relationships make some people wonder whether religion really helps create morality and whether the beliefs are at all valuable. Ideas such as female circumcision and inequality of women in particular religious societies also throw up questions of whether being religious is at all valuable to a person or society.
4. It's Unnecessary/Counterproductive
Many people view religion as a burden on society or themselves. Ideas such as having to take time out to go to church every sunday, praying regularly, not eating pork, sexual abstinence, fasting, circumcision, being against homosexual relationships and abortions etc. can seem like a waste of time or immoral to some people. Therefore, many people simply decide that since they do not know which religion and set of rules they should follow (and which one would mean they wouldn't be punished eternally for not following is the right one), religion is simply irrelevant to their lives.
Also, some people find religious people and organisations who try to convert them such as jehova's witnesses and religious programs irritating and think that religion is too forceful, making them reluctant to associate themselves with these religions.
5. Controlling Method & Wars
Many people find that since so many wars have been waged because of religious reasons, the world would be better without them.
Others see religion as a method of controlling the masses and cite politicians who use religion as a method of getting voters such as George W. Bush who despite committing many sins (criminal drunkenness etc.) still claims he is a Christian.
6. Free Thought and Logic
With the introduction of new rights and the encouragement to think freely and rationally, many people see religion today as something that is fundamentally irrational. In a literal sense, turning wine into water or healing people's ailments through touch may be seen as contradictory to modern science which can be said to have more proof.
Also, large problems arise with the very concept of God. The Abrahamic God is defined to having Omnipotence, Omniscience and Benevolence which many people argue is logically impossible.
An explanation of why this is follows.
The Painful Truth
In a world with an all loving God, there would be no pain. But people get illnesses, injure themselves and suffer years of emotional pain. Why?
One argument is that God allows pain because it acts as negative feedback. When there is pain, we know that something is wrong and can then do something about it, and so pain can be a good thing. When we touch a hot stove we retract our hand almost immediately and thus the capacity for pain that God has given us was a kind action.
However, instead of making us suffer for mistakes like touching a hot stove, since he is omnipotent (all powerful), he could have simply protected us from every danger existing today, or at least given us the knowledge to protect ourselves from these things instead. If we knew that touching the stove would damage our body, we would not do it.
A world without pain does not spell a world without knowledge: humans would continue to act in ways that would not damage them because they would know how to.
Furthermore, there are many cases where pain is not at all useful, for instance, people who get cancer do not benefit from the excruciating pain they have to go through. People who live otherwise normal lives that end up becoming depressed and committing suicide because of one or many emotionally traumatic experiences also do not benefit from the pain that has been inflicted upon them.
The Choice to Wrong
Another argument for the existence of the Abrahamic God is that he gives us the choice of doing good or bad, inflicting pain upon others or giving pleasure, and it is based upon these decisions that decides whether pain exists or not. Therefore, any pain that exists is because of humans and their sinful actions (the definition of which has not yet been agreed upon) and not God, who is kind as he gave us the free will to choose.
However, we do not choose to suffer.
1. We do not cause genetic mutations leading to cancer and hereditary illness which inevitably lead to our painful deaths
2. We do not choose to be physically damaged by other humans
3. We do not choose to be negatively affected by catastrophes
4. We do not choose to be punished emotionally for other human actions, e.g. a spouse's infidelity affects both partners but was not the choice of the one being cheated on.
There are endless examples where pain is caused irrespective of human decisions. How could any loving being say that a child who contracts the flu and dies painfully is that child's fault?
Tied in with this point is that as shown in the story of Adam & Eve, humans are 'naturally' inclined to 'sin'. Adam bit the apple using his own free will and so Adam (and all other humans) needed to be punished.
However, it was God, as our divine creator, who created humans. Including their nature. He made Adam in a way that he would bite the apple. An analogy to this is building a robot programmed to kill someone and then punishing the robot when he does so. We knew the robot was going to do it, we made him to do it. It was our fault that the person the robot killed died. Just like it is God's fault for making us in a way he knew would end up in sin and suffering.
Therefore, God is either not malevolent because he knew we would suffer, not omniscient because he didn't know we would end up suffering or not omnipotent because he couldn't make us in any other way to stop us from suffering. He cannot be all three.
Another way of putting this is if he could do anything and knew everything, since he created our very nature, he must have wanted us to suffer - making him not all loving. Or, he may not have had the power to make us in any better way, making him not all powerful. Finally, he may not have known that we would end up suffering, making him not all knowing.
Either way, the way in which the Abrahamic God is defined cannot logically exist and thus the Abrahamic God cannot exist.
A Parent/Child Relationship
The analogy of a parent and their child is made and you are asked whether or not the parent shielding their child from every danger is correct or not. Commonly you decide it is more right to let that child make mistakes and learn from them himself. Then, the comparison is drawn between we (the children) and God (the parent) and it is explained to you that this is why. But this is an incorrect analogy because in the real world children need to learn to think for themselves as parents will not always be there to protect them.
A relevant analogy would be a parent having the power to do absolutely anything, and then asking whether that parent would make it so that their child does not feel pain for the rest of his life or not. Here it is clearly cruel to allow your child pain where there would be no benefit from it, in the real world it would make for a valuable lesson and from the experience the child will gain more happiness than sadness. But where the parent, or God, has the power to prevent all pain forever, and chooses not to for no reason but to see the children suffer, it is sadistic. It neither benefits the child nor anyone else.
It may be argued that without pain, pleasure is unattainable. In actual fact this is a false statement and we don't need to ever feel pain to be happy, but since that's a different argument entirely, I'll take this illogicality as a fact for now. So If this concept of 'duality' (you can't have one without its opposite, no positive without any negative) exists then it exists as a direct result of God: if we were created by an omnipotent God, then he had absolute choice over the laws that governed us, including whether there was duality or not.
Put simply, an omnipotent god that could have done anything could have created the world so that no pain was needed in order to feel pleasure, after all, heaven boasts exactly this...
Ooh Heaven Is a Place on Earth... Not Quite.
What is the point of Heaven? God already knows exactly who will and who will not get into heaven. He is omniscient. He knew from the start. Why not just put everyone in there now and forego the suffering that happens on Earth?
The entire concept of heaven is contradictory to all of the above points Christians make about the worth of pain and free will. In Heaven we live forever and are given the free will to do whatever we want, but with the absence of pain. Heaven is a place where no pain exists, so why can't Earth be like that too?... Or, why can't we skip the pain on Earth and go straight to heaven instead? What is the point of a short painful life on Earth.
Best of all, since suicide is usually considered a terrible sin, there is no way for us to skip over a life on Earth!
Why then, you might ask, did God create Earth when we could have all just been put in heaven from the start? Or, at least made Earth just as good as Earth?
There seems to be no logical explanation other than that of God not having one of the three: omniscience, omnipotence and benevolence.
If God does not have one of these three, then he ceases to be God, because by definition God has all three of these things. Therefore, the Abrahamic God cannot exist on a fundamental level and as such people that realise this do not adhere to any of the abrahamic religions or any other religion that claims to have Gods who have these three characterstics.
The Christian Fallback Argument
One last argument for the existence of God however is:
"Although it may seem this way to you and me, with our human logic, we cannot comprehend God's motives and so he must be doing the right thing but we simply don't understand it."
At this point you are told to forego logic altogether for blind faith, but many people find this hard to do when considering how useful logic has been to them in their lives.
It then seems that these are the hurdles that have to be overcome by a person before becoming a member of an abrahamic religion:
. No proof of God's existence
. He is illogical by definition
. Foregoing all human logic
When considering the impact of not using basic logic in your day to day life, it becomes obvious just how absurd it is to claim that you believe in something because logic is wrong. Here is just one scenario in the context of religion:
1. A man on the street tells you "give me all of your money or that man over there *he points to an empty space* won't kill your children"
2. You say "what!? What man? And why would I want my children to die!?"
3. The man replies "trust me, it's for the better"
At this point, you are being told by a random man that you must sacrifice your possessions to a person you cannot even tell is there who has the power to do incredibly bad things and that you have to accept it for the best although it seems to you that it is for the worst.
In this case, giving the man your money would be considered lunacy.
But for some reason when people sacrifice the little precious time they have on Earth to worship a God who logically cannot exist, it is not lunacy?
After all, it is not like we are taught to be religious from a reliable source. We are told by parental figures about religion at a young age. Since parents also walk on the streets, it is much like being told of Christianity by a stranger on the street. Being a parent does not give you existential knowledge.
Thus I believe that even the Religious Fallback Argument that God defies logic can be disproved by simply putting it into context. If people do not trust that logic works, then it means that they do not use it in their own lives, which unless they are typing from a mental institute, cannot be true.
To conclude, religion is declining because of the increase in choice, education, information, bad press, the idea that it is useless or counterproductive and the idea that its fundamental principles are illogical.
Perhaps it is a natural progression of society to leave religion and begin instilling morality through education and understanding, rather than fear and fallacies.
Religion is like the scaffolding of a society - It helps create it, but at some point it has to go.
Other False Religious Arguments
Life Is Short In Comparison To Eternal Life
Arguing that because the duration of life on Earth is only a short time and eternity is well... eternal, then somehow the suffering God causes on Earth is justifiable is illogical. The facts remain that he could have surpassed this relatively short period of time of suffering and put us all straight into heaven.
God Wants Us To...
Any argument that involves saying "God wants us to..." which attempts to justify him making us suffer immediately makes God not benevolent. If God is all loving then he will forego his own desires for the good of us. After all, he sacrificed his own son for us, why would he not sacrifice himself?
Religion \'to become extinct\' in nine nations from New Zealand to Canada | Mail Online
Research using census data from a selection of countries concluded there is a steady rise in people claiming no religious affiliation.
Religion and belief: some surveys and statistics
An explanation of the 2011 consensus in the UK.