God Is Not Winning!

"The religious industry simply lacks a reliable stratagem for defeating disbelief in the 21st century." - Gregory Paul & Phil Zuckerman

Gregory Paul & Phil Zuckerman have a detailed review in Edge–The Third Culture on why the world’s main religions are in decline while secularism and materialism are in the ascendancy. Paul and Zuckerman write in part:

Disbelief now rivals the great faiths in numbers and influence. Never before has religion faced such enormous levels of disbelief, or faced a hazard as powerful as that posed by modernity. How is organized religion going to regain the true, choice-based initiative when only one of them is growing, and it is doing so with reproductive activity rather than by convincing the masses to join in, and when securely prosperous democracies appear immune to mass devotion?

Religion is in serious trouble. The status of faith is especially dire in the west, where the churches face an unprecedented crisis that threatens the existence of organized faith as a viable entity, and there is surprisingly little that can be done to change the circumstances. The evangelical authors of the World Christian Encyclopedia lament that no Christian "in 1900 expected the massive defections from Christianity that subsequently took place in Western Europe due to secularism…. and in the Americas due to materialism…. The number of nonreligionists…. throughout the 20th century has skyrocketed from 3.2 million in 1900, to 697 million in 1970, and on to 918 million in AD 2000…. Equally startling has been the meteoritic growth of secularism…. Two immense quasi-religious systems have emerged at the expense of the world's religions: agnosticism…. and atheism…. From a miniscule presence in 1900, a mere 0.2% of the globe, these systems…. are today expanding at the extraordinary rate of 8.5 million new converts each year, and are likely to reach one billion adherents soon. A large percentage of their members are the children, grandchildren or the great-great-grandchildren of persons who in their lifetimes were practicing Christians" (italics added).

It is well documented that Christianity has withered dramatically in Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. The failure of the faith in the west is regularly denounced by Popes and Protestant leaders. Churches are being converted into libraries, laundromats and pubs. Those who disbelieve in deities typically make up large portions of the population, according to some surveys they make up the majority of citizens in Scandinavia, France and Japan. Evolution is accepted by the majority in all secular nations, up to four in five in some.

In his paper "Christianity in Britain, R. I. P." Steve Bruce explains that the recent rise of pagans (ancient or modern as per New Ageism and Scientology) is not nearly sufficient to make up for the implosion of the churches, which are in danger of dwindling past the demographic and organizational point of no return. A commission of the Church of England agreed, proposing that little attended Sabbath services be dropped, and concluding that the advent of modern lifestyles "coincides with the demise of Christendom." The church commissioned Making Sense of Generation Y study advised the clergy to "avoid panic."

Perhaps that response would be appropriate considering the absence of quantitative evidence of a significant Christian revival in any secularized democracy. God belief is not dead in these nonreligious democracies, but it is on life support. The ardent hopes of C. S. Lewis and John Paul II to reChristianize Europe have abjectly failed.

America's disbelievers atheists now number 30 million, most well educated and higher income, and they far outnumber American Jews, Muslims and Mormons combined. There are many more disbelievers than Southern Baptists, and the god skeptics are getting more recruits than the evangelicals. The rise of American rationalism is based on adult choice. The results can be seen on the bookshelves, as aggressively atheistic books such as Sam Harris' The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, and Daniel C. Dennett's Breaking the Spell, break the mainstream publishing barrier onto the best-sellers lists. Long disparaged as neither moral or American, the growing community is beginning to assert itself as a socio-political force. It is to be expected that in 2nd and 3rd world nations where wealth is concentrated among an elite few and the masses are impoverished that the great majority cling to the reassurance of faith.

Nor is it all that surprising that faith has imploded in most of the west. Every single 1st world nation enjoy long, safe, comfortable, middle class lives that they can be confident will not be lost due to factors beyond their control. It is hard to lose one's middle class status in Europe, Canada and so forth, and modern medicine is always accessible regardless of income. Nor do these egalitarians culture emphasize the attainment of immense wealth and luxury, so most folks are reasonably satisfied with what they have got. Such circumstances dramatically reduces peoples' need to believe in supernatural forces that protect them from life's calamities, help them get what they don't have, or at least make up for them with the ultimate Club Med of heaven. The result is plain to see. Not a single advanced democracy that enjoys benign, progressive socio-economic conditions retains a high level of popular religiosity. They all go material.

To put it starkly, the level of popular religion is not a spiritual matter, it is actually the result of social, political and especially economic conditions. Mass rejection of the gods invariably blossoms in the context of the equally distributed prosperity and education found in almost all 1st world democracies. Mass faith prospers solely in the context of the comparatively primitive social, economic and educational disparities and poverty still characteristic of the 2nd and 3rd worlds and the US. The practical implications are equally breath taking. Every time a nation becomes truly advanced in terms of democratic, egalitarian education and prosperity it loses the faith. That is why perceptive theists are justifiably scared.The religious industry simply lacks a reliable stratagem for defeating disbelief in the 21st century

You can read the complete article at Edge–The Third Culture.

Do the religions have a reliable stratagem for defeating disbelief in the 21st century?

Posted June 19, 2007


Neil said...

As a liberal Christian who likes Borg, Spong and Holloway I would say that secular humanism and atheism is not offering any point of view that people are particularly latching on to as better than religion.

Secularism is growing by default because the major religions are offering what is basically first century theology to a 21st century world. Imagine what state science would be in if it taught the science believed to be true in say the time of the American Revolution.

I think the direction that writers like Borg, Spong and Holloway are suggesting is only way that I can see ‘belief’ staying alive in the modern societies. The rise of Pentacostalism and Fundamentalism is, I believe, only a temporary phenomenon which will die off as the children of these people begin to consider the realities of the modern world and the scientific developments coming from it.


Joan Ferguson said...


As a lapsed Catholic I can tell you that there will be no modernism practiced in that church.

I agree that the liberal leaning churches need to more aggressively market a theology that fits the modern world especially for the generation following mine.

Unfortunately instead of approaching the declining church membership as a theological problem they are trying to find fad ways around it.

Take this example, yesterday the Associated Press reported that

“The Reverend Ann Holmes Redding, an Episcopal priest for 20 year, says she became a Muslim last year, but still considers herself a Christian as well. Western Washington Bishop Vincent Warner says he accepts Redding as both an Episcopal priest and a Muslim, and finds the interfaith possibilities exciting. The 55-year-old Redding says she doesn't feel that she has to resolve the differences between her two faiths -- especially over whether Jesus was God or just a prophet -- and hopes sharing her story can help ease religious tensions.”

I think this falls into what the article in Edge called “New Ageism” or modern “paganism”. Interfaith possibilities may be exciting but so what – I like physics and biology but what good does mixing them do if both the physics and the biology I study are several centuries old?


Philip Kurian said...


In the Philadelphia Inquirer there is a good review of “The Atheist’s Bible” so I guess they are making progress in putting together their form of a sacred text!


Check it out it is quite intriguing in parts, for example the book critic, Carlin Romano writes ….

The Atheist's Bible organizes hundreds of aphorisms and excerpts to sway an uncertain mind - that is, a mind uncertain about both God's existence and whether it wants to spend valuable summer time plowing through Dennett, Dawkins or Hitchens. It reminds us that before D, D and H - the current Three Musketeers of Non-Belief - there were Aristotle, Hume, Voltaire, Tom Paine, George Eliot, George Santayana, Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Einstein, Simone de Beauvoir, Katharine Hepburn and a slew of others. Not a bad dinner party - or reality show. Such secularists expressed many of the atheistic thoughts and arguments we read today, albeit in more elegant prose.

Aristotle's ancient claim that "men create the gods after their own images," for reasons of intellectual primitiveness. "Religions are like glow-worms," wrote philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. "They need darkness in order to shine." For Santayana, "Fear first created the gods." Blaise Pascal wrote that "men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." Napoleon thought religion "keeps the poor from murdering the rich." Freud regarded religions as "mass delusions."

Issac Asimov viewed the Bible as "the most potent force for atheism ever conceived." Paine described it as "a book of lies and contradictions," "the work of a demon" more than "the word of God," and denounced its "obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries . . . the unrelenting vindictiveness." Voltaire shared Paine's disapproval, defining the Bible as "what fools have written, what imbeciles command, what rogues teach." Leading 19th-century American atheist Robert Ingersoll castigated it for presenting a God who upholds slavery, commands soldiers to kill women and babies, supports polygamy, persecutes people for their opinions, and punishes unbelievers forever.

"Every step that the intelligence of Europe has taken," wrote Victor Hugo, "has been in spite of the clerical party." Émile Zola agreed: "Civilization will not attain to its perfection until the last stone from the last church falls on the last priest!"

A core tenet of atheism, Konner's selections confirm, is the weakness of evidence for God, understood in accord with the view of 19th-century British scientist W.K. Clifford that "it is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." Thus, Samuel Butler contended that "if God wants us to do a thing, he should make his wishes sufficiently clear. Sensible people will wait till he has done this before paying much attention to him."

"The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic," remarked George Bernard Shaw, "is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one." "Anything we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion," says Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg, "should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization."

For atheists, the trick is to find alternatives to belief in God and religion. For Pearl Buck, it was "faith in human beings." For Frank Lloyd Wright, "Nature." In the end, one leitmotif runs through The Atheist's Bible: Certainty kills. "If we believe absurdities," Voltaire warned, "we shall commit atrocities." H.L. Mencken echoed the thought: "Men become civilized not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt."

Atheists live for the here and now, a truism in the epitaph that closes the book:

Here lies an atheist …. All dressed up ……. And no place to go.


Derek Bell said...

I agree that the loss of belief is because religion is not offering a realistic metaphysical explanation of the universe and our place in it that is credible to modern thought. The churches need to come out and more openly declare a metaphorical interpretation of the bible rather that a pseudo-literal one.

The switch to secularism is not due to any attractive theory for our being here offered by science and in particularly cosmology as I can determine from my science reading. For example, in the New Scientist magazine of February 17, 2007 there is an article entitled Dark energy: Seeking the heart of darkness which again demonstrates the lack of any credible model provided by scientists for what caused the universe to be the way it is. The article begins by saying:

“Every now and again cosmologists decide that the universe needs redecorating. Sometimes they declutter, as when Copernicus and Kepler shuffled the sun and the Earth to get rid of all those epicycles and make the planets move in straightforward orbits. Sometimes they embellish, as when Einstein decided that there's more to space than good old-fashioned nothingness, and introduced the concept of a deformable space-time. They are at it again, but this time it's different. Like the decorator who strips away a layer of wallpaper to reveal a crumbling wall, cosmologists are realising that their findings point to serious problems with their models of the structure of the universe. This discovery is forcing them to contemplate bold changes to fix the damage. When they are done, chances are we will hardly recognise the old place. "It will repaint not only our picture of the universe but perhaps particle physics, gravitational physics and string theory too," says Rocky Kolb, a cosmologist at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois.”

D. Bell

Helen Wright said...

I think most of the young people leave the church that they grew up in because as they are becoming adults they can not accept the stories in the bible as having any basis in fact. I speak here of things like the virgin birth, raising the dead, walking on water etc.

I am Presbyterian and I think it is true to say that the leaders of the mainline protestant churches probably do not believe in the historicity of these stories either yet they somehow are reluctant to say so to their congregations or even to raise a discussion about the matter in the fear that it would cause trouble with the parishioners.

To me there is something cowardly in this approach – keep quiet and hope the faith carries on. Well it isn’t and it won’t!

Helen Wright

Arthur McCorry said...

I thought the statistics in the Edge article made sense – Of the world’s population about 1/3rd are Christian, 1/5th Muslim, 1/7th Hindu, and 1/20th Buddhist.

What I hadn’t realized is that the Muslim population is expected to grow over the first half of this century to about 1/4 of the total. I wonder what this says about the clash between the Muslims and the rest of the world over this same time period?

In England, France etc religion is certainly at a very low ebb. As we have discussed in this blog the conversion of churches in England to become mosques is already somewhat of an issue (see our discussion on Clitheroe). One wonders why the British should care what happens to their empty churches – after all they have abandoned them!

I see how in terms of people actually worshiping in a communion there is shortly going to come a time in both England and France when this will be a muslim majority – not that this will make much difference to these two countries as I believe the muslim population in Britain is below 10% and that of France may be around the 10% level. Secularism will still be the dominant force. But will Muslims tolerate the same treatment by the Secularists (joke, cartoons, sex on TV and in the movies) of their beliefs as Christians have done in the past? I’m not optimistic about that given what happened recently in the Holland.


Roger Spenser said...


In line with what you said there is an interesting book review in the June 18, 2007 issue of The American Conservative on The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for and Old Continent by Walter Laqueur in which the reviewer, Theodore Dalrymple writes:

The Dutch are probably the best-educated people in the world. The business of Holland was business—plus social security with a bit of anti-Calvinist decadence thrown in. The country was so tranquil, contented, and firmly established that, failing a rise in the level of the North Sea, it seemed the idyll would continue forever. But a couple of political assassinations, unprecedented in Holland for more than 300 years, suddenly illuminated, as if by a flash of lightning, a darker aspect of reality—one that was not confined to Holland but was Europe-wide. In a very short space of time, complacency gave way to a nagging sense of doom.

There are three threats to Europe’s future. The first comes from demographic decline. Europeans are simply not reproducing, for reasons that are unclear. The second threat comes from the presence of a sizable and growing immigrant population, a large part of which is not necessarily interested in integration.When I recently drove to Antwerp from the South of France, I thought I had arrived in Casablanca. There are parts of Brussels where the police are enjoined not to be seen eating or drinking during Ramadan. Similar accommodations are occurring all over Europe: in the Central Library in Birmingham, for example, I found a women-only table occupied exclusively by young Muslims dressed in the hijab. (They were the lucky ones, members of liberal households that allowed them out on their own.) The third threat comes from the existence of the welfare state and the welfare-state mentality.

One interesting and important question is why Europeans have abjectly surrendered to the dishonest nostrums of multiculturalism. Why, for example, can a couple of Dutch children be told by their teacher to remove the Dutch flag from their school bags because it might offend children of Moroccan descent—who, it should be noted, are supposed to be Dutch citizens? Why, when I arrive in regional airports in Britain, do I see signs for British passport holders written in Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali, and Hindi scripts, presumably for the benefit of British citizens who cannot read the Latin alphabet? Why do German courts rule that beating women is a religious right for Turks, just as terms such as “illegitimate children” have been banned from official usage as being denigratory and stigmatizing?

Only the French, with their republican model, have gone in for a salutary monoculturalism, but unfortunately their economic and social policies helped, if not to create, at least to maintain Muslim ghettoes. On one hand, the children of immigrants were told they were French; on the other, they were de facto excluded from the rest of society. Ferocious resentment was the result, and to coin a phrase, we ain’t seen nothing yet. Laqueur makes the important point that shortcomings of the host countries notwithstanding, many immigrant groups have thrived without difficulty. He might have added that they have all successfully overcome initial prejudice against them. There is no Sikh or Hindu problem in Britain; the country has recently absorbed half a million Poles without any obvious tension or difficulty.

This suggests that there is a problem peculiar to the integration of Muslims in Western countries, at any rate, when they are in such large numbers that they are able to make whole areas their own. Imbued with a sense of their own religious superiority, which considers a Muslim way of life better than any other, they are ill-prepared to adapt constructively to Western society. Yet adapt they do, though not necessarily in the best way. The young men of the second generation adopt many aspects of American ghetto “culture,” which in conjunction with Islamic teaching and tradition, enables them to dominate women in a way that is to them extremely gratifying. This prevents the women (who, as Laqueur tells us, and I can confirm from personal experience, are vastly superior morally and intellectually to their menfolk) from achieving all they might in an open society. In turn, the cheap and unconstructive satisfactions of domestic dictatorship discourages Muslim men from real achievement and engagement in the wider society around them. For the majority of young men of Muslim descent in Europe, the chief attraction of Islam is the justification it offers for the ill-treatment of women.

Is a “clash of civilizations” within Europe thus inevitable at some time in the future? Secularization, if only of a strange and not altogether reassuring kind, has already made deep inroads into the Muslim population. On the other hand, it may be that this very secularization is what calls forth religious fanaticism as a response. After all, Muslims can see in European Christianity an example of what happens when the light of reason and historical criticism is allowed into the purlieus of religious doctrine: it falls apart. Since Islam is so much a part of the identity of people wherever it has predominated, an attack on Islam, even or especially in the form of rational criticism, provokes an existential crisis.

All in all it will be an interesting future for the young and upcoming generation!


Brenda Moorhead said...

One point in the article that I think is correct refers to the increasingly feminine aspect of religion and faith particularly in the USA. Women church goers in my limited overview definitely outnumber men. I see lots of women in church with their children but the husbands only coming on special event days such as Easter or Christmas. The article opines that children, particularly males, pick up their leads from their fathers which means that as soon as they can stop attending church they will. It’s not like there is any great philosophical or theological reason for this – the churches are not providing anything relevant to the young males and if dad likes to head out for golf on a Sunday morning or off to a football game then that becomes the preferred ‘religion’.

Philip Kurian said...

As most of you know the main problem for any theistic belief is the problem of evil (maybe it would be better to use the word ‘suffering’ instead of ‘evil’ as evil has some misconceptions tied to it in the modern vernacular that undermine its theological meaning).

This problem resolves into explaining through some theodicy how and all powerful and good god can permit so much gratuitous suffering in the world. Yet what we find is that where poverty, illness, injustice and misery are most prevalent in the world links to a theistic belief are strongest. This point was made quite well in the Edge piece in the general thesis that mass rejection of theism blossoms with prosperity and education.