The End of Religion?

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The End of Religion?

Every so often, a set of experts proclaims that “religion is dying.”  The latest proclamation appears in a new study from the American Physical Society.  Its findings suggest that religion may become extinct within a matter of decades in nine countries:  Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Canada, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.1

This conclusion is based on the fact that people in these modern secular democracies increasingly identify themselves as “not affiliated with a religion.”  In the Netherlands, that figure has risen to 40 percent and, in the Czech Republic, it’s 60 percent. 

The United States is not one of the countries identified as “losing religion,” since only 15 percent of Americans claim to be “not affiliated with a religion.”  But, even in the United States, the nonaffiliated percentage is growing.

So is the American Physical Society correct?  Or are these forecasts merely “wishful thinking” on the part of some secular humanists with too much time on their hands? 

The answer is much closer to the latter; not because the data are wrong, but because the research has been misinterpreted and is incomplete.  In fact, a closer examination of all the available facts shows that committed religious populations in the West are actually growing, while it is actually secularism that’s on the decline. 

The first problem with the current forecasts is that the researchers in the American Physical Society study misinterpreted the culturally driven meanings that respondents attach to labels.  Traditionally, people who were ethnic Scots have regarded themselves as Protestants, ethnic Italians have considered themselves to be Catholics, and ethnic Jews have answered that they were “Jews” when asked about religion. 

But, in today’s multi-cultural, “anything goes” world, an increasingly large number of those same people feel perfectly comfortable saying that they are “non-religious.”  In other words, they have not changed their practices; they have simply changed their labels.  So, where some see religion dying, it is, in fact, still very much alive, just going under a different name. 

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This conclusion is backed up by other studies.  For instance, a study by sociologists Michael Hout and Claude Fischer of the University of California at Berkeley found that 93 percent of Americans say they “believe in God...

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