Oz Blog News Commentary

Decline of religion in the anglophone world

July 29, 2019 - 11:33 -- Admin

In 1966, the Australian
census indicated that only 0.8% of the population had ‘no religion’. In 1976,
it was 8.3%; in 1986, it was 12.7%1; in 1996 it was 16.6%; in 2006
it was 18.7%. In the last census in 2016, it was 30.1%, and was the largest of
any option given in the census. At that census, 52% of the population still
maintained some affiliation with Christianity, and the largest group among those
were Catholics, who formed 22.6% of the population2.

The most recent census
held in New Zealand, for which the data have been compiled, was in 2013, and that
indicates that 41.9% of the population had no religion, up from 29.6% in 20013.
Similarly, the most recent census (2011) in Great Britain (i.e. UK, excluding
Northern Ireland) had 26.1% of the population having no religion, up from 15.9%
in 20014. In Canada, the proportion of the population with no religious
affiliation in 2011 was 23.9%, up from 16.5% in 20015.

In the United States,
ever the laggard, it is now estimated that 18.2% of the population have no
religious affiliation. This is an increase from 8% in 1990, and 15% in 2008. Even
more startling for Christians in the US is that in the 18-29 year old
demographic, about 33% have no religious affiliation6. This trend is
true not just in Anglophone countries, but also across Europe, with the 16-29
year old demographic being far less religious than their elders. The proportion
with no religion ranges from about 17% in Poland to 91% in the Czech Republic
with the median of European nations being about 55% (the UK is at 70%)7.
In Australia, among the 20-34 year old demographic, 38.3% have no religious

Steven Reiss, former
professor of psychology at the University of Chicago considers that there are
four main reasons for the decline of religion. These were: a move away from
organised religion into mysticism or ‘spirituality’; globalism breaking down
the tribalist aspects of religious affiliation; fewer ‘traditional’ families like
those idolised by religions; and the loss of trust in organised religions9.
I think these are only a small and proximal part of the story.

Religion is about
control, especially of women, including of their fertility and sexuality. Its
insistence of virginity prior to marriage; its insistence on sex as being for
procreation only; its attempts to prevent or limit access to contraception; its
bizarre myths surrounding masturbation, are all about taking people’s sexual autonomy
from them10. This all started to break down with the advent of the contraceptive
pill, which separated sexual practice from conception for women and over the
last 50 years or so. It has changed women’s sexual autonomy dramatically and
has led to a realignment of social and political attitudes, and even some less
conservative religious attitudes11. However, while it was mostly
about controlling women (most religions are run by blokes, after all), it also
affects men. It infects them with an unhealthy attitude to sex, with guilt and
anxiety about how they feel10. As an example; my parents knew a
couple of very devout Catholics (both dead now) who were childless, and it
turned out the wife had severe fibroids and eventually had to have a
hysterectomy. After that, despite being only in their early 30s, they never had
intercourse ever again. The wife came crying with sadness to my mother numerous
times. It is sickening to think of a church actively discouraging human
intimacy. It can only be construed as cruelty. As Arthur C. Clarke said: “one
of the greatest tragedies in mankind’s entire history may be that morality was hijacked
by religion”. This change in attitude to sex with the advent of the
contraceptive pill has changed society dramatically, and despite protestations
from churches, the sky hasn’t fallen, society hasn’t descended into raping and
pillaging. It seems that people are starting to realise the warnings and
threats from the churches were baseless and hollow, respectively.

The religious and
their churches have also maintained that you cannot be moral unless you are
religious. They seem to think that to be moral, you need fear to make you toe
the line, under the ultimate threat of hell, or something similar. This has
been effectively demolished by what has been termed the ‘new atheism’. People
like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher
Hitchens12, with their books, interviews, lectures, debates and podcasts
have spread the word of atheism whereas, in the past, atheism was nowhere
nearly as well popularised. It used to only occupy the relatively quiet corners
of philosophy. The argument against ‘morality requires religion’ assertion largely
goes like this: if you need to fear something to make you moral, then you are
simply being blackmailed to be moral. I have been an atheist for several
decades and all I require is an understanding of the golden rule: treat others
as you wish to be treated yourself. In addition, the explosion of revelations
of child abuse, both sexual and otherwise within the churches, all across the
world, has demonstrated that the religious do not always act the way they
insist others should. Nothing has more clearly demonstrated that the assertion
that you cannot be moral unless you are religious is very much counterfactual.

Another feature of the
modern world that the religious and their churches seem unable to grasp is that
modern western society is becoming more tolerant and more progressive. In
Australia, this exemplified by the decriminalisation of homosexuality in
various states, with Tasmania being the last to do so. This was despite active
opposition from people like Senator Eric Abetz, who stated it was the thin end
of the wedge13. That wedge extended to the legalisation of same-sex
marriage, despite it being made illegal by the Howard government in 200414.
While it had been clear for several years that the populace was quite accepting
of same-sex marriage, many of the churches were stridently opposed to it, even
to the extent of threatening the sky would fall, and lying about the assertions
of those supporting legalisation. As if to emphasise the bigotry of some
churches, it is they who are crying out for the ability to continue to discriminate
against homosexuals in employment and in education. This is what many of the recommendations
of the Ruddock review into religious freedom are about; the continuation of

Lastly, there is the
immediacy of modern communications. People can see other people from all over
the planet who, in some cases, have vastly different belief systems, and at
least in some, it probably engenders the thought: ‘why does their religion
differ from mine?’ Or perhaps: ‘How can they worship another god if I have been
told mine is the one true god?’. This must make them wonder about who has been
told the truth, and to doubt whether anyone has been. As an aside; sometimes I
wonder how immune to information are many of the religious when they still tell
me that god will punish me for not believing in him. What I tend to do if they
aren’t specific, is to ask the following question: ‘To which god do you refer?’
followed by the statement ‘There are thousands to choose from’. They tend
either to baldly reiterate their previous assertion or just go away.

The rapid decrease in
the proportion of the population with religious affiliation is what is driving
the desperation of the religious, especially Christians, in the western
democracies. It is rightly perceived as an existential threat to their
privilege and the power that goes with it. To try to retain that privilege,
they have either thrown their lot in with people, the likes of whom they would
not countenance if they actually believed what they professed or they have taken
over a political party. The former is exemplified by the way the supposedly
god-fearing evangelicals in the United States support Trump, who the editorial
in the Baltimore Sun referred to as “the most dishonest man to
ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of
women’s private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of
Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are ‘good people’ among murderous
neo-Nazis”15. In Australia, rather than throwing their lot in with an
animal like Trump, the religious have effectively taken over the Liberal Party
and despite Morrison and company professing to be Christians, they just have
policies and attitudes which are like those of Trump. However it is done, the
result will be the same: A continuing decline in religious affiliation in part driven
by the lies, bigotry and other disgraceful behaviour of the religious.



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