Post No.: 0322
In the industrialised world, religiosity has been on a marked decline, even in the USA. This may be because life has somewhat improved for many people overall over the past several decades, and not just with regards to income in real terms but other ways too (e.g. increased voting rights, decreasing violent crime levels). When life gets better and more certain, there’s less need for praying for divine interventions. And like a lot of trends, this is mainly led by younger generations.
Yet in the US at least, currently more people still claim that religion is important to them than not important. The advance of scientific explanations for phenomena erodes away many theological beliefs, but as long as poverty, war and uncertainty still very much exist in the world, religion will be here to stay in the world too. Life for most people today is better than it was for most people a century ago, but there are still great and uncertain existential problems in this world that people are very keenly aware of.
Religiosity rises and falls in relation to social stability so maybe banishing poverty, war and uncertainty in this world will also banish religion? However, humans aren’t always swayed by scientific reason, and so reason won’t necessarily replace a faith in the supernatural. Thus although the number of people who class themselves (via self-reporting) as ‘religious’ in the industrialised world is falling – the vast majority of people still believe in some form of supernatural or paranormal phenomena (e.g. spirits, afterlives, superstitious beliefs, mystical prophecies, omens, that some things happen for a divine reason).
A country where there’s no pressure to believe or not believe in religious beliefs, where religion is basically a non-issue, a country with cohesive, homogenous societies and low levels of internal conflict and insecurity, will likely be low in religiosity (e.g. Scandinavian countries). Personal wealth and level of education are actually not very good predictors of lower religiosity. People who are religious are not necessarily poor or less educated. Woof.
High religiosity may be associated with a particular group, hence if one doesn’t like that group then one may also be antipathetic towards that group’s associated religiosity too. For example, politically conservative people tend to be more religious hence many liberals may reject religiosity (or at least not admit to it) to further distance themselves from and not be associated with the typical conservative mindset? Consciously or subconsciously, political conservatives might be more religious because they believe less in secular institutions such as a big government (because their religion is instead their institution) and have a higher tendency to agree to binding moral values; and vice-versa for political liberals. These are of course only generalities.
Because of the push and pull between secular and religious institutions, a loss of confidence in secular institutions (e.g. in schools, the media, the legal system) can lead to a greater draw towards religious institutions, unless there is a loss of confidence there as well. People seem to naturally need an institution of some sort to trust in, and if it’s not secular then it’ll be religious, and vice-versa; or if it’s not one religion then it’ll be another religion, or if it’s not one secular institution then it’ll be another secular institution (e.g. in private corporations if not the government).
Religiosity tends to follow a life course too – people tend to become less religious during late adolescence, and then become more religious as they get married, have children and approach death. Yet even accounting for this, new generations in the industrialised world are increasingly becoming less affiliated with a religion.
However, since birth rates in the industrialised world are declining compared to in the past (albeit life spans are generally increasing and so populations are generally still overall rising), and since the most fertile countries as well as the most fertile individuals within countries (due to their anti-contraceptive, anti-abortion and generally pro-natal beliefs) tend to be the most religious – the proportion of religiously-affiliated people in the world as a whole might actually rise in global percentage terms compared to the non-affiliated, despite the absolute number of non-affiliated people also rising? This is unless economic development and secularisation occurs in these currently less-industrialised places – although it must be noted that economic development doesn’t always lead to secularisation (e.g. the Arab states of the Persian Gulf).
Naturally, predicting the future is notoriously difficult and there are many push and pull factors that can lead groups and individuals away or towards religion (including finding out that a football superstar follows a certain religion!) Tradition enters into a tug-of-war with progress – the world today has been built upon a complicated global history of competition as well as integration of beliefs and practices, resulting in this current complex picture of religions across the world that continues to be unstable, changing and contested in the present, and this pattern will likely carry on long into the fluffy future.
The charitable work of missionary Christians in foreign countries mainly has a parochial self-interest of converting people to Christianity. Nevertheless, as very broad correlational generalisations – within the US, religious people are more likely to be charitable and to volunteer, even to secular causes. But when comparing between democratic countries, the less religious countries of Scandinavia are more socialist and care more for the poor and vulnerable than more religious countries. According to US data again, religious people also tend to be happier, whereas non-religious people are more likely to consider themselves as failures. Yet when comparing between democratic countries again, the more religious countries tend to have worse murder, suicide, sexually-transmitted infection, teenage pregnancy and abortion rates than less religious countries.
These are all just correlational findings though. Still, it’s peculiar that the data amongst people at the individual level (within USA at least) doesn’t correlate with the data amongst different countries at the country level (between democratic countries at least). What may potentially explain this is that it’s really about the social belonging and regular attendance to a congregation – of really any type of group whether religious or not – that correlates with feeling happier (because feeling more lonely makes one feel less happy) and with giving more to charity (because feeling that other people are watching us leads to more kindness from us because our reputation is being publicly judged when in a social congregation).
Social belonging and regular, quality, social interactions are well known for being important for our happiness and well-being. Religion can offer this, but it can be provided via secular means too.