Decline of Religious Belief


I’m not from a particularly religious background, but I’d like to think of myself as a believer (otherwise, I feel life would be void of meaning). While I’ve had the standard struggles of finding a middle-ground between faith and science (evolution, specifically) but I’ve usually found a way to reconcile them. There’s one thing, however, that I’ve never been able to really grasp: The decline of religious belief across the world.

Europe is already secular and heading even more in that direction, North America, while still religious, is declining rapidly. The story isn’t much different across the world (except for maybe South America). I just don’t understand this. In 100-years, I’d dare say that nobody left on Earth will believe that any sort of God or spirit exists. That’s a very depressing thought to me.

And that leads me to my question: If nobody believes any of it, then what’s the point?

(Christy Hemphill) #2

You’re ignoring the majority world. It is a valid observation that the global center of Christianity has shifted from the West to the South and East following the fall of Christendom in Europe. But you should get out more if you think Christianity is declining globally. :relaxed:

This is an old article, but the demographic trends hold.


I have often thought about this question too. I am not certain about this but I believe that Christianity is on the rise in South America (like you said), Africa, and especially Asia ( I believe that North America will grow to be like Europe in the future, mostly irreligious. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Citing the Bible (I’m not sure of your beliefs), there were times when Israel fell away from worshipping God, but then went back to serving him. I am saying that just because religion is waning in the US, that does not mean a) that it is a global trend or b) attitudes toward religion could change. These are just my thoughts.

(George Brooks) #4


I’m a Unitarian Universalist. I am part of an ancient tradition that said Jesus was an amazing man … adopted by God into the system of the Godhead … but not literally God.

Why isn’t this enough for me? I certainly think it’s enough for me. But there seem to be plenty of rule-makers out there who insist that such a view “just isn’t good enough”. While the Atheists say that I still believe in too much superstition.

The question you have to ask yourself is how much do you need to give your life meaning? Karma is pretty logical and powerful.

And Biblical: “As ye sew, so shall ye reap.”

So how much do you need, Van?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #5

If nobody believed that the earth goes around the sun, would that become any less true? Or would a lone dissenter who thinks the earth does move trouble themselves with the questions like “what’s the point?”

You would like to believe – but don’t really (or so it seems to me based on your few words I read here). Galileo had a fire lit under him to go out on a limb for Copernicus because Galileo thought it to be true – currently accepted scientific notions of his time be damned!

Having it the other way … (I.e. wanting something to be true but not really thinking it is) makes a poor substitute for those passionate fires of true belief. And you aren’t alone. You’re just being more honest airing your doubts than a lot of folks in the pews who carefully mind their orthodoxies, watching what they say. How we live reveals what we truly believe. It could be that declines of religion in northern or western cultures are only the revelation of what has already been true for a long time – finally showing itself more on the surface. We here in the U.S. may have old pious sayings on our money still, but it has been clear for some time that there are a whole lot of other things much higher than God on our lists of things we prefer to trust in --going way back to the inception of our nation. Lord have mercy on us – I am very much a subject of my own criticisms here.

If you want to be a believer, far be it from me to discourage that, or deprive any good seed of water. You should pray and read God’s word (starting in the gospels I would say) and meditate with a willing and open heart to the extent that God enables you to. Lord willing, (and I believe God is) – you should find that faith starts to grow. Let your doubts be there too – the original disciples brought theirs to the table … repeatedly. In the end you may find yourself beginning to cling to an intimately known faith not because you think it a utilitarian thing, but because you understand it to be something that is very valuable toward wholesome and true understanding and toward the living of life itself.

Afterthought: … and because those final thoughts still sound like a utilitarian motivation to “chase after faith”, we are always also reminded of how costly Christian faith is. Beware. It will cost you everything --or if it hasn’t that means you (and I) have not fully arrived yet. We will always be works in progress. But the cost is deep and has been joyfully incurred by so many. Lord, help us to want to join them.

(Nonlin Org) #6

100% of people - Atheists included - have religious beliefs:

You are instead lamenting the change in belief. My observation is that Atheism is mostly encountered in stable environments where people are subject to the illusion of control (i.e. “we are the masters of our own destiny”). Young, healthy, employed, urban, males in affluent societies are prime candidates, as this cohort has little exposure to life’s uncertainties outside their bubble of stability. More precarious living reminds people of their limitations and that they were gifted with abilities they did not earn. In the animal world, a farm animal would be an atheist while a wild one would not be one. More…

(Albert Leo) #7

Van, I am in total agreement with you. I have been fortunate enough to have made close friends with a number of medicinal chemists from all over the globe, most of whom now consider themselves a ‘agnostic’. I have been closest to a dozen living in Italy who were raised in Catholic homes like I was. As they became more educated, they began to consider their Christian Faith as no longer relevant. Why? As I began to pursue a career in science, I was assailed with doubts–the idea that science provided a surer way to the Truth than did religious Faith. If you would like to scan an account of my journey (prepared for an adult confirmation class) you can click on this link

My personal experience convinces me that living a life guided by Religious Faith rewards one in this life as well as preparing us for the hereafter. My colleagues, especially the Italian ones, expressed envy at this, and, although they considered themselves as “spiritual”, they wished they were able to continue to live the Faith they learned as children. Why couldn’t they? IMHO, the ‘blame’, if that is the right word, lies with Church leaders who have not been prompt enough nor clear enough in disseminating the evidence that Science & Faith are indeed compatible. I had enough curiosity to discover the progress the Vatican had made in this area (especially under pope John Paul II), but that did not filter down the PIP (‘people in the pews’). I fear this has also been true for Protestant Christianity, too, especially in the evangelical and fundamentalist branches. That is why I am so supportive of the work BioLogos does.

I am convinced that Scripture provides inspired instructions on how God wants us to act in this world. However, unless making allowances for the fact that both OT & NT were written thousands of years ago, in a language far distant from modern English and for an audience whose worldview was much different than ours, some part of Scripture can be MIS-interpreted to produce effects totally opposed to what was intended. Indeed, in these cases it seems true that “the Devil is skilled at quoting Scripture”.

I’m sure, Van, that if you stick with BioLogos you will profit from its Blogs and from some stimulating discussions on the Forum.
God bless,
Al Leo

(Curtis Henderson) #8

I’ll “piggy-back” on what @EvanFlick mentioned earlier. There is definitely a rise in the frequency of people that identify as Christian in other parts of the world. To quote from a Pew Research Center study, “Today, the Pew Forum study finds, more than 1.3 billion Christians live in the Global South (61%), compared with about 860 million in the Global North (39%).” ( It’s 130 pages, so I am not ashamed to admit that I didn’t read the entire study :slight_smile:

Now, I did carefully choose my words to state “identify as Christian” because we must admit that there are many people that identify as Christian without having made a life-changing commitment to Jesus Christ. However, I am still encouraged to see that although the influence of life-altering Christianity may actually be decreasing in the United States, it is increasing in other parts of the world.

(Curtis Henderson) #9

I heard this story on the radio a couple of weeks ago, but forgot about it until running across it on Twitter just a bit ago. Every once in a while, there is something worth paying attention to on Twitter!
The questionnaire used indirect questions to determine religious affiliation rather than direct ones. Although there are legitimate concerns about the accuracy of the conclusions, the bottom line to the story is this - it appears that many Americans are not 100% honest when reporting religious affiliation due to stigma against atheists. Thus the decline in the percentage of Americans that are Christian is probably more rapid than we even think.

(Jay Johnson) #10

Fascinating. Sounds like the same reason why the opinion polls were so far off in their predictions of the presidential election.


This seems to be the case. The US is actually a bit of an outlier among the Western industrial nations with a somewhat higher level of religious affiliation but still, the numbers of people associating themselves with traditional religious perspectives show a marked decline within those nations. I can’t find the chart, but I seem to remember the drop-off becoming even more significant over the past 20-30 years.

Here’s a link
to a sociologist’s talk.