Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Belief in God Continues to Fall

The meteor creates a fireball.
Cue the faithful.  Someone needs to blame the Russian meteor on God's righteous wrath.  After all, they are Russian Orthodox, the "wrong" kind of Christians. God must be furious at them.

Of course, the Japanese tsunami can be blamed on God’s anger, too.  After all, according to a recent survey, only 4.3 percent of Japanese believe in God.  Unemployment in the Czech Republic can  be explained, too: 39.9 percent of those residents don’t believe in God.  Poverty in Great Britain?  Some 20 percent of the English don’t believe in God and never have.

No question that God should be parrying such negativity with uncontrollable anger.  Unfortunately, He hasn’t had much success in challenging the erosion in belief.  A new study comparing how people in 30 countries feel about God in 1991, 1998 and in 2008 found that the belief in God had fallen worldwide.  The University of Chicago research project found that only “33.56 percent of those surveyed identified as strong believers.”

If that doesn’t get the pious ranting, nothing will.

It gets worse for them.  Atheism is gaining strength.  The percentage of those in the international survey who identified themselves as atheists jumped an average of 1.7 percent in 15 of 18 countries from 1991 to 2008.  From 1998 to 2008, atheism rose an average of 2.3 percent in 23 of 30 countries.

Only six countries increased the number of residents who are certain God exists.  Everyone else saw such numbers erode.  Austria led the way with a 10.6 percent decline.  Even Catholic Spain lost 7 percent between 1998 and 2008.

At the same time, belief in a personal God also slipped.  From 1991 to 2008, it declined .8 percent in 10 of 18 countries. From 1998 to 2008 alone, belief in a personal God declined an average of 2 percent in 20 of 30 countries.  More than half of the residents of the former East Germany are now atheists.

Countries with a strong Catholic presence tended to be more religious.  Countries with a Protestant base were not.  

Atheism coloring French beliefs.
However, even strong Catholic countries were hardly immune from the religious slippage.  An estimated 5.9 percent of Italians consider themselves atheists, while only 41 percent are sure God exists.  Atheism in France stood at 23.3 percent, while those claiming to be sure God exists limped in at 15.5 percent.  

God is taking a thumping everywhere, even in the United States.  No wonder Bible Belt preachers are so strident these days.  They are becoming increasing marginalized.  Some 60.6 percent of Americans believe in God, the survey found.  This is in a country that is nominally 76 percent Christian.

Someone clearly has some confessing to do.

Overall, Israel, Russia and Slovenia were the only countries that moved toward greater belief.  Five countries – West Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Philippines and the United States – ended up with mixed results, while 10 counties “showed a consistent decline in belief.”  Residents in 17 of the countries changed their beliefs, agreeing with the statement that “I don’t believe in God now, but I used to.”

Age made a difference. Older people were more religious, perhaps, author Tom W. Smith wrote, “in response to increasing anticipation of mortality.”

Also, the survey did not include Muslim countries where devout belief is part of everyday life, much more so than in the more-secular West.

Belief in God eroding
Nevertheless, this snapshot shows the continual erosion of belief in a supreme being, matching up with increasing scientific knowledge and growing skepticism about organized religion.

It also directly confronts the Republican Party’s decision to yoke itself to the religious right.  That group is getting increasingly smaller, dragging down the GOP with it.

Does that mean that God is dead?  No, but He has clearly been wounded.  Ten years from now, who knows?  As for now, fundamentalists have run into a perfect storm of knowledge, increasing awareness of reality and the obvious unsupportable nature of their professed beliefs.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1

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