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March 23rd, 2011
10:56 AM ET

Organized religion 'will be driven toward extinction' in 9 countries, experts predict

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

Organized religion will all but vanish eventually from nine Western-style democracies, a team of mathematicians predict in a new paper based on census data stretching back 100 years.

It won't die out completely, but "religion will be driven toward extinction" in countries including Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands, they say.

It will also wither away in Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland and Switzerland, they anticipate.

They can't make a prediction about the United States because the U.S. census doesn't ask about religion, lead author Daniel Abrams told CNN.

But nine other countries provide enough data for detailed mathematical modeling, he said.

"If you look at the data, 'unaffiliated' is the fastest-growing group" in those countries, he said.

"We start with two big assumptions based on sociology," he explained.

The first is that it's more attractive to be part of the majority than the minority, so as religious affiliation declines, it becomes more popular not to be a churchgoer than to be one, he said - what Abrams calls the majority effect.

"People are more likely to switch to groups with more members," he said.

Social networks can have a powerful influence, he said.

"Just a few connections to people who are (religiously) unaffiliated is enough to drive the effect," he said.

The other assumption underlying the prediction is that there are social, economic and political advantages to being unaffiliated with a religion in the countries where it's in decline - what Abrams calls the utility effect.

"The utility of being unaffiliated seems to be higher than affiliated in Western democracies," he said.

Abrams and his co-authors are not passing any judgment on religion, he's quick to say - they're just modeling a prediction based on trends.

"We're not trying to make any commentary about religion or whether people should be religious or not," he said.

"I became interested in this because I saw survey data results for the U.S. and was surprised by how large the unaffiliated group was," he said, referring to a number of studies done by universities and think tanks on trends in religion.

Studies suggest that "unaffiliated" is the fastest-growing religious group in the United States, with about 15% of the population falling into a category experts call the "nones."

They're not necessarily atheists or non-believers, experts say, just people who do not associate themselves with a particular religion or house of worship at the time of the survey.

Abrams had done an earlier study looking into the extinction of languages spoken by small numbers of people.

When he saw the religion data, his co-author "Richard Wiener suggested we try to apply a similar technique to religious affiliation," Abrams said.

The paper, by Abrams, Wiener and Haley A. Yaple, is called "A mathematical model of social group competition with application to the growth of religious non-affiliation." They presented it this week at the Dallas meeting of the American Physical Society.

Only the Czech Republic already has a majority of people who are unaffiliated with religion, but the Netherlands, for example, will go from about 40% unaffiliated today to more than 70% by 2050, they expect.

Even deeply Catholic Ireland will see religion die out, the model predicts.

"They've gone from 0.04% unaffiliated in 1961 to 4.2% in 2006, our most recent data point," Abrams says.

He admits that the increase in Muslim immigration to Europe may throw off the model, but he thinks the trend is robust enough to withstand some challenges.

"Netherlands data goes back to 1860," he pointed out. "Every single data that we were able to find shows that people are moving from the affiliated to unaffiliated. I can't imagine that will change, but that's personal opinion, not what the data shows."

But Barry Kosmin, a demographer of religion at Trinity College in Connecticut, is doubtful.

"Religion relies on human beings. They aren't rational or predictable according to the laws of physics. Religious fervor waxes and wanes in unpredictable ways," he said.

"The Jewish tradition that says prophecy is for fools and children is probably wise," he added.

And Abrams, Wiener and Yaple are not the first to predict the end of religion.

Peter Berger, a former president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, once said that, "People will become so bored with what religious groups have to offer that they will look elsewhere."

He said Protestantism "has reached the strange state of self-liquidation," that Catholicism was in severe crisis, and anticipated that "religions are likely to survive in small enclaves and pockets" in the United States.

He made those predictions in February 1968.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Atheism • Austria • Ireland

soundoff (3,551 Responses)
  1. David

    The people who actually believe in and try to understand and follow the teachings of Jesus, for example, will continue to. They, however, make up a very tiny percentage of the people who call themselves "christians". The catholic church, as another example among many, never followed the teachings of Christ. I think the article above pertains to organized religion, which is the real fraud and the cause of so many problems.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  2. Rob

    The Printing Press took away religion's monopoly on literacy and information dissemination.
    The Rule of Law took away religion's political authority.
    The Declaration of Human Rights took away religion's moral authority
    The Scientific Method took away religion's monopoly on explaining the Truth of Creation.

    For the past 500 years, we've been finding better replacements for what Religion used to provide. As more and more people live in a society with widespread Literacy, under the Rule of Law, respecting Human Rights and using fact-based reasoning, Religion will become more and more marginalized.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • Colin

      Well put. Our challange now is to accelerate its demise by continuing to spread logic and reason.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      If only it were so... There are many parts of the world where the only study that's permitted is that of whatever dogma happens to be in place at the time... There are also many areas of the so-called progressive United States that resist anything that may cast doubt on their long-ingrained practices. Those areas will not give up their fairy tales easily.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  3. pat

    jesus flaccid.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • Religions are BS

      jesus beats off too!

      March 23, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  4. Steve-O

    Best news I've read all day!

    March 23, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  5. William

    I want to take a moment to address this concept that we as religious people are forcing our beliefs on others. On the contrary, I think many of you are distressed and trying to get some kind of agreement and support for some sort of misguidance. I dont know but something I do know about evil or misguidance is it not a self aggrandizing act. But a disease that spreads very rapidly through misinformation, lies and arogance. I am here to enjoin common good and repel all evil and misguidance. Not to force anyone to do anything.
    so if you want to vent. Vent! But know for sure, if you meet me. Be ready for a rumble in the name of God!

    March 23, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • Jeff Bertram

      @ william
      How do you explain jehovahs witnesses, baptists and mormoms knocking on my door? Is that not forcing religion? How about god our (US) money. A clear violation of the first amendment. Fundies have continuously attempted to revise US history to make it a christian nation which it is NOT. Keep your religion to yourself and you will never hear from atheists and agnostics.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Religions are BS

      So, what you call the "in god we trust" "so help me god" crap? Are you a f akking ostrich? Of course, with all your religion's love & c untpassion!

      March 23, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  6. kc

    The Beatles said it so well..."What if there is no religion to die for?"

    March 23, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Religions are BS

      Then all religious sheep are walking dead - no reasons to live!

      March 23, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  7. Barry

    I know my life has vastly improved since leaving religion.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Colin

      My lover's did too.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • v.clausewitz

      Mine has vastly improved since finding it.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  8. TheRealJesus

    Funny that many if not all of these countries usually make the top 10 lists for best places in the world to live. Something to think about.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Philosopher

      That's a self-fulfilling prophecy, depending upon who's defining "best"!

      March 23, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  9. irfan

    When would organized religions vanish in islamic countries? Maybe in another 100 years

    March 23, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • v.clausewitz

      They won't. Coming to a country near you.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  10. Shepvan

    The world of false religion is pictured as a harlot riding on a beast that pictures the kings of the earth. The kings will bring her down completely but will mourn her just as the merchants will mourn the loss because she had made them all rich. Once again science and math have proven the bible to be true. Just look at Rev. 18:4-11 briefly please and then see at verse 21 it has already been foretold that with a swift pitch Babylon the Great, the harlot false religion, is hurled down, never to be seen again. Yes, it will be wonderful for the entire population on earth.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      That's because the below scripture proves all the fools on this site that blog against Jesus' truth.

      But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away.

      2 Timothy 3:1-5

      Amen.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  11. TriumPatriot

    This can't happen fast enough! Long live Atheism!

    March 23, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • Religions are BS

      We need lots more herding dogs! 🙂

      March 23, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  12. captnavenger

    Like most of CNN's articles in the lately overstuffed Belief section, this one makes assumptions, then attempts to clarify them, then goes ahead and gives someone a pinch or slap as if those disproven assumptions are correct.

    The author of the study indicated he was not predicting the total end of religion. But the author of the article later indicated that was the case, by way of comparison to another sociologist. As to that other sociologist, no end date was given for when his predictive model was to come to pass. But the author of the article posed those conclusions as if they were foolish by implying that they had somehow expired. Really? I was born in 1969, the year after Berger's predictions. Everything I see is trending toward what he said, and this article itself is about another study confirming Berger's views. Just because it did not come to pass the very next day does not mean it is not on the horizon. This is barely a generation later. I suspect even Berger knew this was a long, long arc in developing.

    The problem with the Belief section is that everything is written from the perspective of a believer, for believers. So no article escapes at least some measure of opining by the writer, thus, nothing is completely honest or fair here. An irony, given the relationship to honesty we would assume for this sort of thing.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  13. Colin

    Won't we look silly when the first generation not to have been sp-oon fed religion looks back on some of the sheer nonsense millions of us believed – a being powerful enough to create the entire Univers experiencing human emotions; minds being read (or "prayers being answered" to the extent you see a difference); living happily ever after in heaven; an invisible soul; an evil ground dwelling devil and evil fallen angels. I could go on for pages.

    We will be studied as the last supersti-tious generation. At least, I hope we will.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Colin, there's nothing funny about it. You are the last generation ... end of days.

      Wake up before it's too late. Your generation is the famine. End of days started in 1948.

      Amen.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • v.clausewitz

      Well, we've been saying that here in our North Korean paradise for a long time now, goober. Where have you been hiding?

      March 23, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  14. ZeeMan

    I am a Mulsim and do believe the article is correct. As people gain more knowldege (and not the hokey pokey of organized relision) they will find it harder and harder to believe. Some will see it as prophecy and some will just see it as common sense. The biggest hurdle in anyone accepting the truth that we are just another form of life and will be recycled into dirt is all the fearmongering of organized religion. What is real funny is that each follower of their religion believes only their religion is correct. Nobody is right if everybody is wrong!

    March 23, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      ZeeMan, even Allah told you to follow the law given by God to Mosses, then Allah said to follow Jesus' truth for He is the King of Kings, Lord of Lords.

      Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.

      Ezekiel 18:4

      Amen.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Religions are BS

      ZeeMan, Right!

      People should believe in whatever they want. However, they should keep it to themselves - none of this "In god we trust," "so help me god" crap. Why sheep keep subjugating others? We need more herding dogs! 🙂

      March 23, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  15. Juan

    As rational society develops (especially in the West), all religions, 300 to 500 years from now, will be looked at as a mythology, as we today, would chuckle at someone who said they believed in Thor or Odin or Zeus. Interesting.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Neil

      By Mjolner's might I shall defeat my enemies and gain entrance to Valhalla.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      2 Timothy 3:1-5 applies to all you fools that refuse to learn Jesus' wisdom. I've never read so much nonsense in my life than coming onto these articles to post.

      Repent for your sins and then read Jesus' truth, apply His wisdom to your life and get over yourself. This world isn't about all you sinners.

      Amen.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • Philosopher

      Oddly enough, not all religions have the sort of "shelf life" you think they have. Belief in the Greek gods was waning a few hundred years after their peak, as with the gods of Rome and others too numerous to mention. Other religions, on the other hand, have survived for millenia. Not all cultures look back to their immediate past and scoff at the naive religious views of their forebears; some see in them a way of making sense of certain things about the world that are out of the reach of non-religious (or anti-religious) positions that have come to replace them in our day. Add to this that naturalism is self-refuting, and I see no reason to think that religious views will die out. Rationalists promise much, but the little they deliver on serves only to prove that there are things nature and reason cannot explain.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Juan

      To disappoint you, your bible has multiple contractions (while reading, I found no less than 40, then I lost interest), not to mention is a rip off of other regions - for example, Sumeria's Sargon the Great was written by the Sumerians 800 years before Moses - fact. Most interesting, Christians praise Jews... yet Jews don't even recognize the New Testament , and don't believe in Jesus - in the Tanach (Jewish Bible), we are told that HaShem's words cannot be added to or changed. This in itself, disqualifies the Christian New Testament from the Jewish perspective - Jesus is not only dead to Jews, but never existed as a prophet. Summary, Christians can't even agree to whats what - in America alone, there are over 150 denominations of how to interpret those doctrines, and live as a Christians LOL

      March 23, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • Juan

      Correction, I wrote "we" - I am NOT Jewish, had other things on my plate at the time... nonetheless, you Judeo Christian god is a lie.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Religions are BS

      Right! Everyone summed it up well - all religions are one big pile of dung! 🙂

      March 23, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  16. Sam

    http://www.watchtower.org/e/rq/article_01.htm

    March 23, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  17. robbietheone

    The bigger the spread between religion and the state, the better we will be off. Religion trys to control people. People need to believe in themselves, not religion. People are generally good, but religion is evil

    March 23, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      People are evil without knowing Jesus' truth and applying it to their lives.

      But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away.

      2 Timothy 3:1-5

      Amen.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • wonderwall

      Actually, in the US, churches are the ones picking up the pieces when it comes to helping the homeless and poor. Hardly evil.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Religions are BS

      "Actually, in the US, churches are the ones picking up the pieces..."

      They are not the only one, mental midget! It's a lame justification for the religious subjugation of others! 😦

      March 23, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  18. Alex

    Good news for the children. There are more child molesters associated with organized religion than in prison...look it up.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      What a ridiculous, unfounded statement. Look in the mirror if you want to view a sinner.

      Read Jesus' truth in the Bible. Your soul depends on knowing His truth.

      Amen.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Rusty Shakelford

      Highly unfounded, but facing the right direction.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Religions are BS

      HeavenSent, look in the mirror & you will see a w anker

      March 23, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  19. JohnR

    This is good for society and good for genuine spirituality. Welcome to what could turn out to be a much brighter future for the planet and humanity.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      You young folks know nothing. You don't want to get past your sinful natures, that's why you protest too much. You don't even know what sin is today, you've incorporated so much of it in your daily lives.

      Get a grip on reality and repent. Read Jesus' truth in the Bible. Your soul depends on knowing what He wants for us and what He wants from us.

      Amen.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • Religions are BS

      HeavenSent, don't fool yourself. You are not more/less sinful than the average person. Your god/jesus to yourself - they are only relevant to sheep. There is no need to pontificate its existence or ties to morality BS.

      March 23, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  20. CJ

    This could be the greatest thing for mankind since, well, the Big Bang...we don't need it: we need a mystical sense of the glory of life, the earth, each other, we need a spiritual sense of the unknown, the coincidence and the amazing – but we do not need Christianity, Islam, Judaism especially....we just don't need it. Let it drift away...for God's sake...

    March 23, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Oh, this from a sinner that REFUSES to give up their sinful nature.

      Jesus' truth stands for eternity. Just because the young sinners in this world refuse to learn His wisdom only means you send yourself to the eternal fires, blotted out for eternity.

      Your choice (free will).

      Choose wisely, your soul is your responsibility.

      Amen.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • exp6121

      CJ, I could not have said it better myself! Thank you for posting!!!!

      March 23, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • v.clausewitz

      Nature abhors a vacuum. The void in many of these countries will be filled with Islam and its angry followers. Allahu Akbar, mofo's. See you on the other side.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • barrie Hunter

      Glad to see Aus on the list of the enlightened countries. The only thing that MAY help to keep religion alive down-under is a massive increase in the number of weirdo missionaries (read Mormons, etc) fulfilling their proselytizing duties by coming to convert us, mostly from that bastion of weird religions – the USA.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • Danimal

      To CJ, I agree with the way you think. People fear that without religion there is evil. Hogwash! I've never claimed a religion yet I feel spiritual and have a deep loving respect for living beings, the universe and the unknown. My behavior in life has been far more christian than those of christians I know. Well said my friend. Forget man-made religions and follow your heart about what is right. You can't go wrong. Peace.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • dan

      You are right. We don't need religion. WE need Christ and a true relationship with Him. Religion put Christ to death (but He is raised...) as well as the religion of this day could put Christ to death.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Jesus

      @heavensent
      "Follow my beliefs or die", its the christian way.. lmao

      March 23, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • wonderwall

      HeavenSent: You're not selling it very well. If you were truly trying to gain followers you should not bring up Hell like that.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • v.clausewitz

      Isn't Australia that enlightened country where we can go to cap abos for sport?

      March 23, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      All you haters of Jesus' truth keep proving what is written. Get over your sinful selves or you will go to the eternal flames and blotted out for eternity.

      But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away. (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

      Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.

      Ezekiel 18:4

      Amen.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      wonderwall, I'm not trying to be a soft sell. There are too many phony preachers out there in the world that babysit the sinners today which allows them to continue sinning, all the way to the eternal flames, zapped, blotted out for eternity. Those phony preachers aren't teaching ALL of Jesus' truth, hence why this generation is the last generation and will perish in the eternal flames, blotted out. No eternity for them.

      Jesus has many facets to Him. I'm writing His truth and nothing but His truth. I'm not here to babysit the sinners. I'm telling them the consequences to their sinful behaviors.

      2 Timothy 3:13; 4:3-4

      Amen.

      March 23, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • Religions are BS

      HeavenSent, you are phony! Like an ostrich, you just don't know it!

      March 23, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Religions are BS

      Well put CJ! All religions are one big pile of dung. And yes, dung does have a purpose! 🙂

      March 23, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.