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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. mark

    I hope all of you find Jesus before too late. It is up to you..nothing to worry about really just your soul.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • God

      Jesus will be performing in Vegas at the Mirage starting on the 24th through the 28th....

      March 23, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @God: I like to stay at Imperial Palace. Cheaper, and I can just walk across the street to the Mirage.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Carl

      Hey, I've got a bridge for sale if you are interested. hardly ever been used . . . .

      March 23, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • God

      Carl, I would get rid of the bridge soon... I am about to send another earthquake, they do not worship me correctly so I need to teach them a valuable lesson....

      March 23, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  2. brad

    From the article: "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."
    Gee. I thought that to get away from religion was to "think for oneself". Guess not.
    Well, after all, we know God doesn't exist. We thought he did back when the earth was flat. But now that the earth is round, I guess I can be an atheist.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • God

      I made the Earth round, I got tired of watching people fall off...

      March 23, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  3. William Brown

    There seems to be a fundamental difference in understanding by many posters here today; the worship of a supreme being is vastly different than which Church you go to. I haven't noticed any reduction in people who say they believe in a supreme being; however there is a huge loss of memberships in Churches particularly those that are led by uneducated fanatics who are little more than Jim Jones wanna-be's. In the case of these so called Churches entire congregations are unaffiliated, but they are there spreading their own particular brand of intolerant exclusivity. They run the gamut from extreme right wing nut conservatives to far left liberal fanatics; most Christians would find spending a Sunday with these groups a bit uncomfortable.
    How many times have I heard a minister of the Gospel make the statement that every word of the Bible is sacrosanct and must be obeyed to the strictest and narrowest interpretation; and yet completely ignore other parts of the Holy Scripture? When asked why; some of these divines mount pulpits of infallibility and question your faith for daring to make inquiries; they wrap themselves in the garments of righteous indignation and hurl thunderbolts of biblical judgment against those who dare to question their authority. Sadly it sounds more like the Children of the Corn than main stream Christianity. Does this represent the entire spectrum of Christianity; no, it emphatically does not, but it does get the headlines, and it has much more of an impact than you may think.
    Matthew 22:36 “[Jesus], which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, ’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”
    And that my friends is the essence of Christianity.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  4. John Hunter

    Unbelievable!! How is it impossible for so many people to be completely unable to grasp the idea that religion is a CULTURAL thing - i.e. MYTHOLOGY. Nothing wrong with that, but once the bounds of reality become blurred, all logic is removed from any discussion.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • John Hunter

      [ ED: How is it ^possible^... ]

      March 23, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  5. Fran

    Good. There will be one less major thing for people to fight about.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  6. Jonathan

    Amen to that. As we grow, mature, and evolve as a new species we will eventually abandaon organized religion as the man made myth it truly is. The Christian story as well as Islam is a creation of man, based on culture and the time period it was created. In a time of daily bad news this article was a real ray of hope for the future of man. This does not mean there is not some type of Creator or Universal Consciousness/Intelligence but the man made fiction such as Christianity will finally go extinct and the damaging and ignorant dogma along with it..

    March 23, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  7. Mattfromindy

    To the people who say "the bible points to the fall of religion is in the book of revelation":

    If I were to write a book that laid out such nonsense as Christianity, I'd put a clause in there promising terrible things to those who tried to leave, too. It's a good (albeit incredibly dishonest) business decision.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • God

      I never was happy with the editing of my book... too choppy, did not have any flow and the characters were totally one dimensional...

      March 23, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  8. God

    Passive/aggressive pronouncements of my name is a sin... you can put it in as the 11th commandment...

    March 23, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • AnotherAngel

      I can't believe CNN were stupid enought not to block the use of the name god...

      What's next ? Yaveh ?

      March 23, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • God

      Well, that would be wrong.... I would descend their ratings into a bottomless pit....

      March 23, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • jloome

      Dog is good!

      March 23, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • God

      I named my dogs: Odin, Thor and Loki... I think the Norse people were dyslexic...

      March 23, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Ephraim

      This blog is powered by WordPress. It is their lack of due diligence that makes this one of the worst blogs you'll ever see.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  9. STLBroker

    People that claim to be non-believers are by far the most vocal about God on these message boards. I find that interesting. Seems like something is knocking at the door of your heart to me.

    I believe that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus. I also believe that all things are possible through God. So to answer the question, will non-believers receive eternal life? Yes, if God wants them to. Will some "believers" not receive eternal life? Not if God doesn't want them to. Many claim to be believers but really aren't. They deny him with their words and actions.

    Point is, going to church every week isn't going to do it. Saying you are a Christian isn't going to do it. The grace of God and Jesus is the only thing that can as every single one of us deserves death and damnation.

    However, if you are a non-believer and you use every opportunity to get on message boards to discourage others from believing, I don't think you are helping your case much but again it is ultimately up to God what happens to you after this brief existence on earth.

    By far, the safest and most sure route is to get to know Jesus. Once you know him, you will love him. And you will want to express your love toward him by obeying his commands. You will KNOW that this life is not all there is and that you will continue to exist forever somewhere. I pray that everyone finds their way to the best place possible to spend eternity.

    http://www.jesuscompanion.com

    God bless you all!

    March 23, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • Jonathan

      We are trying to educate and ' save " people such as yourself and our children from the brainwashing and ignorance of Christianity and other other organized religions. Christianity IS a man created myth, you would know this if you were educated in Christianity, and the making of the Bible...as well as having a mature understanding of spirituality. I'm not an athiest, but the Christian God of pure myth. That is a fact my friend.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • God

      Thanks for the myths, I would not be here with you guys... big kudos... I think I will send you a double rainbow really soon....

      March 23, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • g

      when you realize that love is just about loving and that it has nothing to do with an imaginary being, then you might find it easier to love other people instead of looking for ways to hate them that are pleasing to your "god" according to your "holy" (yet written by humans) words.
      and when you realize how easy it has been for the most depraved of con-artists to pretend to your "faith" and how you'll never know if they lie because "faith" requires an absence of proof, you might think twice about the hidden agendas behind the "holy words" that are thrown at you day and night.

      Your gullibility and credulity are the only things they need to lead you into a pit of your own making.
      Religion would not be successful if it weren't for you believing everything that wears a religious price tag.
      Evaluate reality with total honesty and your religion will disappear in a puff of greasy smoke!

      March 23, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • jloome

      They outnumber you vastly on here but you hear knocking on the door of "their" hearts?

      If there's someone up there, boyo, I'd suggest he's trying to tell YOU something about organized religion.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • God

      *knock, knock* Candy gram, pizza, Avon calling... okay, okay, it's me, that sneaky God...

      March 23, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  10. g

    now we get to hear the religious majority pretend that they are being oppressed by the poorest and disenfranchised.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  11. AwesomeMan

    Good Riddance.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  12. God

    @Lester: It would help if they believed in me to have any respect for me. I bet they don't respect unicorns either, but unicorns do have feelings....they really do.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  13. purplepuppy

    One does not have to follow an organized religion, to follow the instruction in Torah and the New Testament. Organized Religion is just that Religion. Religion is a form of idol worship. There are people falling away from organized religion and going to a pure form of following the instructions of YHVH

    March 23, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • God

      I won Jerusalem Idol about 6600 years ago.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Seetheway

      Idols are man made. When you worship an idol, it is only a dead thing, it can't help you or give you peace. That is false religion.
      God is the only one who created all and we were created to worship Him the creator. God is the God of peace and love and is our help in time of need!

      March 23, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Tom

      I believe in one less Idol than you.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • God

      I am here for you... *big invisible imaginary hugs*

      March 23, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  14. God

    @SeanNJ: Um, no. Jesus and Mohammad ate the last of the Wonder Bread when they made pulled pork sandwiches.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  15. veggiedude

    It can't happen soon enough. However, best news heard in a long time.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Raven

      Woot

      March 23, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Tom

      Amen!

      March 23, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  16. AnaHadWolves

    It's not God I have a problem with...it's his jerkwad followers! From being told I'm not "Christian enough" (I am the 20th generation to embrace Anglicanism/Episcopalianism in my family going back to when the Church of England was formed 400 years ago) to "you need to be born again" (I was baptised soon after birth and was Confirmed by the Bishop when I was 10 as a full member of the Episcopal Church).

    The nutballs who permeate some branches of religion give the entire thing a bad name with their hate-filled diatribes against Jews, gays, Muslims, foreigners and more. I wouldn't mind other religions with which I disagree if they weren't so darned obnoxious about "sharing" with me when I already have a religion and a set of beliefs. For them to tell me that my religion doesn't matter of that I'm not sufficiently Christian is insulting, mean-spirited and, imho, blasphemous.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Jeff

      Confirmation and baby baptism are empty rituals. Read the bible. You either follow Jesus (and try to live like Him) or you don't. It's not complicated. And what your ancestors believed is meaningless.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Rob

      I know what you mean. I think it was Ghandi who said, "I like this Jesus. It's his followers I have a problem with."

      The problem, w/ Christianity at least, is not the religion itself. Rather it's that Christians by and large do not adhere to its teachings.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Matt

      So then Ignore them! Nobody has a right to say how religious you are, it's a personal relationshiph between you and God through faith, that what he says is truth. Anyone else's opinion about your spirituality you have to take with a grain of salt.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  17. Lester

    I read many anti-religion comments and I sum up my conclusion: atheists/anti-theists/antireligious lack respect.

    March 23, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • g

      yes, we don't get any respect from religious people.
      thank you for pointing that out.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Jeremy

      Lester, the burden of proof is on the religious, not the other way around. If you really believe in invisible omnipotent people / person, you're going to have to explain yourself. When humans didn't have a better way to understand their world, they used stories and fables to fill the void. Now we know better. The fact that so many people still believe in them is a testament to how important social factors are in how a religion is chosen. That's why this story is so interesting. It shows how you are born into your brand of religion, or lack of belief.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Hard to have respect for people who run their lives in accordance with ancient fairy tales and try to force their "wisdom" unto everyone around them. If stupid people kept their ignorance to themselves, things would be acceptable; when they pass laws that perpetuate their baseless beliefs, the oppression results in exactly this kind of dismissal.

      In DOG we trust...

      March 23, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Lester

      In addition, atheism is a denying egocentric culture

      March 23, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • God

      I should have made myself better known to the atheists but Jesus, Mary and me packed up the Winnebago about 6600 years ago and been on vacation ever since.... my bad, Lester.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Todd

      Why do you the religious deserve any more respect than someone who believes in Superman?

      March 23, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Lester

      Why hate? It really shows that atheism is the opposite of religion.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Lester

      @Todd I do not ask for "more" respect, everyone deserves equal respect.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  18. Carl

    ‎"I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."-Stephen Roberts . . . a world free of this religious non-sense; thank god! <- couldn't resist

    March 23, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  19. God

    I am a figment of your imagination...

    March 23, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      Can you make me a sandwich?

      March 23, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • sammich nazi

      that's SAMMICH!

      March 23, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Another God

      I am also a figment of your imagination.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Gen Isis

      I wouldn't want to be a sandwich.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • YHWH

      God, you are an impostor

      I am the breath of life, the creator of all things...

      beware my Wrath!

      March 23, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • God

      God fight!

      March 23, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  20. Hellbound

    @jon
    REALLY! so when was the last war that was started by atheists?

    March 23, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • do proxy wars count?

      If you count proxy wars, then Joseph Stalin.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • jorgath

      The Korean War, I think – not sure if the North Korean version of communism included/includes the Marxist view of religion. If not, WWII; Hitler and Stalin.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Hellbound

      ok so how many deaths from that one. Then lets take figure and turn it into a percentage from all the other wars. Good reference though.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Rob

      Let's see, right off the bat, I can think of several recent instances. There was the killing fields in Cambodia in the mid to late 70's (2 or 3 million killed by Pol Pot - atheist), followed by the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia (one atheist regime attacking another), followed by the Chinese invasion of Vietnam (an attack on that atheist regime by yet a third atheist regime).

      There was also the invasion of South Korea by the atheist north, backed by the atheist Stalin.

      There was the Russian civil war, where the atheist Reds waged a war against the liberal democratic Whites

      And, biggest of all, there was the war between the atheist Hitler and the atheist Stalin. I know, I know, hitler was raised Roman Catholic and professed to be a Christian before assuming power. But the Nazi movement was an atheist movement through and through, especially at the top.

      I'm sure there are others. These just come readily to mind.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • God

      The Soviets and North Koreans made their state take the place of me. Joseph Stalin was like Jesus Christ to those people...except he did the hanging instead of hanging on the cross like my boy/I did...

      March 23, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • do proxy wars count?

      sorry for incomplete post. Joseph Stalin played a significant role in the Korean War.

      March 23, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Hellbound

      oh wait i m pretty sure stalin was orthadox and the koreans weren't atheist(at least the vast majority). Grant it is was politically motivated so point made

      March 23, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Hellbound

      @ ROB again point made. But are you sure hitlers whole Pure Race thing and mass murdering of jews wasn't slightly religously motivated

      March 23, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Aezel

      What he meant to say, when was the last war started in the name of Atheism. The answer to that question, is zero.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Hellbound

      Thank you Aezel

      March 23, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Progressive-atheist

      @rob...you admit hitler was catholic & yet you ignore that & just arbitrarily state the 'people at the top were atheists'...in fact that wasn't true. Just saying so from me or you doesn't make it true -go look it up. Good people do good things & bad people do bad things. But for good people to do bad things, it takes religion. Atheist don't cause wars...bad people do...most the time these bad people are under the influence of a religion that they've used to justify themselves.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • PsYcO

      John Lennon's "Imagine" come to mind

      March 23, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Kev

      You don't have to start a war; you just have to persecute. Let's see, of the anti-religious, we find, Lenin, Stalin, Pot, Mao and most of the Nazi party to name a few. I'll say they declare war not so much on another country, but on religion it self, and any others that get in the way of their power hungry motives. When was the last war started in the name of religion, next to say radical Islam, which seems more to do with foreign policy then anything else.

      March 23, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Rob

      What the nazis did to the Jews was definitely anti-semitic, but it was more racial than anything else. If you read the Nazi propaganda, the attacks on the Jews wasn't b/c they didn't believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. It was b/c they were an inferior race. Every race was inferior to the Nordic/Germanic Aryan race. The Gypsies, the slavs, etc. The Jews were just looked upon as the worst. If anything the Nazi regime was borderline neo-pagan. Check out all the references to and honoring of Nordic mythology (Siegfried et al.)

      March 23, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
    • Rob

      Georing – atheist
      Bormann – atheist
      Goebbels – atheist
      Himmler - atheist

      Even if Hitler wasn't an atheist (which he was) the rest of the senior Nazi leadership was.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:32 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.