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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. highnoon

    As Karl Marx said, "religion is opium for the people". As we all know it is hard to change the behavior of an addict, so this likely just means we have gotten a couple of new dealers on the block selling different drugs. Highly unlikely we cut the habit...

    March 23, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  2. Mike

    We as a species have such amazing potential along with our many flaws. Religion is perhaps our biggest.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  3. caradoc01

    People act as if the loss of religion is a bad thing? Religion is responsible for more wars in history than ANY other thing. Without religion humanity would be far more peaceful.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  4. Percy Chow

    Well put it this way, why worship a god that doesn't deliver?

    It's like buying a car that doesn't drive or a home that doesn't cover your head.
    Religious leaders really need to wake up about this and take their faith a bit more seriously.

    I'm not talking about evangelizing people to the point of harassment, but recently I've noticed, the most adamant atheists aren't people who God personally screwed over... but rather people who were screwed over by people of faith.

    😐

    March 23, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  5. HotAirAce

    The actual paper can be found at http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/1012/1012.1375v2.pdf.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  6. John

    Yay, I'm moving to the Netherlands

    March 23, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  7. Kritz

    Hooray! And not a moment too soon.

    While no sensible person denies that religious organizations can (and often do) perform charitable acts with effectiveness, the price - having to behave as if fairy tales are actually true - is just too high. Nonsectarian NGOs can do the job just as effectively with much less baggage and with an inherently inclusionary approach that sectarian organizations can never hope to reach.

    Do I see the light? Is the human race finally growing to adulthood?

    March 23, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  8. Meep

    Organized religion is a sham. It's surprising that it's been around this long.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • Meepo

      hay my brutha!
      Power to the people!

      March 23, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
    • D

      The shamminess has nothing to do with the level of organization. Either some can be supported by provable facts or it can't. That's what determines whether something is a sham not how it's organized.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  9. Josie Behnke

    I don't see people being any less religious or not, just not to many people going to Churches or actually claiming a specific religious belief. I know I am religious, but other then a wedding or funeral, you won't see me at a church anymore. It's not comfortable for me, nor do I like it. But I have just as much faith as ones like some of my family who go to church every sunday and then some. I guess it's just a personal opinion/view in the end.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  10. malolos

    RELIGION IS ONLY MAKE BELIEVE. NOT ONE SINGLE PIECE OF EVIDENCE AVAILABLE THAT ANY OF THE "WORLD" RELIGION IS TRUE. EXAMPLE OF HOW RELIGION IS HURTING SOCIETY: IN THE PHILIPPINES THE CATHOLIC GAY CARDINALS, BISHOPS AND LONELY PRIEST, YES GAY, 95% OF THEM ARE GAY, NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT, THEY WERE BORN THAT WAY..... BUT THEY DON'T WANT FAMILY PLANNING LIKE BIRTH CONTROL PILLS AND THE RIGHT FOR A PERSON TO CHOOSE WHETHER TO HAVE THAT CHILD. IN 1986 THE POPULATION WAS 40 MILLION IN THE PHILIPPINES. TODAY, JUST 25 YEARS LATER IT HAS NEARLY DOUBLED. "WAKE UP PHILIPPINES" PEOPLE ARE LIVING ON THE STREETS ALL OVER MANILA. WAKE UP WORLD AND GET RID OF RELIGION. DO YOUR OWN THINKING! THE WORLD WOULD BE A MUCH BETTER PLACE "WITHOUT RELIGION."

    March 23, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  11. DaedelusEcks

    Organized religion is simply a divisive tool created by the human imagination. This can be likened to how things such as nationalism and racism keep people divided. Hopefully (as the article states), this will be one of the first toppling blocks set in the path of a unified Earth.

    After major religious lines have been mitigated, I can easily see governments and nation states moving towards a singular government/economy. It is only in this way that the Human race will truly be free to evolve and proper as a whole.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  12. SKY

    FACT: THEY HAVE THE FACTS, RELIGION HAS MORE PAGAN TEACHING AND HOLIDAYS
    OK, IT HAS NOT BEEN A FORCE FOR PEACE....IT CAUSES DIVISION.
    RELIGION SHOULD UNITE PEOPLE, AND ALWAYS TEACH THE TRUTH.
    NO HELL, NO SOUL THAT GOES TO HEAVEN, NO IDOLS, NO PAGAN HOLIDAYS

    March 23, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  13. truthinrock

    This is "old world" vs. "new world" thinking. The US can't be viewed this way at all. It's not based on a medieval construct.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  14. Fromwith

    I found this article to be quite interesting. And though the comments seem to be wide ranging and rather heated in nature, I think it served it's purpose. One thing I noticed, *ahem* Christian is not the only religion, and it is definitely not the one with the largest following on this world. Mutual respect anyone? Come on. Everyone is free to believe what they wish to believe or not to believe. Saying that people are going to go to hell because they do not believe necessarily as you do is not only disrespectful, but it is rather assuming don't you think? At the end of the day, who are you to judge?

    March 23, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • Damned for Rolling Eyes repeatedly and without repentance

      Would you respect a child-molester? A murderer? A psychotic?
      I pity you. You are surrounded by heinous crimes and refuse to look closely at what people are doing to you under the color of religion.
      What do you do with the mentally ill? Incarcerate them? Punish them? Or do you try to heal them, help them?
      Christianity and all the other religions do not like to face the realities of modern psychology.
      The reasons why should be obvious.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • D

      Actually Christianity is far and away the largest religion in the world in terms of number of followers.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  15. steven harnack

    Well that is the most cheerful news that I've read in a long, long time!

    March 23, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Brad

      Who cares, Hollywood, or TV is the newest religion replacing it. People will always ben lambs following other fools. The vast majority of humankind just can't think for themselves, they always have to listen to what someone tell them, wether it is a politician, scientist, or movie stars. They just shake their heads and bleep, that way they have someone else to blame when it goes wrong.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  16. Corbijn

    Its hard to say that this hasn't already happened. Religion is going to fade away from the masses while becoming more radical and fanatic to those who hang onto it. I'm in SLC Utah, religion isn't going anywhere here but those who follow it are becoming more like zealots every single day. Every year Utah looks more like a little version of Iran inside the USA. I do think that with a rise in how fanatic groups become with religion there will include more horrific behavior from those who follow. Look at the majority of the comments here from those who are still faithful, nothing about love and understanding; just frothing off verses and condemning those who aren't as fervent as they are. It will truly be a beautiful day when all religious nuts can get lumped into the same bucket as those who fly planes into buildings or believe in having multiple wives. And those same individuals and groups have no more hold on politics or can picket military funerals because the joke and shock of their messages just died out and people had enough. When a president isn't judged by how he judges based on dogma; the president can actually say he stopped believing in Santa before he learned to read. Who knows, maybe society will become bored enough to actually go back to the moon and achieve great humanitarian concepts such as ending world hunger. Maybe on the slightest chance of "if" the second coming were to happen, Jesus wouldn't find himself needed because the people of the world decided to create their own heaven; people would look at him and say they were tired of waiting so they decided to make the changes themselves. Wouldn't that be horrible?

    March 23, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  17. Jeff

    The bible agree's that religion is going down, to be devasted and utterly destroyed worlwide. That is in several prophetic accounts, notably in Revelation 17 and Jeremiah 51. Religion (the most oppresive and divisive organization on earth, at whose feet is the most innocent blood) does not represent the true God of scripture, nor does it teach what the bible really says.
    Many of the comments here, by no doubt sincerelt religious folks, miss the point of Christianity due to false representation of scripture. Salvation is not the "main thing"; so many feel that this is what it is all about, especially the so-called born again or charismatic christians. Salvation is a side issue; icing on the cake. The vindication of Jehovah God's sovereignty, His right and the correctness of His rule, along with the santification of His holy name – all by means of His Kingdom ruled by the Son, we know as Jesus. That is the main message of Scripture. Any salvation is gifted to those that they deem worthy of everlasting life under the outworking of this purpose. Savvy?
    False religion, especially christendom, needs to be destroyed, not just slowluy abandoned. And it soon will be, by the very paramours it now commits adulury with – the world governments opposed to rule by God's Kingdom.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  18. StevieBoy

    I won't likely see the day, but would love to live in a religion-free world. We need less weak-minded individuals and more free-thinkers. Churches and the like are wonderful pieces of architecture and should be relegated to just being museums and nothing more.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • Bill Duke

      Religion isn't going anywhere. Religions will come and go and change names but there will always be many religions. That's the way human beings are made.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  19. Ferman Qesari

    Unaffiliated? Yes, I am. Anyway it's just that I wanted to post something on this unreadable long wall and add up another affiliated comment to the unaffiliated young fellows or time-wasting human beings.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
  20. Pat

    I am glad to see how the atheists react. Praise the Lord Jesus! Because all those attacking Him are from Satan, and spread Satanic lies. It more clear now, and I can assure everyone that those mocking Jesus will burn in eternal and painful hellfire, for ever and ever and ever. I am glad, Praise Be Jesus!! that this way the Satanic forces are exposed and we, the humble children of God will be saved in Heaven. All you mocking Jesus are liars, Antichrists, and inspired to misguide. Repent or pay your consequences in hellfire! Amen, Lord, Amen!!

    March 23, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • God

      That is correct.

      I love you all.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • Trent

      Do you know how to spell brainwashed? You got lied to and you bought it hook line and sinker. You radical religious types are a rather gullible lot. Feel free to have a thought not dictated to you by your religion. That'd be a true miracle.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • Dorothy

      Don't you get it? Revelations is about revealing we don't need religion anymore. There is no heaven, there is not hell but we do have an expanding universe with billions of suns and billions and billions of galaxies. The future is bright, love and tolerance will heal our society from all the judgmental, self righteous people who don't even follow what they are preaching.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • Hopeful

      A bit angry, are we? Perhaps a little less Revelation and a little more Xanax is what's needed.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      Its up to god to decide who is going to hell and who is not. and it seems rather cruel of you to celebrate someone's damnation.
      personally, I don't believe in hell.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • J

      Thank you for your judgement! I'm proud to be a spawn of "Satan". By the way, may I suggest a passage from your dirty book:
      Matthew 7:1: Do not judge, or you too will be judged.

      Have a wonderful day! 🙂

      March 23, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Jeff

      And this is the God that is called "love" you represent? I can never tell what 'christians' of this stripe find more pleasure in; their own personal salvation or the eternal torment of everyone else?
      Either a self-centric or sadistic delight – either reprehensible.
      Talk about Satanic resoning – your beliefs are so far from the loving God I know and worship, so far from the truth of scripture that it saddens me to refer to any of like mind as 'christian' at all.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Jesus

      Thank you Pat for supporting me. Ill make sure you get a top floor suite in heaven. See you soon, real soon.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • God

      Yep, it is up to me... so you better be good for goodness sake...

      March 23, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • john

      lol @ pat

      March 23, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • God

      Hiya Jesus. Long time since we have seen one another.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • Has-a-Brain

      What is it like to be a judgmental ass that believes in Santa Claus for adults? If there is a God do you really want to meet him seeing that he allows the holocaust to happen where thousands of small children were murdered among other horrors that occur daily. Or the stories about him killing the first born of a civilization because the laws of a single man. Seems like a nice guy.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • Dan613

      and you are "glad"...?? wow, what a bunch of BS

      March 23, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • Pluto the quasi-planet

      I know how you feel. The fear you associate with any threat to your "faith" is projected onto your fairy-tale "Satan".
      You are just a few steps away from being a gibbering fool, an emotional wreck, and a psychotic religious zombie.
      Why are you afraid? Is not your fake "god" more powerful than anything or anyone?
      Rest in the dreamy knowledge that your made-up father figure is an emotional construct that fits you because you are the one creating it in your head.
      Emotional feedback loop for one! Table for two! On credit!

      March 23, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • Sam

      Excuse me, but who are you to tell people they are going to be in eternal hellfire? First off, it is a sin for you to tell someone they are going to Hell, and quite frankly, all together rude. Secondly, only God can judge a person because only He knows their true intentions.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • matty o

      lol!

      March 23, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • DaedelusEcks

      Wait.. so I am the antichrist? SWEET! When do I get my billions of dollars and followers. Crap... I need to get a twitter account!

      March 23, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • cykill

      Everything you just said is fiction.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • God

      I am a nice guy.... sorry about Hitler....my bad.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • Pat

      I try to address all with my humble message: Jesus Loves you all. I am nobody to judge or to send to hellfire. Nobody. But Jesus said "Your father is Satan" and all you who oppose to the King of King, Jesus the Lord, are inspired by Satan. I am not afraid, I know that Jesus loves me and He loves those who repent. So, repent and you will not end your lives in Hellfire. But if you don't repent and go back to the Lord Jesus, your will burn. That is the absolute true. Convert, and Praise Be Lord Jesus!

      March 23, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • stejo

      Way to go Pat – that kind of hatred from a supposed Christian will send more people to hell than anything any atheist has ever said. Consider that Satan's actually working through YOU. God is Love. You are not of God.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • D

      troll much?

      March 23, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
    • Me

      I believe most Christian's are 'glad' to see atheists burn, or be punished, particularly on the internet.

      This is most unChristian to me.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • What would Satan do?

      Most people in here defending religion are 40+. The internet is breeding a whole new generation of godlessness. It is going to be glorious!

      March 23, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • May

      Amen !

      March 23, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • John

      When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion.

      Simply take a moment to think about the following statement:
      "Hello, my name is Jesus, I love you deeply. I have loved you since you were conceived in the womb and I will love you aof all eternity. I died for you on the cross because I love you so much. I long to have a loving personal relationship with you. I will answer all your prayers through my love. But if you do not get down on your knees and worship me, and if you do not eat my body and drink my blood, then I will incenerate you with unimaginable tortuous pain in the fires of Hell for all eternity.

      YES, this is the central message of Christianity. See John 6:53-54 and Mark 16:16.

      Best regards,
      John

      March 23, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • Louise

      Hellfire is NOT a bible teaching. It is a twisted teaching by men seeking to control their congregations. The teaching is twisted, the men were and are twisted but the bible is not twisted.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • J

      Wait, Jesus said Satan is the father? I thought God was. They are just both twins, it's ok, we can justify your logic!

      March 23, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • Stentor

      Pat, you believe in a perfect being who damns people to a terrible place if they don't believe in him. You don't see a disconnect in that type of thought? I'll boil it down for you:

      Believe in ME! Or I'll send you to HELL, oogah, boogah!!!!

      Perfect beings don't see the need to engage in such things, one thing you Christian fundamentalists will never understand.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • rob

      whats funny about the number of people non affiliated in the us, not athiest or non believers, are larger then hispanics or african americans, or gays. I can only think that those numbers would increase, come to think of it, wonder what the average age is for people proclaiming to a religion?

      March 23, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • Fred M.

      You need to move on. You're an adult in the 21st century. Start accepting the scientific method. Question things that people tell you - especially if those people are telling you to believe in an all-powerful, invisible man in the sky who loves you.

      Think about what you believe: That a cosmic Jewish Zombie, who was his own father, can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • Atheist

      Keep talking. Your type will be extinct soon and people's minds will be free. All hail the end of today's paganism. And by the way, we don't believe in satan either.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • Louise

      What is generally translated hell or hellfire in most bibles, simply means the "common grave of mankind". Not an individual gravesite; there is a different Greek work for that. Remember "from dust you came, and to dust you will return", we all cease to exist and wind up in "hell".

      March 23, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Brad

      Based on my experience, Pat is a typical religiouse person, he gets joy out of telling people they will burn in hell. If God is real, I absolutly believe that IT would create a place like hell, after all, actions speak louder than words, and Gods actions have been, well, the suffering of man, it is all his fault. However, the reality is, there is no God, there is only us, and we must do our best to be good people and enjoy the life we get.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • The one known as Longinus

      Having been around for a very long time I have to say that you have it all wrong. The book you hold onto so dearly has been edited from its original 2nd Century version so many time that I have lost count at this point. But the big one is that while the book says he was taken down and interred, he was not permitted to be removed from the cross just like all other criminals so punished. His flesh rotted and fell to feed feral dogs that lived around the area.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • SoulHunter

      Amen!
      John 3:16. Jesus is ALIVE and he is in heaven. Sooner or later he will return and he'll save us. This article is a nonsense by atheist lovers.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • MlawrenceFSM

      They will never take the Flying Spaghetti Monster from me.....never

      March 23, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      Sam,
      your post sounds rather naive! I personally don't approve of Pat's style of expression, but for you to tell that no one can tell someone it they are going to hell, is wrong. Jesus Himself talked more about hell then heaven, and all thru the Scriptures we are told to warn those who in pride and imaginations of their mind think that they will not answer to anyone for their lives, and to tell them of judgement to come. But those who mo'ck God , are they not already revealing who they are? They are pronouncing their own judgment! And for us to say it's so, is NOT judging! There is a difference between JUDGING according to the Word of God, and CONDEMNING. We are not to do the later but we are to do the first! However , I don't believe that any true Christian is glad for anyone to go to hell, and that's the reason we tell peopel of God's hand ever streched out to those who reach out to Him in repentance.... Friend, Eternity is a loooooong time! But everyone chooses their own place! There are only TWO: Heaven with God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, and Hell with satan and his "angels"... No other way, no other place. Something really to ponder and think about! And so many don't, and what's even more tragic, they pile co'ndem'nat'ion on their own souls, for gathering on places like this to mock God! Are they not fools? Yes they are, that's what God calls them! I hope you see what I'm saying to you ! !

      March 23, 2011 at 9:50 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.