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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. John

    Here are six important statements about wealth from the Bible:
    Matthew 6:19
    Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.

    Luke 14:33
    Any of you who does not give up everything he cannot be my disciple.

    Matthew 6:24
    No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Money.

    Matthew 13:5
    Jesus answered, If you want to be perfect, go, sell your posessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, Then come, follow me.

    MY question is, how many Christains have given away all their worldly goods in order to follow the word of God? I'll tell you NONE.

    Christains blank these sections of the Bible out so it doesn't effect them. "There isn't very many REAL Christains in this world.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • Stefan

      The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey.
      The Washington Region Religious Campaign Against Torture rallied on Capitol Hill in March 2008.

      More than half of people who attend services at least once a week - 54 percent - said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified. Only 42 percent of people who "seldom or never" go to services agreed, according to the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  2. Markus

    Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
  3. Nnadozie george

    Organised Religion may die every where but not in Britain, Rome and Africa. In Africa Christianity is still begining.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  4. Jim

    It's about time, lol. Even though there are no figures for the US, i'm sure the case is different here. Is it a coincidence that the more religious a country, the more backward it is (socially, economically etc.)? Look for yourself. http://pocketcultures.com/topicsoftheworld/files/2009/06/map-importance-of-religion-by-country.png

    March 23, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Bryan

      Wow Jim... amazing how you show your ignorance. The United States, from the beginning of the 20th Century, rose to prominence through the hard work of many people with strong spiritual beliefs. Look at the historic declines in society that occurred in other countries where the governments drove out religion...

      March 23, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  5. Jerry

    People don't lose religion, they voluntarily give it up.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  6. Maria

    Wow...look at all the religion haters here. It's odd to me that they harbor so much hostility. Some of you need to open your minds and hearts. Unless you really do think that a world that is godless and meaningless and joyless is the world you want. Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • Alexandrine

      Maria, in the Bible is warns us that some people hate Jesus with out cause and they will hate us too because we bear His name. He warned us! Scripture also says that the road to hell is wide and easy. These people don't know God because God is love. I can feel the hate steaming off my screen. There is a Proverb that says don't correct a mocker cause they will only hate you. These people are running away from the light. Scripture also says that God made the wicked even for the day of destruction. People that mock God will be punished and they don't know how God's judgement will end. I'd be fearing the Lord!

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

    The research mentioned in this article doesn't say anything about religion disappearing. It does talk about the organizations disappearing. Most of the comments seem to be talking about a topic unrelated to the article.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
  8. AmericanInfidel

    Religion: The #1 cause of hate, judgement, repression, wars, bloodshed, death and human suffering. The world is awakening to the evil that is mass organized religion. Fairy-tale followers whom pass judgement upon others that are much wiser than themselves. GOD I hate religion!

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

      Oh, really...and atheism/agnosticism is truly so altrustic, happy, shiny and and wonderful? I don't think so. Two of the worst wars in society were perpetated by hatred of religion: The French Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution which ushered in communism. In both cases, attempts to banish religion were made and those attempts FAILED. Know why? Because no matter how much you try to convince others there is no God, people know in their heart of hearts there is...and indeed they WANT a supreme being in their lives (even if they don't always listen to him.) It's the natural way of things.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  9. Angelique

    Religion is about fear of death. Period. And it is selfish in every sense of the word. Especially those who sit around saying that everything that happens is God's will, and they let it happen because they will be saved! Jesus is coming, who cares about pollution? Who cares about population? We're supposed to be destroying the earth so all those who believe can be saved! Let's have 15 kids because if it happens that's what God wanted, people will starve eventually from overpopulation, but so be it, it was planned, Jesus is coming! Selfish twits. Did I mention LAZY too!? Yep.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • Jane Doe

      Your comment speaks of your ignorance. Again, another unbelieving individual lumping all Christians into one category. I really don't even have the words to say to such an absurd comment.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Maria

      For some, it's fear of death...but for others, it's anticipation of life! Life in Christ who rose from the dead. He trampled down death by death. Right now, during the Lent season, that is what we who are Christians in the Orthodox church (and other churches like the Roman Catholic and Anglican) celebrate. Some of you need to maybe study a bit more and harbor fewer prejudices...and then you'd see that a life without God is the same as same as being DEAD despite having your physical body remain alive.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  10. Kill religion, it's poison and control of women and takes away rights of people who deserve them. It's DISGUSTING.

    good. They should limit it. it's brainwash, abuse, control of women and direction to abusive family. the sooner, the better.

    and then they should operate countries under socialism. people have right to free lives. i'd rather be taken outside and shot than taught that i'm to live a religious life or carry on my day in an unsatisfying way.

    they should stop breeding, control the population and force adoption by decent individuals who do not live that way.

    They run centers in the US where they train women to respect abusive men, degrade them, force bibles on them and send them home cooking.

    RELIGION IS PERVERTED. I don't understand what is wrong with it.

    I think it's totally, morally unacceptable to live in a country where religious values are enforced on me that I'd never support. I do not believe in doing things with force, cult life, brainwash, out of necessity for financial gain or to "save my own life".

    Lived in schools with perverts who forced me, silenced me, controlled me, beat me, forced apologies out of me for things that are absolutely disgusting, wrote the same sentence for months at a time not allowed to speak and was taught that all of this is "god's will for us". Forced back to an abusive, molester, controlling, psychotic image oriented father and still struggle as an adult with getting away from THOSE. I HOPE THEY KILL OUR GOVERNMENT AND DO SOMETHING LESS RELIGIOUS AND OPPRESSIVE WITH THE REST OF THIS.

    fix it!
    GROSS.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  11. Ed

    "The only good thing to come out of organized religion was the music." - George Carlin

    March 23, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  12. Pastor Ranches L Hall

    Let Me Share This ...Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD GOD had made.and he (the serpent) said to the woman, Has God indeed said,you shall not eat of every tree of the garden? Genesis 3:1
    The fool has said to his heart,there is no God.They corrupt,they have done abominable works,there is none who does good Psalm 14:1
    The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God,God is in none of his thoughts Psalm 10:4

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

      What a bunch of unsupported drivel. I am the Antichrist, risen again. I will purge the world of your lie of the afterlife, your fear of death and hell tainting humanity into inevitable destruction.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • Observer

      Psalm 22:21 “Save me from the lion's mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.”

      March 23, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • Always Right

      do you have any thoughts of your own? or just the circular arguments from your magic book?

      March 23, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Alexandrine

      Pastor, I thought of that same Scripture after reading some comments. If you Read 2 Thes. you'll read that before Christ return there will be a great falling away from God. It is already happening before our eyes. And the man of lawlessness will be come too.(the beast) Paul made it clear in 2 Thes. that these two things will accure before Christ return. Many are called and only a few will make it, and not everyone is called. God knows before hand who will accept him and who will reject him. He warned Cain but Cain killed his brother anyway. All you Rapture believers better read up on 2 Thes. You have no excuse, the true Word of God is before you. Even some of God's on elect will be fooled. God has shut up the minds of many people and that's just the way it is. Please read up on your Bibles, we are in the last days!

      March 23, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  13. Maria

    I don't think religion is going to die out. It will just go underground for awhile. These things happen in cycles. There will be a resurgence at some point in the future. Need proof? Just look at Russia. Orthodoxy is making a comeback nearly 100 years after the Bolshevik revolution. The Soviets tried to kill off religion but it didn't work. Know why? Because it's something one carries in their heart...and as long as even ONE person still believes, religions will not die.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • The Beaver

      Fairly big difference between forcing out religion, and it slowly being phased out by personal preference.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
  14. Jesus McAllah

    All of you heathens who are talking smack about God are going to pay. Oh yes you will! Jesus will pour your souls into his frying pan to make egg McPeoples every morning for eternity. Oh you'll be sorry then, but as he nibbles his way up to your nethers, it will be too late!

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

      There is no god. Go back to your cave.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  15. Matthew

    Oh yay! Now we can have a religion of pure, hard science! What a joke! Based on some of the emotionally driven research we're sold as science these days the future looks dark and oppressive and as bad as the darkest days of religion(s) if not worse!

    March 23, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • Observer

      Yep, laugh at science and tell us about the world being flat and the stars rotating around the earth. LOL.

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

      Who says science and religion can't co-exist?

      March 23, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • Rick

      "Yep, laugh at science and tell us about the world being flat and the stars rotating around the earth. LOL"

      And tell us all about Pangea and the geologic column, and the extinction of certain animals millions of years ago like the coelecanth. That's what science taught us, yet all are proven false.

      March 23, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  16. Brooklyn

    Good riddance.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  17. Idea

    If religion were to stop in America then we could use the billions and billions of dollars to bring down our nation’s debt, globalize health care, and fill the food pantries. Yes, I know churches do great things for the communities but it’s time they paid taxes too!

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

      Do you feel the same way about Planned Parenthood? With an estimated annual budget of $1.1 Billion (with a third of that coming from the taxpayers), we could use that to pay down our debt as well, and save some lives in the meantime.

      March 23, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Mike from Lone Tree

      Angie, are you serious? Eliminating Planned Parenthood would save lives? I don't even know where to begin. Let's start with the number of illegitimate children you care for. Ignorance has never been a good answer to anything. I'm sure indiscriminate reproduction is the answer.

      March 24, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  18. Muslins and Christians Join Hands

    Do you ever wonder why we die after only being here a short while? I know. You are not who you think you are. After this body dies, YOU don't. No pain no gain. It seems we learn on this planet in the physical body easier than in the spirit. The bible is a powerful guide with or without religious organizations. Jesus is real and in the clouds. Father is still there. Happy Journey All!

    March 23, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • L. Ron Hubbard's twin sister

      The only cloud I see is the crack smoke around your head.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • Twin bother

      twin sister sees nothing and lies.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Mike from Lone Tree

      ...and you know this how? Because a book written by thousands of people over hundreds of years says so?

      March 24, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  19. Proud Atheist

    There is no "God".....period. One day religion will be something our race reads about in history books, and I churches will be museums....no scratch that.....they should all be torn down and replaced with something that is good for mankind...like hospitals, schools, etc.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • Maria

      and who do you think first built hospitals and schools? It was believers in religion! While the atheistic types and pagans where exposing babies, it was Christians who took them into their homes. Your prejudices against religion is astonishing! It's funny atheists always complain about religious people imposing their values on them, but if you ask me saying all churches should be torn down or closed is the atheists way of imposing their values on others! If you don't believe God exists then why should it be such a threat that you're ready willing and able to obliterate others who do believe. Your words are proof that King David was write when he wrote the Psalm 53:1 "The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God," They are corrupt, and have committed abominable injustice; There is no one who does good."

      March 23, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • Jane Doe

      Maria,

      I agree. Let us not forget that Mother Theresa, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King were all part of an organized religion.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • Observer

      Psalm also talks about unicorns and God's people say "Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!”

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

      Maria,
      Religion is just slowing our race down. Why would you be associated with something that makes absolutely no sence at all?? Everytime science proves something wrong about religion, you people just simply re-word your holy books or give words new meaning. And to be a part of something that is responsible for millions and millions of deaths in our short history on earth?? Enjoy your fairy tales now because you are lucky that you weren't born 2 or 3 thousand years from now when religion will not exist (hopefully).

      March 23, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • NoFluf

      what is your set of beliefs? Please answer . . .

      everyone has beliefs . . you think that those who believe what you do always act consistently and have done nothing but good.

      Answer the question "o wise one" in a world of fools.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • TCVAN

      Sure, you just keep living the way you do....basing everything on your (limited) 5 physical senses. See where that gets you in the end....Hell is my guess. Are you really stupid enough to think that the universe and everything in it just happened by accident? Try and think a bit about that before you're on your death bed.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • Mike

      I always find atheist comments interesting. Let me explain. They're usually filled with discontent, anger, hopelessness, finite things. Whenever I speak to somebody about God, I always do so with the most delicate touch–with love. I don't ever expect somebody to understand God and His greatness. How can we understand infinity with our finite minds? So here it is, my experience with God. I also had my doubts at the time:

      http://uniteunderonegod.typepad.com/unite_under_one_god/this-is-how-it-all-started/

      I will pray for you. God bless you. -Mike

      March 23, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • NL

      Mother Theresa raised a lot of money for the Church, but nobody seems to know what it was spent on. Certainly not on actually helping the poor of India, or haven't you kept up with the scandal surrounding her? Gandhi was a common Hindu, and he believed that all religions were equal. Not many followers of organized religion are so universalist in their thinking, certainly not your other two examples. MLK was a great man, but he was no saint, and the civil rights movement got a lot of its support from secular groups.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • Stefan

      The First Hospital built was in Bagdad, Iraq in 792 A.D.

      People around this time believed that if you were sick you had to go to Church to get healed, but it turned out that in this Hospital people recieved better help and care than in Church's medical labs.

      The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey.
      The Washington Region Religious Campaign Against Torture rallied on Capitol Hill in March 2008.

      More than half of people who attend services at least once a week - 54 percent - said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified. Only 42 percent of people who "seldom or never" go to services agreed, according to the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • NL

      Mike-
      You haven't read many atheist comments then.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • Proud Atheist

      Do you really need a Book of madeup words to tell you that its not right to steal? Or murder? Seriously?? If someone took all your bibles away and banned churches would you just go around raping and murdering people? Oh and my "beliefs"? To answer that question as honestly as i possibly can, here it goes: Human beings just arent smart enough to understand the universe, its as simple as that. The smartest people in the world can only come up with "theories". But a long time ago when we evolved into what we are now we started making up things and that branched off into the many religions around the world, plain and simple. Just imagine if you were one of the first human beings to walk the planet and you saw this big bright, powerful ball of light come up on the horizon that gave you warmth and made plants grow. And then when that big ball of light goes away you see thousands and thousand of little lights in the sky. Of course early humans thought that there was some "higher power" or "God" if you will. But now we know that its just the sun and the stars. The End.

      March 23, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • Rocket

      These atheists remind me very much to communists. Same ideology.

      March 24, 2011 at 4:00 am |
    • Maybe

      Rocket,

      Did you know that there is also Christian Communism?

      March 24, 2011 at 4:27 am |
  20. Don

    I once bought into Amway from a guy who also talked to me about accepting Jesus into my heart. We humans sell everything, and therefore we make everything worth less. Religion should die....as for God(s)? That's another thing.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • Sheep

      Finally. Free at last!

      March 23, 2011 at 7:38 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.