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. Danko Ramone

    I would think this indicates a lack of satisfaction/dogma acceptance than it necessarily indicates a lack of belief. I know MANY who would consider themselves Christian, or in line with Christian belief, who want absolutely no part of any organized religion, and it's insistence in believing a given way on unrelated topics.

    March 23, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  2. Reggie

    I don't particularly enjoy being called a follower. I think religion is private; therefore, people don't usually discuss their religious stats openly. At the end of the day; I just don't know what to believe anymore. Maybe the media has tainted my views a bit but there have been so many hate groups (with open religious affiliations) that don't hide how they feel about other people. In all my studies about religion and the various religions one could worship the commonality is that you should love everyone equally....so my affiliation is Love, for everyone and I because I know that many religions are saying the same things; I follow the leadership of multiple teachings.

    March 23, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  3. Kevin

    Wow I really want to move to Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or the Netherlands

    March 23, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
    • weallgotone

      Please do then.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  4. Is anyone surprised?

    Other beliefs that are dying out as science and sound reasoning continue to replace blind trust in what other people have told us:
    Flat Earth
    Roman, Greek, and Norse Mythology
    C'mon folks sooner or later we're going to have to give up our little blankie and face the hard facts of life.
    I say sooner.

    March 23, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  5. weallgotone

    Chuck Missler?

    March 23, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  6. jesus c. christ

    i am your god!
    drop ur pants
    bend over and grab ur ankles
    apply lube to my gargantuan monster d i c k!
    and prepare for the end of ur world!

    March 23, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  7. Randoms

    IMO – if people just stopped fearing death and hell and accepted that you just die and rot – religion wouldn't be such a big deal. Seems when you have children, you want them to go to a better place, even if you don't really buy it.

    March 23, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
  8. weallgotone

    All things are predictable to "a team of mathematicians". Mathematicians are omnipotent.

    March 23, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  9. Freethinker

    The three religions based upon the Abrahamic tradition (Islam, Judaism, Christianity) are all derivatives of the same mesopatamian mythology. If you doubt it, read Epic of Gilgamesh. In fact, virgin births, flood and creation myths, ressurection, etc are all deeply embedded in the pagan religions that predate Christianity by millenia all over the world. This explains why the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is internally inconsistent – there were multiple authors even within the same verses. Genesis is really two different myths with two different authors cleaved together. Consider the Egyptian sun worship religion Isis-Osirus-Horus. Consider:

    Horus was born on "December 25th" in a manger.
    · He was of royal descent, and his mother was the "virgin Isis-Mery."
    · Horus's birth was announced by a star in the East and attended by three "wise men."
    · Horus was baptized by "Anup the Baptizer," who was decapitated.
    · The Egyptian god had 12 companions, helpers or disciples.
    · Horus performed miracles, exorcised demons and raised Osiris from the dead.
    · He (or Osiris) was buried for three days in a tomb and resurrected.
    · Horus/Osiris was also the "Way, the Truth, the Life," "Messiah," the "Son of Man," the "Good Shepherd," etc.
    · Horus was called "Holy Child," as well as "the Anointed One," while Osiris was the KRST.
    · Horus battled with the "evil one," Set/Seth.

    Most of the mythology that pervades modern-day religions is based upon astronomical and astrological phenomena, and each religion has attempted to subsume the other prevailing ones through adoption of some of their traditions. Ex: Jesus' birth on 25 December is consistent with movement of the sun near the winter solstice.

    The point is, it's all mythology designed to explain what couldn't be explained by science thousands of years ago. It's also terribly dangerous because the very worth "faith" implies ignoring evidence and scientific inquiry/skepticism and accepting the rambling stories of old as an explanation for everything. That gets us nowhere.

    March 23, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  10. Seshu Kanuri

    This is a good thing. These religions have not learned from History and their past.
    No religion which has put itself above human being it is supposed to serve, has survived in the past – Incas, azteks, mayans, Pharoahs etc.

    A religion is as good as only as it is useful for the individual as well as common good of the society.

    Islam promises a lot of common good at the expense of individual and puts itself way above all human beings. Christianity is no different. Hinduism is surviving only in rituals and not in spirit. Same with Buddhism.

    March 23, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  11. Charles D. Bruce

    I say this is good news. What it is showing is that mankind, as he becomes more educated is realizing that religion is not the answer but, rather, rational thinking based on facts and not dogma is the way to progress. Believe in a diety if you want, but religion seems to ultimately cause conflicts.

    March 23, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • JB

      Do you realize that some of the most educated men and women in history have been religious, and that most of the universities were established by the church. I don't know about other religions, but Christianity welcomes knowledge. Knowledge is not a bad thing, and Christianity does not try to control or keep people down, but on the contrary, it encourages man to learn more about God's creation.

      March 23, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
  12. Loyal

    interesting that the article fails to mention that Peter Berger later changed his mind. He found that his theory on secularization had been one of the greatest mistakes of his career.

    March 23, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  13. Jack

    This information simply reflects people's lack of faith in how organized religion is operated. I do not believe it has any bearing on belief itself. The Catholic church is a fine example of how to lose attendence and break trust. The Muslim faith better watch out, too. Those extremists highjacking your faith, preaching MURDER/DEATH/KILL, all in the name of Allah is going to do you folks in as well.

    March 23, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  14. Paul

    Man is given a choice – a choice as to what path he will follow, and before I get a gender war started, by man I also mean women. One of the problems we have today is in the word "christian". Today I believe it mostly means someone who believes in the existance of Jesus Christ – Growing up, I was taught that a Christian was someone who not only believed in Christ but strived to walk with God daily – but being man, he is given a choice. Now, as far as political beliefs, republicans and democrats and independents and even the tea party have the choice of following God or not, but some choose to lie or deceive people for gains on this earth – God will separate the christians from the "christians" on judgement day and many will hear "depart from me because I never knew you"...Now, I know some of you will not like what I've said and that is fine because God has given you the will to follow what path you will,,,,I truly hope the way I live my life will lead me to my Father's home in Heaven when my time comes. I TRULY HOPE YOU WILL ALL JOIN ME when God comes back to earth to take his followers home...God bless you all.

    March 23, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • JB

      Well spoken!

      March 23, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • Michael

      Well said-
      Its hard to add to what you said. May God have mercy on the world.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
  15. PRISM 1234

    I listened partly to G. Carlin's video.... My spirit was so grieved at his blasphemies.... This man had his time on this earth... He had fame, crowds gathered around him... He had talent..... he made many laugh, but at the price of his own soul...

    He didn't have to mo'ck God and ridicule His people... He could have used his talent to make people laugh with good hearty jokes! But he chose to mo'ck God.....

    Now, this man would give anything on this earth, and exchange his place with the poorest beggar and outcast that ever lived, just to have a chance to come back and repent of his mo'ck'eries!
    There is a place called Hell, don't ever think it's just a fable! .... If you do, you're deceiving yourself!
    .........If people only knew!!!

    March 23, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Where do you get such fairy tales?

      March 23, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • Evan

      And you know this how?

      March 23, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
    • Dorothy

      You have to admit the human imagination is an amazing thing. The problem with your analogy is someone had to go there and come back in order to describe it. What a joke. Can you imagine writing about hell now in a bible with what we now know about stars, atoms and the formation of planets. Now that could be a great scary hell to make people want to say, "Save me Jesus." You should try it.

      March 23, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • ReligionRotsYourBrain

      In the beginning, man created god....

      March 23, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      you people who responded to my post... If you knew the things I'm writing about, an heard the sounds of the d'am'ned weeping in hopelessness and regret, and the cries of loneliness, the kind that human ears never heard, you would not say you're shallow remarks.... You don't knwo what is awaiting those who turn away the only hope there is for (hu)man kind.
      You can take what I'm saying her as you will, but each person here will find out for themselves what is truth and what is not! I only hope you don't find out on the way to that place of the d'am'ned! It is my hearts desire that no other human soul enters there and joins those voices....

      March 23, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @PRISM 1234: You have no proof of anything that you describe. None. At all. Why should anyone ever listen to you? Let me fill you on something...you do not possess special mental powers that we don't.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      I don't have to fight to prove anything.... I DO have proof. But it is never meant for me to prove it to someone else.... It was meant for me to tell others, not always, but when I'm lead to tell it... It is God who takes it from there, and by His Spirit sifts the intents of hearts of those who hear it.... I never claimed, nor do I think that I have some "special powers" . There is no person on earth that should desire tho hear the cries of the da'mn'ed in that place called Hell. But if God, in His mercy desires to warn one of His wayward ones, in order to bring him/her back, then it is His doing.

      In fact, it is those who look down from their lofty places of their " intelligence/reasoning superiority" that think they posses something that we, who know the Lord, do not . And that's THEIR point of PRIDE, which prevents them from hearing and knowing God. Here I believe , lies your problem also!!

      March 24, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @PRISM 1234: You don't know "the lord" any better than I do, or don't. I am, flat out, calling you a liar.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • PRISM 1234


      You say "I am, flat out, calling you a liar"

      I'll say better then that....

      It is written "Let God be true, and every man a liar"

      He will decide! Your opinion matters NOT, nor any man's! They come dime-a -dozen......

      March 24, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  16. Bannister

    I have not confirmed this, but I find it interesting that every single expert quoted (Abrams, Berger, Kosmin and Weiner) appears to be Jewish. The author of the article also has a common Jewish last name (Greene).

    I've found that many articles are like that. The Jewish writer simply calls up other Jews that he knows to get information. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. but perhaps we are getting a biased or insular view that does not represent a cross section of the larger population?

    March 23, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • Seriously Dude???

      A) Your a moron if you think Kosmin and Greene are a Jewish last names
      B) Weiner is more German than Jewish
      D) Even if they are Jewish the only conclusion that would point to is the well established empirical phenomenon that Jews are disproportionately represented in the academic and scientific community
      E) I'm sorry man, you're just an idiot.

      March 23, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  17. weallgotone

    LOL! I love an entertaining prediction. Now give me the winning lottery numbers please!

    March 23, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • Darth Cheney

      Lottery numbers are random. Empirical models are based on identifiable patterns. A common confusion among people who avoid evidence.

      March 23, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • weallgotone

      I disagree with you. The lottery is fixed.

      March 23, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  18. Thomas Aquinas

    OK, I am an atheist. My son asked me one day if Jesus was real. I said absolutely. No question. Lots of Proof. He then asked me if Jesus was God. I said, I don't believe so. But that makes him much greater to me. That a poor unedjucated person could develop such a beautiful, powerful and lasting and significant message with so much import. If he were superman he could have done much more; cured everything, made crops grow, end war, etc. But was just a man with a with a simple fundamental message. And many people bend it and twist it. Think about it. He was just a man.

    March 23, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
    • JB

      You seem like a very nice guy, wish you would give Christ a chance. It's not about understanding it all before you do. Christian's will never understand it all, that's why they call it faith!

      March 23, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • Eric

      There is lots of proof that Jesus existed? Really? All historical accounts were written well AFTER his life ended. How come no historians alive when Jesus alive mentioned him? According to the Bible, Jesus was famous and known by masses of people, a major figure. You'd think ONE historian alive during this time would write something down about him.

      March 23, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
    • Forgiven

      Thomas Aquinas – consider this, if Jesus was just a man with a simple fundamental message, then please explain how His life and message continue to change and transform lives today (over 2,000 years ago). How then would you explain His miraculous healing both physical and spiritual. Why then would the most pious religious leaders of His day be so intimated by this "uneducated man" as you claim Him to be, that they had to crucify Him in order to stop His simple message. By the way, God's word, the Bible which has been around longer than you have, declares this simple Jesus to be God's Son. Think about that...it might just change your life and give you hope.

      March 23, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • Realist

      I am a fellow atheist today. I say today as I am always open to new proofs which could change my view. Two comments on your comments; 1.) I am unconvinced that Jesus ever existed as there are no extra-biblical references to him as there are of all the other major players such as John the Baptist, Pontius Pilate, etc. The one exception are in the writings of Josephus which even biblical scholars admit appear to be after-the-fact revisions. 2.) If Jesus ever existed who could guess what his message, if any, was? The bible is a product of men trying to manipulate the masses by hijacking the latest religion to their own ends. Regarding the subject article, I can only hope that all humanity stops wasting lives and resources on faith. The best definition of faith is "the admission that one does not want to know the truth."

      March 23, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • think for yourself

      @Eric, reaching waaaay back there. Far too many people much smarter than yourself have easily surmised that regardless of what you believe about his divinity that Jesus was indeed a real person. Josephus wrote about him and lived in the first century. Your straw man argument would lead me to believe that history is full of make believe people.

      The fact is 2,000 years ago people living in that eastern culture passed down stories through word of mouth. So, for a first century historian to write about Jesus is completely plausible and to deny it is simply rewriting your own history. Plus, in a world where the written word was maintained by a small number of scribes, you're assuming that there's no possible way Josephus read about Jesus from one of Jesus' contemporary whose works weren't as well preserved.

      But I will say this, you've got more faith than I do to believe all that garbage someone has brainwashed you with to affirm that Jesus wasn't even a person. Good luck with that.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • SFOT

      JB you seem like a very level headed person and I appreciate your point of view. Unfortunately many of the Christians I have encountered do think they know it all and have no idea of the difference between fact and faith. It takes a very strong person to comfortable admitting they don’t have all the answers. I am not a religious person mainly because I just can’t get behind organize religion. I feel organize religion has lost its way and this article proves this theory. Too many people these days use religion as a means of forcing their views and beliefs on others. Too many insist their way is the only way and all who do not follow are doomed. How many organized religions exist in the world? All claim to be the one true religion. They can’t all be right. Someone is wrong or, they all wrong? Who knows? I sure don’t and I’m ok with that. I’m not lost and I don’t need to be saved thank you. I just don’t need a religion created by man to guide me on my way. I live my life they way I think god wants me too and I respect others views and rights to think differently.

      Forgiven, you still present no evidence that Jesus was a god. Im not saying your wrong. Using the bible as a resource to back up your clams doesn't hold up.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      I aploud our cmment...especialy when you said:

      "Your straw man argument would lead me to believe that history is full of make believe....
      .....you've got more faith than I do to believe all that garbage someone has brainwashed you with to affirm that Jesus wasn't even a person"

      That's about the size of it!

      March 24, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      P.S. meant to say I applaud YOUR comment...
      (The keys must be sticking....) 🙂

      March 24, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  19. Willyboy

    It is *so* sad the USA is not listed as one moving toward the extinction of religion. I'm sure the US and some place like Pakistan will be the final holdouts, filled with religious refugees. Sad bitter places where delusional commitments to Sky Daddy remain in isolated but loud and obnoxious sects. So very sad...

    March 23, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • JB

      Please keep your bigoted opinions to yourself, and do not judge all religions the same, or by the way some act. There are many faithful who do much good for their fellow man, while being faithful to God's calling. By the way, it seems you are worshipping at the church of Humanism and we know where that is headed.

      March 23, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • Jesus Freak

      I will pray for you Willyboy that you may come to know and trust Jesus Christ who suffered and died to save you from your sins.

      March 23, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      JB.. yes thinking of your fellow man is not an admirable thing to do.. lets keep a sky fairy in our thoughts at all times and things will work out. What can be bigoted about a myth..and what will humanism lead us to.. less money in the coffers of the church which cant be a bad thing.

      March 23, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • doowah dave

      Willyboy is right on. The true sadness is that so many people need religion to face the harsh realities of life, I think they are weak and gullible, and frightened of the finality of death.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • Willyboy

      JB: Religion has done more to damage this nation than is comfortable for people like you accept. Better it were to go away completely.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • Willyboy

      Jesus Freak: No thanks, really, thanks but no.... Keep your prayers for yourself and those who want them. Remember, 21 May all you folks get to get raptured on out of here. 'http://www.ebiblefellowship.com/may21/ so just stay focused on that. I am and will remain just fine.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  20. Cheri

    I'm thinking that in some countries you may be better off not stating you religion. Ireland comes to mind.

    March 23, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • Jane Green

      Organized religion is man made.It was used long ago to keep control of the people and give them a life purpose. As mankind changes so does our ability to find a justafiable use for something that has not really changed with us.
      People today live in a world that runs on science, facts and usefullness. It is inevitable that something based on stories and GODS you should fear but can't see must evolve with it's creators (man) or be disgarded. That's how Scientology and science based movements have come about!
      Do I believe in something greater than me? I'm waiting "anxiously" to see!

      March 23, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • ramanan50

      Religion is to provide an answer to the inner craving of Man,to find out whence he is,where he is and where does he go from here.

      He can not comprehend that one day he will cease to be.

      He is afraid of the pain at the time of Death and anxious about where he shall go after Death.

      He sees, in day-to-day Life ,that things and events are not in his control,most of the time.

      He is unable to fight against things that seem unknown.

      Religion was born out of fear and Curiosity.

      When man seems to know and control some Forces of Nature( which he does not), this fear subsides.

      Then something new strikes.

      He is torn between Faith and Doubt.

      As doubt increases faith wanes.

      Organised Religion does not help Man.

      It takes the essentials ,organise it with known data and propagates,forgetting that Religion is highly individualistic and personal

      it propagates dogmas.

      It dooms other systems of thought as unworthy and followers of that system.

      But Religion should be unorganised.

      It should have no dogmas.

      It should have flexibility.

      It must allow the individual to choose his/her path.

      Whatever the system is, if it is to help individuals it has to respect them, even if it is Atheism.

      Hinduism follows all these parameters.

      It has survived, despite onslaught from other systems of thought and in fact has embraced whatever it thought was to the benefit of the individual.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:15 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.