Why religions are dying? Is it wealth, education or just the internet?
I was recently asked to share my thoughts on why religions are dying at the Atheist Society Melbourne and I had a few hypotheses to present on that. I want to start this piece with a quote from a great hero of our movement, Maryam Namazie, the founder of the council of ex-Muslims of Britain, and also the populariser of the term ‘ex-Muslim’. She once said, “Internet is doing to Islam what the printing press did to Christianity”.
I wholeheartedly agree with this quote, but there are a few other factors, other than the internet, that have been helping us destroy religions. There is no doubt that the internet has just amplified the visibility of the arguments against the world’s great religions, but there are some other forces that have also been at play.
We have witnessed how wherever people tend to gain more material wealth, they tend to do away with religion. The Western world is a prime example of this phenomenon. According to a 2015 study, 34% of the world’s wealth belongs to non-religious people, while they only make up 16% of the world’s population. Christians currently hold 55% of the world’s wealth and make up 33% of the world’s population. Muslims hold 5% of the world’s wealth while they make up 24% of the world’s population. Hindus hold 3% of the wealth while they make up 15% of the world’s population. Christians and their wealth are the only statistic that is contradicting my position. It is also a recognised fact that Christians are the least religious denomination out of all the religions I mentioned. It has also been observed that richer Christians tend to be less religious. Moreover, the population under the age of 40 have the highest percentages of atheists in richer countries, including the United States. Our very own Australia is now 30.1% atheist, making atheists the largest single denomination by religion or lack thereof. It is safe to conclude that as poverty decreases, so will reliance on religion.
Education and religion also show some correlation, however it is not conclusive at this stage. For example, according to a survey conducted by Times of India, 22% of IT graduates in India do not have any religion, and a further 30% did not have any solid opinion on religion at all. However, educated Americans tend to be more religious while American scientists tend to be less religious. The level of education could be an important factor, however it requires further research. This is where I believe social media could play a vital role. You could have a Masters degree in history but at the same time be a very religious person. With the advent of social media, you don’t need to get a post-graduate degree to educate yourself on arguments for or against religions. A simple meme you come across on your Facebook timeline could trigger a chain reaction that may lead you away from religion. I have received thousands of messages from now ex-Muslims in Pakistan who came to know about my work accidentally. A lot of them sent me messages saying they once hated me and wanted to prove me wrong, but the more they looked into their religion, the more they realised it was nothing special. We are redefining education itself. Formal education has its place and should not be undermined, but informal education is finding its place in our modern world. People are now reading more informal books, watching YouTube educational videos, and of course, seeing those simple, silly memes. We have all heard that a picture tells a thousand words, today we live in a world where a picture tells a thousand and ten words in the form of a meme. I know at least two people who eventually ended up becoming atheists after seeing this meme of Richard Dawkins.
A simple meme like this made at least two of my followers investigate and research more. The more they looked, the more their faith in a god suffered. We might be able to establish a positive link between formal education and religion one day, but I have a gut feeling that informal education is damaging religion beyond repair. Since we, as a species, are getting richer and richer, it is also likely we’ll get more educated with each passing generation, likely decreasing religion’s importance.
Each generation also tends to be slightly more moral than the one before. We can look at the last ten thousand years of human history and see how we slowly managed to create a society that is more humane and morally superior to the one before. I do not doubt that this trend will continue and that our great-grandchildren will have a morality that I think will be more humane and ethical than ours. They will look back at some of us the same way we look at people from the 18th and 19th centuries who owned slaves. It took us two hundred thousand years to work out slavery is wrong and then it took us almost another hundred years to conclude all races should be treated equally. This was almost the same amount of time it took to recognise that women and men should be considered each other’s equal. It was only in the last five years or so that we started recognising same-sex relationships. This is a work in progress and something fuels it. New thought and discussion are at the heart of these changes, which are constantly driving us to be better than we were a decade before. When I came to Australia to study IT in 2003, we used to make gay jokes, and while I and other people from my generation have come a long way since then, young people today cannot even dare to imagine making gay jokes on university campuses. This urge to be more moral and ethical than before is also killing religions, as they come with their own set of moral guidelines that hold back society’s moral progress. We have let go of the moral values that come from religions one by one. We no longer stone two lovers to death (except in Iran and Somalia) or behead people publicly (except in Iran and Saudi Arabia), we no longer mercilessly slit the throats of animals (except in Muslim countries), we no longer treat women as inferior creatures (except in some Muslim countries). This urge to be better than a decade before will continue, even in these exceptional countries, and would prove to be a final nail in the coffin of religion.