The Decline of Religion

From Galileo forward, religion has been in a duel to the death with science. Breaking News: Science has won. In the United States, survey after survey report that church attendance is declining. More people are reporting they are agnostics or atheists. Churches are closing. Mega churches have gone broke. 

I know many people who were slightly religious growing up, and whose parents were more religious, and whose children couldn’t care less. Today’s youth would rather go to soccer practice or cruise their iPhones and Facebook than go to church.

There was a time in history when about half the people thought the Earth was flat, and half thought it was round. There was a time in history when about half the people thought the Sun traveled around the Earth, and about half thought the opposite. All at once, there was a tipping point. The evidence was overwhelming and the skeptics suddenly had to change their beliefs. 

Today, everyone knows the Earth is round and that it circles the Sun. Not everyone, though, believes that humans evolved through a process of evolution from lower animals. As in other times with other issues, like the flat-Earth theory, people who deny evolution will be mocked and laughed at (maybe except in Kansas.) Things are changing due to new knowledge. Perhaps belief in religion is also moving toward a tipping point. 

The people who invented religion were uneducated. They did not have the tools of science. There was no world-wide flood that killed all living beings. Noah’s ark never existed. The Red Sea was not parted by Moses. There was no virgin birth. There was no resurrection. Jonah did not survive in the belly of a whale. All these things are just stories. Fortunately in the United States, people who believe these things, literally, are a diminishing breed. 

Christmas is becoming a non-religious holiday.  I’m noticing a big decline in religious-based Christmas decorations.  Look at the front yards in your neighborhood. Lots of Santa Clauses, reindeer, and snowmen, but very few baby Jesuses, or mangers, or wise men. I’d suggest this is because people are moving away from religion altogether, not just because they want to be politically correct and not insult non-Christians. 

Years ago when Katy was in the first grade, we attended a meeting with her teacher and other families in early December. The teacher explained because of the time of year, she would be talking about the religious meaning of “the holidays.” She wondered, was everyone OK with that? Slowly the atheists spoke up, then the “spiritual but not religious” people, then the believers. You could feel the tension rising. 

Then, one of the parents, who was Jewish, commented, “Well in our house we just celebrate the commercial aspects of Christmas.” Everyone cracked up and the tension broke. Surly that is what is happening today and being reflected in the absence of full-on Christian religious decorations in front yards. Here is my solution:  

If these ideas are interesting to you, then you might like to know about the work of Sam Harris, a scientist, atheist,  and author of The End of Faith

Here is his podcast about Islam and Christianity:

Let’s just celebrate the Winter Solstice on December 22 when the Earth turns ever so slightly and the days start getting longer. Now that is a religion I can believe in. 

As George Carlin famously said: “I worship the sun because I can see it. I pray to Joe Pesci because he gets shit done.”

2 thoughts on “The Decline of Religion

  1. Michael Joyce says:

    Rick, the two of us went to Sunday School together. We sang Christmas Carols together at Hillside School. We learned the same Christmas stories. As little kids we both believed in Santa Claus until some little sonofabitch told us Santa wasn’t real. What a let down!

    It was decades before I realized the little sonofabitch was wrong, and that part of growing up is our becoming Santa Claus as part of the joy of giving. The absence of physical existence of Rudolph or Santa doesn’t matter. It is the story that counts as a way of teaching the value of giving, if we use it that way with our children.

    Five or six hundred years before Christ Aesop was telling stories that were retold for hundreds of years because they were interesting, memorable, and taught meaningfully. These were not factually true of course and did not become the book "Aesop’s Lies." These short tales to teach a lesson became Aesop’s Fables, and these are instructive in both what to do, and what not to do. Their greatest value is in how they help us to form a discerning understanding. And so it is with scripture. We get as much out of scripture as we are willing to put into finding differing interpretations, each sharpening our discernment and deepening our understanding. It is about differentiating the undifferentiated. And that is what science does.

    Science and theology are both driven by curiosity. If you ask yourself what created the Big Bang it doesn’t matter if you are a theologian or a scientist.

    It is not a war between religion and science, it is the evolution of curiosity.

    Maybe that makes science a new denomination, but that depends on your understanding of God. What’s yours?

  2. Michael Sizemore says:

    Rick, I think it’s incorrect to talk about a "war" between religion and science. To many of us there is no war. SCience and religion seek basically the same thing. I am an adherent to an open religion that seeks the truth, whatever that might be. For one thing I don’t believe science is capable of finding the truth by itself. There is more to the truth than just the material universe. I accept the findings of science, and I keep an open mind, for I know those findings may turn out to be incorrect. In the same way there have been many beliefs put forth by religious people that I feel certain are incorrect. I happen to believe there is a God but I wouldn’t think for a minute that everything in the Bible is true. It’s a poetry book, not a science book. Keep writing. I enjoy your musings.

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