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The World’s Newest Major Religion: No Religion

The World’s Newest Major Religion: No Religion

More people than ever before are identifying as atheist, agnostic, or otherwise nonreligious, with potentially world-changing effects.
Photograph by Chris Bergin/The New York Times/Redux
You don’t usually think of churches as going out of business, but it happens. In March, driven by parishioner deaths and lack of interest, the U.K. Mennonites held their last collective service.

It might seem easy to predict that plain-dressing Anabaptists—who follow a faith related to the Amish—would become irrelevant in the age of smartphones, but this is part of a larger trend. Around the world, when asked about their feelings on religion, more and more people are responding with a meh.

The religiously unaffiliated, called “nones,” are growing significantly. They’re the second largest religious group in North America and most of Europe. In the United States, nones make up almost a quarter of the population. In the past decade, U.S. nones have overtaken Catholics, mainline protestants, and all followers of non-Christian faiths.

More people than ever before are identifying as atheist, agnostic, or otherwise nonreligious, with potentially world-changing effects.

There have long been predictions that religion would fade from relevancy as the world modernizes, but all the recent surveys are finding that it’s happening startlingly fast. France will have a majority secular population soon. So will the Netherlands and New Zealand. The United Kingdom and Australia will soon lose Christian majorities. Religion is rapidly becoming less important than it’s ever been, even to people who live in countries where faith has affected everything from rulers to borders to architecture.

But nones aren’t inheriting the Earth just yet. In many parts of the world—sub-Saharan Africa in particular—religion is growing so fast that nones’ share of the global population will actually shrink in 25 years as the world turns into what one researcher has described as “the secularizing West and the rapidly growing rest.” (The other highly secular part of the world is China, where the Cultural Revolution tamped down religion for decades, while in some former Communist countries, religion is on the increase.)

And even in the secularizing West, the rash of “religious freedom bills”—which essentially decriminalize discrimination—are the latest front in a faith-tinged culture war in the United States that shows no signs of abetting anytime soon.

Within the ranks of the unaffiliated, divisions run deep. Some are avowed atheists. Others are agnostic. And many more simply don’t care to state a preference. Organized around skepticism toward organizations and united by a common belief that they do not believe, nones as a group are just as internally complex as many religions. And as with religions, these internal contradictions could keep new followers away.

Millennials to God: No Thanks
If the world is at a religious precipice, then we’ve been moving slowly toward it for decades. Fifty years ago, Time asked in a famous headline, “Is God Dead?” The magazine wondered whether religion was relevant to modern life in the post-atomic age when communism was spreading and science was explaining more about our natural world than ever before.

We’re still asking the same question. But the response isn’t limited to yes or no. A chunk of the population born after the article was printed may respond to the provocative question with, “God who?” In Europe and North America, the unaffiliated tend to be several years younger than the population average. And 11 percent of Americans born after 1970 were raised in secular homes.

 

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/160422-atheism-agnostic-secular-nones-rising-religion/

 

 

 

 

 

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