'Why Atheism Will Replace Religion' Author: Economic Security a Characteristic of 'Godless' Countries

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By Melissa Barnhart, CP Reporter
July 26, 2013|10:22 am

Bio-psychologist Nigel Barber details the socio-economic reasons why he predicts atheism will prevail over the world's religions by the year 2041 in his book, Why Atheism Will Replace Religion: The Triumph of Earthly Pleasures Over Pie in the Sky.

Barber claims that outside of the "possible exception" of the United States, "… citizens of countries that enjoy the best standard of living are the least likely to believe in God or see religion as very important in their daily lives."

He asserts, "Religion may have been useful to humans for tens of thousands of millennia thanks to its role in coping with stress and uncertainty" but it has outlived its usefulness because successful countries are turning away from religion.

"I argue that their citizens' lives are so comfortable and secure that they no longer need religious rituals to help them cope with anxiety. The key factors that make people feel secure include: relative affluence; good health and long life expectancy; economic security; and social trust; all of which are characteristics of 'godless' countries."

His claims are based on findings from a study he conducted that will be published in the Cross-Cultural Research journal next month.

After analyzing 137 countries "that partialed out the effects of Communism and Islamic religion both of which affect the incidence of reported nonbelief," Barber concludes in his study, "A Cross-National Test of the Uncertainty Hypothesis of Religious Belief," that increasing economic and income security, higher taxation and a welfare state lead to "disbelief," and is replaced by residents "trusting their neighbors and participating in civic organizations," opposed to religious activities.

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"When one compares countries around the world, the happiest countries are not the most religious ones," he writes. "Countries where most people are rendered miserable by poverty, hunger, and disease, are the very ones where religious belief is at its strongest."

In an article published in Psychology Today, Barber notes: "In sub-Saharan Africa there is almost no atheism. Belief in God declines in more developed countries and atheism is concentrated in Europe in countries such as Sweden (64 percent nonbelievers), Denmark (48 percent), France (44 percent) and Germany (42 percent). In contrast, the incidence of atheism in most sub-Saharan countries is below 1 percent."

A 2012 WIN-Gallup International poll, titled "Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism" and based on interviews with more than 50,000 people in 57 countries, found that "only a minority of the world, mostly concentrated in China and Western Europe, claims to be atheist."

The poll found that 59 percent claim to be religious, compared to 23 percent who said they are not religious, and 13 percent who said they are atheist.

According to the poll, the top 10 religious populations are in: Ghana, Nigeria, Armenia, Fiji, Macedonia, Romania, Iraq, Kenya, Peru and Brazil.

The top 10 countries experiencing a decline in religiosity since 2005 include: Vietnam, Switzerland, France, South Africa, Iceland, Ecuador, United States, Canada, Austria and Germany.

Similar to Barber's findings, the WIN-Gallup poll shows that those who are "college educated are 16 percent less religious than those without secondary education." The poll also found that since 2005, religiosity has dropped by 9 percent, while atheism has risen by 3 percent.

Barber further asserts, "The reasons that churches lose ground in developed countries can be summarized in market terms. First, with better science, and with government safety nets, and smaller families, there is less fear and uncertainty in people's daily lives and hence less of a market for religion. At the same time many alternative products are being offered, such as psychotropic medicines and electronic entertainment that have fewer strings attached and that do not require slavish conformity to unscientific beliefs."

A different poll, however, contends that the world is more religious now than it was four decades ago, and anticipates the trend to continue through 2020 and perhaps beyond.

According to the study titled "Christianity In Its Global Context, 1970-2010," conducted by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, there will be 2.6 billion Christians by 2020.

The study notes that in 1970, agnostic and atheist populations together claimed 19.2 percent of the world's total population, largely due to communism in Eastern Europe and China. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, large numbers of the nonreligious returned to religion.

Christianity and Islam represented 48.8 percent of the global population in 1970, and by 2020 they will likely represent 57.2 percent, according to the Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary study.

The study also reports that the fastest-growing religion over the next decade is likely to be the Baha'i faith, which is growing by 1.7 percent, yearly. This to be followed by Islam at 1.6 percent, Sikhism at 1.4 percent, Jainism at 1.3 percent, Christianity at 1.2 percent and Hinduism at 1.2 percent. Each of these is growing faster than the world's population at 1.1 percent.

 

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