The U.S. has been steadily losing its religion for decades — but that trend might ramp up significantly in the years to come.
The U.S. has been steadily losing its religion for decades. For the most part, Protestants have been leaving the church while the affiliation rates among Catholicism and other religions in the country have remained stable. But since 1990, Americans have been abandoning both belief and religious affiliation at such a fast pace that, by 2035, it's likely that 35 percent of the population will have no religious affiliation — outnumbering protestants.
In an article posted on his blog, Allen Downey, a professor of computer science at Olin College, used historical data from the General Social Survey (GSS) to generate predictions about the future of religious belief in the U.S., each with a 90 percent confidence interval.
“According to the Theory of Secularization, as societies become more modern, they become less religious. Aspects of secularization include decreasing participation in organized religion, loss of religious belief, and declining respect for religious authority.
Until recently the United States has been a nearly unique counterexample, so I would be a fool to join the line of researchers who have predicted the demise of religion in America. Nevertheless, I predict that secularization in the U.S. will accelerate in the next 20 years.”
The graph above was generated using data from the GSS question that reads: “What is your religious preference: is it Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, some other religion, or no religion?”
Downey summarized his findings on religious affiliation in the U.S.:
In addition to religious affiliation, Americans also seem to be losing their religious belief — at least strong belief, as Downey's model shows.
Downey also used GSS data to make predictions about people's interpretations of the bible.
...as well as their confidence in religious institutions.
Startling as the numbers may be, there's reason to think these projections are actually conservative, considering:
Although religion seems to be dying out in the U.S., other forms of spirituality might be just as present as ever.
A 2014 Pew study found that, between 2007 and 2014, the percentage of Americans who felt a "deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being" had increased from 52 to 59 percent, while the percentage of those who felt a "deep sense of wonder about the universe" increased from 39 to 46 percent.
Hitler is commonly thought to have been an atheist, a claim that's often used in debates about the perils of atheistic belief on a mass scale. But was he?
Nazism is popularly thought of as an ideology underpinned by atheism, but a closer look at Hitler's speeches and writings show a somewhat ambiguous outlook on religion. Although few historians claim that Hitler was a Christian, there's no unanimous consensus regarding his exact religious beliefs, or lack thereof. However, as historian Samuel Koehne writes in an article for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, there are three main schools of thought:
Paganism was strangely intertwined with the völkisch populist movement that swept across late 19th- and early 20th-century Germany. The groups that arose out of this movement differed in their emphasis on race and nationalism, but many expressed a desire to revive arcane pagan traditions and customs among the volk — the “people " — as Koehne notes:
"In fact, when the Nazis first celebrated Christmas in Munich (in 1920), they did so as a solstice celebration, and the report of the event in their own newspaper noted that the dire situation in which Germany found itself had been "prophesied in the Edda and in the teachings of the Armanen in ancient times." They were referring here to passages on the apocalyptic Ragnarok or "twilight of the gods" in the poetic Edda."
In a 1920 speech, Hitler, who was raised in the Catholic Church, said that Aryans had built “cults of light" wherever they settled throughout history. While Hitler might have identified with the fervor of the völkisch movement, it's unlikely he believed in the metaphysical validity of its paganistic aspects. He seemed more concerned with the utility of religious belief, as Koehne writes:
"It is well established that Hitler quickly drew away from the esoteric world of the volkisch movement, because he did not want the kind of secret society of initiates that characterised that tradition. He wanted to build a mass movement. As a result, in Mein Kampf he wrote strongly in support of the Catholic Church and its traditions of authority and dogma. This was not out of any love for the content of church doctrine, but because he believed that the Nazis could use such forms to create their own "political confession," moving from "volkisch feeling" to an absolute faith in the rectitude of Nazi racial nationalism."
Hitler's views on the utility of religion are clear in remarks he'd often make in private, according to Albert Speer, a close associate of the Führer. In Speer's “Inside the Third Reich" he quotes Hitler as saying:
You see, it's been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn't we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion, too, would have been more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?
...and also in his Mein Kampf:
This human world of ours would be inconceivable without the practical existence of a religious belief. (p. 152)
However, Mein Kampf also shows a bizarrely racialized interpretation of Christianity:
"Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord. . . . And the founder of Christianity made no secret indeed of his estimation of the Jewish people. When He found it necessary, He drove those enemies of the human race out of the Temple of God."
Hitler's interpretation of the gospels resulted in something dubbed “positive Christianity," which made its way into Article 24 of the 1920 Nazi Party Platform:
"We demand the freedom of all religious confessions in the state, insofar as they do not jeopardize the state's existence or conflict with the manners and moral sentiments of the Germanic race. The Party as such upholds the point of view of a positive Christianity without tying itself confessionally to any one confession. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit at home and abroad and is convinced that a permanent recovery of our people can only be achieved from within on the basis of the common good before individual good."
Hitler frequently mentioned “natural laws" when he spoke of religion, depicting the world as one governed by social Darwinism, as seen in this excerpt from "Hitler's Table Talk":
"By virtue of an inherent law, these riches belong to him who conquers them. The great migrations set out from the East. With us begins the ebb, from West to East. That's in accordance with the laws of nature. By means of struggle, the élites are continually renewed. The law of selection justifies this incessant struggle, by allowing the survival of the fittest."
In the same monologue, Hitler firmly denounces the ethos of Christianity.
Christianity is a rebellion against natural law, a protest against nature. Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure.
For these reasons, some have concluded that Hitler was a deist, as Koehne writes:
He famously argued in a major speech of 1938 that Nazism was 'a volkisch-political doctrine that grew out of exclusively racist insights' and was based on the 'sharpest scientific knowledge.' Yet in this same speech he stated the Nazi 'cult' was solely one which respected nature, and so that which was 'divinely ordained.'
It's ultimately impossible to know exactly what Hitler's religious beliefs were. But what seems certain is that Hitler had absolute faith in two things: hyper-nationalism and himself.
You have to be a little envious of those who have faith—they have a motivational force behind them that is near impossible to beat. What if there was a secular equivalent, wonders philosophy professor Sam Newlands.
If faith is what bolsters the believers, could hope be a form of secular prayer? What is the difference between faith and hope, anyway? Philosophy professor Sam Newlands explains that while the two occupy the same categorical space, they are fundamentally different philosophical mindsets. Faith is fueled by a sense of certainty about an outcome, even if that conviction outstrips the evidence. Hope on the other hand can be cognitively inconsistent and still escape scrutiny: you can think something is highly improbable and still hope for it to be true. Here, Newlands discusses the intersection of hope and faith in a religious context: is religion without faith possible? Can hope manifest religious belief?
This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism, a three-year initiative which supported interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. For more from Sam Newlands, head to samnewlands.com.
This week, Bill Nye tackles one of the most complicated hypotheticals of all time.
Would a world full of atheists be best? Some people dream of the day religion fades away, but for others the mere hypothetical is a form of blasphemy. Imagine, just like John Lennon asked us to: would it be heaven on Earth? Would it be complete chaos? No one can accurately answer this question, just as no one can really know whether or not there is a god—technically speaking, we're all agnostics, explains Bill Nye. What we do know is that community underpins religion, and communities are essential for humanity's progress and existence. God or no god, we need to understand that we're all in this together, urges Nye. Communities—whether they're anchored in faith, science, art, or altruism—are essential to the future of humankind. Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.
Physics finds no trace of God so far—but does it matter?
Can God exist out there in space-time? Do the laws of nature support the idea of a divine creator, or do they rule it out? At the moment, the existence of a god is a deep question for theologists and philosophers: it won't become a scientific question until there is evidence of God. With so much uncertainty, the question Bill Nye likes to focus on instead is: how would that knowledge change your life? Is who you are, with and without religion, two different versions of your self? The reality is that you don't need evidence of any god to live a good life. For Nye personally, he goes by the moral framework of "be responsible for my own actions, and leave the world better than I found it." That's probably the surest way to protect the life of the people and the earth that we have, whether or not it was made by higher power.
Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.