Religion and faith are two different entities. Faith can exist without religion – a belief in a higher power, an incentive to treat others kindly. Religion is a series of institutions which have often taken advantage of this faith, particularly in the poorer parts of the world.
With the exception of Western Europe and North America, religion is growing all over the world. But these statistics are slightly misleading – religion is ‘growing’ due to higher birth rates in Muslim and Hindu countries, so these statistics are based on predictions that their children will also be religious.
But we live in a progressive world, where education and equality are steadily on the rise. As young people take steps towards social progress and acceptance, is religion standing in the way?
Almost 75% of 18-24 Year olds in the UK Declare Themselves as Having no Religion.
In comparison, only 27% of over 75 year olds claim they have no religion. An 81 year old is 8 times more likely to attend Church than a 21 year old. While religion can be acquired at any point in life, typically it is ingrained from a young age. Yet it is plain to see that religion is in no way a dominant force in UK youth culture today.
The overall UK religious constitution is roughly as follows:
- 53% – no religion
- 15% – Church of England
- 9% – Catholic
- 17% – Other Christians
- 6% – non-Christian religions
England’s state religion, Christianity as practiced by the Church of England, has less than 3% of under 24s who acknowledge it as their religion. But the Church of England won’t be giving up so easily – with £72 million worth of investment planned to train new priests and reinvigorate the existing infrastructure.
The World and Religion
Typically the most developed countries in the world value religion the least as a population (with the exception of the US, though their rates are on the decline) . China, Japan, Russia, Germany and the UK all have less than 20% of their populations consider religion as “very important” to their lives.
Less developed areas of the world have far higher percentages. South America, Africa, South-West Asia and Indonesia all reported rates of 70% and above who describe religion as “very important” in their lives.
It’s no coincidence that worship attendance is highest in the world where life expectancy is the shortest – nor that higher levels of education, GDP and income equality negatively correlate with the importance of religion in any given area. People in poorer areas can become desperate for something to believe in, and faith can provide comfort to those enduring suffering.
The issues arise when the religions that these people turn to hold them back from the social progress that is so needed for these areas to evolve.
“Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet. Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
Why has Religious Belief Declined so Rapidly in Areas Experiencing Higher Rates of Progress?
Dated Religious Institutions
The UK is one of the most accepting nations in the world. It’s nowhere near perfect, but it’s a leader in promoting equality and social justice. However, the Church of England does not permit the marriage of homosexual couples.
There are 40,000+ churches in the UK that permit heterosexual couples to marry. Only 182 of these allow homosexual couples to marry.
There’s not a shortage of faith causing the decline of religion in the UK among young people, but a shortage of progress from religious institutions. Religious progress needs to keep pace with social progress, or it will rightly be left behind. Those churches that have allowed gay marriage have actually experienced growth in their congregations.
Multiculturalism is great – forget Brexit and the scaremongers. The best thing about it is its ability to open our eyes to other ways of living, and other traditions. It brings into question our way of life, and of course comparisons are inevitable.
The more diverse areas become, the more we experience other religions first-hand. As this happens, people inevitably begin to question religion. If there are dozens of major religions all contradicting one another, does this not bring into question the legitimacy of any one religion?
Of course among the narrow-minded, multiculturalism leads to conflict rather than increased awareness of other religions. But most children in progressive countries are now being brought up with exposure to many religions, and with no obligation to choose one, they simply aren’t doing so.
“One of the greatest tragedies in mankind’s entire history may be that morality was hijacked by religion.” – Arthur C. Clarke, Author
Is There a way Back for Religion?
I have a degree of faith, but as you may be able to tell, I’m not a fan of religious institutions. I went to a Catholic school, and I was in church every Sunday for a decade as a result, so it’s fair to say I’ve a bias opinion of one particular church. But my opinions on religious institutions are born of the way in which they operate today, and have always operated. They’re often fearful of that which they do not know, and thus oppose it.
The greater the levels of education, wealth and equality present in an area, the less dependent they are on religion. Religion historically thrives in harsher conditions. Yet we cannot continue to allow religious institutions to dictate right and wrong simply because their doctrine provides reassurance to those under its influence.
The only way back for religion in progressive nations is to keep pace with the positive social progress that is ongoing in these countries. Faith has a place in many people’s lives – but religion less and less so with each generation that passes.