Organized religion will all but vanish eventually from nine Western-style democracies, a team of mathematicians predict in a new paper based on census data stretching back 100 years.
It won't die out completely, but "religion will be driven toward extinction" in countries including Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands, they say.
It will also wither away in Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland and Switzerland, they anticipate.
They can't make a prediction about the United States because the U.S. census doesn't ask about religion, lead author Daniel Abrams told CNN.
But nine other countries provide enough data for detailed mathematical modeling, he said.
"If you look at the data, 'unaffiliated' is the fastest-growing group" in those countries, he said.
"We start with two big assumptions based on sociology," he explained.
The first is that it's more attractive to be part of the majority than the minority, so as religious affiliation declines, it becomes more popular not to be a churchgoer than to be one, he said - what Abrams calls the majority effect.
"People are more likely to switch to groups with more members," he said.
Social networks can have a powerful influence, he said.
"Just a few connections to people who are (religiously) unaffiliated is enough to drive the effect," he said.
The other assumption underlying the prediction is that there are social, economic and political advantages to being unaffiliated with a religion in the countries where it's in decline - what Abrams calls the utility effect.
"The utility of being unaffiliated seems to be higher than affiliated in Western democracies," he said.
Abrams and his co-authors are not passing any judgment on religion, he's quick to say - they're just modeling a prediction based on trends.
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As Urantia Book readers, we know that religion is far more than theological dogma and a set of rules that one follows; it is a personal spiritual experience unique to each individual. The death of over-organized religion is inevitable, perhaps...Here are some quotes from the Urantia Book: (italics are mine. ed.)
103.9.6 When theology masters religion, religion dies; it becomes a doctrine instead of a life. The mission of theology is merely to facilitate the self-consciousness of personal spiritual experience. Theology constitutes the religious effort to define, clarify, expound, and justify the experiential claims of religion, which, in the last analysis, can be validated only by living faith. In the higher philosophy of the universe, wisdom, like reason, becomes allied to faith. Reason, wisdom, and faith are man’s highest human attainments. Reason introduces man to the world of facts, to things; wisdom introduces him to a world of truth, to relationships; faith initiates him into a world of divinity, spiritual experience.
103.1.1 1. PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION The unity of religious experience among a social or racial group derives from the identical nature of the God fragment indwelling the individual. It is this divine in man that gives origin to his unselfish interest in the welfare of other men. But since personality is unique — no two mortals being alike — it inevitably follows that no two human beings can similarly interpret the leadings and urges of the spirit of divinity which lives within their minds. A group of mortals can experience spiritual unity, but they can never attain philosophic uniformity. And this diversity of the interpretation of religious thought and experience is shown by the fact that twentieth-century theologians and philosophers have formulated upward of five hundred different definitions of religion. In reality, every human being defines religion in the terms of his own experiential interpretation of the divine impulses emanating from the God spirit that indwells him, and therefore must such an interpretation be unique and wholly different from the religious philosophy of all other human beings.
101.1.4 Religion lives and prospers, then, not by sight and feeling, but rather by faith and insight. It consists not in the discovery of new facts or in the finding of a unique experience, but rather in the discovery of new and spiritual meanings in facts already well known to mankind. The highest religious experience is not dependent on prior acts of belief, tradition, and authority; neither is religion the offspring of sublime feelings and purely mystical emotions. It is, rather, a profoundly deep and actual experience of spiritual communion with the spirit influences resident within the human mind, and as far as such an experience is definable in terms of psychology, it is simply the experience of experiencing the reality of believing in God as the reality of such a purely personal experience.
And for further study, please see our topical study of religion HERE