Three items appear below:
1 The Long, Slow Death of Religion
2 Is Religion Dying?
3 Is Christianity Dying?
The long, slow death of religion
James A. Haught
(Investigator 173, 2017 March)
By now, it's clear that religion is fading in America, as it has done
in most advanced Western democracies.
Dozens of surveys find identical evidence: Fewer American adults,
especially those under 30, attend church — or even belong to a church.
They tell interviewers their religion is "none." They ignore faith.
Since 1990, the "nones" have exploded rapidly as a sociological
phenomenon — from 10 percent of U.S. adults, to 15 percent, to 20
percent. Now they've climbed to 25 percent, according to a 2016 survey
by the Public Religion Research Institute.
That makes them the nation's largest faith category, outstripping
Catholics (21 percent) and white evangelicals (16 percent). They seem
on a trajectory to become an outright majority. America is following
the secular path of Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and
other modern places. The Secular Age is snowballing.
Various explanations for the social transformation are
postulated: That the Internet exposes young people to a wide
array of ideas and practices that undercut old-time beliefs. That
family breakdown severs traditional participation in congregations.
That the young have grown cynical about authority of all types. That
fundamentalist hostility to gays and abortion has soured
tolerant-minded Americans. That clergy child-molesting scandals have
scuttled church claims to moral superiority. That faith-based suicide
bombings and other religious murders horrify normal folks.
All those factors undoubtedly play a role. But I want to offer a
simpler explanation: In the scientific 21st century, it's less
plausible to believe in invisible gods, devils, heavens, hells, angels,
demons — plus virgin births, resurrections, miracles, messiahs,
prophecies, faith-healings, visions, incarnations, divine visitations
and other supernatural claims. Magical thinking is suspect, ludicrous.
It's not for intelligent, educated people.
Significantly, the PRRI study found that the foremost reason young
people gave for leaving religion is this clincher: They stopped
believing miraculous church dogmas.
For decades, tall-steeple mainline Protestant denominations with
university-educated ministers tried to downplay supernaturalism — to
preach just the compassion of Jesus and the social gospel. It was a
noble effort, but disastrous. The mainline collapsed so badly it is
dubbed "flatline Protestantism." It has faded to small fringe of
Now Catholicism and evangelicalism are in the same death spiral.
One-tenth of U.S. adults today are ex-Catholics. The Southern Baptist
Convention lost 200,000 members in 2014 and 200,000 more in 2015.
I'm a longtime newspaperman in Appalachia's Bible Belt. I've watched
the retreat of religion for six decades. Back in the 1950s,
church-based laws were powerful:
It was a crime for stores to open on the Sabbath. All public school
classes began with mandatory prayer. It was a crime to buy a cocktail,
or look at nude photos in magazines, or buy a lottery ticket. It was a
crime for an unwed couple to share a bedroom. If a single girl became
pregnant, both she and her family were disgraced. Birth control
was unmentionable. Evolution was unmentionable.
It was a felony to terminate a pregnancy. It was a felony to be gay.
One homosexual in our town killed himself after police filed charges.
Even writing about sex was illegal. In 1956, our Republican mayor sent
police to raid bookstores selling "Peyton Place."
Gradually, all those faith-based taboos vanished from society. Religion
lost its power — even before the upsurge of "nones."
Perhaps honesty is a factor in the disappearance of religion. Maybe
young people discern that it's dishonest to claim to know supernatural
things that are unknowable.
When I was a cub reporter, my city editor was an H.L. Mencken clone who
laughed at Bible-thumping hillbilly preachers. One day, as a young
truth-seeker, I asked him: You're correct that their explanations are
fairy tales — but what answer can an honest person give about the deep
questions: Why are we here? Why is the universe here? Why
do we die? Is there any purpose to life?
He eyed me and replied: "You can say: I don't know." That rang a bell
in my head that still echoes. It's honest to admit that you cannot
explain the unexplainable.
The church explanation — that Planet Earth is a testing place to screen
humans for a future heaven or hell — is a silly conjecture with no
evidence of any sort, except ancient scriptures. No wonder that today's
Americans, raised in a scientific-minded era, cannot swallow it.
Occam's Razor says the simplest explanation is most accurate. Why is
religion dying? Because thinking people finally see that it's untrue,
White evangelicals tipped the 2016 presidential election to Donald
Trump, giving an astounding 81 percent of their votes to the crass
vulgarian who contradicts church values. But white evangelicals, like
most religious groups, face a shrinking future. Their power will
It took humanity several millennia to reach the Secular Age. Now it's
James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia's largest
The Charleston Gazette-Mail.
Is Religion Dying?
(Investigator 174, 2017 May)
I refer to "The long, slow death of religion" by James A. Haught in Investigator #173.
I am a little confused where this article came from. #173 infers that
it was submitted by James A. Haught, who is the editor emeritus of some
newspaper in West Virginia and is also a regular contributor to the
Secular Web on infidels.org. Haught is supposedly a high flyer in
America and it would surprise me if he submitted this article to Investigator Magazine. In fact,
Laurie Eddie sent me a copy of this article in late January. Was this
article submitted by Laurie Eddie, James Haught or someone else?
I agree that Christianity is currently in decline in Western countries,
such as Australia and America, in terms of church attendance and
nominated affiliation. However, Haught suggests why and that is where I
disagree. He basically claims that belief in the supernatural
(expressed in derisive terms) is "not for intelligent, educated people”
and "thinking people will see that it's untrue, false, dishonest.” He
then concludes that the "Secular Age… is blossoming spectacularly."
So, there we have it. If you want to be considered intelligent,
educated, thinking, honest and follow the winning team, then you had
better get on the same bravado train as James A. Haught. The pressure
is on and you don't want to look silly, do you? As for me, I am in a
bad way, as I believe in the supernatural. Therefore, I must be
unintelligent, uneducated, unthinking, dishonest and so on. Is this
true? I don't think so.
One of the strongest points of sceptics is self-congratulation. They
refer to themselves as "brights", "free thinkers", "rationalists" and
other effusive terms, but does claiming that you are bright necessarily
mean that you are bright? If you go with the flow, does that mean that
you are a free, independent, rational thinker or just another sheep
that is going astray?
James provided speculation that was unsupported by evidence, so I think
I should have a go too. My observations are that rejection of
Christianity is mainly based on prejudice, ignorance and apathy. Simon
Smart has described Australian cultural attitudes as "a thin veneer of
resentment toward religion on top of a sea of apathy!" Most people do
not want to have a conversation, as the barriers are already up. They
have absorbed the subliminal and overt messages in the media and
advertising, their eyes are covered and their ears stopped. They are
distracted by the pursuit of wealth and happiness.
The gospels give their own reasons why people fall away. Some are love
of riches, the cares of the world, fear of persecution or ridicule, and
so on. These factors were true then and are still true today. In
Australia, the people who hold the microphones are celebrities,
pop-stars, sportsmen and comedians. These people have no idea about the
veracity of Christianity, but the public listen to what they say and
absorb their values and opinions, but "If the blind lead the blind,
both will fall into a pit” (Matt 15:14). In surveys, respondents
may well claim that their disinterest in Christianity is due to
unbelief, but is this unbelief justified? In philosophy, knowledge is
defined as "justified, true belief". The fact is that, for many who
claim that they reject Christianity due to unbelief, their belief
systems are not warranted and so do not constitute knowledge. Delusions
are common at the highest level. A paper by Cross in 1977 reported on a
survey where 94% of professors thought they were above average amongst
I am involved in apologetics and sometimes I wonder whether I should
target the world or the church. In Israel, the problem was often bad
leadership and that is often the case in the church today. I believe
the church could do much better at addressing the causes of decline,
and so the state of the church is part of the problem.
The decline in the West is not necessarily mirrored in non-Western
countries. Christianity is now growing quite rapidly in China, but the
current decline in the West does seem real. Cultural decline is nothing
new. The pattern was regularly repeated in the life of Israel. Gradual
decline is followed by a disaster, then reform and then gradual decline
again. In all societies, this pattern repeats, even though no social
movement has ever persisted. So, why presume that current Western
trends are forever?
None of this should be surprising. Jesus warned, "Enter by the narrow
gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to
destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow
and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few"
(Matt 7:13-14). G.K. Chesterton also put it this way, "Christianity has
not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not
tried." The crowd is not always right.
Director, Reasonable Faith Adelaide.
[Editor's note: To
answer Kevin Rogers' query: "The
Long, Slow Death of Religion" appeared on various websites; James
A. Haught gave permission by e-mail to reprint it in Investigator.]
IS CHRISTIANITY DYING?
(Investigator 175, 2017 July)
"The Long, Slow Death of Religion" (Investigator 173) is really about
Christian denominations, not about all religions. James Haught argues
that Christianity is on its way out in the USA and Europe, and the
Secular Age is "blossoming spectacularly."
Lawton (2014) would agree with Haught and writes:
A decade ago, more than
three-quarters of the world's population identified themselves as
religious. Today, less than 60 per cent do...
Even in the US—a deeply Christian country—the number of
people expressing "no religious affiliation" has risen from 5 per cent
in 1972 to 20 per cent today…
That is not to say that they have all explicitly
rejected religion: only 13 per cent of people around the world are
"committed" atheists … almost a billion atheists globally.
Christian decrease is evident also in the Middle East. In 1910
Christian communities comprised 14% of the population, in 2010 only 4%.
Today, terrorist attacks by Islamists (a Muslim minority who believe
that "infidels" should be murdered) have multiplied. In 2009, for
example, a bomb in the Syrian Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad killed 58
and injured 75. Such events accelerated the Christian exodus from the
Middle East even as Western nations accepted millions of Muslim
Rowan Callick (2015) reported that religion is booming in South Korea!
In 1945 only 2% of people in Korea were Christians. Today, of South
Korea's 50 million people 18% are Protestant, 11% Catholic, and 26,000
are missionaries in 169 countries.
Similarly China — 4,000,000 Christians in 1948, and 67,000,000 in 2010!
Christians in Africa
(Sources: Wikipedia; and Britannica
"Religion Year in Review" 2010)
In Investigator #12 (1990) I
estimated the worldwide Christian increase across twenty centuries as
|Christian % of
Based on Table 2, I argued in Investigator
12 that Christian increase and survival fulfilled Isaiah (54:17) "No
weapon that is fashioned against you shall prosper" and that:
The "weapons" against
Christianity have included organized large scale martyrdom,
inquisitions, Bible burnings, invasions of "barbarians" from Asia,
avalanches of new cults, Atheistic Communism…
Table 2 terminates in 1990 which I now update in Table 3:
of World Population
(Source: Britannica "Religion Year in
Review" 1995, 2004, 2010)
It seems that my sources in Table 2 for 1975/1990 either gave low
estimates, or Christianity in the 1990s increased remarkably.
Table 4 shows Christian trends in the USA compared to agnostics and
(Source: Britannica "Religion Year in
Christians in the USA are increasing in absolute numbers but decreasing
as a percentage.
Haught's explanation for the increase of "nones" i.e. agnostics or
child-molesting scandals have scuttled church claims to moral
superiority. That faith-based suicide bombings and other religious
murders horrify normal folks.
Significantly, the PRRI study found that the foremost
reason young people gave for leaving religion is this clincher: They
stopped believing miraculous church dogmas.
Lawton (2014) suggests:
of the main motivations for abandoning god is that people increasingly
don't need the comfort that belief in god brings. Religion thrives in
existential angst: where people feel insecure and uncertain, religion
provides succour. But as societies become prosperous and stable, this
security blanket becomes less important.
I would suggest that many "Christians" have throughout history been in
it for the social and economic advantages. Therefore, rather than
non-belief "blossoming spectacularly" it may be that government
benefits have largely replaced Christian social services, and there is
now less to be gained by pretending to have faith.
AN ANCIENT PATTERN
In ancient times the Israelites were, according to the Bible, the
people of God. (Psalm 135:12; 148:14)
The Bible records that ancient Israel flip-flopped between faith and
apostasy. The people swerved many times from idolatry (along with
injustice, immorality and poverty) to repentance and prosperity, and
back to idolatry. The books of Judges,
Kings, Chronicles and the prophets
document this pattern.
An example is II Chronicles 33 which describes the 55-year "evil" reign
of King Manasseh and the short reign of his idol-worshipping son. The
next Chapter documents the grandson, King Josiah, in whose reign the
worship of one God "Yahweh" was restored. The long-lost "book of Moses"
which had probably been unread for half a century was rediscovered.
(Chapter 34:14-18, 29-30)
When national standards became truly gross and God was ignored by
almost everyone, Israel suffered insurrection, crime-waves, oppression,
climate change, war, and deportations of whole populations.
The New Testament teaches that all nations, not just Israel and Judah,
are now God's people, "ransomed" for God because Jesus died on their
behalf for their sins.
The New Testament says that the ancient Israelites were "examples for
us, so that we might not desire evil as they did" and suffer similarly.
(I Corinthians 10:6-11; Jude 5-7)
Despite this warning many people today do "desire evil as they did",
and Israel's destructive pattern is often repeated in churches and
Germany, for example, virtually repudiated Christ in the 1930s and
idolized a man who wanted to both rule the whole world and eradicate
Christianity. The result was that about 7 million Germans died,
millions became slave laborers, millions of women were raped, over 10
million Germans became refugees, and 25% of Germany's land area was
China with 4,000,000 Christians in 1949 was potentially a land of
promise, but Mao Tse Tung and Communism took charge. Political
repression, man-made famines and the "Cultural Revolution" killed over
50 million Chinese.
Much of what makes modern nations prosperous began with believers in
Why have people today got modern medicines? Comfortable housing? Cheap
plentiful food? Ample clothing? Electricity and countless appliances
that electricity powers? Clean cities? Good roads? Greater safety and
security than people centuries ago? And Bibles available everywhere?
Because the Bible foretold that God would "bless all nations" through
the descendants of Abraham (Genesis 18:18), and Jesus foretold that his
followers would do greater things than he did. (John 14:12) I showed
previously (Investigator 170; 172) that modern science and the benefits
it produced began with believers in the Bible wanting to glorify God by
Many ethical rules and laws that today promote health and prosperity
also come from the Bible. In Investigator
#173, for example, I wrote of the "world war" against corruption begun
by US law makers in 1977, and pointed out that the Bible opposed
"corruption" thousands of years earlier.
Secularism, if it leads to Christian decline, is nothing for James
Haught or anyone else to gloat about:
Firstly, many people who ignore
the Bible turn to indefensible and less beneficial beliefs. Lawton
As religion wanes
spiritual-type beliefs do not. The majority of no religion still
believe in some form of higher power or in the paranormal such as
astrology, extraterrestrials, karma, etc.
Secondly, millions who forget
God replace Him with drugs, gambling, immorality, debt, crime, and
whatever else is harmful to families and nations.
Thirdly, the ancient pattern
described above and replicated in some modern nations, suggests that at
some stage everything beneficial that modern humans have gained but
take for granted and fail to be thankful for could be lost.
Callick, R.S. Korea leads world in religious export trade, The Weekend Australian, January
3-4, 2015, 8
Haught, J.A. The long, slow death of religion, Investigator 173, March, 2017
Investigator Magazine 12; 170;
Lawton, G. Losing our religion, New
Scientist, 3 May, 2014, 30-35
(as well as Religion, the Supernatural and the Paranormal) investigated
on this website: