Disclaimer – I am an atheist, this article is a biased report of religion from a non-religious author. It is not my intention to offend anybody’s own religion, it is simply an analysis of the rise of secularism.
Religion is declining. In Australia, the people declaring ‘no religion’ in their census box has risen by 25% in the past century. Religion is (or was) one of the most fundamental characteristics of humanity, and has been a consistent topic throughout history. It’s actually been central to history, as so much of our predecessors depended on religion for answers to unanswerable questions. Why do we exist? What is our purpose? What happens after death? No culture throughout society has been able to answer these questions, so they developed religion to compensate and give them comfort in these answers that religion provided them with. Now the world still cannot answer those big questions, yet we as a society are no longer looking to theologians for the answer, so why is that? What changed in our post-modern world that made a lot of people give up the Sunday sermons?
Well, for one thing, we are in the post-modern era, where everything is sceptical and we can no longer trust anything. Post-modernism very roughly translates to confusion, and you don’t have to be a literary critic to witness the confusion and chaos that surrounds us. Taking advantage of that confusion are horrible people longing to inflict pain onto others under the guise of religion. Everyone has heard of the Western World’s new enemy Islamic State. These barbarians commit atrocities in the name of Allah. Horrible unspeakable crimes all for the glory of Allah. Yet these morons don’t know Islam any better than I do. With a quick Google search, I was able to find the favourite verse in the Quran concerning infidels. Except it doesn’t concern infidels, it targets polytheists, or idolaters. Basically, people who worship false Gods. Now yes, this still sounds bad, but to put it into perspective, this is one line out of a whole book, that was written in the Classical Levant. Back then, war was a lifestyle, and smallpox still existed. And before anyone else points fingers claiming Islam is violent, the entire Book of Joshua, which is a scripture from the Old Testament (Torah for Judaism) of the Holy Bible recounts Joshua’s brutal conquests of Canaan in which he (under divine orders) captured cities and slaughtered them because they also contained polytheists, or idolaters. So if we’re going off religious texts, Christianity and Judaism is actually more violent. Anyway getting back to the real perpetrators, groups like ISIS and lesser known (but more terrifying) Boko Haram. As religious terror rises, people are beginning to associate what once were peaceful religions as hypocritical institutions that only serve to bring harm to society. What this does is create a negative impression of religions that society embraces. Unfortunately, the main religion copping the brunt is Islam, and what is more is that people are being influenced by their distaste for religion in crucial decisions (like the US Presidential election of 2016). But this is just the beginning. We are even beginning to see the deterioration of Christian churches as so many reports of paedophilia arise. People now are beginning to associate these negative stereotypes to the religion itself. Now, people don’t want to join Islam, for fear of being labelled a terrorist , and people are dropping priest touching jokes left, right and centre. This is not a great sign for religion, especially as science is on the rise.
Science vs religion, romanticism vs rationalism, creativity vs logic. There are many other names for this battle, but it comes down to faith vs reason. Back in the classical and romantic era’s, science was simply not given the respect or attention it demanded to blossom. Whereas faith was explicitly linked with society. But as scientific thought, and even historical analysis developed, academia exposed some pretty gaping holes in religious argument. Galileo was sentenced to house arrest for life by the Catholic Church after he advocated for the heliocentric system, where the sun is the centre of the solar system. Then, modern discoveries by prominent figures like Edwin Hubble and Albert Einstein led to the formulation of the Big Bang theory. This notorious yet still incomplete theory blatantly contradicts religious texts such as the Bible, and the Book of Genesis. Thus, research had to be done in order to discern how we got from a bang to existence. Que, evolution. Evolution, made famous by scientists like Charles Darwin. The notion that we all share a common ancestor, and that humans were not made in God’s image, and we instead evolved from microscopic cells then to fish then to primates (very very basic science I know), is enough to upset the Abrahamic religions (who all basically worship the same God). Now, having this scientific knowledge is one thing, but we possessed this same knowledge 60 years ago, and still headed to the church on Sunday. What has changed is that instead of living in your small community bubble of family, friends, utilities and work, our circles have expanded exponentially. Now we are able to communicate with a variety of people who all share different ideas and knowledge, and this inevitably has some degree of influence in our own views. The one crucial factor also that is leading to the rise of science-based secularism, in my eyes, is the diminishing prestige and aristocracy of universities. Universities, the places where science flourish, are no longer exclusive to the wealthiest or most intellectually gifted individuals. Ordinary hard working people are able to go to university and be exposed to these new ideas. This relates back to first reason, that people have wider circles to share their ideas. This is even more problematic for religion, as those ideas now have a more scientific calibre to them.
One of the reasons I chose to write this article was because I had just finished Auguste Huxley’s Brave New World, and found a profound discourse relating to this topic that sparked my interest. One of the characters says “God isn’t compatible with machinery, and scientific medicine and universal happiness”. I found this quote really resonated with me because it’s true. As is put forward in the book, the many reasons we as a species turned to religion was to find comfort and solace in our faith. Through religion, we could feel happy in knowing that as our body deteriorates, our soul is headed up to the pearly gates. We didn’t have to question the creation of mankind, because the answer was that it was the work of some divine entity. Brave New World also had this idea which caught my eye, and it was how early in our lives we have a tendency to reject God, out of bravado and arrogance etc. But, when our bodies start to wear and age, we realise how powerless we really are over ourselves, and it is that feeling of powerlessness that drove people to religion. However, through advances in science and medicine, we are beginning to prolong the natural aging process, so how are we supposed to undergo this profound revelation of faith, if in our hearts we affirm to ourselves that we are the true rulers of our body. We may as well be, since we aren’t dying anymore and can look just as glamourous at 50 than at 20 (for a price of course). As for religion being used as a means to answer the unanswerable questions, science is rapidly on the trail of discouraging that. Should a profound brain uncover the ultimate secrets, then religions purpose in that instance has become obsolete. All of these effects of modernisation are contributing to the downfall of religion.
The final reason that I’ll highlight today (there are many more) is how modern events have led to us questioning the divinity. I believe (and many scholars believe) this began after World War 1. The unprecedented destruction brought that war, led multiple people to question how a God could let such an atrocity happen. Some of the more brilliant among these people wrote about them in poems, such as T.S. Eliot in his masterpiece ‘the Wasteland’. This isn’t an english lesson so I won’t analyse this poem, but I will analyse a quote. “There is the empty chapel, only the wind’s home”, from Eliot’s footnotes, the chapel he is referring to is the Chapel Perilious, which is associated with King Arthur. Regardless, the empty adjective, and the metaphor of the wind’s home, illustrates Eliot’s view that either God has abandoned us, or he was never there to begin with. This poem was a post-war piece which drew heavily on the societies dis-attachment from religion. Yet, World War also had an inverse effect of drawing more people into the faith, as a coping mechanism. Despite this, WWI undoubtedly marked the start of the downfall of religion. Since then we have seen the introduction of nuclear warfare, chemical warfare, biological warfare, we have seen dictatorships oppress and slaughter people by the millions, we have seen another World War, we have seen terrorism, and now thanks to technology we have seen it all in HD resolution. Stephen Fry brilliantly summed this up when expressing his personal religious opinion on the divinity. The interviewer asks Fry, “what would Stephen Fry say to him (God)?”. Fry’s response, “bone cancer in children, what’s that about? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault”. Fry’s opinionated response somewhat aggressively sums up a belief that is beginning to gain traction in our modern world. That either God does not exist, or if he does, he is more sinister than we believe.
For many reasons, religion is experiencing a downfall. Overall, this piece could be reduced to one word; modernisation. Modernisation leads to people simply outgrowing religion. Australia is modern, and it is also a self-proclaimed secularist state. A lot of 2nd world and 3rd world countries that are behind in the modernisation process, are still heavily religious. Yet, as we develop as a species, we are beginning to outgrow religion. However religion had been an essential part of society, and still is so even if it is on the decline, it won’t be an instant process. Regardless of the future of religion, even though it has had some negative impacts on society, it has also done some profound good. For one, it has instilled a moral compass in most of our lives today. I say most cause ISIS and groups/individuals like it are still active and they are immoral. Yet, is what they are doing truly reflective of the religion they fight for? Of course not, they morons