A recent Pew Research poll shows that the number of Americans who describe their religious affiliation as "none of the above" has been consistently growing in this country in the past few years and now stands at around 20%, a growth of about 6% since 2007. Meanwhile self identified Christians have fallen in that same time period from around 78% to 70%. Now obviously 70% is still a pretty hefty majority, and Americans still tend to be more religious in general than most other people in industrialized nations, but a growing trend is a growing trend. Combine these findings with a new poll from Gallup that shows that self described social liberals are now, for the first time since the poll began in 1999, tied with self described social conservatives at 31% in America, and it appears that the country may no longer be simply described as "center right" as it has been for so many years by the media.
And this trend doesn't seem limited to America: recently Ireland became the first country in the world to allow gay marriage by popular vote (and that vote wasn't even close, with 62% of Irish voters voting in favor of it), adding Ireland to the 18 other countries where it was already legal. Even the reelection of prime minister David Cameron in England shows how the world has moved: he was a conservative candidate who supported gay marriage, fighting climate change, and cutting taxes for minimum wage workers. Add to that the often openly progressive views espoused by the recently elected Pope Francis, and it appears that there really is something in the air.
|The Emerald Isle goes Rainbow|
As a progressive non believer, I'm very happy with the way the first world seems to be going these days (although I wish the US would catch up to our European allies on issues like health care and climate change), but I do often wonder why this trend has begun. Part of it, I think, is simple human evolution: as we find out more and more about the universe, as technology and science advances in leaps and bounds, religious beliefs created centuries before have become less and less relevant. Although there will always be people who cling to the past, the general movement in the first world is towards enlightenment, and even those who are religious understand that belief should be a matter of personal feelings and not something imposed on others politically.
Some have theorized that this may be due to the entrance of women into the working world in the past few decades; in general, women are more religious than men and are also more likely to connect to a church group socially. But today's working women don't have the time to make those connections like they did in the past. It's a possibility.
Another factor is the rise of the internet and social media in general; although the web has had some negative effects over the years, like giving voice to trolls and allowing groups like white supremacists to meet up, for the most part it has been a force for a progressive movement forward. For years, gays, atheists and other misfits in small towns around the world felt that they were all alone; the internet has provided them all a sense of community and togetherness. Also, the enormous amount of access to information the net provides can bring facts to people who might not get them otherwise. There was a New York Times article in 2013 that discussed how converts to the Mormon faith were often shocked to discover online that the religion's founder Joseph Smith had around 40 wives; not surprisingly the church had hidden that negative bit of news for years, but that kind of sweeping under the rug can't last in our modern era.
I myself had a similar experience regarding the religious school that my parents sent me to when I was child, which was Lutheran. At that school, we were told the history of Martin Luther's founding of the church and other often glowing descriptions of his life. It wasn't until years later that I discovered online that Luther was a virulent anti Semite who had had an influence on Nazi Germany centuries after his death; although I was no longer affiliated with the church, I was angered at the school's attempt to avoid the ugly truth about the church's founder. My story and others like it show that the real history of religion cannot be hidden like it has been in the past, and the fact that 62% of voters in a heavily Catholic country like Ireland can ignore the church on gay marriage shows the waning influence of religion. Progress is often slow, but the world is mostly moving in the right direction.