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Why Atheism will replace Religion.
January 3, 2013 at 5:00 PM
Atheists are heavily concentrated in economically developed countries, particularly the social democracies of Europe (Barber, 2012). In underdeveloped countries, there are virtually no atheists

Atheism is thus a peculiarly modern phenomenon. Why do modern conditions produce atheism?

First, as to the distribution of atheism in the world, a clear pattern can be discerned. In sub-Saharan Africa there is almost no atheism (Zuckerman, 2007). Belief in God declines in more developed countries and is concentrated in Europe in countries such as Sweden (64% nonbelievers), Denmark (48%), France (44%) and Germany (42%). In contrast, the incidence of atheism in most sub-Saharan countries is below 1%.

The question of why economically developed countries turn to atheism has been batted around by anthropologists for about eighty years. Anthropologist James Fraser proposed that scientific prediction and control of nature supplants religion as a means of controlling uncertainty in our lives. This hunch is supported by data showing that the more educated countries have higher levels of non belief and there are strong correlations between atheism and intelligence (see my earlier post on this).

Atheists are more likely to be college-educated people who live in citiesand they are highly concentrated in the social democracies of Europe. Atheism thus blossoms amid affluence where most people feel economically secure. But why?

It seems that people turn to religion as a salve for the difficulties and uncertainties of their lives. In social democracies, there is less fear and uncertainty about the future because social welfare programs provide a safety net and better health care means that fewer people can expect to die young. People who are less vulnerable to the hostile forces of nature feel more in control of their lives and less in need of religion.

In addition to being the opium of the people (as Karl Marx contemptuously phrased it), religion may also promote fertility, particularly by promoting marriage, according to copious data reviewed by Sanderson (2008). Large families are preferred in agricultural countries as a source of free labor. In developed "atheist" countries, women have exceptionally small families and do not need religion helping them to raise large families.

Even the psychological functions of religion face stiff competition today. In modern societies, when people experience psychological difficulties they turn to their doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. They want a scientific fix and prefer the real psychotropic medicines dished out by physicians to the metaphorical opiates offered by religion.

Moreover, sport psychologists find that sports spectatorship provides much the same kind of social, and spiritual, benefits as people obtain from church membership. In a previous post, I made the case that sports is replacing religion. Precisely the same argument can be made for other forms of entertainment with which spectators become deeply involved.

Indeed, religion is striking back by trying to compete in popular media, such as televangelism and Christian rock and by hosting live secular entertainment in church.

The reasons that churches lose ground in developed countries can be summarized in market terms. First, with better science, and with government safety nets, and smaller families, there is less fear and uncertainty in people's daily lives and hence less of a market for religion. At the same time many alternative products are being offered, such as psychotropic medicines and electronic entertainment that have fewer strings attached and that do not require slavish conformity to unscientific beliefs.


Barber, N. (2012). Why atheism will replace religion: The triumph of earthly pleasures over pie in the sky. E-book, available at:


  • romalove
    January 3, 2013 at 5:04 PM

    If you look at the world globally over time, we have been losing gods as we develop.  The most primitive people had the most gods, and not well defined (god made the wind move, god made the rain, a god could dwell in each tree or under any rock), then you get a more defined polytheism as seen in ancient Greece and ancient Rome.  Jews have had a single God for almost 6,000 years, Christians for 2,000, and Muslims for 1400 or so.  Now we enter a time where the more industrialized, moneyed, and educated the populace, they are shedding the idea of God at greater rates.

  • Aivlys_
    by Aivlys_
    January 3, 2013 at 5:05 PM
    Well, we all know how Europe is doing .......
  • cueballsmom
    January 3, 2013 at 5:08 PM
    Quoting Aivlys_:

    Well, we all know how Europe is doing .......

    And we know how Finland is doing. Way better than us.
  • Aivlys_
    by Aivlys_
    January 3, 2013 at 5:13 PM
    Yes, they are doing great... But they want to leave the Euro zone last time I checked....

    Quoting cueballsmom:

    Quoting Aivlys_:

    Well, we all know how Europe is doing .......

    And we know how Finland is doing. Way better than us.

  • LoganTroyMom
    January 3, 2013 at 7:57 PM
    ok, so, atheists are smarter, religious people are stupid and vulnerable, blah blah, here's a cookie.
  • LindaClement
    January 3, 2013 at 8:01 PM

    It's hard to see how... 'religion' is an activity (or bunch of activities). Atheism is the absence of any.

  • brookiecookie87
    January 3, 2013 at 8:49 PM

    Religion requires beliefs and certain activities that go along with that religion. Different religions have different beliefs and different activities. Some rely more on belief than activities and some rely more on activities than belief.

    Atheism is just the lack of belief in a God. Atheism is not the absence of actions, activity, or anything of that nature.

    Quoting LindaClement:

    It's hard to see how... 'religion' is an activity (or bunch of activities). Atheism is the absence of any.

  • brookiecookie87
    January 3, 2013 at 8:54 PM

    Can you point to where the Article says any of that?

    NO where does it say Atheist are smarter. No where does it say religious people are stupid and vulnerable.

    If I said most Killers like music. It does not mean all people who like music are killers.

    If people in underdeveloped countries are prone to religion it does not mean all people who believe in religion are in undeveloped countries. Not only does that statement not make any sense it is not true. It's the same logic you used to make both of your statements and just like the statement I gave you they are wrong.

    Being Atheist will not make you smarter than a religious person. Being religious will not make you stupid or vulnerable. The article doesn't suggest any of that.

    Quoting LoganTroyMom:

    ok, so, atheists are smarter, religious people are stupid and vulnerable, blah blah, here's a cookie.

  • mehamil1
    January 3, 2013 at 9:04 PM

    Not surprised. 

  • AdrianneHill
    January 3, 2013 at 9:05 PM
    I also wonder how much of Europe's atheism is fallout from the world wars. Religion and mysticism were both victims and perpetrators of extreme viciousness during both wars and Europe lost its appetite for war and religious dogma and mixing the two.

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