Monday, March 18, 2013

Are the Rising Number of "No Religion" a Sign of the World Getting Better?

Those who answer "none" to survey questions asking "what religion do you consider yourself to be?" have been rising.  They are about 15% of all U.S. adults, and in the 20-something percentages for young adults.  In Europe and other developed countries, the percentages are higher.

The proportion of religious "nones" roughly correlates with how well-ordered a society is.  In that way, the growth of religious nones might be taken as a proxy of increasing social order.

I am not arguing that irreligion makes society better, or that religious nones are happier. They aren't.

On the contrary, I am a Presbyterian elder and a pretty traditional Calvinist.

Rather, people who say they have no religion often do not mean that they are atheists.  They haven't rejected God or a spirit-infused way of thinking about the world.  They just don't take part in an institution that requires them to think about God or a divine order.  And because none of their institutions require it, most of them just don't think about religion in their daily lives - until some survey comes along and asks.

I do think that a well-ordered society makes it easier to believe that we can make a decent society ourselves, without thinking much about God. 

Yet it is also the case the the people who live within religious institutions and find their work in the world to be meaningful because it accords with a divine order are more likely to do the very things that make a well-ordered society well ordered. They are more likely to be helpful, and to be happy because they are helpful.  They are more likely to think their lives are meaningful because they help make good order for everyone. 

Especially for young people who still believe that their well-ordered world just is, rather than being something that good people make.