More on Why Religious Supernaturalism is Far From Universal –
And Why it’s Time to Knock Off Saying That '9 in 10 Americans Believe in God'

It is still widely held that religion is somehow so integral to the human
psyche that it is nearly universal among humans, rather like language. Fewer,
however, remain in denial about the loss of faith in America and abroad,
among this behind the curve cohort is the notoriously proreligious sociologist
Rodney Stark whose What America Really Believes is not accurately titled.

To get a more perceptive appreciation of the rise of the nongodly and how it
challenges to myth of religious universalism consider how the more objective
albeit unhappy evangelical authors of the decade old World Christian
Encyclopedia lament that no Christian “in 1900 expected the massive defections
from Christianity that subsequently took place in Western Europe due to
secularism…. and in the Americas due to materialism…. The number of
nonreligionists….  throughout the 20th century has skyrocketed from 3.2 million in 1900,
to 697 million in 1970, and on to 918 million in AD 2000…. Equally startling
has been the meteoritic growth of secularism…. Two immense quasi-religious
systems have emerged at the expense of the world’s religions: agnosticism….
and atheism…. From a miniscule presence in 1900, a mere 0.2% of the globe,
these systems…. are today expanding at the extraordinary rate of 8.5 million
new converts each year, and are likely to reach one billion adherents soon.
A large percentage of their members are the children, grandchildren or the
great-great-grandchildren of persons who in their lifetimes were practicing
Christians” (italics added).
Only western irreligion is proving able to achieve major growth by spontaneous conversion
in the face of low breeding at low rates. Islam is the one major religion to make major
proportional gains to a current fifth of the planetary population, but mainly through rapid
reproduction. In comparison Christianity has remained stuck as a portion of the
world’s population at about a third over the last century, with gains in
underdeveloped nations being offset by the severe declines in the 1st world.
Hinduism remains at about a seventh of the globe despite the very rapid growth
of India.

The withering of popular piety in the most prosperous democracies and some
other parts of the world has been detailed in the classic Sacred and Secular
by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, and Steve Bruce’s God is Dead:
Secularization in the West
that explains that major Eurochurches are in danger of
shrinking to the demographic point of no return. This does not mean that the
1st world portions of Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan are
chock full of dedicated atheists who after deep thought realized the God
thing is absurd. It is more that so many have in the main lost interest in
matters religious -- check out Phil Zuckerman’s interviews of casually
nontheistic Danes in Society Without God to get an idea of how they do care all that
much about what Jesus said back then or would do in response to modern
matters. The waning of the religious component of American Exceptionalism is
documented in American Grace senior authored by Robert (Bowling Alone) Putman,
gravely concerned Christian David Olson’s The American Church in Crisis, and
American Religion, Contemporary Trends by Mark Chaves.

In the US the no response to the three Gallup questions they have asked since
the last world war is always the same when the questions are asked at about the
same time, so the no responses can be used to track proportional changes in staunch
proatheist opinion over time. The resulting quadrupling of outright atheists since
the 60s and doubling since the 1990s is a growth rate that Mormons would die
for. Numbering two to three million in the sixties as were Mormon at the
time, the strongly atheist now exceed 20 million, compared to just 6 million
Mormons (about half of which are not active) whose much vaunted growth is due
largely to their having lots of unprotected sex, and over 5 million Jews
many of whom are atheists. When the agnostic wing of atheism is factored in the
one in five Americans Harris and Gallup find are not theists amount to
sixty million nonreligious, rivaling Catholics and evangelicals respectively.
The attempt by Gallup to pretend that their latest results show that “More than 9 in
10 continue to Believe in God” is an egregious example of
proreligious bias; note how they shove the more sophisticated and telling poll showing
that the actual result is 4 in 5 Americans are theists is shoved to the back
of their press release (

Belief in a “higher power” is not a form of theism because
the latter is requires belief in at least one specific god, and because even
some atheists go for the presence of some idea of higher power. The old nine
in ten Americans are god believers line is just so twentieth century, so
never ever repeat it. Never. Nor should atheist groups continue to cite as they
are wont that ~15% of Americans are none religious, it’s more like 20%.
Also false is how some still state that the USA is the or one of the most
religious countries on the planet, not even close on that one. The expansion of
atheists of various sorts provided the market base for the appearance of
assertive atheist best sellers. 

Christians made up 95% of the nation according the WCE in 1900, now it is
three quarters. Church membership has been slipping since the 1950s when
Ameroreligiosity may have peaked, these days only a fifth to a quarter attend
church on nonholiday Sundays, and the much talked about megachurches draw in
only a couple percent of the nation. Protestants are heading for
unprecedented minority status and Catholics are holding their own only because of
Hispanic immigration as northern EuroAmericans leave the scandal ridden church in
droves -- if not for the large influx of immigrants the nation would be
markedly proportionally more atheistic than it already is.

The shift towards Ameroatheism should be having an impact on the evolution
versus creationism part of the culture war, and it is. Because the rise in
support for evolution without the involvement of supernatural guidance from
the upper single digits to the mid teens since the 1990s recorded by Gallup
closely tracks with the parallel rise of atheism tallied by the same concern,
the increasing support for the science is largely due to increasing atheism
rather than convincing the religious to accept Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.
Support for humans being created recently by God was stuck between 43-47% until
2008 with at most a slight downward trend towards the end, but in 2010
Bible creationism dropped to below 40% for the first time. If this trend hold up
it makes sense since the Bible literalism that supposedly underlies
fundamentalist creationism has been in strong decline for decades to abut 30%,
leaving the latter increasingly vulnerable to collapse. Meanwhile the Bible
skeptics that used to be only a fourth as numerous as the literalists have been
steadily rising and should match and then exceed the later in coming
decades. The slide of Bible literalism and creationism helps belie the myth that
the religious right minority is ascendant, they too are feeling the
demographic heat like the more liberal sects. 

The Great Secularization of the West including America is not just a matter
of stats. When I drive across stretches of the country I seem to observe a
decline of FM religious programming in favor of a revival of classic rock.
In a recent Parade magazine article about how to make weekends less busy,
going to church or synagogue was not mentioned. When I was a little fellow
Puritanical Blue Laws still restricted Sunday retail activities, encouraging
church attendance. Profit oriented retailers organized to eliminate most of
those laws, allowing Home Depot and Wal-Mart parking lots to be packed on Sunday
mornings – that the latter is owned by an evangelical Christian family that
keeps their stores open on the Sabbath helps show where the priority of the
nation now is.

Theoconservatism owned the western mainstream culture up
until the Great War, but the religious right has been increasingly driven into
a minority parallel culture as the secular and hypermaterialistic
corporate-consumer culture has become increasingly ascendant. When was the last time
you watched a traditional religious themed program on the broadcast or
cable/satellite channels? Long past is when Catholic Bishop Sheen hosted the ABC
prime time hit Life is Worth Living at the height of the its us Godly Yanks
against the Godless Bolsheviks Cold War, when Gallup found that two thirds
thought religion was gaining influence and those who opined the opposite were
in the teens. Where would you find a such a mainstream media program in a
country where three quarters now and quite correctly think that organized
faith is losing influence? Some of the most popular programs -- House, The
Mentalist, Big Bang Theory
-- feature atheist lead characters, a trend likely to
help mainstream the fast growing ungodly minority and alleviate the bigotry
they remain the target of (
much as did media exposure of blacks and gays. But unlike the
latter two cases that involve strong genetic components, growing acceptance
of atheists is likely to accelerate the growth of the optional opinion as it
already has in the rest of the west, where being devoutly godly is often
seen as peculiar. Also note that the religious right is correctly aghast at
the fast rising acceptance of gays especially among youth, theocons are all
too aware that it heralds a further weakening of their grip on American
culture and politics (

The reactionary and godly Tea Party (three quarters of TPs believe God
favors the US ( reflects both the power
of the religious right, and its weakness with a majority of Americans
currently disapproving of its positions. The waning of theoconservatism has long
term political implications because PEW finds that the Republican base is
shrinking (

America remains the most faith-based prosperous democracy, to the degree that open
atheists remain hard pressed to get elected in most of the nation (, but that means much less
than it used to in a nation were the theist elites admit Ameropiety is a shallow as it is broad, and
as the country continues down the secular road in a process driven to a great extent by science
and prosperity, boosted by commercial interests whose resources overwhelm
those of the increasingly cash strapped religious industry (

So the financial wherewithal and public relations campaigns of the western
churches are proving insufficient to stem the decline of organized
supernaturalism in the face of modernity any 1st world democracy. Nor are
creationists holding their own despite the construction of Biblical creation “museums”
and theme parks. The demographic problem for faith is that each new ge
neration is intrinsically more secular than the last. Nor has there ever has been
reversal of western secularization, and the possibility that there will be
one can be ranked as low for a number of reasons including that Amerofaith
is already so shallow among so many. So western religion is increasingly an
activity such as it is of the aged. In the world at large organized
supernaturalism is progressively becoming a feature of developing countries, but even
there religion is often not as healthy as it may seem (
Catholic Brazil, for example, now has a below replacement fertility rate lower than the US
because women influenced by the profeminist media just do not care what the
men of the church tell them what is moral or not. The women of Brazil can make up
their own secular minds. 

Much as the dog not barking solved the famous Holmes case, that the rise of
atheism went down so broadly, easily and quietly – without the fuss and
bother of a culture war like that underway in America – in the rest of the 1st
world tells us a lot about the core nature of supernaturalistic religion.
Also vital to understanding the question is how western secularization occurs
without much in the way of organized support and in the face of organized
opposition from the churches, and that in every single prosperous democracy
religion especially of the Jesus variety is trending downwards. No two ways
about it, religion is not universal in the manner of the language skills and
materialism in terms of wanting stuff that humans are genetically programmed
for ( and (

That means religion is a much more optional opinion that can
be and of late often has been easily cast off by majorities of populations.
That ought to increase the fear factor of the leaders of organized


   From the World Christian Encyclopedia    

Gallup has asked three questions about belief in God and related matters since the 1940s, of which the no responses that measure various levels of atheism are plotted here. The first and most simplistic was asked from the 40s until the 60s, and then reasked this year to assess any change which turned out to be major (the unusually high atheistic response in 1947 was probably a statistical blip). Both oldest and second questions were configured in a way that could only measure strong atheism. Only the most recent version is sophisticated enough to allow the full total of atheistic god skeptics including agnostics to be assessed, and the much higher level results correspond with Harris results from the same time. 


CONTACT Gregory S. Paul