Why Atheism Can’t Replace Religion
by Michael Austin
Atheism may become more prominent, but it can’t replace religion.
This post is a response to Why Atheism Will Replace Religion by Nigel Barber, Ph.D.
In a widely read and commented upon post, Nigel Barber examines some of the evidence and trends related to atheism and the decline of religion. Barber closes his thought-provoking post with the following:
“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.”
It is true that much of the developed world lives in not only a post-Christian, but a post-religious society in many ways. And it is true that many people have turned to religion because of economic uncertainty or emotional challenges. They still do, in fact.
However, for many people, religion is not merely a way to deal with fear, uncertainty, and emotional difficulties. In my experience, many people follow a particular religious way of life because they believe that it is true. The problem with a market-based analysis of the future of religion, as well as the market-based practices present in many contemporary religious communities, is that religion at its best is not a consumer product. Rather, at its best religious faith calls for sacrifice, unselfishness, love, and a willingness to remove oneself from the center of the universe, so to speak. In order to be willing to live in such a way, a self-centered market-based approach to religion will not do. Rather, one must believe that she is living in a way that is consistent with reality in order to motivate an unselfish approach to life…
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