The Human Truth Foundation

Anti-Religious Forces
Specific Factors Fuelling Secularisation

By Vexen Crabtree 2011

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This page summarizes some of the present and historical forces that have antagonized organized, established religions, especially monotheistic Western ones such as Christianity and Islam. These forces fuel secularisation.

1. Introduction


Many forces in modern life have led to the decline of religion. Many of them form part of general modernism, and some of them lead to secularism, where governments and officials run a country without the need for religion, and without endorsing any particular set of beliefs. Individualism has seen personal beliefs and privacy become more important than community-wide shared religions. Multiculturalism has seen tolerance win out over religious intolerance; now, religious people are protected legally against discrimination. This means that no particular religious system can dominate law, opening up a level playing field for religions to compete. This often leads to believers becoming disillusioned about which religion is proper, allowing people the choice to abandon religion altogether. Science, intelligence and education are all causes of the demise of religion, as they cause people to be less likely to remain religious. Finally, the concept of human rights has made many religious practices seem barbaric and immoral, as gender equality, racism and prejudice against homosexuality have been victorious over religious dogmas that stigmatize and oppress some people. In history, some further factors played a part even though their times have now passed, including the ancient Greek's naturalist way of viewing the world and communism, which forcefully suppressed religion. Some individual people have played vocal parts as these forces take effect against religion, including the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the sociologists Max Weber and Karl Marx, and the early psychologist Sigmund Freud. Modern antagonists include activist humanists such as Prof. Paul Kurtz, and scientists such as Prof. Richard Dawkins.

I have been asked by various people as to why I do not list certain things on this list. In most cases, such as Satanism, Anarchism, Nihilism, Libertarianism, etc, it is because historically these groups have been very small with little effect on organized religion, or, they have existed within general trends that are on the list (for example, libertarianism flourished under individualism).

2. Anti-Religious Forces of the Present

2.1. Modernism and Compartmentalism

Many secular intellectuals think that the real "clash of civilisations" is not between different religions but between superstition and modernity.

The Economist (2007)1

Modernism, as it pertains to religion, is largely tied up with individualism (mentioned later) and compartmentalism. These are to do with the way our private lives have become separate to our political opinions, religious beliefs, intellectual achievements and work life. This compartmentalism has caused religion to lose its central role in people's lives: it used to be present from birth to death, but now each stage of our life has different authorities. Secular government now rules law and education, but until recently they had both been usurped by Christian enterprises. We pick our employment, beliefs and lifestyles largely independently. They have to fit around each other. Modernism has seen religion succumb to reason and tolerance: now, there is a free marketplace not just for goods, but for beliefs. This is also a result of multiculturalism. Many of the present anti-religious forces on this page can be considered to be part of general modernism.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Pope Pius X (1907) declared modernism to be the synthesis of all heresies. It "lays the axe to the root, not the branch," he said as he excommunicated a number of scholars and set up vigilance committees to report heretics to Rome. [...] Of course, the pope was right. Modernism is a synthesis of all heresies that goes to the root of faith traditions, challenging the very notion of dogma. As reprehensible as we might find his suppression of scholarship, he was correct about the profound shaking of the roots that modernism brought to Catholicism and to religion in general.

"Gods in the Global Village" by Lester R. Kurtz (2007)2

Social differentiation generates cultural and cognitive pluralization, and this pluralization undermines shared belief systems, while favouring the autonomy of the individual.

"Religion and Modernity Worldwide" by Robert W. Heffner (2011)3

Sociologists Wallis and Bruce (1982)4 list differentiation (compartmentalization) as one of the three main trends that are impacting upon religion in the modern world.

Nationalism: Christophe Jaffrelot also notes, as do many other academics, that nationalism has detracted from religion. The organisation and politics of the state have taken over many roles that organized religion used to inhabit; now, it is the state that organizes our lives, legislates on marriage and death, and divides our opinions with its policies and actions. Jaffrelot writes that since the 16th century, "there's no room left for religion... religious groups form communities with their leaders and identity feelings which virtually compete with those of the nation"5.

2.2. Individualism (Religion is Private, not Public)

In the modern democratic world there is a culture of toleration and moderation towards beliefs, so that people are willing to accept the most extreme differences of belief as reflecting personal choice, not as representing moral dilemmas that require state or Church intervention. Intelligent discussions and debates are available on the Internet and in books, covering all aspects of belief. The era of individualism has made religion a private choice, not a communal one. People can pick and choose their beliefs from all those around them and no longer are strict religious bodies capable of enforcing the appearance of correct belief. Belief has become internalized in sync with the way that the dominance of personal opinion has come to reign over the now-defunct idea of a societal religious norm. Now, there is no public religion. People have come to accept that beliefs are beliefs, separate from the identity of an individual, and it is the right of no government or religion to impose their beliefs upon us. Governments have to be neutral. Beliefs are private, so hands off!

Religion is increasingly a private, rather than a public matter.

"Encyclopedia of New Religions"
Christopher Partridge (2004)6

Empathy towards those who have different beliefs has increased as a result of an increased emphasis given on the values of individual dignity rather than communal honour, choice over consensus, intellectual freedom and individualism. Charismatic leaders such as tend to found and effectively promote religions, and evangelical proselytizers, are now less successful against individualists unless their religion has some evidence or intellectual merit... so that in an intelligent and individualistic society, secular culture prospers, and organised faith is less tenable.

This process is not a new feature of modernism. In 1937, the philosopher and historian Gerald Heard reported that Catholicism in Ireland in particular, had been displaced by secular concerns and pointed in particular to the way that the Vatican can no longer dictate the politics of Catholic nations: "It has become a private outlook for personal behaviour [and has become] a private, not a public, activity"7.

2.3. Multiculturalism

Sociologists Wallis and Bruce (1982)4 list "societalization" as one of the main three factors that is reducing the power of religion in the modern world. They describe this as a loss of shared religion in public spaces. Momen calls this the "first blow" against religion. As a result, traditionally established religions lose the power to dominate and monopolize the public's idea of what religion should and shouldn't be.

Book CoverNot only do modern methods of travel mean that the world's cultures are only a few hours away; but, thanks to radio, television and increased literacy, information about other cultures and religious communities is disseminated widely and rapidly. As a result, people in the modern world are increasingly aware of, influenced by and challenged by the existence of other religions and cultures.

Communities in which people shared the same religious beliefs and morality [...] are rapidly disappearing. [...] In modern societies there are few shared values to which one can appeal. Believers are constantly aware that their faith is chosen from a spectrum of beliefs on offer. Consequently, beliefs that were once taken for granted as exclusively and absolutely true seem increasingly implausible.

"Encyclopedia of New Religions" by Christopher Partridge (2004)8

It was easy, during the Crusades, to say that Muslims believed all kinds of evil, corrupt and immoral things. Because no-one actually knew any Muslims. With increased multi-culturalism comes increased compassion and humanitarian behavior towards those who are different. So it happens that when religious groups intermingle, illogical animosity decreases and it is no longer possible for one particular group to claim moral superiority when it becomes manifestly obvious that morals are cultural, and most religious believers are just as moral as anyone else, no matter if they're religious or not, or what denomination or religion they happen to have been born into. Believers will still believe that their religion is "correct", but moral assertions about different religious groups become impossible when such people are your next door neighbours and friends. The sociologist of religion, Steve Bruce, picks up on this theme:

Book CoverEvery increase in competition makes that certainty, that dogmaticism, more and more difficult to maintain. If the competing faith belongs to some subordinate social minority, it can be dismissed as only fitting for that kind of people [... but when] you live and work with these people, it becomes more and more difficult to insist that your own link with God is unique and that the others are all wrong. Gradually, the way in which people hold their beliefs changes so that absolute certainty and intolerance diminish; the result is the denominational position of supposing that all these organizations in their different ways, are doing God's work.

"Religion in the Modern World: From Cathedrals to Cults" by Steve Bruce (1996)9

Increased tolerance for different religions, ethnic groups and beliefs is incompatible with fundamentalist beliefs about your own religion, sect or cult being infallible or chosen to the extent that other people don't matter - only their beliefs. Isolated religious groups or areas where a particular religion is overly dominant can regress to this type of behavior though, but multiculturalism and modern freedom of movement and speech hopefully makes this less likely, especially in Europe and the advanced modern East. A surge in cultic isolationism, ghetto-formation and reactive rejection of the world, unfortunately, means that some people go the opposite way and in pluralistic societies, hardcore groups of extremists can emerge. See my page Fundamentalism and Literalism in World Religions for more on this type of reaction.

Aside from the generation of small splinter groups of extremists, pluralism can otherwise cause entire religious denominations to rethink their relationship towards those who believe different things. A scholar of comparative religion, M. Momen, states:

Book CoverOne way of dealing with the problem of modernity and religious pluralism is to withdraw from making any universal and social claims for religion, thus making it a purely personal affair. 'My religion satisfies my needs. It may not satisfy your needs or even anyone else's. All that matters to me is that it satisfies mine.' This then sets up a defensive wall against any possibility that one's religion can be shown to be intellectually faulty, illogical, or inferior to another's.

"The Phenomenon Of Religion: A Thematic Approach" by Moojan Momen (1999) [Book Review]10

Multiculturalism takes away from the powers of preachers to reassure the followers that they're inherently better than others, it defangs the aggressive notions that one religion is "better" than others in social terms. As a result of multiculturalism, people live in a world where they can change religion, change beliefs and they are not going against all of society. They know that they are not alone because of all the religions apparent in the nation around them; they know many people who are not the same religion. It makes freedom of choice easier, and finally, it makes it perfectly possible to denounce religion altogether and continue life as a normal person without it.

Book CoverScientific research can reduce superstition by encouraging people to think and view things in terms of cause and effect.

Albert Einstein (1929)11

Modern science has cast a cold and sometimes threatening light on many deep-rooted religious beliefs.

"God And The New Physics" by Paul Davies (1984)12

Wallis and Bruce stated in 1992 that rationalism and the rise of science has been one of the three biggest challenges to religion13. Some important scientists and scientific institutions have been religious in nature. Egyptian astrologers were deeply religious (but their calculations were scientific) and Pythagoras, who aside from being a maths genius was also a Mystic and pagan leader. But in the modern era, science has been the deadly bane of monotheistic religions. It less of a threat to polytheism, which has tended to be science-friendly. Basic scientific observations - such as the fact that the Earth orbits the Sun (Copernicus) have turned into raging battles between rationalists and religionists. Other ideas such as the Big Bang, natural cause and effect, philosophy, theory of evolution, biology, ancient history, geology, archaeology, tectonics and physics have also been serious thorns in the side of religion. It appears that each major advance of science reduces the assumed power of god, so that God has become what is called "God of the gaps". The result has been the loss of public confidence in the ability of faith to address fact until "science supplanted religion altogether as the intellectually most satisfying and credible explanation of the world"14.

English education was in part, ironically, founded by scholarly Christians and monks. But despite appearances, many of these were Christian in name only as a result of forced conversions and social forces compelled most people to call themselves Christian. The legacy of powerful Christian-Roman forces and then the Inquisition were not to be openly reckoned against. Many scientists and thinkers operating under Christian educational institutions were coerced by the Church to only produce material with which the Church already agreed, and much of science was done in spite of the Church's wishes rather than in accordance with them. The lives of many intellectuals, Christian or not, are dotted with imprisonments, torture and oppression as a result of their discoveries as the Church leaders did not want the public coming to any knowledge that undermined the Church. The history of science is a history of struggling against determined religious believers, who frequently were better armed and hardened, we can only wonder at how science would have progressed if only the Greeks, Egyptians or Chinese had remained economically viable and survived, or if the Arabs hadn't also succumbed to religion over science!

Book CoverIn the modern world modern religion and science are largely reconciled, with God-believers believing that God (an uncaused organisational force) created the sciences and thereafter has done very little (if anything), whereas atheists believe that the rules of the universe itself is an uncaused organisational force. With religious people themselves no longer believing most of what they used to, science has largely won and god has become a much more abstract, non-literal being. The same goes for angels, demons, Satan and the rest of the Western religious pantheon, retreating into a shadowy world of abstract emotional belief where science may never be able to shed light, but psychologists might.

Further Reading:

The historical battles between religious institutions and science, such as those in physics, astronomy and biology, indicate there is something wrong with the religious approach to the study of reality. The underlying problem extends to negative effects on the individual intelligence of believers, and a related negative effect on educational achievements. Hardly any of the several-hundred Nobel Prize winning scientists have been Christians. Only 3.3% of the Members of the Royal Society in the UK and 7% the National Academy of Sciences in the USA, believe in a personal God. The more senior and learnéd the scientist, the less likely they are to believe in God. The children of highly religious parents suffer diminished IQs - averaging 7 to 10 points lower compared to their non-religious counterparts in similar socio-economic groups. As you would expect from these results, multiple studies have also shown that IQ is opposed to the strength of religious belief. 39 studies since 1927 (out of 43) have found that the more educated a person is, and the higher one's intelligence, the less likely someone is to hold religious beliefs - "religion declines in proportion to the rise in education and personal income"15. This correlation isn't new and was also observed in ancient Greece by Polybius (200-118BCE)16.

The effect extends beyond individual countries and is visible inter-nationally. Countries with a higher rate of belief in God have lower average intelligence. All countries with high average intelligence have low national levels of belief in God. For countries where belief in God is over 80%, the average national IQ is 83 points. For those countries where stated disbelief in God (atheism) is greater than 20%, the national average IQ is 98 points. Instead of belief in God, countries with the highest IQs adhere to Far-Eastern belief systems such as Buddhism, Taoism and Shintoism. It is not just intelligence and education that is inversely correlated with religion - it has also been found that the more you know about religion itself, the less likely you are to be religious17.

Women's rights, gay rights, slave rights, racial equality and many other rights (such as right to change religion) have been viciously fought over between religious denominations. Some of these factors are cultural, so that Islam in some countries and places is not so misogynistic. In the modern world it is only religious groups that oppose most of these basic rights, by far loudest anti-gay rights voice is Christian and Muslim, and the only groups who support female genital mutilation and must-obey-man mentality, are Islam and Christian groups. Slave liberation and many other equal rights frequently caused splits to occur within organized religions, as gay rights are threatening to do now to the Church of England.

Sexual persecution, the objectification of women and the doctrine of male-dominated households (come tyranny or violence) was the norm up until the early modern era in England. The academic Faramez Dabholwala in his book on this topic argues that the spread of religious tolerance and nonconformity meant that such old intolerances were no longer acceptable by the mid-18th century, and as a result Christian churches found itself losing credibility and influence18.

Religious groups still pursue many legal reforms that result in a loss of legal equal rights. The Christian Institute successfully lobbied for changes in law to allow Christian managers to fire gay staff on account of their sexuality alone, and many Muslim countries continue to make apostasy (change of religion) illegal. Muslim countries, especially those who have areas that have adopted Sharia law, have the worse human rights records, matching nowadays the terrors of Christianity during the dark ages.

The Internet undermines religion in a number of ways, by undermining religious claims to truth through exposure to competing claims, by granting access to dissenters and those who present opposing ideas, through the undermining of monopoly of access over national broadcast media, and by destroying the effectiveness of the teacher-student model. All this threatens religion simply because truth and debates can be accessed by all, unlimited by restrictions that a religion can impose locally, and the proliferation of minor new movements weakens the sustainability of all of them, great and small. This is why as modernism continues, large religious institutions are failing and smaller ones are kaleidoscoping in popularity.

  1. All religions are now brought into close contact with each other through communications technology19. The Internet has an effect on religion similar to multiculturalism by opening up all religious claims to comparison with other contradictory claims: It can be seen that as most of these claims are different, most of them must actually be wrong. And if most of them are wrong, it is highly probably that your own religion's claims are wrong. Adherents of the Qur'an and of the Bible both claim that their holy book has a greater amount of "scientific" accuracy and prophecy-fulfilment; whereas skeptics point out shortcomings in both.

  2. Critics of religion and scholarly analysis of religious texts often damage the reputation of holy texts, and now, such research is not only easily obtainable online20, but, it is often hard to ignore. Critical opinionists sometimes seek out the "gullible" and make it their mission to inform them of the shortcomings of their religion's written doctrines and theological stances. Exposure to contradictory opinion is one of the causes of decline of religion in the globalized world. See: Anti-Religious Forces: Specific Factors Fuelling Secularisation.

  3. Previously, large and established traditional religious organisations could dominate national broadcast media and sometimes enact censorship with their greater output power, finance and access to national media. But now, dissenting sects and individuals can explain their own points of view relatively unhindered; those who have been expelled can move abroad if they have to, and broadcast their own arguments back to their home country from a safe place abroad, over the Internet.21. For example, in Pakistan and Indonesia, organized atheism is impossible and effectively illegal, but, online groups representing atheists have flourished. In those countries some online atheists have been caught and arrested22, but the general trend is that strong religious bias in the law and censorship in national media can both be overcome through the Internet.

  4. Many religions embrace a teacher-student model, where successively more profound truths are revealed to a student as they are ready, such as the Roman mystery religions. Outer mysteries and public rituals have a secret meaning that is revealed by teachers to initiates. Even in non-mystery religions, such as Buddhism, a student is expected to learn things in a structured order - a student must "first taught the most superficial doctrine, then the less superficial, and 'Gradually' led them up to the profound".23 But the Internet has undermined such carefully-managed apprenticeships because of the free availability of teachings online. The Church of Scientology continues to fight many aggressive legal battles to get its restricted material taken off of the internet, and fraternities such as the Freemasons find that their advanced-level secrets are revealed to all online by ex-members and the like.

    Even traditional Christian organisations where churches are the focal point, rather than teacher-student pairs, are worried. The cause of the worry is that now everyone can freely read the Bible online, complete with in-depth commentary, that priests and bishops are no longer required to explain theology24. In fact, the detailed documents online are far superior and more accurate that those given by clergy in face-to-face situations. Therefore, alongside the printing press and English-language Bibles, the warning clarions are once-again being sounded for a new technology heralding the demise of organized Christianity.

3. Anti-Religious Forces of History

3.1. The Ancient Greeks

It is sometimes said that since the Greeks, no debate that is new in nature has arisen. All early records of debates about God and religion are between the Greeks, like, the "problem of evil" was brought up 2500 years ago by the Greeks as an indicator that God didn't exist. There hasn't been many new fundamental theological arguments since the Greeks, so although they did embrace quite a lot of bizarre religions and cults, Greek philosophy provides the basis for modern scientific analytical thought and most anti-religious arguments were first written down (but not necessarily created by) the Greeks.

3.2. Communism


The anti-religious force of Communism, and the sociology of Karl Marx, implemented a picture of social conformity where people were equal, and, as the Buddha also wished, suffering was reduced. But historically religion has been a destabilizing force, and also one that has prompted people to rebellion, leading to the creation of constricting and unhealthy theocracies which have been some of the most oppressive. The Roman Empire under Christianity, Iran under the Revolutionaries, and the dark ages are but a few examples. Communism suppressed all forms of religion25, wholesale, and considered the common good as the only valid holy thing. Communist countries were completely secular and even after communism have remained largely unreligious places although over time Christianity, especially evangelical and fundamentalist branches, have expended lots of money and effort in proselytizing with some success. Nonetheless, large portions of the world were once de-religionized by the forces of Communism.

3.3. Christian Intolerance for Magic and Gods26


Christianity, and before it Judaism, contributed to the process of secularization, by removing the presence of the sacred from the contingencies and accidents of this world. [...] Even though God is still thought to be susceptible to human dispositions and supplications, divine power is not expected to be manifest in the world.

On Bryan Wilson - "Key Thinkers in the Sociology of Religion"
Richard K. Fenn (2009) [Book Review]27

The sociologist Bryan Wilson puts forward some additional observations in the role that Christianity has played in the abolition of the general mindset that lends itself to religion. Christianity is not pluralistic so does not accept that people can believe in other gods, unlike polytheist cultures, where gods did not claim exclusive right to exist, Christianity has in effect reduced and battled against the general religious mindset, including belief in all kinds of magic except the few bits contained with Christianity (such as prayer, resurrection, afterlife and miracles).

Those societies most dominated by religious motivations are those in which diverse mysteries, powers, objects and deities are recognized. Paradoxically, considering Christianity's attempt to eliminate magic, alien beliefs and rival theories of deity, religiosity as such is stronger where such multiplicity of ideas prevails. [...] Christianity militated strongly against magical ideas, but in doing so probably eventually - and in the very long run - made acceptance of Christian ideas more difficult. [...] It is no accident that from among the Puritans came a significant impetus in the development of science - the manifestation of a rational spirit. (See Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure, Glencoe, Ill., The Free Press, 2nd edn., 1957, pp574-628)

"Religion in Secular Society" by Bryan Wilson (1966)28

An analysis published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (2006)29 on church attendance and paranormal beliefs, found that in the general populace there remained a general (if illiterate) belief in Christian ideas, and that this correlated with belief in various spiritual, paranormal and supernatural things. But the involvement of an official Church changes all that, says a sociologist of religion, McKinnon: "while it is true that levels of conventional belief are positively associated with (unconventional) paranormal belief, this is really only true for those who are not actively involved in religious communities (as measured by attendance)". Church, in other words, reduces the background levels of belief that make religion plausible in the first place.29

Evidence to this effect is the dry and secular role of the clergy itself. Wilson30 points to the diminished role of the priesthood and of worship among both Protestant and Catholics. Lay ministries now supplement and support clerical ministries, and the priesthood is far less oriented to the mysteries of worship than to the effective management of local religious institutions. Wilson: 'The priesthood and its functions became demystified - reduced to the role of ministry...'. I suggest that the more a religion becomes entrenched, established and successful, the more it has to look to beaurocracy, management, finance, politics and lots of other activities that aren't themselves religious. This slowly pulls away the professionals of that religion to secular concerns, and gradually, the innovation, experiences and mysticism that caused the religion in the first place are diminished.

4. People of Historical Importance

Someone asked me why Darwin wasn't on my list. My response was "I'm not sure... he himself done very little... because if you're including individual scientists, you would include Einstein, Copernicus, Stephen Hawking, etc... when really, it's "science" as a whole that challenges religion. I limited the "people" to those who actively and powerfully spoke out against "religion". Darwin and others didn't, it wasn't their field, it was the science that they created that done the work for them. Maybe I should include other scientists such as Watson and Crick (original geneticists, though, at least one of them was vocally anti-religion). This list is merely those who I happen to have read and know about, who spoke up specifically and powerfully against religious beliefs in particular. There are many modern personalities such as Paul Kurtz, Richard Dawkins, and I can't possibly mention all of them even though they deserve it.

4.1. Those Who Became Historical Movements: Nietzsche, Weber, Freud and Marx

Friedrich Nietzsche

A modern German philosopher of utmost importance who has unwittingly influenced the rise and fall of nations and provided authoritive critical rapport on all of philosophy, psychology and sociology. Famous for saying "God is dead", Nietzsche was a rabid anti-Christian, presenting some of the most insightful criticisms of the Christian state of mind.

Max Weber

The most important sociologist, founding sociology. His theories of religious belief and history are the most respectful, and it is said that it is a "sociologizing" of Nietzsche's "Will to Power" psychology of Human nature, with Charismatic leaders being equivalent to Nietzsche's Overman. All modern sociology theory and practice is based upon Weber, who was also qualified in politics, psychology, various languages and theology.

Sigmund Freud

Psychologist of utmost importance who radicalized our ideas about the Human mind, correctly bringing sexuality to the fore and realizing the importance of the subconscious, and founded modern psychiatry. After setting the scene modern psychology has progressed beyond much of his fledgling analysis. Freud presented several compelling psychological analysis of why people believe in god.

Karl Marx

A third sociologist who presented theories of religious belief, in terms of economics and politics, he is famous for saying "Religion is the opiate of the masses". His theories of Human behavior were almost infallible, however his Communism is no longer credited with being viable politically.

The above four are powerful intellects, all of whom who are pretty heavy reading and all of whom are authorities in their own right, and all studied and published vaguely similar theories on religious belief - all centering around the psychology of it - which amount to a complete modern understanding of much of religion, with the exception of neuro-chemical biology and chemo-psychology which are recently making further discoveries about some of the specific imagery experienced during religious rituals and ritual drug use.

4.2. Outstanding Critics of Religion in the Modern Era

Time will tell what lasting legacy these people will leave, but the indications are that they made monumental contributions to the demise of religious credibility in the English-speaking world.

Prof. Paul Kurtz (1925+)

"Founder and chairman of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, [...] the Council for Secular Humanism, the Center for Inquiry and Prometheus Books. He is editor in chief of Free Inquiry magazine, a publication of the Council for Secular Humanism. He was co-president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Humanist Laureate and president of the International Academy of Humanism.31

Prof. Richard Dawkins

Foremost public proponent of science and esteemed theorist of evolutionary biology, who has also blasted into the realm of philosophy and theology with his immensely well-researched book on god-belief, "The God Delusion", followed by some TV documentaries and many media interviews. The popularity of this book triggered a wave of books critical of religion in general from 2006.

The Skeptical Inquirer ran a special edition focusing on the battles between science and religion. In total some call this a wave of "new atheism", or some label themselves actively as "brights", and it may come to be seen in history as a new outspoken epoch in the history of antitheistic activism.

Maybe the pivotal moment came when Steven Weinberg, a Nobel Laureate in physics, warned that "the world needs to wake up from its long nightmare of religious belief".

George Johnson in Skeptical Inquirer (2007)32

Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion was a high-toned but forthright skewering of the validity of the very idea of god, any god. It was a best seller. Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation, a followup to his The End of Faith, shared time on the best seller lists with Dawkins' book. Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell), Frederick Crews (Follies of the Wise), Lee M. Silver (Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontier of Life), and the late Carl Sagan (The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God, edited by his widow Ann Druyan) all published books that thoughtfully advanced the perspective of science and reason in regard to religion and much else. [...]

Wired magazine featured "The New Atheism (No Heaven, No Hell, Just Science)" in a cover article focusing on Dawkins, Dennett and Harris. Time published a "God vs. Science" cover article featuring a private debate about religion between the atheist Dawkins and the believer Francis Collins.

Kendrick Frazier in Skeptical Inquirer (2007)33

Of course in addition to these there are many scholars, modern philosophers and atheists who produce many books on the subject of atheist philosophy, including Bertrand Russell, Joachim Kahl and many organisations such as the National Secular Society, but these have yet to show themselves to be more important than general science or education in being anti-religious forces, and much of their arguments are pre-dated by Greek philosophers.

5. Blows to Religion According to Moojan Momen

#christianity #hinduism #islam

"The Phenomenon
of Religion"
by Moojan Momen
The first blow to religion came through its increasing loss of social control. In the traditional structure of Hindu, Muslim or even medieval Christian society, religion controlled all aspects of life. Religious institutions were the main pathways for acquiring an education, for obtaining medical treatment, and for the poor to obtain relief. Even such matters as the functioning of craft guilds was to some extent under religious control. Gradually, however, a functional differentiation of society occurred, leading to the increasing autonomy of its different parts. In the last hundred years, in most countries, the modern secular state or other secular institutions have taken over from the religious establishment control of such areas as medicine, education and welfare provisions for the poor.

The second blow to the religious perspective came with the increasing importance given to individualism in the modern world.[...] Today, there is an increasing emphasis on the individual's own point of view. This leads to a loss of the authority of the central institutions of the religion. As a corollary to this individualism came a belief in the beneficial effects of self-interest as the guiding principal of human action, a development that contradicts the teachings of most of the established religions.

The individualism that is characteristic of modern life in the West in reflected in the uncommitted, a la carte approach to spirituality that has become very common. It is typified by individuals who flit from religious group to religious group, continually on the religious quest and never arriving at their goal. Very often such individuals do not join any religious group but attend meetings, read books and search through the Internet, adopting a pot-pourri of religious ideas on their way. This approach to spirituality is almost the exact opposite of the path advocated by traditional religion. According to the latter, spiritual advancement demands a discipline, commitment and obedience. [...]

Thus one has the paradox of modern eclectic spiritual individualists on the one hand reading enthusiastically the works of the great medieval mystics and on the other hand rejecting the spiritual discipline and approach that made the production of such works possible.

"The Phenomenon Of Religion: A Thematic Approach" by Moojan Momen (1999) [Book Review]34

Current edition: 2011 Dec 30
Last Modified: 2017 Mar 05
Originally published 2003 Jun 04
Parent page: Secularisation Theory: Will Modern Society Reject Religion? What is Secularism?

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References: (What's this?)

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Skeptical Inquirer. Magazine. Published by Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, NY, USA. Pro-science magazine published bimonthly.

The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See for some commentary on this source..

Beckerlegge, Gwilym
(2001, Ed.) From Sacred Text to Internet. Paperback book. Published by Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Aldershot, UK, in association with The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK. This was a course book for the OU module "Religion Today: Traditional, Modernity and Change" which ran until 2011.

Breuilly, O'Brien & Palmer
(1997) Religions of the World. Hardback book. Subtitled: "The Illustrated Guide to Origins, Beliefs, Traditions, & Festivals". Published by Lionheart Books. By Elizabeth Breuilly, Joanne O'Brien & Martin Palmer. Published for Transedition Limited and Fernleigh Books.

Bruce, Steve
(1996) Religion in the Modern World: From Cathedrals to Cults. Paperback book. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Bryan Wilson
(1982) "Religion in Sociological Perspective" p134-6. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. In "Key Thinkers in the Sociology of Religion" by Richard K. Fenn (2009) [Book Review] chapter "Bryan Wilson" p80-81. Added to this page on 2012 Nov 21.

Bunt, Gary R.. Senior Lecturer in Islamic Studies, University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Lampeter, UK
(2011) Religion and the Internet. This essay is chapter 39 of "The Oxford Handbook of The Sociology of Religion" by Peter B. Clarke (2011) (pages p705-720.).

Clarke, Peter B.. Peter B. Clarke: Professor Emeritus of the History and Sociology of Religion, King's College, University of London, and currently Professor in the Faculty of Theology, University of Oxford, UK.
(2011) The Oxford Handbook of The Sociology of Religion. Paperback book. Originally published 2009. Current version published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Crabtree, Vexen
(2008) "Secularisation Theory: Will Modern Society Reject Religion? What is Secularism?" (2008). Accessed 2017 Mar 27.

Davies, Paul
(1984) God And The New Physics. Paperback book. Penguin 2006 edition. Davies is a Professor in theoretical physics who has published ground-breaking research.

Dawkins, Prof. Richard
(2006) The God Delusion. Hardback book. Published by Bantam Press, Transworld Publishers, Uxbridge Road, London, UK.

Drachmann, Anders Björn. (1860-1935) Professor of Classical Philology in the University of Copenhagen.
(1922) Atheism in Pagan Antiquity. E-book. Gutenberg Project ebook. Originally published 1919 in Danish, Kjoebenhavns Universitets Festskrift. Translated by Ingeborg Andersen.

Einstein, Albert. (1879-1955)
(1954) Ideas and Opinions. Paperback book. Published in 1954 by Crown Publishers, New York, USA and in 1982 by Three Rivers Press. A collection of Einstein's writings and texts.

Fenn, Richard K.
(2009) Key Thinkers in the Sociology of Religion. Paperback book. Published by Continuum International Publishing Group, London, UK. A look at what 11 sociologists of religion think of "the sacred". Be warned that Fenn's book contains one chapter on each sociologist of religion but that his own mystical and specific take on 'the sacred' is heavily intermingled with his commentary - see the book review for a proper description. Book Review.

Heard, Gerald. (1889-1971)
(1937) The Third Morality. Hardback book. Published by Cassell and Company Ltd, London, UK.

Hefner, Robert W.
(2011) Religion and Modernity Worldwide. This essay is chapter 8 of "The Oxford Handbook of The Sociology of Religion" by Peter B. Clarke (2011) (pages 152-171).

IHEU. International Humanist and Ethical Union.
(2012) Freedom of Thought. A copy can be found on of Thought 2012.pdf, accessed 2013 Oct 28.

Jaffrelot, Christophe
(2011) Religion and Nationalism. This essay is chapter 22 of "The Oxford Handbook of The Sociology of Religion" by Peter B. Clarke (2011) (pages 406-417).

Kurtz, Lester R.
(2007) Gods in the Global Village. 2nd edition. Published by Pine Forge Press, California, USA. Was previously Director of Religious Studies at Texas and holds a master's in Religion from Yale Divinity School and a PhD in Sociology from the University of Chicago. Kurtz is Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas, USA.

Main, Roderick
(2002) Religion, Science and the New Age. This essay is chapter 5 of "Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age" by Joanne Pearson (2002) (pages p173-224).

Momen, Moojan
(1999) The Phenomenon Of Religion: A Thematic Approach. Paperback book. Published by Oneworld Publications, Oxford, UK. Book Review.

Nukariya, Kaiten. Professor of Kei-O-Gi-Jiku University and of So-To-Shu Buddhist College, Tokyo.
(1913) Zen - The Religion of the Samurai. E-book. Subtitled: "A study of Zen philosophy and discipline in China and Japan". Amazon Kindle digital edition produced by John B. Hare and proofread by Carrie R. Lorenz.

Partridge, Christopher
(2004, Ed.) Encyclopedia of New Religions. Hardback book. Published by Lion Publishing, Oxford, UK.

Pearson, Joanne
(2002, Ed.) Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age. Paperback book. Published by Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Aldershot, UK, in association with The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.

Wilson, Bryan
(1966) Religion in Secular Society. Paperback book. 1st edition. Published by Penguin Books.


  1. The Economist (2007 Nov 03) insert "A special report on religion and public life" p4.^
  2. Kurtz (2007) p172.^
  3. Heffner (2011) . Added to this page on 2015 Nov 01.^
  4. Wallis, R. and Bruce, S (eds.) (1992) Religion and Modernization. They describe three trends which have undermined religious authority: (1) differentiation (compartmentalization) whereas religion has previously been tied with civic life and culture, (2) societalization (globalism, mobility) and (3) rationalization (philosophical naturalism and science overtaking supernaturalism). Published by Oxford University Press. In Bowman, Herbert & Mumm (2009) AD317 Course Introduction second edition, p82-85. Published by The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK. This is a course book for the AD317 module, "Religion today: tradition, modernity and change". Added to this page on 2011 Dec 31.^^
  5. Jaffrelot (2011) p407-408. Added to this page on 2015 May 16.^
  6. Partridge (2004) p358. Added to this page on 2011 Apr 26.^
  7. Heard (1937) p8. Added to this page on 2012 Dec 15.^
  8. Partridge (2004) p15,358.^
  9. Bruce (1996) p77.^
  10. Momen (1999) chapter 19 "Religion in the Modern World" p489.^
  11. Einstein (1929) p262. Taken from answers to questions of a Japanese scholar originally published in Gelegentliches (1929) which appeared in a limited edition on the occasion of Einstein's fiftieth birthday.^
  12. Davies (1984) p5.^
  13. Wallis, R. and Bruce, S (eds.) (1992) Religion and Modernization. They describe three trends which have undermined religious authority: (1) differentiation (compartmentalization) whereas religion has previously been tied with civic life and culture, (2) societalization (globalism, mobility) and (3) rationalization (philosophical naturalism and science overtaking supernaturalism). Published by Oxford University Press. In Bowman, Herbert & Mumm (2009) AD317 Course Introduction second edition, p82-85. Published by The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK. This is a course book for the AD317 module, "Religion today: tradition, modernity and change".^
  14. Main (2002) p173-174.^
  15. IHEU (2012) p9.^
  16. Drachmann (1922) chapter 5.^
  17. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life research results "U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey" (2010 Sep 28). From a poll conducted in May and June 2010 involving 3412 American adults.^
  18. The Economist (2012 Feb 11) book review of "The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution" by Faramez Dabholwala.^
  19. Partridge (2004) blurb.^
  20. Bunt (2011) p707.^
  21. Beckerlegge (2001) .^
  22. IHEU (2012) p12.^
  23. Nukariya (1913) Chapter 3, p146, Footnote 388. The full quote reads:
    "Although all of the above-mentioned five doctrines were preached by the Buddha Himself, yet there are some that belong to the Sudden, while others to the Gradual, Teachings. If there were persons of the middle or the lowest grade of understanding, He first taught the most superficial doctrine, then the less superficial, and 'Gradually' led them up to the profound."
  24. Religion News Service article "Why technology didn´t (and won´t) destroy the Church" (2015 Mar 02) by Jonathan Merritt. Accessed & added to this page on 2015 Mar 02.^
  25. Breuilly, O'Brien & Palmer (1997) chapter "Introduction" p15 . The author says Communism done 'untold damage' to religion. Added to this page on 2015 Jan 10.^
  26. Added to this page on 2007 May 31.^
  27. Fenn (2009) p134. Added to this page on 2012 Nov 21.^
  28. Wilson (1966) p44.^
  29. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (2006) 45(4):585-595. Added to this page on 2008 Nov 30.^
  30. Wilson (1982) 80-81.^
  31. Information partially copied from Wikipedia entry for Paul Kurtz. Accessed 2008 Feb 01.^
  32. Skeptical Inquirer (2007 Mar/Apr) article "A Free-for-All on Science and Religion" p24 by George Johnson .^
  33. Skeptical Inquirer (2007 Mar/Apr) article "Is Science Gaining New Ground?" p23 by Kendrick Frazier .^
  34. Momen (1999) chapter 19 "Religion in the Modern World" p479.^

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