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.
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).
“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.”
“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.
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.”
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.
In the modern world, globalisation and multiculturalism have led us into an era where idea, cultures and religions intermingle. As a result, it is no longer acceptable to force others to follow local religion(s), and, all people are exposed to the variant beliefs of other faiths. This is held by many to be a severe blow to the capability of religion to propagate itself.4,8,9. Beliefs that once seemed special and safe to assume are now called into question because they come into contrast with others' contradictory beliefs8,10,11. Traditional religious responses to weird beliefs - heresy-hunting, scapegoating and violent intolerance - are now unacceptable and rightly seen as extreme. It was normal for religious groups to claim moral superiority as a result of their own beliefs, but once we see that other groups are really rather similar to our own such alienating claims are impossible to maintain12,13.
For more, see:
Albert Einstein (1929)14
“Modern science has cast a cold and sometimes threatening light on many deep-rooted religious beliefs.”
Wallis and Bruce stated in 1992 that rationalism and the rise of science has been one of the three biggest challenges to religion16. 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 is less of a threat to polytheism, which has not tended to oppose science. 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"17.
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!
In 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.
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The better people are educated, the less religious they are19. In countries where education is improving, younger people's uptake of religion is lower19,20,21. Mass education is one of forces that works to undermine religious thinking19 and studies have found that a general "connectedness with god" is associated with lower levels of education22.
The more mysterious the world is, the more appealing religious answers are23. But the more we know about the world, the more we understand, the less likely we are to accept religious answers. People with minimal education are the most religious24, and also, the more religious a person is, the less they are interested in science25. Those with secondary or higher-level education are less religious24. Those with a degree in science are less than half as likely to believe in God as the general populace, and top-level scientists are nine times less likely26. This correlation isn't new and was also observed in ancient Greece by Polybius (2nd century BCE) who said that those who educate themselves know that "all this talk about the gods and the underworld is a myth"27.
A large poll in 2010 found that those who know most about religion include atheists and agnostics28, with religionists knowing the least. The more you know about the world, and about religion, the more likely you are to understand and accept natural and scientific facts about the world rather than accept religious answers.
For more, see:
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 higher one's intelligence, the less likely to hold religious beliefs.
The effect extends beyond individual countries and is visible inter-nationally. In countries where education is improving, younger people's uptake of religion is lower20,19, causing long-term trends towards secularisation. 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 atheist religions such as Buddhism, Taoism and Shinto.
For more, see:
Women's rights, gay rights, slave rights, racial equality and many other rights (such as right to change religion) have been viciously opposed by most religious denominations at some point. Religious groups and political extremists oppose many of these basic rights. The loudest voices in opposition to HR is by far the anti-gay rights voices of prominent Christian and Muslim institutions, who also support female genital mutilation and female subjugationn to man. 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 influence29.
The drive to protect human rights and human dignity has limited the ability of many religions to enforce doctrine. In a free world, religious folk can voluntarily restrict themselves - for example, by not marrying people of the same gender. But often, religious institutions want to be able to force non-adherents to comply to their doctrinal rules, too. For example, in Scotland, in response to the Scottish government's proposal to allow gay marriage. the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, Conti, issued a public statement complaining about "the modern preoccupation with human rights"30 and was joined by several other Christian churches in opposing the move to let other people those of the same sex, if they wished to30.
Religious groups still pursue many legal reforms that result in an effective 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.
All religions are now brought into close contact with each other through communications technology31. 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.
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 online32, 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.
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.33. 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 arrested34, but the general trend is that strong religious bias in the law and censorship in national media can both be overcome through the Internet.
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".35 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 theology36. 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.
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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.
The need for The Enlightenment had long been after the many long centuries of the dark ages. The 17th century spawned a growing movement38 in a Europe that was learning from its past mistakes: religion was increasingly being seen as positively harmful39 and irrational superstition was being actively sought out and countered, and there was a push for attaining happiness, sense and progress here and now40. The wave of change finally broke in France during the Revolution (1789-1799), where "the total abolition of... everything appertaining to compulsive systems of religion" took place41. The era of science, rationalism, freedom and secularism had dawned42: The years from 1740 and 1780 in particular are named "the Age of Reason"43. Key thinkers include Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Adam Smith, Spinoza44 and Jeremy Bentham.45. Altogether, The Enlightenment saw the solidification of liberal democracy and human rights. Policies, governance and equality were to be based on universal logic and citizens were to be treated fairly without prejudice based on their religion.44
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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 religion47, 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.
“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.”
The academic of religion, Peter L. Berger, says that in particular Western Protestantism is secularizing50. 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)”
An analysis published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (2006)52 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.52
Evidence to this effect is the dry and secular role of the clergy itself. Wilson53 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.54
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 Delusion55", 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".”
“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.”
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.
“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.”