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In times of need people turn to religion, but as columnist Ian Welfley argues, overall, religious beliefs are decreasing as society advances. 

Religion is derived from the Latin word “re-ligere,” which has to do with “tying” or “binding.” Religion has done just this for centuries, binding people to whatever values and ideals it preaches. The devotion varying religions have elicited in the eons they’ve existed has resulted in timeless works of art, the rise and fall of civilizations and the framework of the modern world as we know it.  

It’s indisputable that religion was the underlying catalyst for almost all that came to be in human history, yet it seems humanity has reached an age where religion has began its gradual expiration. Many first world citizens seem content with letting religion gather dust once and for all, and it seems that this is most common in areas of the world where religion is needed the least.

In the dark ages of mankind, religion was an advantageous institution. It gave early humans something to latch onto in a world brimming with uncertainty. Humans have always been fearful of the unknown, and with a lack of scientific resources, religion acted as the beacon of insight that alleviated such worries. Religion also gave people a sense of belonging. With death and disease being such prevalent aspects of past societies, religion instilled communities with optimism and strength in such daunting times.

For all the good religion has caused in the past, there was just as much bad lurking behind the curtain. Examples range from religious fanaticism in the barbaric Salem Witch Trials to widespread terror and destruction in the Spanish inquisition and Holy Crusades. It’s plausible to conclude from these tragedies that religion can often lead to atrocity, which bleeds into the modern day with the 9/11 attacks.

Despite the harm it has caused societies, religion kept the ball of humanity rolling in uninformed times. However, as science began to take precedence when people grew more knowledgeable about the world around them, religion seemed to lose this comforting presence. While religion has admittedly grown in areas of the world, notably the Southern Hemisphere, Pew Research projects the number of non-affiliated, non-religious people to shrink from 16% to 12.5% by 2060 as religion grows in these areas of the world.

The decline of religion is far more recent than one would think. Another Pew Research Center study demonstrated that the number of people who believe in God dropped from 92% to 89% from 2007-2014. Religion’s decline is most prevalent in countries like Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada and Uruguay — all of which were highly religious no more than a century ago. This phenomenon can be understood by how these particular countries are relatively wealthy and have amassed strong educational and social security systems.  

Rates of religious faith are in a continuous state of fluctuation based off whatever conditions the people of a society are facing. For example, in 2011, an earthquake struck the highly secular city, Christchurch, in New Zealand. Following this disaster, there was a significant upsurge in religious belief for the people involved, yet the rest of New Zealand remained just as secular as before.

Another indicator of this is a 2009 Gallup survey that looked into the impact religion has in varying nations. The results demonstrated that in the world’s poorest countries, 95% said religion is important to their daily lives. In contrast, the percentage for the world’s richest countries is a shocking 47%.

While America is mildly behind other wealthy countries with dropping rates of religiosity, the decline is still quite evident. Back in 1957, 87% claimed that religion could answer all of society’s problems, while 7% said it was out of date. Today, that percentage gap has had a substantial decline, with the numbers now being 46% and 39%.

The question of why this has happened remains. Religion still has its benefits, such as promoting social cohesion and motivating people to do the right thing, but its negatives, like promoting blind faith and prejudice, have been made all the more clear to modern societies. Developed nations are beginning to live in conditions as comforting as religion once was to people of the past, and traditional religious values are being left behind as these societies continually progress into a more science-based age. An example of religion being left behind is the institution’s vocal discrimination against the LGBTQ community. While the rest of society transitions to a new viewpoint, religion clings to its traditional outlook on the matter.

Religion has been an indispensable aspect of our society. While religion is still as prevalent as ever in financially downtrodden nations, it’s perceivably fading away in richer areas of the world due to its blinding comfort no longer being needed. Religion will always be remembered as the dominant, motivating force it once was. However, as the world progresses into the modern age, society will begin to see it as a relic of the past, rather than a thing of the present.

Ian Welfley is a sophomore media arts & design/communications double major. Contact Ian at welfleim@dukes.jmu.edu.