Free Inquiry  -  October / November 2005


Consider this amazing contrast:

For centuries, religion was so important to Europeans that they killed millions of people for it - in Catholic-Protestant wars, pogroms against Jews, the Holy Inquisition, Crusades against Muslims, witch hunts, massacres of Anabaptists, Hussite wars, extermination of "heretics," burning of "blasphemers," and other faith-based gore.

But today, Europe has largely forgotten religion. Attendance at churches and cathedrals is minuscule. Polls find fewer and fewer people believing in gods, devils, heavens, hells, miracles and the like. In Britain, only three percent of people now worship regularly, and many of those are Third World immigrants in talking-in-tongues congregations. France, once a mighty bastion of Catholicism, now has mostly empty churches, attended by a few old women. Italy, home of the Vatican, has the world's lowest birth rate, despite Catholic taboos against birth control.

The same decline is found in Germany, Spain, Holland, Scandinavia and most of the continent. Only two percent of Danes, Swedes and Norwegians now worship on a typical Sunday. Even extremely Catholic Poland and Ireland are experiencing slippage. Outside of Europe, Australia, Canada and some other Western countries show the same pattern. Only the United States, Muslim lands and developing nations remain hotbeds of supernatural faith - and America is following Europe's path. The number of Americans who say they have no religion has soared to 30 million.

Secularism not only will survive, but it is the likely future for all enlightened, scientific-minded societies. I think humanity is in the midst of a profound transition, similar to past paradigm shifts such as the abandonment of slavery, colonialism and the rule of kings. A new phase of civilization - the Secular Age - is on the horizon.

The fact that past Europeans killed millions for religion, but now their descendants shrug it off as inconsequential, shows the amazing transformation in progress.

   -----  James A. Haught