Religion may be on the road to extinction in Canada — mathematically speaking, that is.
Travelling with us are Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland.
A study presented Tuesday at the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas noted a steady rise in the percentage of those countries’ residents who claim no religious affiliation, and explained how social factors could help push religion toward the dustbin of history.
Richard Weiner, a University of Arizona researcher and one of the study’s authors, explained the formula’s conclusions.
“There’ll be a continuing loss of membership among people that identify themselves as belonging to a religion. Over time, we could reach a time where society is dominated by people who claim religious non-affiliation,” he said.
The study attempted to link these countries’ religious identities with the social motives behind belonging to particular groups. Researchers said that as the masses who claim religious non-affiliation swell, it becomes more appealing to join the ranks of that group.
“The model predicts that for societies in which the perceived utility of not adhering is greater than the utility of adhering, religion will be driven toward extinction,” the study said.
“We tried to quantify . . . that the perceived utility of non-affiliation is greater than the perceived utility of belonging to a religion,” added Weiner. “That effect is enough to start driving people to the group that’s non-affiliated, and then as more people become non-affiliated, that makes the group more attractive.”
Weiner speculated that social pressures are contributing to the decline in religious identification in these countries. “People no longer see the slate of benefits as being as great as they probably did 100 years ago. It’s become less socially useful.”
Daniel Abrams, one of the study’s co-authors, used a similar model in 2003 to predict the decline of the world’s lesser-spoken languages.
A 2006 Statistics Canada report noted that 16 per cent of Canadians reported no religious affiliation in 2001, up from four per cent 30 years earlier. However, young Canadians are even less religious, with close to half of 15-29 year olds claiming no religious identity in 2004.
In the Netherlands, where close to 50 per cent of the population identifies as not belonging to a religion, Weiner said they found that by mid-century close to 70 per cent of the country will be made up of non-believers.
“That’s very substantial growth over four decades,” Weiner said. “It’s not saying that religion will not exist, but it will very strongly change the makeup of society. Maybe in 100 years in some of these countries if this trend continues, there will be a very small percentage of people that still identify themselves as belonging to a religion.”
However, University of Ottawa sociologist Diane Pacom cautioned against writing off religion as a part of Canada’s culture.
“Even if Canadians say (their affiliation) to their friends, publicly they won’t say it because it’s not cool,” she said.
Pacom added that religion’s role in society is hard to capture, as traditionally religious activities like weddings are still commonly practised — even without the religious meaning it once had.
“Religion may not be seen as a practice, but as a way of living it’s still very present. No mathematical formula can catch that,” she said.
– Prophecy News Watch