“Atheism” is no longer an alien, rarely heard-of term. It is, in fact, a phenomenon that continues to grow at exponential rates in the 21st century. And when such a state of irreligiousness and disbelief engulfs the world while a great number of major and minor religions still thrive, there’s a need to explore the lure of atheism in the current times. Is religion losing its appeal globally or is atheism beyond a movement that is simply antagonistic to religions? Are there nefarious motives behind the rise of atheism and is this state of being going to prove disastrous for the future of humankind on earth?
The Oxford Handbook of Atheism dictates that 7% of the entire world’s population—some 450 to 500 million people—do not believe in a God. The Pew Research Center takes this statistic even further, including non-religious people along with the irreligious, which totals to some 1.1 billion people—16.5% of the adult population of planet Earth. according to more research by the Pew Research Center, it is mostly in people aged between 18 to 29 that atheism is more rife (40%), followed by people aged between 30 to 49 (37%), which is further followed by people aged between 50 and 64 (14%), and those aged above 65 (9%). If there’s anything definite that these numbers tell us, it’s that the young are most vulnerable to atheism, and that as they grow older, people lose their cynicism and turn to godlier, god-fearing lives.
Christianity remains the largest religion in the world, and is expected to maintain its position till 2050, by which time Islam will begin to outnumber it. But that’s what the research today says—if we learn anything by the rapidly growing trend of atheism, we might be living in an utterly ungodly world by 2050—and that in itself is a scary concept. When it comes to irreligious states, China tops the list, with 67% atheists and only 9% religious population. Among the most religiously inclined states are Thailand, Nigeria, Kosovo, Ghana, India, etc. In India and Thailand specifically, there are only 1% people who identify as atheists
And these numbers are the key to solving the riddle that is atheism.
Why the Numbers Matter
The countries that top the list for being most religious are considered third world compost by most of the world’s population—take India and Ghana for instance. Thailand is a mainly Buddhist country, which has lost credibility ever since Aung San Suu Kyi came under attack for the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya—many of her awards being snatched back and there even being talk of her losing her Nobel Prize.
On the other side of the spectrum stands China—the least religious country in the world. China with its massive trade and ever expanding trade routes, its prospects of overshadowing the United States in a number of years, its shining economy and rapidly growing global presence—is an irreligious country. And since China is considered to be a model for other countries in the world, especially those that see themselves as underdeveloped, its influence has been strong.
At best it comes down to the human knack for wanting to identify with a certain person, or a certain group of people—and this thought process, this tendency to mimic, is entirely sub-conscious. Where an average person would never want to be in the same boat as Ghana, China would do the trick.
Social Media and Globalization
Thanks to social media and the World Wide Web, we are now more receptive and more privy to ideas and opinions that exist elsewhere—ideas and opinions that are also some of the greatest sources of misinformation. While irreligiousness was never a new phenomenon, it is now more starkly in the limelight given how it’s so easy to know an atheist or an agnostic in the world.
Thanks to social media, too, that news travels fast. People have now come to detest the “religious” lot for their crimes and misdemeanors and misconduct by safely attacking the religion and never the person. It’s easy to see why, if basic human psyche is explored: when you attack a fellow human for a vile act, you’re acknowledging that there’s might be an innate defect in humans (which you are too) whereas when you comfortably attack a religion, you can distance yourself from the crime.
Cynicism in the Post-Secular World
The world has seen a great number of wars. It has seen cities wiped out by nuclear bombs and whole towns reduced to dust and ashes. It has seen individuals like Hitler (a religious person) and Bin Laden (a religious person). It has seen the 20th century serial killing episodes in droves. On a daily basis, the residents of this world witness horrible crimes and unspeakable sins—and all feeds into one basic idea: that such a ghastly world could not be a godly place. In their ignorance and myopic vision, they are blinded against the good that still exists in the world—that is actively balancing out the evil. They delude themselves because sensational news channels, popular culture, and bestsellers—narrative controllers—revolve around all that is bad in this world.
Think about the movies that have been made on figures like Hitler, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Jack the Ripper—scarce a film studio would make a film about better people, because it won’t earn them a great deal of money. And when a world becomes rooted in a cycle of material gain and monetary ascension (China = great economy, thus must be right about things), irreligiousness becomes the order of the day.
19th century mastermind Freidrich Nietzsche foresaw this, and foretold that the death of religion would be the death of all moral compasses—the 20th century is testimony to this, and the 21st century is simply reaping the aftereffects.
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If you were to die today, where would you go? Heaven? Hell? Not sure?