Successful society requires religion
Can you conceive of a world without religion? It may sound strange, but the American Physical Society can. In fact, they are predicting that nine countries — Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Austria, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and New Zealand — will experience a religious extinction sometime in the future. The society gathered census data from these countries and calculated that the trends in these countries suggest a rather rapid decline in religious affiliation. If it continues, these countries will be pretty much religion free. However, we feel that there's no way that will ever come to be the case — and, even if a religious extinction did occur, that would be a turn for the worse.
Whereas many people in these countries are identifying themselves as non-religious affiliated, that does not necessarily mean that the people are areligious. There have been trends in many nations — the U.S. included — where people are turning toward non-secular forms of religious. It's the oft-heard cliché of, "I'm not religious, but I am spiritual." Perhaps the flaw in the American Physical Society's prediction is that it does not account for this movement. As much as people claim that spirituality and religion can be separated, they really can't. If we define religion as a faith-based belief, then these spiritual people are themselves members of a religion — just not an institutionalized one.
Also, religions, as with any cultural artifact, evolve over time and across space. Just look at the movement from, say, Greek mythology to modern day Christianity. In fact, Christianity itself has changed a lot since its inception. The point is that, even if traditional religions die out in these countries, we are certain new ones will develop in their place. That's how human society has operated all throughout recorded history — what's to say this practice will end now? There is little to no evidence to suggest that will be the case.
Questions of truth or legitimacy aside, religions are incredibly useful things. They give many people purpose in life, and they help create moral codes that facilitate more loving relationships between people. Sure, it's easy to dwell on the negative aspects of religion. The media loves giving the fundamentalists coverage because they're the most engaging. But the fact remains that the majority of religious people aren't the Westboro Baptist Church. The extinction of religion, then, would deal a serious blow to how the world works now — and probably not for the better. When you remove purpose and moral codes from people's lives, you're just asking for trouble.
It doesn't seem like a religious extinction is actually possible anytime in the future. We applaud the American Physical Society for taking the time to conduct this interesting research but, ultimately, the world probably isn't going to lose its faith completely. At least, not any time soon.