‘Atheism to defeat religion by 2038’? Well that’s the headline of Nigel Barber’s recent article in the Huffington Post. Barber argues that religion will go the way of the horse and carriage, and for the same reason. Because “improv[ed] living conditions are associated with a decline in religion, [which] is supported by a mountain of evidence.” The relationship between economic security and irreligion is known as the existential security hypothesis.
But why 2038? Well according to Barber’s estimate taken from the 9 most godless and 9 least religious countries in the world, that is the year that the godless/non-religious will outnumber theists. How did he get this number? By simply taking the average year that stat was reached in those countries and the gdp per capita of the countries and then comparing it to global trends.
If anything this trend is most evident in the growth of non-theism among American students. So the growth might not be caused by individuals eventually reaching a certain level of economic and existential security, but students growing up and forming their identity with such existential security. When Pew Research asked Americans if they ever doubted the existence of God, the Millenial generation born from 1981 and younger left the Baby Boomers, Gen X and the Silent Gen far behind in terms of number of skeptics. Current college students are the tip of the iceberg of those that doubt God’s existence and incorporate Him less into their worldviews. Twenty somethings and younger are becoming more and more comfortable doubting and wondering if God is all that important.
But more so than just skepticism and doubt, American College students are getting organized and focusing on community – which I don’t think I need to go out on a limb in asserting is important for an individual’s existential security. Here at Rutgers, just this year the RU Secular Humanists club was started, bringing the total of groups associated with the RU Chaplaincy up to three. Nationally, the Secular Students Alliance has been growing in leaps and bounds, and even plans to possibly expand to High Schools.
I might just be a tiny bit biased, but it seems to me that with the growth of University Humanist Chaplaincies and Secular Student Alliance groups Barber’s 2038 estimate for atheism and secularism might be on the conservative side.