Is The End Near For Religion?

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“At the heart of every civilization, religious values are asserted.”

— Fernand Braudel

Even at this season that should be about spiritual re-awakening, it is hard to deny that we live in an increasingly post-religious civilization. Virtually everywhere in the high-income world, faith, particularly tied close to institutionalized religion, has been dropping for a decade, and the trend is accelerating with each new generation. Even once bright religious celebrations like Christmas have not only become less spiritual, even here in America, but seems to be inexorably returning to its original pagan roots as essentially a winter solstice holiday.

A simple look at the statistics collected by Pew tells the story. The Christian population in Europe is already shrinking. Between 2015 and 2060, Pew estimates the share of North American and European Christians will drop from 36 percent to barely 23 percent. Indeed in 24 of 42 traditionally Christian countries, many of them in Europe, deaths among Christians already exceeds births. Only in Africa, do Christian births seem likely to continue outnumber births.

Here in the U.S., once considered the last wealthy bastion for religion, church affiliation has been declining with each new generation; only 38 percent of younger millennials who consider faith “important in their lives,” notes Pew, compared to nearly 60 percent of boomers. Nearly half of young people predict that by 2050 the largest religious grouping will be those who are unaffiliated.

Read the entire piece at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book is The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

Photo: Marburg79 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Good news

How many people have been killed in the name of religion?
How can any rational person be considered sane while believing in an imaginary friend?

A Priesthood

Odd how Kotkin finds no room in his essay for even a mere mention of the third great monotheism. Perhaps Kotkin could dilate on the developmental trajectory of Reform Islam. Oh right, there doesn't appear to be such a thing. In any case Islam is a touchy subject these days, one Kotkin is no doubt wise to stay away from, even if it does leave a gaping hole in his analysis.

If any religion is defined and distinguished principally by its orthodoxy (which I think it must be), then it is easy to understand why, historically, the formation of a priesthood has always preceded the formation of a religion. Brown, Gore & Co. are no different: they want to establish themselves as the new Priesthood of the Planet. Or rather, they want to be the Patriarchs of that priesthood.

Jerry Brown's anathematizing of Trump for not sufficiently fearing God reveals him to be the successor of Athanasius and Cyril more than some new species of progressive pagan squish. It amuses me to no end (that is, when it is not alarming me to no end) to hear the repeated wailings of uneducated progressives (which I have been hearing for 40 years) screeching "theocracy!" every time a Republican politician attends a Christian church, when it is Brown and his ilk that are the true theocrats. St. Augustine wondered, "could mine be the hand strong enough to seize the minds of men?" Jerry Brown is obviously thinking the same thing.

Kotkin knows this, living as he does in California. Yet instead of highlighting the emergence of the new priests of a church militant, he feels obligated to direct his polemic self towards the "reactionary right." "Reactionary" is today a word in the same class as fascist and racist, being mere pejorative. Pray tell us, Mr. Kotkin, what exactly is the "reactionary" right?

We also noticed that you slyly substituted the word "values" for "tenets" in your "orthodox religious values" phrase. "Values" are the anti-tenets; it is a contradiction in terms to speak of "orthodox values." Tenets are harsh and exclusionary; they require a commitment. They are how you can differentiate a Muslim from a Jew from a Catholic. "Values" are soft and non-committal, like the Deism of Diderot and the rest of the Encyclopedists. Their campaign is commonly thought to have been against religion when in fact it was only against the reigning priesthood.

But neither religions nor priesthoods can be sustained, or deposed, on values. Only a religion can succeed a religion; only a priesthood can succeed a priesthood; only tenets can replace tenets. A tenet is (as the word suggests) something you can hold in your own hand, unlike water, or values. If you want a picture of the future, imagine the priests of Gaia, whose patriarchs are Brown, Gore & Co., stamping on a human face, forever.