Someone sent me a link today for an article in Psychology Today called Why Atheism Will Replace Religion. It claims to have evidence to support this assertion. To steal a phrase, “that’s mighty bold talk for a one-eyed fat man, I mean soft science!”
What is the evidence offered? First, atheism is on the rise in industrialized nations. It is most prominent in Europe, and nearly non-existent in sub-Sahara Africa.
Atheism is correlated with higher education and affluence. The author sees religion as a way of coping with fear. In those prosperous nations, there is less to fear. This is particularly true as they have developed extensive social welfare programs.
These nations, he notes, are also marked by a decreasing birth rate. This is because fewer people are needed to work the land. He sees a tie between an agrarian economy, birthrates and atheism. The modern man has “tamed” much of life’s unpredictability, he thinks, and no longer needs God. Or children.
As an “evolutionary psychologist’ the author, Nigel Barber sees this as a good evolution.
So, what is the problem?
11 “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God,… Deuteronomy 8 (ESV)
Approximate 3,400 years ago God predicted this exact pattern in the life of Israel. It is not a new thing. Prosperity produces pride which means that people forget God. This begins with practical atheism and morphs into theoretical atheism. The rise of theoretical atheism in Europe should not surprise the biblically informed person. This has been happening for thousands of years!
4 But I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. 5 It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; 6 but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. Hosea 13 (ESV)
But can atheism replace religion? In the short term, yes. In the long term, no.
Atheism is a self-defeating system. It is self-defeating theoretically and practically. It cannot sustain itself
Theoretically, atheism is living off of the capital created by theism in general and Christianity in particular. It was a worldview created by Christianity in Europe that produced the affluence they now experience. They noted the overwhelming regularity of nature as a reflection of God’s creation. They saw the call to subdue and rule creation as a good thing. They noted the biblical call to work as good. These combined for technological progress. Without the biblical worldview, I suspect the progress will either decrease considerably (as we see in Islamic and animistic cultures.
It is also not sustainable morally. It is bleeding the moral capital of Christianity dry. As Dostoyevsky noted “Without God, all things are permissible.” There is a moral collapse on the horizon which is gaining speed. In atheism, there is no basis for morality aside from social constructs. They essentially evolve. But social constructs differ, and conflict occurs. We see this “transformation” regarding homosexuality, marriage and more. Traditional views are increasingly not tolerated in the name of toleration. Funny how that works. The moral compass is squashed and cultures veer off into self-destructive patterns (see Romans 1:18ff).
It is also contrary to human nature. Man is incurably religious, precisely because, I believe, we are made in the image of God. When we kill God in our minds, then we make something else god. In Europe (and increasingly in our nation) that something is the state. What started as compassion becomes about control and idolatry. The state becomes Leviathan, as we see in Revelation 13. It is the source of all our hopes and dreams. It is what makes “everything” right. It demands our allegiance and will crush those who will not offer that unwavering allegiance. Ultimately, it crushes hope without which humanity cannot thrive. Case in point- the Soviet Bloc nations.
It cannot sustain itself practically either. Welfare states require tax revenues. This means the number of people chipping into the system must exceed those taking from the system. This can work short term, but remember the dropping birth rates. People are living longer, and requiring benefits longer. There needs to be more people working. But if a society isn’t replacing itself this is not going to happen.
What is happening in Europe? An influx of immigrants from those backwoods, religious cultures is slowly transforming Europe. These people, mostly Muslim, are having lots of kids. They will replace the unsustainable atheism in a few generations (things remaining the same, which is an assumption).
Atheism has little value for humanity because it is made in the image of God. So children are frowned upon. People who still have large families are looked down upon as “breeders” and seen as ruining the environment. But the atheistic policies and environmentalism end up sacrificing the society upon an altar to an unknown god. There is a self-contradictory and self-defeating reality that atheists can’t seem to recognize.
The current rise of atheism does not scare me very much because it cannot sustain itself. I think biblically thinking people will continue to have kids and perhaps we’ll see the re-emergence of Christianity in the West. Time will tell, but one thing is clear to me: atheism makes as much sense as man-made global warming.