Across the world, we each live in varyingly religious societies. Depending on where you come from, it can seem like religion is a thing of the past, or it can be engrained into your everyday life. I’ve long wondered how far secular movements have come. How many atheists are there in the world? What’s the ratio of women to men? Country by country? Let’s take a look at the numbers.
It’s Not Looking Great
According to the Pew Research Center’s global study in 2012, only 16% of the world’s population identifies as irreligious. A more recent study of theirs states that in 2015, the number was around 18%. That’s incredibly low, at least, it seems low, according to my personal experience with faith.
I grew up in Tennessee, but it was a small town near a Nuclear Power Plant. The community was largely atheist as the majority of the locals worked in scientific fields. When I moved to Switzerland, the country was indeed more religious that I had ever known before, but the majority of people my age aren’t real believers.
I know only a few people who attend church – most of whom I don’t know to do so out of love for their God, necessarily. Only for their community. It seemed to me for a large part of my life that religion as an ideology was dead. That the remaining establishment had a real potential to contribute to society.
The more I’ve learned about the rest of the world, the more the idea of religion scares me. 18%? After all this time, after all this progress, what ties them to their faith? It can’t be reason. Not after we learned to fly, not after we went to the moon. The world we all live in today is evidence, yes, evidence of human progress. Evidence of what comes from scientific progress.
The Gender Gap in Religion
An additional question posed by the study in 2015 by the Pew Research Center was, how many atheists are women, and how many atheists are men?
Among women and men ages 20 and older, 83.4% of women and 79.9% of men across 192 countries and territories are religiously affiliatedPew Research Center – Women are more likely than men to affiliate with religion
Even more interestingly, there are no countries in the world where men are more prone to affiliating with religion than women by more than 2%. What can devotion to faith tell us about the differences between men and women?
The difference is even larger in countries like Uruguay, the United States, the UK, Spain and Germany. There’s no room for speculation here as to why this is. I’d love to ask an expert what they think.
It does sadden me sometimes, although I am thankful for any and every person who is willing to think rationally and stand up for those without faith, that so often does it feel like a bunch of white men snickering at religion.
That’s what Secular Sanity is all about. Humanism is, quite literally, for everybody. Whatever imbalances there are today in our understanding of secular values, we can still fill those gaps. We don’t have to dwell on what got us to this point. This can be the first step to something amazing if we focus on the issue at hand.
If you’re a woman and an atheist, power to you. You seem to beat the odds a little bit. I always stand by the fact that faith has nothing to do with intelligence. Whatever it is, you overcame the temptation to believe just like any other atheist. That is a wonder in itself, and anybody who manages that should be proud.
And if you’re a male atheist, I want to remind you that the mysogynystic values embued in today’s society are partially due to religious values. If you truly oppose them, you must aknowledge that making the world a better place for women and making the world more secular go hand in hand.
Culture Contributes Heavily to Religion
It’s no surprise that since ethnicity and culture are heavily intertwined, ethnicity and religion are too. Where you’re from can influence how you’re raised, what you’re exposed to, and what you come to learn about the world.
How do we get cultures which were built upon the foundation of these beliefs to think critically about them? Is it even moral to do so? Is it even possible? It has become clear no culture, no country lacks free-thinking atheists.
It’s not that only certain people from certain ethnicities can unlock the knowledge behind secular values. It’s just that in certain cultures, freedom from religion isn’t only off the table – it’s off people’s minds. Whether out of fear or prejudice, faith is the only path for them.
So I ask you, in such a society, how does an atheist navigate? To whom do they go for help? From whom do they recieve their blessings? And for those of us who don’t live under such conditions; just because we don’t live in a place where faith is the only option, does that mean we should just ‘take it easy’? I don’t think so. Fixing the problem starts inside ourselves and in the people we love.
Sure, you can’t change the minds of everybody who believes. But it doesn’t have to be a crusade. We’re all just learning. Growing. Changing. All we can do is help the people we care about to embrace that, before it’s too late. But don’t be fooled. This isn’t a minor issue. 16% is not enough. 18% is not enough. Not in a world where we excuse this fact by suggesting that religion doesn’t even greatly impact our daily lives. If that’s the case, what’s all this for?