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Faith no more

A new study using census data from nine countries shows that religion there is set to become extinct, say researchers at North-western University in the US.

The team took data stretching back as far as a century from countries in which the census asked about religious affiliation: Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Nether-lands, New Zealand and Switzerland. It used a model similar to that which predicts the decline of local languages to account for the interplay between the number of religious respondents and the social motives behind being religious.

The result indicates that religion will all but die out altogether in those countries.

'The idea is pretty simple,' said Dr Richard Wiener. 'In a large number of modern secular democracies, there's been a trend that folk are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion; in the Netherlands the number was 40%, and the highest we saw was in the Czech Republic, where the number was 60%.'

The team then adjusting their model to  take account of the utilitarian merits of membership of the 'non-religious' category. They found that those adjustments were similar across all the countries studied, suggesting that similar behaviour drives the mathematics in all of them.

'It's interesting that a fairly simple model captures the data, and if those simple ideas are correct, it suggests where this might be going,' continued Dr Wiener. 'Obviously much more complicated things are going on with any one individual, but maybe a lot of that averages out.'

However, while these trends forecast the eventual extinction of the current array of religious options, they do not forecast the extinction of what might be termed a religious sensibility, which already exists for many people independent of typical religious categories.

None of our institutions has been here forever, each believing themselves an improvement over what preceded them. It might be that what comes next is too.