The road to apostasy

It is not easy for a Mormon to publicly renounce his or her faith. This article shares the story of four young Mormons who realized that they did not believe during or soon after they finished their obligatory missionary work. The author of the article Greg Wilcox says that this disenchantment with religion is part of a more general trend.

A 2010 article in Christianity Today, citing various studies, says that the percentage of Americans claiming “no religion” doubled in about two decades, up from 8.1 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008. A substantial 22 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds claimed no religion, up from 11 percent in 1990. Also, 73 percent of these younger people came from religious homes.

The same article makes reference to the research of Robert Putnam and David E. Campbell, authors of a 2010 study called “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us,” which shows that the younger generation is dropping out of religion at five to six times the historic rate. [My emphasis-MS]

This adds to the evidence supporting my (admittedly minority) view that, despite appearances, religion is in serious danger of collapse. It is not that it will completely disappear but that it will become like astrology, largely irrelevant, viewed with amusement by most, but still believed in by an increasingly small minority.

Although the story is about loss of Mormon faith, I suspect that the experiences recounted are more generally applicable. The stories are quite poignant in describing the initial feelings of loss and loneliness before they found that they were not alone and joined with others in their same situation.

(Via Machines Like Us.)


  1. Upright Ape says

    Secularization is a reality. It has been happening in Europe for decades. We are only late to the party.

  2. RW Ahrens says


    A blogger on a major atheist/secular site has stated the blindingly obvious.

    I have been saying for some time now that if the recent figures on those claiming non-believer status have reached 15% of the population, given the tremendous amount of hostility, discrimination and sheer hatred towards atheists, it has to be grossly understated.

    A web site I’ve known about for several years is the following:

    I would also point you towards their “about us” page:

    As a group which is non-denominational in scope (or more accurately, multi-denominational), I kind of think their site is fairly well sourced and researched, and they note clearly in the first link that people commonly lie to pollsters about religious activity (as well as other subjects).

    Later, they note that the numbers of christians in this country who go to church are more than likely fewer than 30% of the population. For a group who claims to have 80% of the American people as members of their cult, that’s a very poor attendance rate.

    Personally, I think that the numbers have been overinflated for so long that nobody thinks to challenge them, which coincidentally, come from Gallup, an organization founded by a man who is an evangelical christian. Funny how that number has remained so consistent over the last 60 years that it has rarely varied more than 5%.

    In fact, I’ve seen census figures that show clearly that by the year 2050, not only will whites be a minority, but fewer than 10% of the population will be able to claim status as christians.

    Yeah, I think collapse is a good word to use, and it can’t come to soon to suit me.

  3. thunderbird5 says

    We’re getting there. The Catholic Church, for one, is obviously spooked by the ongoing collapse of support, especially from amongst the young.

    Oh, and welcome to FTB, Mano

  4. Mano Singham says

    I agree. I am actually quite optimistic that religion is in a state of deep decline. This will, however, be accompanied by a rise in the more rigid, doctrinaire forms of religion as this is the normal response of groups that feel themselves losing ground.

  5. Hunter says

    Not to be a Debbie-downer, but I have to wonder what the rates are for people who “re-discover” religion as they get on in years. I’ve noticed a pattern in our society where, as youths, people will disregard religion and church because it conflicts too much with their lifestyle. But then they have children, and all of a sudden, the bibles come back out and they renounce their “youthful indiscretions” while attempting to ‘church things up’ for their kids.

    That may be part of why, after all this time, the major religions (particularly Christianity) still find themselves with members. As far as I know, there isn’t any kind of study that’s been done on that. But then, I haven’t really done a thorough search, either. 😛

  6. Mano Singham says

    This is a really interesting question that I have wondered about too. I will see if I can find some data on it.

    It is definitely the case that some people revert to religion, either because of rediscovered belief or because they feel that children need the same kind of environment that they grew up in.

    But it is true that the rates of initial disaffection are rapidly going up and unless the rates of re-joining are going up equally fast (which I think is unlikely), then the drift away from religion is a long-term effect.

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