Figuring atheism

April 20, 2006

At a recent lecture I gave at James Cook University in Townsville, I suggested that atheism is on the decline. It is being replaced by a new kind of spirituality which emphasises ethics but poo-poos dogma. I defended dogma while also praising the turn away from naturalism and materialism (in the Marxist sense) towards a more soulful understanding of life, then I used the Da Vinci Code to suggest we had to be careful to combine spiritual interest with solid thinking. But some in the audience were not happy, hearing me to say that an atheist could not be spiritual.
I got my thesis on atheism's decline from Alister McGrath's recent history of ideas and from the forthcoming Cambridge Companion, some of which is online. The stats are intriguing, showing a worldwide decline in atheism but with some strong pockets of resistance. It's hard to discern a pattern. Russia has a high percentage of atheists, but China doesn't. There doesn't seem to be a strong correlation between poverty and theism, or wealth and atheism. Among a few conclusions, the author suggests one strong correlation: the more atheistic nations also report a higher sense of individual and social security. Evidence against God?

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