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The Biggest News of the 21st Century

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article first appeared at Daylight Atheism

What's the most significant occurrence so far in the 21st century?

Worsening weather calamities caused by global warming?

Endless suicide bombings and massacres by religious fanatics in the Islamic "cult of death"?

Snowballing acceptance of gays as equal humans?

Kakistocracy (government by the worst) under a ludicrous president who has told 10,000 countable lies?

Recurring U.S. gun massacres?

All of those are important, but I nominate another: The remarkably rapid collapse of religion in advanced democracies. It's major news with far-reaching impact.

Sociologists are stunned by the abrupt downfall of supernatural faith in Western civilization. The swift cultural transformation gained recognition in the 1990s and then accelerated.

For example, more than half of United Kingdom adults now have no church identity, according to the latest British Social Attitudes survey. The Guardian of London reported:

"Fifty-two percent of the public say they do not belong to any religion, compared to 31 percent in 1983 when the BSA began tracking religious belief". One in four members of the public stated, 'I do not believe in God,' compared with one in ten in 1998."

The London Telegraph added that 26 percent of Britons labeled themselves "confident atheists," up from 10 percent in 1998. It quoted researcher Nancy Kelley as saying the surprising retreat of religion is "one of the most important trends in postwar history."

Similar findings are reported across western Europe, Scandinavia, Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the like. Secularism has soared since the 1990s. Europeans spent centuries killing each other over religion, but now it elicits a mere shrug.

America traditionally was an exception, a faith stronghold, but the United States is joining the secular tsunami. A recent Gallup poll found that church membership fell twenty percent in the past two decades. One-fourth of American adults now say their faith is "none" - and the ratio is one-third among those under thirty.

In fact, this country has more nonreligious adults than any other nation except China, according to a 2015 book, American Secularism.

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James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia's largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.  Mr. Haught has won two dozen national news writing awards. He has written 12 books and hundreds of magazine essays and blog posts. Around 450 of his essays are online. He is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine, a weekly blogger at Daylight Atheism, (more...)
 

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