Just the other day I replied to a comment Joshua left me, and I said,
To a large extent, I think people are religious because they fear death and find themselves in situations in which they feel themselves powerless to overcome. They also live such boring and empty lives, the thought that their life and destiny ultimately depends on them is a scary thought. But as mankind becomes more powerful as a species, and we’re no longer subject to the cruelties of nature in the same degree we are now, I think religious beliefs will slowly fade away. It’ll become irrelevant.
I’d like to bring in a little evidence to support my claim. Check out this Gallup study on the correlation between religious belief and poverty.
There’s some fascinating charts. First you find that in impoverished nations, pretty much everyone is deeply religious. Because these people’s lives consist of little but troubles and toil, their thoughts focus on the afterlife, or psychological techniques to achieve peace of mind in the hell all around them. Being powerless and subject to the cruelties of this world to a degree we can hardly imagine, most of them place their hope in deities and other religious thought systems.
But as people’s income and quality of life increases, they care less and less about religion. Once life becomes tolerable, you put and little money in their pocket, and they’re able to rise above bare subsistence and day to day struggle, religious devotion drops off very quickly. If a person is able to achieve the quality of life of a low-paid custodian here in the USA, over half them will lose their religion.
And in general, if you further examine nations who have a strong focus on social programs which benefit their people, creating a strong middle class, religious belief plummets even further, some even under 20%.
There are exceptions to this. We in the USA are a rich nation with a very religious citizen base. Vietnam is a poor nation but its government in the past limited religious practices. Estonia and Belarus are in there because the former Soviet Union restricted religious worship in these areas. Overall though, my comment seems to be backed by the evidence – poverty and religion go together.