The other day I wrote about the shortage of young priests in Ireland, which started me thinking (again) about the more general question: Why is Christianity slowly dying? It's clearly on the wane, especially in Europe but even in America things look grim. Just google for "decline of Christianity" and you'll even find major Christian writers lamenting this trend.
There are many hypotheses, most of which include news reports of pedophile priests, "militant" atheists, or a vague "decline in morals" of some sort. And I'm sure these are all contributing to some degree.
But I have my own theory, which I can sum up in one word: Education.
Education is the enemy of religion, plain and simple. Hundreds of years ago, it was easy to keep people "in the fold," because many couldn't read, and priests could pretty much tell them anything plausible and they'd believe it. The Bible's many inconsistencies and immoralities were easy to cover up.
Then came literacy, and with it a lot of questions. My fellow blogger Sarah Trachtenberg writes wonderful stories of people's journey from religion to atheism, and a large number of them tell of how, when they really read the Bible, it raised more questions than it answered, and when they tried to ask for help, were rebuffed, told to pray for guidance, or that "God works in mysterious ways." Julia Sweeney's Letting Go of God is a wonderful example of this.
So literacy itself proved a problem, but that was just the beginning. I believe the real decline of Christianity (and all organized religion) started in the 1950's when science became a priority in our schools. World War II had shown the world's leaders that scientists were critical to the war, on every front. Submarines, nuclear bombs, jet engines, cryptography, radio, and so many more scientific contributions were crucial to defeating the Nazi and Japanese war machines. That was followed by Sputnik and the "space race." American children started learning about science in record numbers.
And the simple fact is that, in spite of what the Pope and Francis Collins claim, Christianity is incompatible with science. You can believe one, or you can believe the other, but very few people (Collins being a notable exception) who truly understand science can believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God, performed miracles, and was resurrected. It just makes no sense.
Furthermore, the most fundamental rules of science teach us that amazing claims require amazing proofs, and the Christian religion is full of amazing claims that have no proof whatsoever. When someone is given a solid education in science, they almost inevitably begin to question what they learned in church.
To me, the decline of Christianity is no mystery at all. As long as we, as a society, continue our quest for knowledge, and continue to educate our children, to fill their heads with the latest wonders of science and mathematics, religion will continue to fade. I doubt it will ever disappear, but I predict that within my lifetime, America will become at least 50% non-Christian.