December 31, 2010

The Future of Faith

faithAt the end of a year, many people like to look back over the past 12 months and attempt to analyze what has happened with the benefit of hindsight. I'd like to do something different in this post and look to the future. 2010 has been another good year for atheism in the sense that we are continuing to speak out. We still have a long way to go, but assuming we continue to make progress and do an even better job of what we are doing now, what happens to faith? Let's speculate about the future of faith.

A post at the always excellent Butterflies & Wheels recently caught my attention with this gem:
One thing gnu atheism is doing is relentlessly pointing out that religious belief is not altogether intellectually respectable.
Ophelia is right. Atheism has long pointed out that religious belief is not defensible on rational grounds. In the age of the Internet, people are learning about atheism at a younger age and turning their backs on superstition in greater numbers. And while many believers continue to take pride in faith, a vocal atheist movement has made this increasingly difficult.

Over time, this may well lead to a change in the perceived value of religious belief as part of one's identity. Instead of being treated as if it was indicative of morality or synonymous with virtue, religious belief will become a mark of ignorance and credulity.

Referring to asking people about their religious beliefs, Ophelia notes,
Yes, but now it’s also getting to be like asking them whether they believe in Santa Claus. It’s getting to be like asking them if they’re somewhat too credulous for a grown-up.

Over time evolution.jpg- and this is not going to happen overnight - we will likely see an erosion of the desirability of religious belief as part of one's identity. Expressions of faith will increasingly be met with surprise and even ridicule. Someone who professes belief in god(s) will elicit the same reactions as an adult who believes in Santa, the Tooth Fairy, or creationism.

There will still be some who believe in god(s) just as there are now some who believe in all manner of ancient superstitions (e.g., black cats, bad luck from breaking mirrors, etc.). But such people will learn to keep these beliefs to themselves and may even come to regard them with a touch of shame. This is the future of faith.