I’ve been mulling over this recent news item that suggests religion could go extinct in nine countries, including Canada. It may well be the case and the researchers involved in the report provide a compelling case. I can certainly see it.
Just as an anecdote, I attended my parents’ church last month and took note of the age of the congregation. With a few exceptions, the vast majority were well into their seventies and eighties, like my parents. It seemed clear that when they die, there’ll be no younger generation to replace them. In ten years, I expect to see the church in which I was confirmed close for good. The church in which I was baptized is has been a performing arts space for years and the current owner wants to sell it and turn it into condos.
I have mixed feelings about this because I do like my old church, although not necessarily my old congregation, which was always very conservative. The United Church of Canada was always the moderate, socially conscious one. Heather Mallick in the Star today called it “too polite to qualify as an actual religion.” Its membership is on the decline and has been so for years. This seems to be the case with a lot of mainline Protestant religions, as well as with Roman Catholicism. For a number of reasons, people are drifting away from religion.
However, at the same time, it appears that the religions that are on the rise are the rigid, fundamentalist ones. These are the ones who, in the words of William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, “don’t want some bourgeois Anglican god I can have a nice cup of tea with.”
I’d prefer either nobody is religious or most people are non-believers and and others are simply moderately so. I don’t imagine religion will ever die out completely but I can see it eventually ending up as a minority view. But I wonder if it’s possible that before religion goes away, you end up with a situation where, effectively, there’s no middle ground between Christopher Hitchens and The Westboro Baptist Church. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe you need to see the extreme ends of things before deciding they’re a bad idea entirely. Like how we need a Tory majority just so we can really see what a bad idea that is and then never make that mistake again.
On the other hand, I just finished reading Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd Century America by Robert Charles Wilson (which is awesome, by the way) which has a post-peak oil semi-industrialized America ruled by the fundamentalist “Dominion of Jesus Christ on Earth”. And Montreal is an American city where Notre-Dame Basilica gets bombed by the Dutch.
So, you know, we could have that to look forward to.