Is religion in retreat? (AP15)

Throughout this unit we have seen that religion has come under significant attack.  We started by looking at the site of religion in the UK today and have gained understanding of why the rise of atheism has provided religion with a major challenge.

References to science and empiricism, the problem of evil, the rebellion against moral absolutes and greater awareness of other faiths can all be placed alongside the decline in church attendance in the UK over the last century.

So it can quite easily be argued that religion is in retreat.  Religion, it could be argued is dying, as Nietzsche predicted.

But maybe it isn’t as simple as that.  In this blog we will consider some argument that claim religion is not in retreat.


This first graph shows us both the change in the overall world population  and the change in the numbers of Christians from 1970 projected towards 2050.


Between 1970 and 2010, the world population doubled in size, from approximately 3.5 billion to about 7 billion.  During the same time, the number of Christians also doubled, from about 1.2 billion to about 2.3 billion.

Clearly, the reason for the growth in the number of Christians is the growth of the overall world population.  However, these figures clearly demonstrate that Christianity is not in decline if we look at the global picture.

This second graph breaks down the previous figures into the differences we see in the First and Third world countries, that is between MEDCs and LEDCs, between rich and poor.


This graph deals with the percentage of Christians found in these two different types of country, so at each point, the two dots will total 100%.

In 1970 we see that 60% of Christians lived in the 1st world with 40% living in the third world.  By 2010, we see this reversed with the majority of Christians living in the poorer countries of the world.

This change would again be explained by population growth which has mostly occurred in poorer countries, but what this does tell us is that in many poorer countries, Christianity is flourishing and certainly not in retreat.

3If we look at Christianity by continent over time we see the following:

  1. slight increases in the number of Christians in Europe
  2. an increase in the number of Christians in North America (210-260 million)
  3. large increases in the numbers of Christians in:
    • Oceania (Australia and NZ) – 10 million to 20 million
    • Latin America – 250 million to 400 million
    • Africa – 100 million to 500 million
    • Asia – 80 million to 380 million

Again we can see that Christianity is growing rapidly in many parts of the world.

While Europe seems to be one part of the world where Christianity is not rapidly growing, we see a different picture if we look at different parts of Europe.


In places such as Poland and Ireland, church attendance remains high while in others such as the UK, France and Denmark, church attendance is much lower.






So far we have focussed on religious practice, that is ways of behaving such as attending church.  But if we contrast this with religious beliefs, we see another interesting pattern emerge.


This graph records the number of people who attend a religious service at least once a week in six different regions of the world along with a total figure.  The red column is the percentage of people who say that God is important in their life across the same regions.

What this shows us is that religious practice (in this case attending a religions service) lags behind religious belief.  Many more people have an important belief in God than actually attend a religious service, so while we sometimes see a decline in religious practice in some parts of the world, belief in God remains much stronger.