Is atheism a modern phenomenon

"Modern societies no longer need religion"

The sociologist of religion Jörg Stolz believes that God no longer exists when nobody believes that He exists. That day could come some day.

Mr. Stolz, as a sociologist of religion, are you also interested in non-religious people, in agnostics, in atheists?

Naturally. At the moment I am investigating non-religious people who organize themselves in groups such as the free thinkers and the skeptics, but also ordinary religious indifferent people.

Why are you interested in these people?

The phenomenon of non-religiousness tells us something about religiosity, and the reasons why someone is not a believer tell us why someone believes.

How do you characterize the group of the non-religious?

The prototypical non-religious is a well-educated, politically left-wing, younger city dweller who studies neurosciences and drives through the city on his bike and a Friday bag.

«Europe is indeed becoming more and more secular. For around two hundred years each generation has been less religious than the previous one. "

Does science have a religious dimension for the young man?

No. He is of the opinion that the idea of ​​God can be explained with the neural processes of the brain. Why men are often less religious than women is controversial, but certainly not a biological phenomenon. The difference occurs especially in Christian societies. Here, the strong feminine religiosity is probably due to the after-effects of traditional role models, which assign the raising of children and the representation of the family to women.

Church religion is on the decline: in Switzerland almost a quarter of the population is non-denominational. Are we heading for an ungodly society?

Europe is indeed becoming more and more secular. For around two hundred years, each generation has been less religious than the previous one. The reason lies in modernization: secular techniques displace religious practices and shape the basic attitudes of young people.

What do you mean by modernization?

The religions have had powerful competitors: the welfare state with the social insurance guarantees material security, higher education attacks religious dogmas, medical progress and psychotherapies provide healing. Modern societies are no longer functionally dependent on religion.

«The poor countries show a high level of religiosity. Their population will grow due to the high birth rate. "

Not even in the face of global warming and cancer?

No, society is convinced that you fight against it with science and technology and that praying is of little use.

From a global perspective, is the West an exception?

I see three tendencies: First, the modernization that goes hand in hand with democratization and secularization. It suggests a further religious cooling, also of the strongly religiously colored USA. Second, the poor countries show a high level of religiosity. Their population will grow due to the high birth rate. Thirdly, the anti-modernist counter-movements in Turkey, Russia and the Arab world, for example, are promoting religious renaissance. However, these are often characterized more by religious self-declaration than by a reawakening of faith.

Is a religion-free society even possible?

Yes. Some societies are already very secular. Vietnam, Estonia, China or the Czech Republic are often named as front runners - the results change depending on the measurement indicators. You can also find a religious desert in East Germany. But it is unlikely that no one will be interested in religion anytime soon. Due to migration, western societies will continue to have religious groups in the future. For me as a sociologist of religion, that's comforting.

"Religion enables us to understand the world, even if we do not understand it, and to act even when we cannot do anything."

Do "religious deserts" differ markedly from religious areas?

Not in relation to prosocial values. The people of Estonia are similarly convinced that one shouldn't steal, lie and kill, like the people of the much more religious Italy. The famous sentence of the lawyer Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde that the secularized state lives on conditions that it cannot guarantee itself, and that religion is therefore necessary for the maintenance of basic values, is therefore incorrect.

There is no evidence for a god, but most people believe. How so?

Religion is a human strategy for coping with disappointment and suffering. It enables us to understand the world even when we do not understand it and to act even when we cannot do anything. That is why we construct gods with whom we come into contact. As soon as they exist as a social structure, there is evidence of their work: the neighbor is also a believer, miracles are reported, specialists explain to us how we should practice. The social construction of religion happens like that of other phenomena in which we believe, love, human rights or the fact that Ueli Maurer is a Federal Councilor.

Ueli Maurer's existence as a Federal Councilor seems to me to be a lot more real than the existence of an omnipotent authority.

Not when it comes to social existence. If nobody believes that Ueli Maurer is a member of the Federal Council, he is no longer. And when nobody believes that God exists anymore, He doesn't exist anymore.

Does the secularized state privilege the Christian churches?

Yes, the major Christian denominations are recognized under public law and have the right to levy church taxes, for example. That is why the churches in Zurich and Bern are comparatively rich.

Do you dare to predict the future of religions?

In the next few decades the world will not become more secular but more religious because poorer countries are more religious than rich and have a higher birth rate. In the longer term, the world could become religiously cold. But what if a new world war breaks out? It could even lead to religious global warming in our country.