Christians have Christ. Muslims have Allah. And the world’s “Unaffiliated”—that merry band of agnostics and atheists—have Meh. According to a recent study by the Washington-based Pew Forum, the Unaffiliated, clocking in at 1.1 billion people, is the third largest group, right after Christians, Muslims and just ahead of Hindus. And, frankly, the Unaffiliated are a little underwhelmed with the options.
Among this group are people who profess no spiritual beliefs in a higher power, as well as those who believe in something but, for them, this something doesn’t come in a pre-packaged, highly-branded offering that includes vast swaths of the planet’s prime real estate and a large cache of vividly-coloured stained glass.
Some may worry that the large number of Unaffiliateds is a sign of growing social disarray, anomie, or even an omen of the impending apocalypse. However, we could also see this rejection of religion by 1.1 billion people in a more positive light. Is a rejection of the “opiate of the masses” (Karl Marx), or “spiritual booze” (Vladimir Lenin), the only sane conclusion of an intelligent and inquiring mind?
One must, of course, tread ever so lightly when voicing a general opinion about religion. And to be prepared to dodge a potential minefield, (not used metaphorically here), when singling out, God forbid, any one religion. So let me say, ever so gently and with all due respect that, while I am far from an expert on the world’s religions, even a cursory knowledge of history, (or reading the daily news), shows that religion is often deployed to oppress a majority in order to reinforce existing power structures that benefit a minority. A strong religious affiliation can create an “Us vs. Them” dichotomy that drives people and nations further apart and we all know how that story ends: in tears. You don’t have to search very far to see this in action today—or any day. The gazillion dollar question: Is religion itself, in whatever robes, an intrinsically bad idea, or is it how we humans use it that causes problems?
But, fear not, all ye faithful, that religious apathy will overtake the planet. If we look to demographics as a clue, the median age of the Unaffiliated is 34 years old. That’s up there given that the median age of the world’s population is only 28. Do the math and this means that time is not on the side of the Uninterested and Unaffiliated. By the way, another endangered group is the Jews at 14 million worldwide. Their median age is a practically geriatric 36. (Boychiks, what are you waiting for? Sign up for JDate already. Meet a nice girl and start making babies!)