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Atheism/Why do young people move away from religion? - Research


Dear Mr. Wales,

My name is Luca Hensel, I am a german exchange student. I am a journalism student at Sharon High School in Sharon, Massachusetts. I am writing a long-form piece in my honors journalism class about why young people move away from religion and I came across your name as I was conducting my research.

I thought you might be able to contribute a valuable perspective to my article. Some of the sub-questions I am exploring are:

What will it be replaced by?
Would religion have to change to stay relevant?
Would the world be more peaceful without religion?
Why is religion so important to many older people?

I thank you in advance,

Luca Hensel


Hello and thanks for writing. I hope you enjoy your stay in the States. I've never traveled internationally, so I'm a bit envious.

These are some interesting questions and I'm happy to share my thoughts. Taking them in order...

What will it be replaced by? One of the things I've seen over the years is that most atheists seem to practice the core tenets of humanism, whether or not they've ever called themselves a Humanist.

Would religion have to change to stay relevant? Relevant to what, exactly? The only relevance religion has is what we choose to give it. Religion is irrelevant to many people on a personal level and to many societies around the world in general. That being said, we're seeing something interesting right now, with the latest Pope making all kinds of statements that mark him as much more of a social liberal than his predecessors. But that's not really the same as Catholicism "changing." When it comes to their chosen faiths, many people take the cafeteria approach, adhering to certain tenets, ignoring others. There's not a person alive who adheres to every tenet of Judeo-Christianity, for example (mainly because it's not possible). It's easy to see people who choose to stick mainly to Old Testament stuff, the finger-pointing, Bible-thumping sort, quick to condemn others for their sins. It's also easy to see people who are more New Testament-oriented, who focus on loving others and forgiveness. So in that sense, religion is already extremely fluid and able to stay relevant to individuals, no matter their views.

Would the world be more peaceful without religion? Without certain religions, absolutely. Judeo-Christianity and Islam have spread an awful lot of hatred and violence around the world. Doubtless, some will argue that if religion weren't the "reason" for this, it would be something else. I don't really agree with that. There's nothing else in the world that people would be so fanatic about. Look at the recent Islamic "hit" on the magazine in Paris. Twelve people "executed" for portraying Mohammed in drawings. Insanity. The conflict in Ireland is, at its heart, a religious conflict, muddied along with political stuff. The Middle East will probably never see peace, entirely because of religious differences. So yes, I do think we'd have a bit of a calmer world without those two religions in particular. But religion in general? I don't think I could say that. Jainism, for example, is strictly opposed to violence in all forms. Buddhism (if you view it as a religion, which many do not) is pretty mellow. Taoism, etc. Most religions, in fact, are not inherently violent or filled with hatred. Sadly, those aren't the more popular religions where I live.

Why is religion so important to many older people? You might just as well ask why it's so UNimportant to many older people. I've belonged to a few atheistic groups in different locations and can say that there are LOTS of older people who belong to these organizations. These days, it's largely the younger non-believers who raise most of the ruckus. The older ones are content to just sit back in their atheism and enjoy life. So what I'm saying is that religion is no more important to older people than any other age group. Not in my experience, anyway. For every person who becomes more religious with age, there's another who goes in the other direction.

Hope those answers are helpful to you. And I'd be failing in my duties at shameless self-promotion if I didn't point you toward my novel, ONE NATION UNDER GOD. You can see it and get a sample download at my website,

Best of luck with your paper!



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Vincent M. Wales


Skeptic and atheist for more than three decades.


Living as a non-believer in an increasingly religious nation... and writing about it.

Atheists and Other Freethinkers (Sacramento)
Freedom from Religion Foundation
(founder of) Freethought Society of Northern Utah

Not really applicable.

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