Riches, religion, and the new atheism

Via Public Discourse:

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Daniel Dennett argues that the future of religion is bleak. Congregations are losing members at a tremendous rate, and churches everywhere are closing.

There are two reasons for this, Dennett thinks. First, “with hardly any significant exceptions, religion recedes whenever human security and well-being rise,” and the Western world, at least, is enjoying a great run of peace and prosperity. Second, “the rapid growth of mutual knowledge, thanks to the global spread of electronic and digital communication,” means that religious institutions, which in the past have managed “to control what their flocks know about the world,” can no longer do so. A young Mormon in Utah can now share “the ambient knowledge that is shared by the general populace,” including by learning from an episode of South Park that many non-Mormons find his religion “comical, preposterous, ludicrous.”

In other words, religion is basically a set of claims that, if true, would make bearing the hardships of life more palatable, but, as life gets better, there is less and less need for such things. Moreover, religion’s claims are not only false but usually provably false (Dennett mentions a study showing that intercessory prayer is not correlated with better results from heart surgery), and modern social conditions make it impossible for prelates to keep their congregants ignorant.

Dennett doesn’t credit Marx, but this is just Marx’s theory of religion as the opiate of the masses, updated, naturally, to include the internet.