Yesterday evening I watched two episodes of The Borgias - there I saw, just as I did reading Neal Stevenson (and others) work, The Mongoliad, the reality of organised religion. Not the honest piety we are told is its feature but rather the rapacious pursuit of power and the aggressive destruction of anything that seems to be competition. Having cowed and captured the state, religion took the instruments of the state's power - swords, soldiers and torture - and used them to exercise and sustain control.
Not in the interests of salvation but in the service of power. It was a reminder that, however much we may wish otherwise, the nature of religious authority is more political that spiritual - even if they no longer carry on quite so rapaciously as did Rodrigo and his family.
So today, with that reminder in my mind, I was struck by the Heresiac's observations on a YouGov poll:
A new YouGov poll confirms that religion among the younger generation is in headlong retreat. A mere 25% said that they believed in God. A further 19% said that they believed in a "greater spiritual power", while a full 38% now claim to have no religious or spiritual beliefs at all. The remainder were agnostic. Essentially, then, this is a non-believing generation. 10% said that they attended religious services at least once a month (this is quite close to the long-term average for the population as a whole), but the majority (56%) said that they never went. In perhaps the most significant rebuff to traditional religion, 41% thought that it was the cause of more harm than good in the world. Only 14% (a considerably smaller figure than that for belief in God) thought that religion was, on balance, a good thing.
It seems that far from (as some foolish stats-mongers contend) us having a Muslim majority in a few years, the reality is that we will have an atheist majority. Perhaps some fear this eventuality - I find myself unmoved. Not by the prospect of atheism - it is a foolish belief - but by the obvious failure of organised religion to grasp the ideals and ideas of today. I have a feeling that religion as a great institution is nearing its final days - all the baggage of the state tacked onto god (as if we still need our rulers to have some pretence of his endorsement) no longer works.
This will not make us a better society or less divided. But we will not be the worse for the demise of organised religion.