That clearly has not happened. Religion has not faded away. In fact, in some ways it is stronger now than it was a century ago. For example, in the United States in 1906 church adherence rate was at 51%. It reached a peak of approximately 60% in 1980, a level at which it has remained ever since. That's right. That's not a misprint. Church adherence rates are higher now than they were a century ago. In fact, they are higher than they were over two centuries ago.
And the resurgence of religion has not been limited to the United States. While Europe remains relatively irreligious (at least in terms of church attendance), religious belief around the world is quite robust. (Even in Europe secularism may be overstated. Just because people aren't attending church doesn't mean they aren't religious (or spiritual) -- indeed, the sociologist Grace Davie has coined the phrase, "believing without belonging," to describe religious belief in Britain. Moreover, secularism tends to be self-limiting for the simple fact that secularists reproduce at much lower rates than do people of faith. Regardless, social scientists, such as Peter Berger, who was once a strong proponent of secularization theory, have repented of their earlier views and concluded they'd been wrong:
There's still a few secularization theory holdouts (e.g., the sociologist Steve Bruce and scientist Richard Dawkins), but more and more scholars are not only recognizing that religion isn't going away soon (or at all) but that it needs to be taken seriously by individuals and societies as a force with which to be reckoned. Religion's persistence and influence has been explored in a number of recent books, such as God's Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics, God is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World, and The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics.
But why does religion continue to persist? Why is it so resilient? Perhaps the most parsimonious answer is that it continues to flourish because people are responding to a genuine experience of the divine. That is, there really is a God, or gods, or some higher power that evokes a sense of awe in some of us. Such an explanation simply won't do from a social science perspective, however, which is why there are numerous "theories" of religion that attempt to explain why some people are religious. Indeed, I have a book on my office shelf that outlines eight theories of religion.
A recent theory (or set of theories) that has attracted attention in recent years (not one of the "eight") comes from the work of cognitive scientists of religion, such as Justin Barrett (Why Would Anyone Believe in God?), Jesse Bering (The Belief Instinct), Pascal Boyer (Religion Explained), Robert McCauley (Why Religion is Natural and Science Is Not), and Scott Atran (In Gods We Trust). Cognitive science isn't a discipline in and of itself (at least not yet), but instead is an amalgam of scholars trained as linguists, neuroscientists, computer scientists, anthropologists, psychologists, and philosophers.
Thinking, Fast and Slow")).
Why they believe religious belief is intuitive, I will probably take up in a later post. For now it's suffice to note that because religion is natural, these scholars believe that in spite of the wishful thinking of folks like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, religion will always be with us. Its strength will vary from time to time and place to place, but it will never, ever, completely go away.