Is religion disappearing? I don’t think so. The reason I don’t think so is because religion is fun. It is no more likely to disappear than music will disappear. Music is fun too.
I say that religion is fun from my own experience. I enjoy doing religion. I always have, as long back as I can remember. I was a pious kid.
People here in Quincy keep going to church. They don’t have to. Nobody will punish them if they don’t. But 50 or so people are at the 6:30 am Mass at St. Francis every weekday, and hundreds are at the parish church Masses on Sunday. Some of them may be going out of sheer habit, and some may be going because it will advance their own political or economic ends. But most of them keep going because they enjoy doing it. They are not much different from people who go to the opera because they enjoy it.
I owe the music analogy to the sociologist Max Weber, who wrote about “religious virtuosos.” The word “virtuoso” is a musical term, not entirely positive. It describes a person who is technically proficient at music without necessarily being artistically creative. People can be technically religious without necessarily being holy, or close to God. Sometimes I wonder if I am one of those people. I am definitely a religious virtuoso.
By saying that religion is fun, I am not rejecting the experiences of people who take religion much more seriously than play. Religion can be a matter of life and death. We react to extreme situations with religious rituals. Think of birth, and death, and extreme danger.
But people take music very seriously also. For some people, artistic expression is a matter of life and death. For that matter, so is athletic performance, and making money, and falling in love.
Religion is not likely to disappear, any more than music or athletics are likely to disappear. What is disappearing are forms of religious activity, activity done with other people. Weber would suggest that there is a certain proportion of any population that is just not into religion. In our society, those people have probably already abandoned religious observance. There is another proportion that do religion because it is enjoyable, and when it stops being enjoyable, they quit doing it. Finally there are people who just can’t stop doing it, any more than some musicians can abandon music.
God is behind any activity that people just can’t stop doing. Music and athletics and even economic performance can open one up to the divine.