There was a time when I was very young that someone explained to me that people often discriminated against others based on their religions.
When I heard that, I was confused.
I asked “Why didn’t people simply lie about their religion? It’s not as if religion leaves a mark on your face — who could possibly know that you were lying about your religion if you claimed it to keep from being treated poorly or to keep from being killed?” The adults I asked seemed confused by this question, as if it truly made no sense to them. But I was a child and I saw things in a child’s sort of way, which was “if you are being hurt by someone because they think one thing, convince them that it is no longer true to keep from being hurt.”
It wasn’t until I was much older and had a better understanding of religions and how they function in society that I realized this is almost certainly what many people did.
There is no one on Earth that can easily distinguish between a person who is devoutly religious and a person who is claiming to be devoutly religious because doing otherwise results in harm to them in a social matrix.
So, when I read articles about how this or that church is losing adherents like watercolor paint in a rainstorm, the only explanation that makes sense to me is that these are people who never were connected to that religion in the first place, but were afraid to say anything for fear of social retribution.
To go even further, once I recognized that organized religion is one of the three major Power Concentrators in the world, and is the least regulated, it made even more sense. To claim to be part of a local powerful religion (however peripherally) was to attach oneself to the power structure head — just as one might claim fealty to a murderous baron. As long as that religion afforded one power over others (in whatever small or large way), it was advantageous to remain connected to it. But now, as the power of religion is flattening and losing its influence (a little — not as much as it should, but we’ll get there), there is less advantage to that association. One gains less power by claiming to be a certain religion.
And where there is less power to be had, those who seek pure power over others simply stop bothering.
At any rate, no one should be gnashing their teeth and pulling their hair overmuch at their diminishing flocks — the people they are losing are those who never believed in the first place (but claimed to out of fear), or who were only there for the Cookies of Power.
The former group is harmless.
The latter group are probably dangerous and should be watched.
But then again, there is no Power Concentrator on Earth that shouldn’t be watched.