Google Books’ Ngram allows users to search for the frequency of terms appearing in books in Google’s database of printed material. The results show how often those terms have appeared in print over the years. Today I was messing around with the search tool and discovered something rather interesting. First, the word “secularism” appears in print more often than the word “Christianity” each year during the last ~75 years. This is illustrated below.
And second, beginning in the early 1700s “Christianity” appears in numerous books, peaking at about six books in every thousand. This surge and its peak took place during the scientific revolution, which is understandable (see Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions — Wiki page here). But subsequently Christianity began a rapid decline into obscurity (relatively speaking) to well fewer than one mention per 1,000 books by the American Civil War. This decline took place during the Age of Reflection, a paradigm shift away from reductionism and towards more complex explanations of natural phenomena.
And third, the rise of the appearance of “secularism” began somewhere between the two World Wars, but by the 1950s, when fighting wars the traditional way literally meant human extinction, “secularism” dwarfed “Christianity.” “Secularism” might very well be correlated with the threat of nuclear war. The European response, for example, to the Second Thirty Years’ War and the proliferation of weapons capable of destroying the planet was to break down the walls between states, integrate into a single community, and reveal its own vulnerabilities as confidence building exercises with former enemies. To do any of these while maintaining sectarian differences would have been the suicide of the emerging post-modern system. Religion, particularly Christianity on the European continent, was compelled to shrink and give space to secularism. I imagine the word overtaking Christianity for this precise reason (although I admit there could be a plethora of other reasons).