Ok..so one cannot show a causal relation from the available data - but the globalization hypothesis is certainly plausible. But not to worry, there is sufficient fuel available for hellfire:
In a survey released this summer by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, just 59 percent of 35,000 respondents said they believe in a hell "where people who have led bad lives, and die without being sorry, are eternally punished."
That's down from the 71 percent who said they believed in hell in a 2001 Gallup survey. And it is lower than the 74 percent who said they believe in heaven in the recent Pew poll.
"In a pluralistic, post-modern world, students are having a more difficult time with (the idea of) people going to hell forever because they didn't believe the right thing," says Mike Wittmer, professor of systematic theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.
"That's the biggest question out there right now: `Would God send someone to hell if they were someone as good as me, but didn't believe what I believe?"'
It was easier to believe in hell 20 years ago when missionaries tried to convert people in far-flung places, Wittmer says. In today's global village, many live next to good, non-Christian neighbors and wonder why an all-powerful, loving God wouldn't eventually empty out hell, Wittmer says.
Over at the Islamic Center and Mosque of West Michigan, Imam Sharif Sahibzada also listens for the devil's footsteps. Though faithfully following God, Sahibzada says he nevertheless fears hell.
"I don't know how I will end up," Sahibzada says following Friday prayers. "I have to show trust in God and his mercy all the time. Always Satan is circling and trying to misguide me."
He says Islam teaches those who reject God are condemned permanently to hell, where the Quran says they will be "fuel for Hellfire."
Believers who have totally surrendered to God will go directly to heaven. Those who have not totally followed God's commands must first go to hell and be punished according to their sins. God decides everyone's fate, including those who believe in God but reject the Prophet Muhammad, Sahibzada says.
Hmm...this Islamic center can use some serious globalization.