Last week, courtesy of a commercial offer which I am shamelessly and ruthlessly abusing, I was able to attend a talk by Steven Pinker discussing his new book Enlightenment Now. I haven't yet had the time to look beyond the opening pages, so if you want a review on the book you should go to the one written by his ultimate fangirl. However, after the talk I was able to ask him the question:
"Many people who accept the trends you point to argue that due to the decline of religion and of thick communities, it is harder for individuals to find meaning and purpose in their lives. Do you agree with this assessment, and either (a) why not? or (b) do you expect it to continue?"
He disagreed with this assessment, giving two counterarguments. The first, which I don't find especially compelling (although IIRC I found it rather more compelling when Peter Singer said the same thing in a book I was otherwise disappointed by) was that people can find meaning in making a better world in general. People are not, in general, motivated strongly by the prospect of making the universe better. (Ctrl-f "charity"). There definitely are some people who are, and more power to them, but I don't think universalism can play the role in people's lives that, for many years, deities did.
His second, more convincing response was that people are finding new ways to build meaning in their lives. The example he himself gave was social justice movements on campuses - a purpose which many people choose for themselves as a purpose to which they can dedicate themselves. People may no longer identify as Christians, but they are very happy to identify as feminists.