On Sept 13, 2022 Pew posted an article titled “Modeling the Future of Religion in America“.
If you happen to be utterly ticked off by religious fanatics consistently and persistently imposting intolerance, hatred, and bigotry, then this new Pew insight will indeed be a very welcomed bit of good news. If however you are a practising Christian, then it will be a rather bleak bit of news for you.
What exactly does it reveal?
They have statistics going back many many decades and so the demographic trends that are unfolding are all there in the data. Using the data they have, then can model where it is all going.
Their opening paragraph sets the stage …
Since the 1990s, large numbers of Americans have left Christianity to join the growing ranks of U.S. adults who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” This accelerating trend is reshaping the U.S. religious landscape, leading many people to wonder what the future of religion in America might look like.
That’s perhaps something we are all now aware of. What is interesting here is that the trend is not pausing but continues, so Pew wondered where this is going by asking themselves “What might the religious makeup of the United States look like roughly 50 years from now, in 2070, if recent trends continue?“
Now that is a very interesting question to ponder over.
If you are going to arrive at a reasonable answer then you can’t just take the existing line and draw the same outing the future. There are degrees of complexity that need to be considered if you create a model to project the on-going trend.
- Mortality trends
- Migration trends
- Fertility trends (how many kids are people having?)
- “switching” trends.
In this case “switching” refers to the movement of people between different beliefs and also into and out of beliefs. They have an insight into this because when they survey people they ask questions such as “In what religion, if any, were you raised?” and “What is your present religion, if any?”, so when it comes to “switching”, they are not guessing, instead they have actual data they can lean upon.
What Does their model reveal?
Firstly, they don’t present one generic solution, but instead present four different scenarios each of which considers different “switching” outcomes unfolding over time.
At one extreme they have “no switching”. Nobody changes their minds after 2020 and everybody stick with the current beliefs. As a modelled outcome, it is of course interesting, but also very obviously highly improbable. This is not how it will play out. Pew themselves acknowledge this.
The second is far more reasonable. They call this “steady switching” to describe that the current rates of switching continue unchanged at the currently observed rates.
The third is “rising disaffiliation with limits”. Within each successive generation increasing numbers quit.
The final is “rising disaffiliation without limits”. This is the other extreme. basically switching rates continue to increase and there is no limit.
Here is an illustration of the outcomes …
So what will happen?
I suspect, and to be honest this is just a guess, that the most probable outcome will be something between “steady switching” and “rising disaffiliation with limits”
Either way, Christianity will become a minority in the US.
That thought might indeed deeply horrify some, but look around the globe and you will find many nations where Christianity is indeed a minority and they are doing just fine.
It is a projection, a model of a possibility, not a prediction of what will actually happen.
Given past trends and also on-going trends it is a wholly reasonable projection.
Why is it like this?
The reasons are multiple and complex. Obvious factors include …
- Information Flow increase: The internet has greatly increased the flow of information. This disrupts society and so change occurs until it all finds a new balance. A rather obvious past example of a sudden very disruptive increase in the flow of information is of course the printing press, but other examples also include Radio and then Television. People previously isolated within micro-cultures are now being exposed to lots of new information, and disinformation, hence they rethink a great deal.
- Education: More and more are attending universities when pre-existing ideas are challenged.
- Christianity: Some strands of Christianity are doing their very best to alienate vast swathes of people via the promotion of intolerance, bigotry, and anti Science. The Anti-Abortion stance is new. Prior to the 1970s it was exclusive to Catholicism, but is now embraced by Evangelicals. The majority of the population are simply not with them, especially when they go for a total ban in all circumstances. The rather stark fact is this – The treatment for an ectopic pregnancy, a septic uterus, or a miscarriage that your body won’t release is abortion. If you can’t get those abortions, you die. Pro-life has become a Pro-death stance.
The writing has been on the wall for some time
Over twenty years ago is was already clear to some that Christianity had lost the culture war. The only way forward that they saw was to weaponise the first amendment.
Individuals such as Leonard Leo via the Federalist Society promoted members such as Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Amy Coney Barrett into SCOTUS with the very specific agenda of perverting the first amendment shield of religious liberty into a sword designed to promote a Christian Nationalist agenda. The end-game is to impose Christian beliefs and practises by law on everybody.
You might assume Roberts is a moderate, but he is not. He has the exact same agenda and is perhaps at most concerned that they are doing it at a pace that will result in blowback. He is not wrong about that.
SCOTUS impartiality has now been decimated. Unless that changes then Leo’s Religious vision will continue to unfold.
Having primary access to US$1.6 billion donated by Barre Seid gets Leo a great deal of influence and power.
Ironically, it is this very blatant judicial power grab by Right-Wing Religious fundamentalists that may in fact end up accelerating the long-term on-going decline of Christianity. As they execute their vision, many will find it to be deeply repugnant and may respond by rejecting religion by switching to “none”.