15: The Future of Religion

I. The Shrinking Trend in Organized Religion

St Peter's Basillica
Vatican

Key Terms

  • Spiritual
  • Religious
  • SBNR - Spiritual But Not Religious
  • NRM - New Religious Movements
  • 1500s Catholic Europe – public display of universally held beliefs. The one universal Church was led by the Pope.
  • 1600s Europe – private display of a nation’s public beliefs as Christianity is divided into Protestant and Catholic.  A nation’s leader maintains the nation’s religion.
  • 1700s Colonial America – private display of the publicly–held beliefs of communities. A small secular space (e.g. a town hall) was set aside as a secular meeting place for people of different faiths. All other aspects of life were considered to be “religious.”
  • 1800s-present – most of modern American life has been non–religious: public school, public hospitals, public law enforcement, public sporting events, etc. A small religious space, like a church, is set aside as a religious meeting place for families and communities of similar faiths. All other aspects of modern life are public and secular.
  • 1900s-present – growth in SBNR trend: Spiritual, But Not Religious. Each person is essentially his or her own church. The traditional religious meeting space is no longer viewed as necessary. Spirituality, if any, is an individual pursuit. Churches tend to be charismatic, individually–focused non-denominational 

Belief in God by Country

  • 20% Scandinavia, Czech

  • 35% France, Netherlands

  • 40% Britain, Belgium, Hungary

  • 50% Germany, Switzerland

  • 60% Spain, Austria

  • 75% Ireland, Italy, Poland, Russia

  • 90% Turkey, Romania, Portugal

Lillian Daniel, UCC Minister

"Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me" LINK

Kate Blanchard, Alma College 

"Spiritual But Not Religious? Come Talk to Me" LINK


II. Spirituality Today

  • Transcendental Movement
    • 1800s: American Transcendentalism develops (e.g. Emerson, Thoreau)
      • The individual is the spiritual center of the universe
      • Nature is symbolic and is thus a mystery to be admired
      • Individual virtue and happiness depends on knowing oneself
    • Now, inward focus on “spirit” as opposed to outward ritual
    • Many blend beliefs from multiple religions for individualized approach
    • Emphasis on a personal code of ethics without a specific religion
  • Arguments for SBNR
    • Speaks to the democratic individuality and personalization that modern life promises us
    • Appealing to parents with different religious beliefs
    • Hostility toward the role of “organized religion”
    • People who leave organized religion often talk about how freeing it feels to leave the watchful eye of the church and to think for themselves
  • Arguments against SBNR
    • SBNR is emblematic of the selfishness of modern life
    • Church members who are polled report being happier and stay married longer vs non–church members
    • Religious communities care for members during critical times—sharing in both the joy and grief
    • People who join organized religion often talk about how freeing it feels to be part of a body of believers


III. New Religious Movements

  • A. Mid-Late 1800s: The American Frontier
    • With the American promise of individual self–determination comes a series of new Christian perspectives on history, the body, and medicine.
    • Seventh Day Adventist
    • Christian Science Movement

  • B. Mid-Late 1800s: Father Abraham in the Modern World
    • From the Middle East to the United States, some of the oldest religious traditions in the West are re–evaluated.
    • Reform Judaism
    • Bahai

  • C. 1910s-1930s: Postcolonial Religions
    • Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism take local forms among colonized/enslaved peoples.
    • African initiated churches
    • Native American church movement 
    • Cao Dai (Vietnam) 
    • Rasta Movement 

  • D. 1930s-1950s: New Conservative Christian Movements
    • The Reformation continues in the 20th century, with strict visions of Christian practice.
    • Jehovah’s Witnesses 
    • Unification Church 

  • E. 1950s-1970s: Religion in the Space Age
    • Americans and Britons forge new directions in belief, impossible just decades before.
    • Scientology 
    • Wicca
    • Raelians

  • F. 1960s: Turn on, tune in, drop out
    • Counter–culture Americans seek alternative answers to life’s great mysteries.
    • Hare Krishna 
    • Transcendental Meditation 
    • The New Age Movement 

  • G. 1970s-1980s: White Religion
    • Europeans and Americans seek religious paths that speak to their Saxon/Germanic heritage.
    • Asatru 
    • Christian Identity 

  • H. 1980s-1990s: Controversy in Asia
    • New Religious Movements in Asia come against the governments of China and Japan.
    • Aleph, previously called Aum Shinrikyo 
    • Falun Gong 

Major Religions in the U.S.

  • 68 million: Catholic
  • 34 million: No Religion
  • 16 million: Southern Baptist
  • 8 million: Nondenom. Christians
  • 7 million: Methodist
  • 6 million: LDS Church (Mormon)
  • 2 million: Presbyterian


IV. The Future of Religion

  • American Religion
    • 76% of Americans self–identify as Christian
    • Between 50-70% of Americans seldom or never attend church
    • These 2 figures are, by far, the lowest in U.S. History
    • Less than 30% of Americans believe their religion is the only right one
  • Will Jesus Return to the Earth in the next 40 years? (link)
    • 59% of Americans with no college believe Christ will return by 2050
    • 58% of white Evangelicals believe in Christ’s return by 2050
    • 52% of American Southerners believe Christ will return by 2050
    • 35% of Americans with some college believe Christ will return by 2050
    • 32% of Catholics believe in Christ’s return by 2050
    • 27% of Mainline Protestants believe in Christ’s return by 2050
    • 19% of Americans with degrees believe Christ will return by 2050
  • Americans and the Bible
    • Should the Bible be read literally?
      • 50% of Americans believe the Bible is filled with stories “inspired” at some level by God, but should not be taken literally
      • 30% of Americans read the Bible literally (less than 1/2 of Christians)
      • 20% of Americans do not believe the Bible is from God
    • Only 16% of Americans with postgrad degrees read the Bible literally
    • Only 35% of Americans believe Satan is real and not merely a symbol
    • Only 34% of Americans believe the Holy Spirit is real and not a symbol
  • Knowledge and Christianity
    • Nonreligious Americans score the highest when quizzed about religion
    • Mormons score the highest when quizzed about the Bible in particular
    • 53% of American Protestants cannot identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation
    • 45% of American Catholics do not know that the Church teaches the bread and wine of communion become the body and blood of Christ
  • American views of the Afterlife
    • 65% of Americans believe many religions lead to eternal life
    • Which Americans believe more than one religion leads to Heaven?
      • 85% of white Catholics
      • 75% of Mainline Protestants
      • 37% of white Evangelicals
    • Roughly 1 of every 4 Americans believe in reincarnation
  • Americans leaving Organized Religion
    • 30% of Americans identify as Spiritual but not Religious
      • This is up from 24% SBNR just four years earlier (2005-2009)
    • 35% of Americans 18-30 are SBNR, compared to 5% of seniors
  • The Decline of Mainline Protestantism
    • For the first time in U.S. History, the majority of Americans are not Protestant. Only 48% of Americans are now Protestant.
    • 13% of Mainline Protestants left between 2000-2010
    • If recent trends in decline continue:
      • The United Methodist Church may be gone from the U.S. in 50 years
      • The Presbyterian Church may be gone from the U.S. in 40 years 
      • Southern Baptist membership started to decline in 2007 and has continued to decline faster and faster. If the trend continues, the rate of decline among Baptists will match the Methodist rate by 2018
  • Growth in non–Protestant Christian groups
    • Nondenominational Churches
      • now represent one of the top 5 religious groups in 48 states
      • Third largest religious group in America (after Catholic & Baptist)
      • 12,200,000 members in 35,500 congregations and growing
    • LDS Church (Mormons)
      • 50% growth from 2000-2010
      • 2010: 6 million Mormons and 13,600 congregations
      • Largest gains of any Christian group in 30 states (2000-2010)
      • Largest growth in KY, VA, and MT
  • Growth of American Islam
    • 2,100 mosques and 2,600,000 American Muslims
      • 166 mosques in Texas
      • 118 mosques in Florida
      • 50 mosques in North Carolina
    • 67% increase since 2000
    • The number of American mosques has increased 74% since 2000
    • 76% of American mosques existing today were established after 1980
  • Sources
  • Religion around the World
    • The Changing Face and Language of Christianity
      • As of 1910
        • 2 out of every 3 Christians live in Europe
        • 9% of Sub–Saharan Africans are Christian
      • As of 2010
        • Only 1 out of every 4 Christians live in Europe
        • 63% of Sub–Saharan Africans are Christian
        • Nigeria has more Protestants than Germany
        • China has more church attendees than Europe
    • Australia turns to Indian Religions
      • Only about 8% of Australians attend church services
      • Hinduism and Buddhism show the fastest growth
    • Godlessness (and Happiness) in the World
      • The following historically–Christian countries now report more than 50% of their populations do not find God to be important to them.
      • Next to each country is their World Happiness Ranking (Forbes)
        • Austria: 16
        • Australia: 4
        • Belgium: 17
        • Canada: 6
        • Denmark: 2nd happiest country in the world
        • Finland: 7
        • France: not in top 20
        • Germany: 14
        • Ireland: : 10
        • the Netherlands: 8
        • New Zealand: 5
        • Norway: the happiest country in the world
        • Sweden: 3rd happiest country in the world
        • Spain: not in top 20
        • South Korea: not in top 20
        • Switzerland: 9
        • United Kingdom: 13
        • Uruguay: not in top 20
      • By contrast, the U.S. is 76% Christian and the 12th happiest country
      • No other Christian–majority nation is in the top 20 happiest countries