- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Christianity In 50 Years

My Orthodox Christian friend Deacon Silouan posts his predictions for what Christianity in America will look like in 50 years. Excerpt:

  • Orthodoxy: Little visible change, zero substantive change. Increasing numbers and cultural impact. Progress toward a single American Archdiocese, but still not there yet.
  • Catholicism: Neither women priests nor married priests will happen. Increasing disaffection among liberal American Catholics leading to a significant decrease in attendance. Identification as Catholic will be increasingly cultural rather than creedal. This trend, combined with decreasing numbers of men seeking the priesthood, will force additional parish churches to close. This will be slightly offset by conversions from Protestantism, resulting in American Catholic liturgy and pastoral care becoming effectively more traditional. In northern Europe, Catholicism may fade into a cultural memory, but in North America, a leaner, more boldly traditional Catholicism will recover its equilibrium and continue to be a voice of conscience and stability.
  • Reformed Christians: Continuing personality issues, but overall the hardcore Reformed will still look and act a lot like they do today, because (almost uniquely among Protestants) Reformed folks know and value their tradition. The edgy/emergey segment will contribute a few cultural differences.
  • Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, UCC: Increasing convergence so that they resemble each other almost interchangeably, while de-emphasizing troublesome doctrinal issues until their emphasis on social issues rather than personal salvation turns them into Christian-branded social service agencies. In each movement the conservative outliers will continue to peel off in schisms embodying a previous generation’s norm. Many of these etremely conservative daughter groups will identify strongly with the little-o orthodox “Great Tradition [1]” (cf. Tom Oden [2])
  • Conservative Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists in North America: I foresee growth and prosperity for individual parishes and dioceses, but overall a continuing fragmentation. Fifty years ago, these groups were culturally relevant and could provide nostalgia for returning Christians; now, in increasingly-unchurched America, they’re culturally unfamiliar but not yet old enough to make a virtue of ancient weirdness the way Eastern Orthodox do.

Check out his entire entry [3] to see Dn Silouan’s predictions for Baptist, charismatics, and others.

What do you predict? Please say what you think will happen, not what you would like to think will happen. For readers inside non-Christian religious traditions, please feel free to predict where American believers in your faith will be in half a century.

I would add the following:

Orthodoxy will continue to be a very minor player in American Christianity, though conversions will have changed its complexion greatly.

Catholicism will be far, far more Hispanic, with a Latinized immigrant Catholicism becoming the American Catholic mainstream. Putnam & Campbell’s “American Grace” pointed out that non-Hispanic US Catholics have been dropping out of the church at the same rate as mainline Protestants have been leaving their churches. If not for mass Hispanic immigration, the US Catholic church would be in much more trouble on the numbers front — and the number of converts hasn’t remotely kept up with the non-Hispanic loss. The non-Latino white Catholics who remain will be more traditionalist.

I don’t know enough about the various strands of Protestantism to say, but I would bet that the Episcopal Church will no longer exist. There may be an Anglican presence in the US, but it will be with something that looks like one of the continuing Anglican churches today. Canterbury will have become something like the Phanar, the religious compound in the former Constantinople in which the Ecumenical Patriarch lives: important for historic symbolic reasons only. The real heart of Anglicanism will have moved to Africa.

For most other Protestant churches, I’m struck by how doctrine, which has been the chief division among the various churches over the centuries, simply doesn’t matter much to contemporary adherents in many Protestant communions. I think it’s very, very difficult to predict what will happen to those churches, because they have come so unmoored from any stable tradition.

Plus, no church — Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant — will be unaffected by Moralistic Therapeutic Deism playing itself out across the generations. I think the drift towards unbelief will pick up dramatically, and small-o orthodox Christians from the various confessions will be heavily marginalized by a far more secular mainstream.

Again, none of this is what I especially want to see happen, but it is what I think will happen.

92 Comments (Open | Close)

92 Comments To "Christianity In 50 Years"

#1 Comment By Hugh On December 18, 2012 @ 8:54 am

I am not sure that thinking 50 years out is very productive, looking 10-15 years out is the most we can hope for.

Few commenters have mentioned Islam, but surely this is the elephant in the room. In Europe there will soon be more practicing Muslims than there are practicing Christians. I see this having two possible effects: either it finishes off Christianity; or it leads to a revival in our Faith.

I pray for the latter.

#2 Comment By Chris Jones On December 18, 2012 @ 8:57 am


What is “weird” about the Orthodox (I assume we are talking about Christian, not Jewish here)?

Oh, lots of things. Their services are really long; everything is chanted or sung by the priest and the choir. The lay people don’t sing any of the hymns or prayers, they just stand there and listen — and I do mean stand, many Orthodox Churches have no pews. Also, in many parishes most or all of the service is sung in a foreign language, often a language that isn’t understood even by the ethnic group involved (e.g. Russian Orthodox worship in Slavonic, not in Russian, which is like Americans worshiping in Chaucer’s English). There are many ways that the experience of Orthodox Christianity is very unfamiliar to American Christians.

There are sound theological reasons for many (maybe even most) of those unusual things. I would call that “weird for the sake of the Gospel.” Some of the weirdness, however, is simply the cultural trappings of the places where Orthodox immigrants came from. Sometimes those trappings become barriers to the Gospel. When that happens, I call it “weird for weird’s sake”.

Full disclosure: I am an ex-Orthodox, and these issues do have something to do with my being “ex-“. Take it with a grain of salt. Also, I would like to note that it was Fr Deacon Silouan, not I, who called it “weirdness”. I don’t normally call Orthodoxy “weird”.

#3 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On December 18, 2012 @ 8:57 am

I second JonF”s ‘What is “weird” about the Orthodox (I assume we are talking about Christian, not Jewish here)?’ question. I know next to nothing about Orthodoxy, except they have a different calendar, fast frequently, and that they seem to be avoiding the vanishing male syndrome.

#4 Comment By Glaivester On December 18, 2012 @ 9:21 am

Nope. Even if the current lineage of the poor did die out (through eugenics), there will always be new poor to replace them as people fall out of the middle and working class into poverty. Has there ever been a large, complex society without an underclass?

True, but maybe they will be a better class of poor. My sympathy with eugenics is not as a way to perfect the race, it’s as a way to fight the total dysgenic disaster that we see in Idiocracy, which I think is more likely than we think (although obviously the movie is exaggerated). Hey, if we are supposed to reconcile Christianity with Darwin, why can’t we reconcile it with his cousin, Sir Francis Galton?

#5 Comment By JohnE_o On December 18, 2012 @ 9:25 am

I predict an upswell of End Times teachings starting around 2025 and ending around 2035 – 2040.

#6 Comment By Jack Ross On December 18, 2012 @ 9:26 am

Noah – There’s enough of an economic base already, or at least what will eventually become one, in the hinterlands, and eventually it can be supplemented by the proceeds of Brooklyn real estate. There are already significant ultra-Orthodox communities in some decaying rust belt cities and even a few other places like Dallas and L.A., what they portend is hard to say. But Chabad and ultra-Orthodoxy are two very different phenomena – in “core cadre” for lack of a better term they are actually among the smallest of Hasidic sects, they have simply filled in a lot of institutional holes in modern Orthodoxy and its non-observant fringe. They are a wild card in the big picture, but already you see large defections of young Chabadniks to the growing phenomenon known as “egalitarian orthodoxy”.

#7 Comment By VikingLS On December 18, 2012 @ 9:52 am

It’s difficult to speak of the future of the Orthodox in America because we aren’t one body and don’t seem to be moving in that direction any more.

Having said that, the argument that the Orthodox church is unable to change and therefore is doomed to irrelevance is pretty weak. Orthodox doctrine doesn’t change, but that doctrine is applicable to new problems as well as the perenial problems of society (which are the vast majority of our problems). If the Orthodox Church is willing to deal with society and its problems INDEPENDENTLY (this is incedibly vital) of secular affilitions it could do well and do good in the future.

#8 Comment By Thomas Andrews On December 18, 2012 @ 9:53 am

Liam S said:
As for liberal Christianity in general, I think it’s pretty clear that it will continue to exist so long as fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals have children and send them to college.

I agree.

It’s obvious that one of the reasons we Christians are losing young people left and right is simply because the, how to put this…conservative, evangelical, ultra-orthodox…well, if someone wants to take offence they will, so I guess it doesn’t much matter, I’ll just say, anti-gay rights, anti-women’s rights, anti-science, only ultra-far right Republicans represent God’s will, Christians have drowned out the voices of all the other Christians.

It’s easy to claim that you and you alone know God’s mind. It’s hard to feed the poor, tend the ill, comfort the widowed, raise the orphans, accept that Jesus really really meant it when he spoke of rendering unto Caesar, Caesar’s….

We can’t expect young people to understand that, to take an example, Rod and I can disagree absolutely on the question of equal rights for gays and still respect each other as Christians.
All they hear is the young earth, creationist, ID nonsense. The rejection of global warming. The worship at the altar of torture.

We should be thankful that the young people are competent and willing to think for themselves. We might draw the conclusion that our culture wars have only drawn people away from Christ, but, then, that would mean both liberal and conservative Christians would have to admit our vanity.

I remain optimistic about the future of Christian faith. I sincerely doubt that the current American form will last much longer – there’s too much investment in this world and too little in the real one.

[Note from Rod: Thomas, I believe you have provided a grotesque and self-serving caricature of conservative Christianity. It would be as if a conservative said that all liberal Christianity offered was “yay, gay!” and Kum Ba Yah. In any case, the decline of conservative Christian churches has not been offset by a gain among the liberal churches. According to the comprehensive statistics cited by Putnam & Campbell, the liberal churches are continuing to hemorrhage followers. The news is that the conservative churches are in decline too. When young people find themselves alienated from the conservative churches, most of them evidently don’t feel a need to go to a liberal church, but fall away from church itself. — RD]

#9 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On December 18, 2012 @ 9:58 am

Re: Catholicism in the global south in general is politically liberal, but socially conservative

I’d say that most *people* in Latin America tend to be politically much more on the left than North Americans, but also socially more conservative. The ‘flavour’ of the Catholic church there is a result of that. Africa is a more complicated situation.

Re: The nonaffiliated are gaining about 1% of the adult population per year, so in 50 years they’ll likely constitute about 70%.

Not really, it doesn’t really work that way. The model you want to use is logistic, not exponential, and if you extrapolate out current trends (birth rates and conversion rates), the nonreligious fraction of the population isn’t ever going to exceed about 37-40% of the population. It should reach that level in about a generation and then stabilize.

The reason the nonreligious sector of the population is growing right now is because there are so many religious people around, that defections to the nonreligious sector are large in numerical terms, while nonreligious people becoming religious are somewhat rarer (again, because there are fewer nonreligious people around to start with). On an individual basis, though, a person raised in a nonreligious household is more likely to end up practicing a religion as an adult, than the opposite.

All this is based on the Pew Forum demographic data, which is actually quite interesting: among other things, it tells you the retention and conversion rates of different individual denominations.

#10 Comment By Nate On December 18, 2012 @ 10:02 am

Roland de Chanson, re the Catholics:

“This church will schism into a traditional and hybrid church with the hybrids eventually apostastatizing to rump Episcopalianism. The Traditionalists will gain the upper hand in the Curia; the reconciled FSSPX will furnish several cardinals and a pope; the Anglican “ordinariates” will dissolve, plagued by chagrin over the ending of the married clergy dispensation and pangs of doubt about whether Newman was really still Anglican in his heart of hearts.”

That’s awesome and well-written and largely true. 🙂

#11 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On December 18, 2012 @ 10:04 am

Re: Churches with this combination seem to be thriving, and I see no reason why that trend should not continue|

It’s not actually thriving right now (though most of that may be due to large numbers of older parishioners dying off). There are certainly reasons to think it might thrive in future, but that remains to be seen. I haven’t seen evidence of large and vibrant congregations of Episcopalian young people, in any of the places I’ve lived or visited, it’s generally acknowledged there’s a big gap of people between 18 and 35. Perhaps your experience is different, and I hope it is.

I am going to say that if the Episcopal Church and other mainline Protestant denominations want to thrive, they need to figure out a way to answer people’s deepest needs, and to set themselves apart from mainstream culture. A church that defines itself as an appendage of the broader culture has, really, no reason to exist. I’m not really talking about the sexual-ethics wars here, but in much more general terms. A church where you walk in every sunday and hear a homily to the effect of ‘Can’t we all just get along’, is not a church that is going to thrive.

#12 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 18, 2012 @ 10:04 am

I don’t believe anyone has the slightest credible idea what Christianity will look like in fifty years, but it will still be around, ditto for Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, et al. Attempting to project recent trends into the future is almost always futile, because unforseen factors will result in changes in what motivates current trends, moving future trends in new and different directions. Whatever it looks like, we will all be surprised.

#13 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On December 18, 2012 @ 10:39 am

Hugh said:

Few commenters have mentioned Islam, but surely this is the elephant in the room.

I think an argument can be made that Islam will fare worse on the world stage than other religions.

Demographic transition is causing the birth rates of Muslim nations to fall just as fast as other nations. For example under the Shah Iranian women had an average of seven children each. Today under a Islamic theocracy that have fewer children (1.8) than French women.

Odds are high that in 50 years time the Middle East oil fields will be well past their prime. Without that influx of cash the Saudis won’t be able to fund the construction of Islamic schools elsewhere on the planet. So growth by conversion is unlikely too.

Muslims in the West are unlikely to be immune to MTD, so they’re unlikely to gain there as well.

#14 Comment By Thomas Andrews On December 18, 2012 @ 10:50 am

I fear the picture I have painted – broad as the brush might have been, far from accurate in all details to your mind, is pretty much exactly how young people see us Christians:

I can offer your several more surveys, conducted by various organizations, across several years and they all pretty much come down to the same mistakes I said we are making.

I really do mean ‘we’. Yes, of course, you conservative Christians are the ones to whom the media pays the most attention. There’s nothing much exciting to report on about liberal Christians debating how many angels can’t dance on the head of a pin because, although angels may be transubstantial, they certainly wouldn’t dance on pins, heads of….
It’s far more interesting to note – and here, the media throw all you conservative Christians together – the plans of those wretched people in Kansas (I refuse to even name them) to picket the Sandy Hook funerals.

Young people have neither the education nor the inclination to strain through our dispatches from the fronts of our culture wars. All they see is that my side has trouble expressing our beliefs in concrete terms and your side, while quite clear, expresses views on women and gays and the environment and supporting bad government which just plain do not line up with their experience.
You live in a world in which gay men are all promiscuous and only want marriage so the rest of society will validate their ‘gay lifestyle’. Young people have too many gay friends and relations in real, loving, caring, faithful relationships to believe as you do.
I was only cured of it through several years of business I, quite honestly, would rather have never had come my way. Too many young and middle aged men burying their partners, too many hours spent with them to believe as you do. You have every right to believe as you do. The basis for your objections, however, is far too often flat wrong. The sole basis left to you is tradition. As in Fiddler on the Roof, perhaps, but just as valid for your side of Christian belief, none the less.

To change the topic, look at the environment. You stand as one of the very few conservative Christian voices who actually believe that God meant it when He called us to be good stewards of this earth. Climate denialism, support for unlimited destruction of the natural world, pretending that only fossil fuels and nuclear energy are ‘real’ energy sources – young people know better.

Yes, we liberal Christians are failing to win people to our churches at a faster rate than ‘your’ side of our Christian house is.
Even fifty years ago, people in my age group were not the majority in our church. Today, I’m one of the younger members serving on upper-councils. At 74. Yikes!
Frankly, being happy about that is a bit like seeing the roof on my side of the church catch fire and thinking: Well, it’s only the left side of the church, that’s their problem.
It’s our problem, because, no matter how certain your side believes yourself to be, no matter how much we sneer at your positions, in the end. we both will stand before God an have to answer to Him for our actions.
Those actions have not brought people into our faith. They have driven them away. I sincerely doubt that God is going to accept ‘but it’s them, not us – we were real Christians’ from either of us.

#15 Comment By Nate On December 18, 2012 @ 11:35 am

Mr. Andrews,

I’m much less than half your age, and surrounded by people my age and younger at my packed Latin Mass, where we hear about angels dancing off the heads of pins.

Of course, these are the young people who thankfully weren’t taught to think for themselves.

#16 Comment By Derek Leaberry On December 18, 2012 @ 11:43 am

Nate, I would say that most adults at the Latin Mass parish I attend think outside the box rather than having the mainstream secular culture tell them what to think.

#17 Comment By Thomas Andrews On December 18, 2012 @ 11:52 am

Ah, well, yes, but of course.
There was a joke in my youth, told about a stockbroker who’d jumped from the top of the Empire State Building. Asked half-way down how things were going, he said: Great, so far.

Or, to put it in your preferred tongue: …contritionem praecedit superbia et ante ruinam exaltatur spiritus, melius est humiliari cum mitibus quam dividere spolia cum superbis…

#18 Comment By Charles Cosimano On December 18, 2012 @ 11:56 am

A good example of how religious landscapes change is to be found in the fate of the National Council of Churches. 50 years ago it mattered, it really mattered. Now, who even cares if it exists?

The “nones” make an interesting addition to the stew. They are unlikely to present any sort of unified face but if their numbers continue on the path they seem, they will create a cultural firewall beyond which the influence of any Christian or non-Christian preaching will be unable to pass.

The media will still report on religion, badly, and the bloggers left and right will give it tremendous personal attention, but as far as moving the broader culture, no, Christianity will not matter. And neither will Judaism or Islam or Santeria for that matter. In other words, pretty much the way things are now in practical terms.

#19 Comment By Catechist On December 18, 2012 @ 12:29 pm

It’s surprising to see so much confidence that cultural Catholicism has yet to peak. Here in the Southwest, I see it as having peaked, ebbed, and disappeared. When I started teaching CCD a decade ago, we had a huge problem with students whose parents didn’t even attend Mass; they just dropped off their kids for CCD and vanished, as did the kids themselves once they’d gotten their sacraments. That problem has disappeared. Even among the Hispanic parents, all my kids’ parents are practicing, often fervent, Catholics. The Millennials were the last generation whose lapsed parents still cared enough to want their children to make their First Communion and Confirmation.

I’m not saying Catholics are getting more devout; only that the cultural Catholics have ceased to show up.

#20 Comment By Rebecca Trotter On December 18, 2012 @ 12:34 pm

The dynamics in catholicism and protestantism are quite different. I won’t bore everyone with a drawn out explanation of the what’s and why’s. However, when it comes to the Protestant side, Thomas Andrews is spot on in his analysis. I don’t think Rod or Nate understand the extent to which Catholic conservatism IS NOT like Protestant conservatism. For example, the male priesthood of Catholicism is utterly different in ethos, motivation and effect than what is going on in Protestant churches which bar women from whatever aspects of ministry their elder board sees fit.

Just as an experiment, I would suggest going over to patheos.com and taking a look at their Evangelical and Progressive channels. There is good material on both, but if you will notice, the Progressive channel tends to be more substanitive. In fact, it’s probably closer to what you can find on the Catholic channel in tone than the Evangelical channel. If you want to read articles which really dig into scripture and theology and wrestle with what it all means in light of this world we’re living in, skip the Evangelical channel – go for the Progressive one.

The Evangelical channel has more writers/blogger and almost certainly more readers. But the depth is on the Progressive side. That’s going to turn into growth. Remember, weeds pop up quickly and prolifically while the tree takes a very long time to take root and grow and go dorment during certain seasons. Instead of looking at statistics, look for the fruit. That’s a much better indicator of which way the future lies.

#21 Comment By J On December 18, 2012 @ 12:41 pm

I picked 40% as a safe lower bound. Odds are present trends won’t continue and the nones will begin to asymptotically approach some upper bound. Even at 40% cluster along the coasts will make the nones the biggest group with immense political clout.

That’s a fair estimate. My model is different in that I think MTD/non-affiliation is not the end of the generational (d)evolution of mainstream American belief. Ethnic group hostilities in the world are likely to decline further and the likely next wave of technology to change society profoundly is genetic defect correction. The social reasons even for soft theism are likely to erode much further.

Islam and Christianity at least, and likely the other major religions, seem to be constructed as institutions to ameliorate some basic social injustices and dysfunctions. And to serve as havens, therapy/corrective, social role givers, and hope lenders for the mentally not so well. When these roles become obsolete due to the welfare system and high tech health care they’re simply not going to hold together. They market otherwise on simplified religious mysticism, which is why average people attend, but they’re neither unique in so doing nor able to provide quality product- indeed, unable to even identify it. Largely the Faithful spend their time talking to each other about what they think it’s like- it’s all Unitarian Heaven. If or when people take religious mysticism seriously their need for organized religion tends to shrink fast. If or when they stop taking it seriously, likewise.

I think the next generation in American culture, i.e. people who enter adulthood from roughly 2020 to 2045ish, will due to their experience of the world thin the consensus belief- what some call MTD- further of a major component. Perhaps the Moral prong, maybe the Therapeutic one. Maybe half of each. Because more of human fortunes and behavioral codes will be seen as of human making and reason, as under human control. A world with a diminishing proportion of warring and crazy people and culture less reflective of large numbers of them is a more human and humanity-affirming world.

A diminishing inhumanity needs less of a metaphysical counter and avenging force in the mind, i.e. theism.

#22 Comment By Noah172 On December 18, 2012 @ 1:45 pm

Michael P at 1:34 wrote:

Noah172 seems to suggest that the Mormons with education tend to defect from the faith. It actually isn’t true. Study after study has shown (done by organizations like Pew) that Mormons are one of the few faiths that sees its activity rate increase as education increases.

I have read things along those lines; other studies have shown higher levels of church attendance across denominations among the more affluent and educated; Rod has posted about this phenomenon before.

To the extent that commitment and education are positively correlated in Mormonism, I am wondering if this can be attributed, at least in part, to Mormonism’s strict financial and volunteer time requirements, which would pose a greater challenge to those of lower incomes (who tend to be less educated) or who work shifts (heavily weighted towards retail, food and hospitality, much manufacturing, etc.) relative to the affluent and white-collar. A similar “weeding out” effect was possibly wisespread among Jews in the Roman Empire and early medieval periods, with post-Temple Judaism’s strict scholastic requirements causing less literate Jews to defect, and suppressing the fertility of those less-literates who stayed. (Charles Murray wrote about this in Commentary a few years back.)

Let me carry this Jewish analogy further. Emancipation of Jews led eventually to the splintering of Jews (Ashkenazim, that is) and a precipitous decline in traditional (Orthodox) religiosity. Similarly, I am expecting (and yes, I am not Mormon, so grain of salt and all that) that given 1) Mormons increasing dispersion outside their historic bastions, 2) the power of the internet and mass media to challenge established beliefs and cultures, and 3) the increased scrutiny directed to the LDS (Romney, that musical by the South Park guys, etc.), a huge increase in defections among Mormon youth, with possibly some white flight thrown in as LDS becomes more Hispanic.

#23 Comment By Roland de Chanson On December 18, 2012 @ 2:49 pm


Thanks for the compliment.

Re: angels dancing off the heads of pins ..

When I was growing up, the angels were mostly sober and managed to stay on the heads of the pins. 🙂 I’m glad to see you have a packed Latin Mass. That mass is packed in my diocese too.

BTW, Thomas Andrews, angels are not transubstantial. They are substantial, the substance being pure spirit. You are treading the path of heresy here and I would hate to see you languishing in the CDF’s oubliette especially over the Christmas holy days. Though you may take some solace in the fact that autos-da-fé are prohibited between the Circumcision and Candlemas.

#24 Comment By RB On December 18, 2012 @ 4:58 pm

Noah, half of the LDS church is outside the US, primarily in Latin America, but growing quickly in Africa and other places worldwide (Samoa, Tonga and Mongolia have relatively sizeable LDS populations).

The LDS church doesn’t lack for brown people. I don’t see why white members would flee the people and languages that many of them spent serving and converting for two years on their own dime.

My Japanese grandmother who converted from the Russian orthodox church to Mormonism around WWII found a warm reception in Salt Lake when she emigrated there. I have lived there, and can tell you the most racist place I’ve ever lived is Marin County, CA. Utah is pretty tame by comparison.

The trend of higher levels of education corresponding with greater church activity will likely hold, especially in the developing nations, where the church offers the Perpetual Education Fund plus free vocational counseling to members. The children of the people using the PEF will benefit from their parents’ economic gains and may become a significant presence in the educated mobile classes of those countries.

Also, as a side note– I thought the Southern Baptist Convention already did officially change their name, sometime in the last year or two.

#25 Comment By GCR On December 18, 2012 @ 5:03 pm

“Reformed attracts high-IQ professionals who want traditional worship and small-o orthodoxy without the End Times/tackiness/creationist junk.”

Yup, that sounds like me! 🙂 (With a little Anglican thrown in!)

Liam S. – your comment reminds me of several of my friends, who grew up in very fundamentalist families, went to evangelical Christian colleges and became Episcopalians or Catholics as adults.

I think the young people who stick with evangelicalism will do so with churches that are less partisan, more friendly to women and more racially diverse (think more Jeremy Lin, less Tim Tebow), as well as give them chances to contribute.

#26 Comment By Franklin Evans On December 18, 2012 @ 6:07 pm

As an outsider with a strong interest, I respectfully consider the pivot point to be whether a sect’s leadership takes a hardline stance against doctrinal change, or gives sincere consideration to finding adaptations. I immediately admit that there is a very fine line between adaptation and compromise, and my fear — a strong feeling of anticipation with the fervent wish that I be proven wrong — is open and (hopefully limited to) verbally violent doctrinal battles.

My chosen future perspective is my lifetime (I’m 56).

Modern Paganisms are by definition anti-institutional. I’ve learned that from sometimes painful personal experience, having at one time the ambition/hope that a Pagan cultural entity might emerge and enter a partnership with the established counterparts. I have another strong feeling that Paganisms will absorb some who find Monotheistic Therapeutic Deism unsatisfying and are disinclined to rejoin the mainstream.

There will emerge successors to the “first generation” of Pagan leaders who have eloquent and compelling voices. Oberon Zell-Ravenheart (born Timothy Zell), Starhawk (born Miriam Simos) are the last of the original “short list” that also included the late Isaac Bonewits. The two I know of personally who might step up in their wake are Gus DiZerega and Ivo Dominguez, and I’m sure there are others.

I have a biased hope that the New Age movement is already in decline, propped up mostly by “gurus” who are less dependent on the cash of their followers. It will also supply newcomers to Paganisms, like MTD.

At some point, science and rational discipline will begin to find valid underpinnings to the general category of “magic” as it is defined and used by modern Pagans. It will suggest similarities with traditional prayer and a posit bridge between prayer and Eastern traditions of meditation.

#27 Comment By JonF On December 18, 2012 @ 6:09 pm

Chris Jones,

I will concede that the standing thing is word, though customs vary there: one Orthodox church I intended was not much different from a Catholic Church in that people alternatingly stood, sat and knelt at various points in the service.
I don’t doubt prostrations would also strike the uninitiated as bizarre.
I don’t think Orthodox Church services are unusually long. Certainly some evangelical churches (notably the Baptists) and also the Mormons also have services that run well over an hour.
As for languages in the course of my travels I have attended a service (Liturgy, Vespers, Matins, etc) in c. 65 Orthodox churches in the US and Canada and only twice have I found myself in a church where English was not used (Greek and Romanian, respectively, were instead). More often I have found English with another liturgical; language occasionally inserted, and if the church is heavily immigrant-attended, the readings may be done in both. Also, a quibble: Slavonic is not that alien to Russian. It’s more or less the equivalent of Shakespeare or the King James Bible, which most of us can tolerate. Yes, even though it’s originally older, and technically it is Old Bulgarian not Old Russian. However the Slavic languages have been very slow to change (unlike western European languages) and they still have a fair degree of mutual comprehensibility among them. Moreover Slavonic entwined itself with Russian at an early date and at least until the the upheavals of the 20th century a Russian who was a regular churchgoer would not have been perplexed by the language he heard there. Of course, 2nd and 3rd generation Russians and Ukrainians in this country who can barely recall even whatever dialectal Russian their parents/grandparents spoke are a different story.

#28 Comment By Franklin Evans On December 18, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

Roland: The long-suffering and nearly unknown backup for the baseball great Stan Musial was Matt Schell*, whose only fleeting fame was in his nickname: Sub-Stan Schell. 😉

Addendum: MTD and New Age will begin to coalesce together (I hesitate to use the verb “merge”) until their labels will become interchangeable. The only question will be how many they are and whether their numbers bring them to the attention of market analysts.

* In case anyone might wonder: I just made all that up. 😉

#29 Comment By JonF On December 18, 2012 @ 6:15 pm

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s a mistake to view all Mormons as well-to-do, or even white-collar middle class. I don’t know any truly long-term poor Mormons, but my Mormon’s niece’s husband (also LDS) is a machinist.
The LDS do require regular and strict tithing– but that is proportional to income of course (see the etymology of “tithe”). There are volunteer requirements it’s also true, but that can also be arranged to fit one’s schedule. The only thing I can think of that would be a deal-killer is a job that interfered with attendance at church– and that’s a problem with any religious body, and it’s probably one contributing factor in the falling away of lower income people from churches.

#30 Comment By Noah172 On December 18, 2012 @ 8:12 pm


I was not saying that all Mormons are well-to-do. I was asking, in response to Michael P’s contention that lapsed Mormons tend to be less educated, whether Mormonism’s requirements would tend to drive away those of low-income or those with irregular/inflexible schedules relative to those not in such categories. As for tithes, they can be analogous to regressive taxation when payment is a mandatory condition of group participation, as in Mormonism; from what I understand, a member in arrears on his tithes is barred from entering a temple to participate in what are considered necessary rites; and ten percent off the top for everyone means more to the poor than the rich, whether we speak of tithes or sales taxes or what have you.

#31 Comment By Noah172 On December 18, 2012 @ 8:39 pm

RB wrote:

Noah, half of the LDS church is outside the US, primarily in Latin America, but growing quickly in Africa and other places worldwide (Samoa, Tonga and Mongolia have relatively sizeable LDS populations).

The LDS church doesn’t lack for brown people. I don’t see why white members would flee the people and languages that many of them spent serving and converting for two years on their own dime.

Just to clarify: I was not implying that Mormons hold greater racial animosities than anyone else. It’s just that ethnic/linguistic segregation (usually voluntary nowadays in the US) has existed and continues to exist in Christianity, so it is not such a stretch to imagine such a trend in the LDS.

I am aware of Mormonism’s non-US presence, though I have read conflicting reports of the retention of Mormonism’s overseas converts. Anyway, I was speaking of Mormonism’s future here in the US. Founding congregations in distant lands where you are but a sojourner is one matter; seeing your religious body’s ethnic composition change relatively quickly in its historic cradle is quite another. Arab Islamic armies went forth from the Arabian peninsula, conquered various non-Arab groups, assimilated them in many cases through intermarriage and imposition of the Arabic language (or at least its script superimposed on the indigenous tongues), in addition to spreading the gospel according to Muhammad. Islam’s history would have been very different if Arab proselytizers had converted North African Berbers, Javanese, Pashtuns, and so forth on their (the non-Arabs’) native turf, and then non-Arab emigres overwhelmed the Arabs demographically in the Arabian heartland.

#32 Comment By Richard M On December 18, 2012 @ 8:45 pm

“I think the drift towards unbelief will pick up dramatically, and small-o orthodox Christians from the various confessions will be heavily marginalized by a far more secular mainstream.”

Sadly, I think you’re right, Rod.

One quibble with Deacon Silouan: I don’t think the Episcopal Church will exist in 50 years – save possibly in a handful of boutique locations. On current trends, they won’t have any members in 30 years…although one expects the curve to become an asymptote. Perhaps they’ll merge with some other like-minded denomination to survive (UCC, Unitarians, etc.).

However, there will be continuing Anglican groups of some size, and the Catholic ordinariate.

#33 Comment By Richard M On December 18, 2012 @ 8:51 pm

Hello Derek,

“Nate, I would say that most adults at the Latin Mass parish I attend think outside the box rather than having the mainstream secular culture tell them what to think.”

That’s been my experience as well.

It does seem that ostracization has had a tonic effect on Catholic traditionalists: they are forced to live in a world and even a church which often seems at odds with what they believe. It forces them to have think hard about their commitment to what they believe. It takes some effort to want to march to a very different drummer.

#34 Comment By VikingLS On December 18, 2012 @ 9:14 pm

“Their services are really long; everything is chanted or sung by the priest and the choir. The lay people don’t sing any of the hymns or prayers, they just stand there and listen — and I do mean stand, many Orthodox Churches have no pews. Also, in many parishes most or all of the service is sung in a foreign language, often a language that isn’t understood even by the ethnic group involved (e.g. Russian Orthodox worship in Slavonic, not in Russian, which is like Americans worshiping in Chaucer’s English). There are many ways that the experience of Orthodox Christianity is very unfamiliar to American Christians.”

I have attended services at 8 or 9 parishes in the US and other than somewhat longer services only in one of those was any of this true. That is in a tiny Russian (not OCA) parish. In general in the USA these days the congregation is welcome to sing along and the service is in English.

#35 Comment By Richard M On December 18, 2012 @ 9:18 pm

Hello Roland,

“…the Anglican “ordinariates” will dissolve, plagued by chagrin over the ending of the married clergy dispensation and pangs of doubt about whether Newman was really still Anglican in his heart of hearts.”

I admire your posts here, but I’ll take exception this one time.

The ordinariates have plenty of issues to work out. But I think their potential is great enough, and it’s early innings sufficiently, to hold off from such a dire prediction.

As a case in point: the older Anglican Use communities in the U.S., especially in Texas (think of Our Lady of Atonement and Our Lady of Walsingham) have shown how vibrant they could be with a couple decades to carve out a niche.

They do have the potential, I think, to be a semi-traditional option for Catholics looking for a refuge from the usual fun and games at their suburban parish, without being frightened off by lots of Latin (although some do celebrate the TLM – the injunction is being lifted thanks to Ecclesia Dei intervention).

#36 Comment By Nate On December 18, 2012 @ 9:32 pm

“When I was growing up, the angels were mostly sober and managed to stay on the heads of the pins.”

Ha ha! Yes yes: on. That’s what I get for writing a snotty comment. I got smote by the spirit of Drunk Uncle from SNL.

“I would say that most adults at the Latin Mass parish I attend think outside the box rather than having the mainstream secular culture tell them what to think.”

Indeed! And thank God for that. It’s refreshingly countercultural at the moment. I hope that in the future it isn’t…at least among Catholic worship and practice, anyway. Time will tell!

#37 Comment By CathMax On December 18, 2012 @ 10:57 pm

It’s surprising to see so much confidence that cultural Catholicism has yet to peak. Here in the Southwest, I see it as having peaked, ebbed, and disappeared. When I started teaching CCD a decade ago, we had a huge problem with students whose parents didn’t even attend Mass; they just dropped off their kids for CCD and vanished, as did the kids themselves once they’d gotten their sacraments. That problem has disappeared.

I too am a Catechist, and I’m sorry to report that most of my student’s parents drop them off for CCD, but don’t attend Mass. We’re in a upper middle class superb and I’m not sure if that has anything to do with it? I tend to believe that it does, as these people’s lives are just too filled with material success that they aren’t able to see that they are generally unhappy and unfulfilled. Perhaps when the economy blows up they’ll awake from their slumber and recognize their need for God.

I continue to teach their children despite minimal reinforcement from their parents and hope that by God’s grace something will stay with these children that will one day stir them to seek truth.

#38 Comment By Thomas Andrews On December 18, 2012 @ 10:58 pm

@Roland de Chanson,
Let’s not get into one of those endless discussions of theology.

Instead, let’s ask whether there is still a distinction to be made between ‘may be’ and ‘are’.
Did I misuse the word?
Not quite the easiest question to answer in this post-Clinton world of “depends on what ‘is’ is”.
It is gracious of you, however, to forego the joy of an auto-da-fé.

#39 Comment By RB On December 19, 2012 @ 12:38 am

Noah, I didn’t assume you meant that Mormons are especially racist. I’m just telling you I haven’t seen the ethnic/linguistic divide you describe.

In any given ward, most of the adult men have served a mission, many of them overseas, and there is in an increasing number of stateside missions that are Spanish-speaking, among others. Serving non-English speaking communities in their own language doesn’t tend to foster the kind of ethnic anxieties you describe.

I’m not saying that US Mormons are all angels; humans of any denomination have the potential to be real stinkers. The church has issues; US Mormons vs. foriegn Mormons, or white Mormons vs. brown Mormons don’t seem to be among them.

That is especially true as regards Native American or Indie-descended peoples in Latin America; Mormons have historically had a special regard for both groups, informed by our belief in the origins of the Book of Mormon.

Now, Utah Mormons vs. Non-Utah Mormons, that is a perennial cultural struggle within the church, revolving around the conflation of intermountain culture with gospel culture. But that’s not an ethnic divide; it’s more like the tension between Hohenzollern Amish and less conservative sects.

Otherwise, yes, as you said, Salt Lake continues to secularize, as it has done for some time, and the church has some growing pains as it shifts from a locally administered church to a global community. Missionary efforts I won’t try to predict–conversion and rentention numbers may suffer, but a new lowered age for missionary service will likely bump rates back up–but the church certainly has plenty of natal growth.

#40 Comment By Joseph D’Hippolito On December 20, 2012 @ 2:09 am

Regarding Catholicism, I’m not sure if the new Traditionalists will be any better than the old Traditionalists, or the Progressives, in terms of understanding Christ’s ministry and mission. I’m afraid that all of this increasing interest in Traditionalism is nothing but a reflexive reaction to a mindless Progressivism that superficially equated “reform” and “modernization” with liberal politics.

The Catholic Traditionalists (such as Fr. Zuhsdorf) seem to believe that the Latin Mass in, of and by itself will lead to theological restoration.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Those who favor the Latin Mass also seem to favor a return to a more imperialistic, authoritarian church that demands blind deference and submission to ecclesiastical authority in matters political and personal. To them, clericalism and Ultramontanism are to be embraced, not criticized or challenged.

Catholicism will continue to become less and less relevant spiritually because those Traditionalists who embrace the kind of church I described will embrace the ethic of the Pharisees — which was in complete contrast to Christ’s personality and mission.

#41 Comment By Joseph On December 20, 2012 @ 5:00 pm

I admire the perennial and undying optimism of Convert Orthodox (“Convertdox” in some circles both within and without!)… But I remain convinced that the boom has come and gone.

The contagious enthusiasm of the 1990s found me considering leaving my Greek Catholic home for the OCA. Story after story of Evangelical converts to Orthodoxy and the Ben Lomand miracle circulated… The recordings done at Ss. Peter and Paul were absolutely amazing… The missionary zeal was encouraging. Even as a Catholic I was hopeful for this endeavor… Evangelicals who would never become Catholic MIGHT become Orthodox…

A few years on, I have a feeling that the boom is over, and what we have left are a few jurisdictions with oodles of convert clergy serving many micro-parish missions here and there.

I suspect it will remain an option for a select set of ex-Evangelicals who will jump at the chance to have “Catholic Cred” sans Pope… But honestly, how many of those folks are out there?

A Catholic revert from Orthodoxy has noted that Orthodoxy will likely remain attractive to a fringe subset… like teens who go “straight edge” or “vegan”… Cool things to talk about endlessly (largely in terms of contra-distinction to “The West”)… but how many “Shine, Jesus, Shine!” singing Evangelicals really want to trade it all in for a new “Greek-accented” “weirdness”?

#42 Comment By Joseph D’Hippolito On December 20, 2012 @ 8:10 pm

I would like to defend the Evangelicals for a bit.

Most of the criticism on this thread about Evangelical Protestantism seems snobbish, as if Evangelicals aren’t “cultured” enough. Let’s not forget that all of Jesus’ disciples were unlearned men (Matthew perhaps being the lone exception as a tax collector), and Jesus Himself strenuously opposed the religious leaders and intellectuals of His day — who made no bones about their contempt for Him, so much so that they violated the provisions of their own legal and relgious code to convict Jesus in a kangaroo trial!

Let’s also not equate differences in personal taste concerning worship to Holy Writ.

I’ve known many Evangelicals in my life. I find the majority of them to be quite sincere and dedicated about following Jesus as they see that calling. What on Earth is wrong with that?

More importantly, what does God really want? As the Prophet Micah said, God wants people to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Evangelicals can do that just as well (if not, in some cases, better) than non-Evangelical Protestants or more liturgical Christians (Catholics and Eastern Orthodox). For the Christian, that means embracing Jesus’ atoning sacrifice as our own and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us (and not necessarily in a melodramatic fashion).

Culture doesn’t save. Music doesn’t save. Theology doesn’t save. Only Christ saves. Without him, all the liturgy and sophisticated theology thr4oughout the ages would be so much irrelevant vanity.