The shrinking of the Christian religion

And so, I suspect that the shrinking of the Christian religion will likely become a global phenomenon too, eventually, as long as these trends continue:

  • more young people learn basic history (not history sanitized by religious censors),
  • more young people learn basic science (not science dumbed down by religious censors),
  • more young people embrace critical thinking (and refuse to comply with demands that they submit to inerrant or infallible religious authority structures),
  • more young people become politically aware, ecologically aware, racially aware,and economically aware, 
  • more young people have access to professional journalists and citizen journalists who tell the truth about religious scandals and hypocrisy happening now (including but not limited to sex scandals, political deals, and financial mismanagement),
  • more young people have access via computers, smart phones, and as-yet unimagined technologies to the internet and a global reservoir of unfiltered information.

This, of course, may sound like a secularist dream coming true: that pesky Christian religion, with all its superstition and opposition to progress, will finally just fade away. But I don’t think secularists will be happy when they dare to engage in a bit of counter-intuitive thought. First, religious extremists, whether Christian, Muslim, or of other faiths, notice that they’re losin ground. As a result, they may become desperate enough to launch theocratic revolutions (like the failed one that rocked the United States on January 6, 2021, or the successful one that has controlled Iran since January 1978). Where those revolutions succeed, you can bet that the teaching of history, science, critical thinking, and journalism will be suppressed, along with political and religious dissent. 

Where fundamentalist attempts at theocracy fail, we might suppose that a shrinking and aging religion will have less and less influence in the culture at large. And long range, that might be true. But in the middle range, picture this: More and more young people will leave Christianity, taking fresh thinking and energy with them. More and more middle-aged and older people who share a youthful outlook on life will follow them out the door. That will leave a more uniformly staid and conservative ethos among those who remain, whatever their age. Actually, though, that diagnosis is overly optimistic: deprive an elderly constituency of younger voices, and it is likely to be regressive and extremist, not merely conservative. 

We might suppose that this aging conservative/regressive/extremist Christian community will suffer a shortage of resources as it shrinks, hastening its demise. But remember that this shrinking constituency now has control over a huge array of assets that were amassed over centuries by much larger, much younger Christian communities. Huge bank accounts, pension plans, endowments, and investments are held tight in the hands of this shrinking remnant now. And these assets will only swell as colleges, retreat centers, church buildings, denominational headquarters, hospitals, and other real estate assets that were necessary for a younger and larger constituency are sold off because they are no longer needed by the elderly. This swelling portfolio of assets will grow even larger as members of the old, loyal, conservative/regressive remnant die and leave bequests to carry on the beloved tradition. Imagine what this wealth can do when used, say, to support a certain brand of politician who loves to promote God and guns, God and country, God and racial “purity,” God and patriarchy, God and nostalgia, God and the death of environmental regulation, God and anti-immigrant or anti-LGBTQ hate, God and a quick buck, God and revenge. 

From “Do I Stay Christian: A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned” by Brian McLaren