In a recent issue of Time magazine (at least the online version) Mary Eberstadt made the claim that “In the War Over Christianity, Orthodoxy is Winning”. Not because Eberstadt is a theologian with any ability to make claims over doctrinal disputes. No, instead Eberstadt’s claim rests on the fact that orthodox, traditionalist Christian communities are the ones that are having babies. In a statement that will provide solace to many traditionalists, she says:
“…though religious traditionalism may be losing today’s political and legal battles, it remains poised to win the wider war over what Christianity will look like tomorrow.”
Why is this the case? Because, while more liberal denominations are retracting, traditional forms of Christianity are expanding:
“…this numerical division between traditionalists and reformers is also seen around the world. It’s the stricter Christian churches that typically have stronger and more vibrant congregations — as has been documented at least since Dean M. Kelley’s 1996 book, Why Conservative Churches Are Growing. So, for example, the reform-minded Church of England has closed over 1,000 churches since 1980, with some later becoming discos, spas and mosques. The traditionalist Anglican churches of the Global South, on the other hand, are packed to overflowing and still growing fast. Within the Catholic Church, similarly, the most vibrant renewal movements — Comunione e Liberazione, Opus Dei, Juventutem — are also the most orthodox. Meanwhile, African missionaries from both Protestant and Catholic churches are being dispatched to the West in record numbers — in effect, re-evangelizing the very peoples who carried the cross to men and women of the subcontinent in the first place.”
One of the reasons she puts forward for this growth is demographic: believers are having more children than non-believers. And traditional believers are having more children than liberal believers:
“One explanation for the resiliency of religious traditionalism in an age of secularization is demographic. As Jonathan Last shows in his recent book What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, if enough people over time decide not to be fruitful and multiply, eventually their churches will disappear. That’s because secular people have far fewer children than do believers. The flip side of that observation is equally suggestive. In the future, it is the believers of all faiths whose children will appear disproportionately in an otherwise increasingly childless world, as political scientist Eric Kaufmann showed in his 2011 book, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?”
Now, this argument ignores the impact of converts, or whether people are leaving less traditional churches for other reasons. Furthermore, it presumes that children raised in one faith tradition will continue in that tradition – a presumption that is easily rebutted. However, it is true that children are extremely influenced by their parents’ religious belief (otherwise Richard Dawkins wouldn’t call raising a child to be Christian as “child abuse”!) So something to ponder, if your world view doesn’t include the passing of it on to a future generation, because you don’t have a future generation, then don’t be surprised when your world view fails to continue into the future.