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Anglicanism Circa 2010 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 30 December 2010 16:39

The Atlas of Global Christianity begins its page on Anglicanism this way:

“Anglicans have experienced a more profound demographic transformation than other Christian tradition over the past 100 years.”

Yes, Virginia . . . Even more than post-Vatican II Catholics.  Consider that In 1910, 80% of Anglicans lived in Britain and comprised 5.4% of Christians.  Today, that percentage has dropped to 3.8%

Of the 86.7 million Anglicans today, nearly 51 million (58.6%) live in Africa.  Meanwhile, Europe’s share of the Anglican population declined from 80.1% to 30.2% and North America’s from 7.7% to 3.3%.   It is interesting that Oceania’s Anglicans (5 million) greatly outnumber those of North America (2.86 million).  Indian Anglicans disappeared in a merger with other Protestants.

AGC’s figures also confirm what I have long suspected:  Anglicanism is becoming a majority evangelical faith.


Anglo Catholicism is clearly a very small part of the communion and a number of those Anglicans will be entering into communion with us so it will only be getting smaller.  If you merge the two categories of Anglo Catholic and High Church (which most involved would sturdily resist), it only amounts to 12% and the old "broad Church" only 11%.

Low church and evangelicals together make up 53% and if you add in the mysterious "mixed" Anglicans, you quickly arrive at 76% of the whole communion who do not claim to be either "broad" or "high".

African Christianity is heavily independent and charismatic so it seems very natural that a communion that is now majority African would be more evangelical and charismatic.  And there is also the heavy influence of the staggeringly successful Alpha course that originated at a charismatic Anglican powerhouse parish: Holy Trinity Brompton in London.  15 million have attended Alpha courses all over the world.  When I was in New Zealand and Australia, you could see Anglican congregations all over advertising their Alpha course.

The AGC does predict that Anglicanism will grow a bit over the next 40 years to 4.4%.  The growth is not expected to be in Europe but in the global south.  The ultimate white, stiff upper lip Christian communion, famously described as "the Tory party at prayer" will become even more African.

Next in our series:  Conversions and Defections: a World in Constant Spiritual Motion?

New Year on the Colorado Riviera PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 30 December 2010 09:50

It's sunny and gorgeous, if nippy, 6th day of Christmas here but we are expecting an Arctic front to hit tonight with snow, wind, and sub zero temperatures so I need to get out and do my errands now.

There will be more in my series of posts on the Church at the end of 2010 after I get back.

Next stop:  Anglicanism (in light of all the discussion of traditionalist Anglicans entering the Catholic Church)




An Old, Old Question: Is France Pagan? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 29 December 2010 13:07

We must grasp that many of the questions we ask today were asked with great intensity long before the Second Vatican Council.  Such as why is Europe abandoning the Christian and specifically Catholic faith?

The online Time magazine archives is a real treasure and I'm coming across wonderful nuggets there as I do my research.

Here's one called Not Cassocks But Coveralls from November, 1965 on a revival of the Worker-priest experiment launched in the 40's, suppressed by Pope John XXIII and revived for a time by Pope Paul VI. (I believe it was stopped again but I don't know why.)

The worker-priest experiment began because of a 1940 book by an obscure French priest, Abbe Henri Grodin, called "France: A Mission Field?' and published in English by Maisie Ward, of Sheed and Ward, under the title "France Pagan? in 1943. (I own a copy of the Sheed book. It certainly gives one perspective on our situation 70 years later.)

Abbe Grodin wrote eloquently about the profound de-Christianization of the working class in France in the late 30's and the Time article indicates not much has changed. Cardinal Suhard of Paris sat up all night reading it and decided to take action. And the result was the worker priest movement which was consciously competing with communist cells in the slums of Paris.

"Among French workers nowadays, according to a recent government survey, the percentage of practicing Catholics runs from 2% to 10% ; many millions can quite reasonably be called pagan."

Those kind of figures sure sound familiar. It was already commonplace in the 1860's for the working class, especially men, to no longer practice the faith. The French had been already been wrestling with this for a hundred years before the Second Vatican Council.

In fact, Pope Pius XI said this to Fr. Joseph Cardijin (the founder of the Young Christian Workers or JOC) when they met in 1925:

“The greatest scandal of the nineteenth century was the loss of the workers to the Church.”

Global Catholicism: 2010 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 29 December 2010 09:46

First of all, like the rest of Christianity, Catholicism is no longer European.

In fact, Catholicism is, surprisingly, a bit less European than Christianity as a whole.  25.6% of all Christians live in Europe today while only 23.9% of Catholics are European.  This is because the Catholic portion of Europe dropped from 44.4% to 37.8%.

In 1910, over 70% of Catholics lived in the west.  Only 32% of Catholics live in Europe, North America, and Oceania today.


As as we seen in my earlier post, Decline in the West, the projections right now are that European Catholicism will constitute an even smaller percentage of the Body Catholic in the near future.

P. S. The popular idea floating around St. Blog's that all the current problems in Europe was caused by the Second Vatican Council is simply not true. As the Atlas of Global Christianity points out, European Christianity was already declining in 1950.  Little things like the rise of Communism and Fascism, revolution (Russia) and vicious civil war (Spain), not to mention two World Wars in 31 years in which 43 million Europeans died (and many wonderful Christian leaders cut down), hundreds of millions were displaced, and all sorts of national boundaries redrawn, created a major crisis of faith for many people.  There's a reason that Maisie Ward, of the famous Catholic publishers Sheed & Ward, wrote an alarming book called "Is France Pagan?" in 1943!

We need to realize that European Protestantism has also taken a big dive: from 15.1% of Europeans in 1910 to 9.3% today. Protestant Christians in western Europe dropped from 31.7% to 17.6%.  Pretty obviously, the Second Vatican Council can not be held responsible for that development!

The de facto center of Catholicism is now Latin America. Since Catholics make up roughly 50% of the world's Christians in 2010, it makes sense that the Atlas of Global Christianity observes that the new global language of Christianity as a whole is Spanish.  However, we need to remember that the Catholic population of Latin America dropped from 90.3% to 80.5% in the last hundred years while South America's Catholics declined from 92.4 to 79.9%.

You may be asking, is there any good news out there?  Indeed there is.

Between 1910 and 2010, Catholicism grew faster than the human race in Africa, Asia, North America, and Oceania.  Catholic numbers soared in Africa, from 0.6% of the population in 1910 to 16.4% in 2010.  Middle Africa is now over 44% Catholic.  Catholics also more than doubled in Asia (from 1.3 to 3.3%) and rose to 25.1% in Oceania.  61% of the people of Micronesia are now Catholic while North American Catholics grew from 16% to 24.2% of the population.

But Catholicism's share of the human race (16.7%) has hardly budged because the losses in Europe and Latin America offset the growth elsewhere.  Still growing only 0.1% is a bit better than Christianity did as a whole - dropping 1.6% since 1910.

Here's a graph showing the 6 major Christian traditions over the past century.  Note that Catholicism's upward climb stalled in 1950 and then began to decline after 1970.  Which is right about the time that the Catholic missionary movement, as a whole, dropped the proclamation of the gospel as the center of mission ad extra.  Note the steady, dramatic climb of Independent Christianity.


In 40 years, the AGC projects that Christianity as a whole will slowly grow to include 35% of the human race.  But in 2050, the editors believe that Catholics will have dropped to 45.5% of all Christians while the heirs of the Reformation (classic Protestants, Independents, and Marginal Christians) will continue to grow faster than the human race.  Based upon current projections (caused primarily by the population implosion in Russia) the Orthodox will drop to 8.4% of the Christian world.

History could be repeating itself in strange ways.  In 500 AD, Orthodox Christians made up 75% of the baptized.  Then Orthodoxy declined slowly for centuries while the number of Catholics grew until, in the 11th century, the previously unthinkable happened, and western Catholics became the majority of the world's Christians for the first time.

In the 21st century, we seem to be poised on the edge of yet another seachange.  The heirs of the Reformation (Protestants, Independents, Marginals) could become the new majority in the course of this century as historic, liturgical Christianity (Catholicism & Orthodoxy) becomes the new global minority.  Here are numbers:

1910 Catholics (47.6%) & Orthodox (20.4%) together made up 68% of all Christians.  Reformation Christians were 32%.

2010 Catholics (49.9%) & Orthodox (11.7%) together make up 61.6% of all Christians.  Reformation Christians are now 38.4%.

2050 Catholics (45.5%) & Orthodox (8.4%) together are projected to comprise 53.9% of all Christians.

And Reformation Christians would be at 46.1%.  For the first time in history, the heirs of the Reformation could outnumber      Catholics.

Of course, all of this could change.  Who, in 1910, expected the changes that would come to Christianity in the 20th century?  Wars, disaster, revival, religious collapse, the rise of new global powers with religious agendas, etc.  There are so many different forces that could change the course of Christianity's future.  There are so many things that could change the course of Catholicism's future.  Like you and me.

We have done it before.  You can read about it here and here and here and here.

It is our generation that has to decide if we are willing to be used by God in the 21st century as the Generation of Saints was used in France to meet the needs of the Church and the world four centuries ago.

Next up for your reading pleasure:  Anglicanism Circa 2010




American Catholicism: Living on the Edge of a Demographic Precipice PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 29 December 2010 08:17

I've said it before but since we're on the topic of numbers, I thought I'd point out again that American Catholics are standing on the edge of a demographic precipice.

1) The 15% of US cradle Catholics who leave and eventually become Protestants are motivated differently from those Catholics who simply become "unaffiliated" or none". Catholics-on-their-way-to-becoming Protestants tend to spend some years in "none" land before joining a Protestant congregation. They tend to be more religious altogether and are spiritually seeking. They become Protestant overwhelmingly because they have found a faith they like better. If we reached out to them creatively while they were in "none" land, many would return, but the quality of life in our parishes has to improve for them to stay.

2) "None" doesn't necessarily mean atheist or non-believer in the dictionary sense. A large number of "Nones" (millions) are religious, pray on a regular basis, move in and out of our congregations, even formally belong to congregations. So many don't even fall into the category of "unchurched" exactly. They just don't claim a particular "religious identity".

Religious "nones" or "religious unaffiliated" as Pew puts it are the closest group to Catholics in terms of their beliefs and practices. That's because so many are Catholics. But 1/3 say they are open to having a faith if they found "the right one".

3) Religious change is overwhelmingly a young adult thing. The majority of Americans leave the faith of their childhood (any faith) by age 23. 70% of Catholics who got directly to "unaffiliated" do so by age 23

But the majority of Catholics who become Protestant leave a bit later, and after a few years of wandering in "none" land, enter Protestantism in their mid 20's to mid 30's). Because Protestants reach out and evangelize, they are picking off large numbers of searching, formerly "none", Catholics.

4) We are standing on the edge of a demographic precipice.

I'm prepping for a parish staff day and was looking at the figures they gave me last night.  23% drop in attendance over the past 5 years.  Check.  Big drop in marriage and baptisms.  Check.  Downturn in RCIA.  (Per figures released by the US Catholic bishops, the number of adults entering the US Church through RCIA has dropped 33% since 2001. See my series: Whither RCIA? for a detailed look at the numbers around that.) Check.  Fewer young adults so candidates and catechumens tend to be middle-aged.  Check.  Their local issues were looking so familiar.

I checked these figures with CARA last year: An average of their findings shows that only 13% of 18 - 29 year old Millennials attend Mass on a weekly basis while only 15% of Gen Xers attend weekly. That covers all adults 18 - 45 or so right now. Gen Xers and Millennials already make up 50% of the Catholic adult population. 

That means that if this does not change, In 10 years it will cease to matter that we have a priest shortage because the Builders will be largely gone, the Boomers retiring, and our institutions - parishes, schools, etc. will be emptying at an incredible rate. Sacramental practice will plummet at a speed that the will make the post Vatican II era look good and the financial support for all of this will be vanishing like Bernie Madoff's investment portfolio. The American Church will be de facto majority Hispanic because their young adults aren't leaving as fast (although as this new study and the Pew foundation both found, as Hispanics assimilate, they begin to behave more like Anglos. "Latinos have tripled their proportion among Nones from 1990-2008 from 4% to 12%". says this new study. )

Hopefully not even Catholics will be able to retain their dread of evangelization in such a situation. 

As one exceedingly bright and theologically literate Millennial Catholic with a love for the Traditional liturgy *and* a passion for evangelization asked me last year, "My generation of Catholics isn't prepared to evangelize my generation, are they?"

Bingo. Because the vast majority of the small percentage of millennial Catholics who practice are so caught up in intra-ecclesial struggles and a profoundly different world view than most of their contemporaries that they just find them annoying. As I noted last year in Is the Millennial Generation Pre-Moral

"One important caveat: not every American twenty-something is like this. In fact, many emerging adults have been reared into a world vastly different than the self-esteem culture. Some gravitate, instead, toward an Augustinian perception of the self and find their own contemporaries annoying." Which sounds like a pretty accurate description of the majority of the small minority (10 - 15%) of millennials who actually attend Mass on a weekly basis."

One brave, honest, and funny commenter on our blog put it this way:

"Because I am a complete cow, all I can think is how horrified I am by these people. Not that it's their fault - it's obviously about the way they were raised. But still, this is a generation I have (with a few exceptions) little empathy for."

And another on Mark Shea's link to my piece put it:

"I'm 23 and I'd hardly call myself immune from the rampant idiocies of my generation, but this may actually explain why I find so many of my peers illogical and infuriating when it comes to moral issues. It's like we are speaking entirely different languages."

The problem is, as Cardinal George pointed out a few years ago. "We will never evangelize what we do not love."

Distain is not discernment. And evangelism and mission outward is not Protestant. Protestant evangelization and missions that we are familiar with did not exist for the first three centuries of Protestant history. They are 19th century innovations. Before that, evangelism and missionary endeavors were all Catholic all the time.

Will we wake up in time? Will we recover our Catholic heritage of evangelization? Will we be willing and able to cross the immense cultural divide between the majority of our adult population and the current "Catholic identity insider culture" in order to reach them with the Good News?

Cause right now four times as many American adults leave the Church as enter it.

Or will we simply acquiesce in the loss of 80% of two generations of Catholics? And their children. And grand-children.

The series continues with the state of Global Catholicism: 2010.

Now is the Day of Joy PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 28 December 2010 13:46

I interrupt this series for an important announcement:  Happy 4th day of Christmas!

This Christmas night bestowed peace on the whole world;
So let no one threaten;
This is the night of the Most Gentle One -
Let no one be cruel;
This is the night of the Humble One -
Let no one be proud.

Now is the day of joy -
Let us not revenge;
Now is the day of Good Will -
Let us not be mean.
In this Day of Peace -
Let us not be conquered by anger.

Today the Bountiful impoverished Himself for our sake;
So, rich one, invite the poor to your table.
Today we receive a Gift for which we did not ask;
So let us give alms to those who implore and beg us.
This present Day cast open the heavenly doors to our prayers;
Let us open our door to those who ask our forgiveness.
Today the Divine Being took upon Himself
the seal of our humanity,
In order for humanity to be decorated by the Seal of Divinity.

Christmas Homily of St. Isaac the Syrian.


h/t: Todd at Catholic Sensibility

Important to remember this as I work on that staff day for LA!



Christianity: Decline in the West PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 28 December 2010 11:42

The boom in the south has unfortunately been offset by a marked decline of Christian practice in the region of the world that has been its center for the past 1000 years. (Christianity became centered in and synonymous with European civilization due to the rise of Islam and the crushing of ancient Christian centers in western Asia where it was born.  For the first thousand years, Christianity was a faith of the global south and was majority Orthodox.  Western Catholicism became the new Christian majority during the 11th century.)

Europe: According to the Atlas of Global Christianity, Europe was nearly 95% Christian and contained 66% of all Christians in 1910.  A century later, only 80% of Europe's population was Christian and only 25.6% of the world's Christians lived there.  The predictions for 2050 show the basic pattern of European decline continuing: Only 76.6% of Europeans are expected to be Christian 40 years from now and only 15.8% of all Christians will live in Europe.


Sherry's note: For all the hysteria about "Eurabia" (Muslims are 5.6% of Europe's population) the real crisis in European Christianity is the huge number of post-Christian"unbelievers" (13.2%) - agnostics and atheists and the huge number of non-practicing Christians-in-name-only. The real issue is the new evangelization.  If we were evangelizing our own, we would regard non-Christian immigrants with a very different eye. Some details below by UN regions.

A.  Eastern Europe: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia.The east is the relative bright spot in Europe these days despite the terrible suffering of eastern Christians under the Nazis and Communists.

The story of the 20th century is written in the stats.  In 1910, 9 million Jews made up 5% of the population of Eastern Europe.  Today, only 500,000 Jews live in the region.  Agnosticism is now the second largest faith in Eastern Europe but since it is the fragile post-communist variety of unbelief, agnostics are steadily reverting to Christianity and this is expected to continue well into the 21st century. (94% of Russians call themselves Christian in 2010!  Formerly "atheist" Russia is now the largest Christian nation in Europe.) Despite the terrors of the century past, Orthodoxy has grown from 57.7% to 61% of the population.

B.  Northern Europe: Great Britain, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia. 98.1% Christian in 1910, 80.9% Christian today.  Agnostics (12.1%) and Atheists (2.4%) are the second and third largest "faiths" here.

The change was most dramatic in Sweden which was 99% Christian in 1910 and is only 66% Christian a century later.  Anglicanism is the largest Christian body here, followed by Lutheranism.  Northern Europe is the center of Independent Christianity in Europe with 3 million Independents.

C.  Southern Europe: Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Malta, Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia. 96.9% Christian in 1910, 82.3% in 2010.  8.7% Agnostic and 2.1% Atheists.  6.6 % Muslim:

Bosnia and Kosovo are majority Muslim nations.  90% of Christians are Catholic.  Home to the only 100% Catholic nation on earth: the Holy See.

D.  Western Europe:  Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Switzerland.The heart of rapidly post-Christianizing, secularized Europe.  98.1% Christian in 1910, 71% today.  (In 40 years, it is expected that Christians will only make up 61% of the population of western Europe.) Agnostics 18.8%, Atheists 2.8% for a total of 21.6% "unbelievers".  Muslims 6%.

Nearly 70% of Christians in western Europe are Catholic.  Germany 70.6% Christian, France 68.8%, the Netherlands 64.6%.

E.  North America: United States, Canada, Bermuda, Greenland. 96% Christian in 1910, 81.2% Christian in 2010. Agnostics 11.8%, Atheists 0.5%. 84.5 million Catholics, 75.7 million Independent Christians, 61.5 million Protestants, 11.8 million "Marginal" Christians: Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.

The United States is the largest Christian nation on earth and will continue to be #1 through 2050.  The vast majority of immigrants to the US are Christian.  In 2010, 2.3 million Christians were added to the population of North America.

F.  Oceania: Australia, New Zealand, Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia. Oceania's seemingly stable figures mask significant change over the past 100 years. 78.6% Christian in 1910, 78.5% in 2010. Agnostics, 12.9%, Atheists 1.2% for a total of 14.1% "unbelievers".

Melanesia, which includes Papua New Guinea, was only 15% Christian a century ago. Today, it is over 90% Christian.  Micronesia has moved from 76.7% Christian to 91.4%.

Meanwhile, Australia and New Zealand have followed in Europe's wake:  In 1910, those two countries were 96.9% Christian.  Today, they are 73.4% Christian.


Next up - How the decline has affected the US: American Catholicism: Living on the Edge of a Demographic Precipice


Christianity: 100 Years of Boom & Bust PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 27 December 2010 16:55

What are the most important changes that occurred in the Christian world over the past 100 years?

In 1910, Christianity was far and away the largest faith on the planet and it was the faith of the wealthy Global North.  34.8% of the human race was Christian.  The next largest group of believers were Chinese folk religionists. Hinduism was a distant 3rd with 12.7% and Islam was right behind it at 12.6%.

No one could have foreseen what was about to happen.  Although the percentage of the world's population that was Christian held basically steady (in 2010, Christians make up 33.2% of the world), where they lived shifted in a dramatic way.

1.  Shift to the Global South.  In 1910, roughly 82% of all Christians lived in the "west" or global north: Europe and North America.  A century later, 60% of all Christians would live in the global south: Africa, Asia, Latin America.  The graph below shows the proportion of Christians in the north and south over the centuries.  Notice that the Reformation and the Council of Trent occurred at the one point in history where about 92% of all Christians lived in Europe.  The bump you see after that is the spread of the faith to the Americas and the Catholic missionary movement in Asia.  But when we get to the 20th century, things really begin to take off. Christianity became majority southern in 1981 - within the lifetimes of most of us reading these words.


2. Christianization of Africa. Africa had 11.7 million Christians and 40 million Muslims in 1910.  Who would have guessed that African Christianity would multiply 40 times in a century to almost 500 million and would include 48% of the African people in 2010?  By 2050, the AGC predicts that Christians will form a majority (52%) in Africa.

3. Growth of the Church in East Asia.  Christianity is growing all over Asia - Nepal, Myanmar, Indonesia, Cambodia, etc.  But the explosion of Christianity in China and South Korea has seen the Christian population in east Asia grow from 2.3 million to 140 million (9%) since 1910.  Christianity grew 4 times faster than the population and there is no end in sight.  In 40 years, Christians will likely comprise almost 16% of the east Asian population and Christians in Asia will outnumber Buddhists.

4. Decline in the West.

The boom in the south has unfortunately been offset by a marked decline of Christian practice in the part of the world that has been the center of Christianity for the past 1000 years.   In 1910, Europe was nearly 95% Christian and contained 66% of all Christians in the world,  A century later, only 80% of Europe's population was Christian and only 25.6% of the world's Christians lived there.

The predictions for 2050 show the basic pattern of European decline continuing: Only 76.6% of Europeans are expected to be Christian 40 years from now and only 15.8% of all Christians will live in Europe. (I'll deal with this complicated issue in a separate post.)

5.  Emergence of Independent Christianity.  2010:  369 million.  16.1% of Christians. The Atlas of Global Christianity defines "independents" as "believers who do not identify with the major Christian traditions (Anglican, Orthodox, Protestant, Roman Catholic)  They are independent of historic, organized, institutionalized, and denominational Christianity."

In 1910, independent Christians were found largely in Polynesia and the US.   In 2010, Independents number 369 million, make up 16.1% of Christians, and are spread all over the world.  The largest independent group of Christians are Chinese charismatics (77 million).  Africa has the largest number of independent congregations today and is one of the major centers of Independent Christianity along with China and the US.  What is surprising is that the 100 year Independent growth rate in Europe was 10 times faster than population growth.  One reason is the number of large African Independent congregations in major European cities but there are also an increasing number of white-led Independent groups across the continent.  Northern Europe has the highest percentage of Independent Christians in Europe.


6.  Worldwide Spread of Pentecostal Christianity ("Renewalists"). 1910:  1 million.  2010: 614 million.  26.7% of all Christians.

Renewalist is a short hand term for Pentecostal/charismatic/neocharismatic renewal which has grown almost 5 times faster than global Christianity over the past 100 years. It would include members of classic Pentecostal denominations, charismatic Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox, and a majority of Independent Christians.  Renewalists now make up over 50% of Christians in 18 countries, including North Korea (88.3%), Nepal (86.9%), and China (81.1%).  22.7% of North Americans are renewalists.  The largest renewalist group in the world is made up of charismatic Latin Rite Catholics (133 million).


More on decline in the west in another post.

Religious Change: The New World of Unbelief PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 27 December 2010 12:16

The largest and most dramatic new "faith" in the 21st century is unbelief.

In 1910, only 0.2% of human beings were either agnostic or atheist.  Today, 11.3% of the world's men and women consider themselves to be either one or the other.  778.4 million people who don’t even possess the most basic foundation of faith: the belief in some kind of God. As 2011 dawns, “unbelief” or "nonbelief" is the fourth largest "faith" in the world, after Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism.

As I wrote in the post below, Agnosticism is defined fairly broadly by the Atlas of Global Christianity.  It includes 1) “classical’ agnostics who hold that it is impossible to know for certain whether God or any deity exists; 2) those who are uncertain about the existence of God; 3) other non-religious such as secularists and materialists.

Under the term “atheist”, the Atlas of Global Christianity includes not only those who don't believe in the possibility of a deity, but also those who actively oppose theism and organized religion.  An "evangelical" agnostic fighting against religion would qualify as an atheist by this reckoning.  Obviously there is a certain vagueness about the fine line between agnostic and atheist but together they form a formidable new global worldview and culture.

In 1910, the epicenter of both agnosticism and atheism was firmly in the west.  Agnostics were split between Europe and North America but atheists were found almost exclusively in Europe.  Today, five of the 10 nations with the largest “unbelieving” populations are in Asia (China, India, North Korea, Japan, Viet Nam) and five are in the west (US, Germany, France, Britain, Italy).

In 2010, East Asia is the UN region with the highest number of "non-believers" (agnostics and atheists together): 35.2%. "Unbelief" is the second largest faith in East Asia which includes the communist nations of China, Mongolia, and North Korea.

Western Europe (including the traditional Catholic nations of France, Germany, Austria, and Belgium) is second with 21.6% "non-believers" in its population. Three historically Protestant regions follow in the Unbelieving Top Five:  Australia and New Zealand come in third with 19.1%, northern Europe is 4th with 14.5%, and North America finishes off the top 5 with 12.3% non-believers.

Of all the continents, Africa is the least unbelieving with 0.7% agnostic/atheists followed by Latin America with 3.4%.

For our purposes and any kind of serious thinking about the new evangelization, I think it is critical that we distinguish between post-Christian non-believers and post-communist non-believers.

Agnosticism rose like a shot and peaked about 1970 in communist countries.  With the exception of North Korea, agnosticism has been dropping like a stone since.  Post-communist unbelief has shown itself to be remarkably fragile.  It has given way readily to resurgence in religious belief as the growth of Christianity in China and the revival of Orthodoxy in eastern Europe has demonstrated.

But agnosticism in western democratic societies is much older and is often rooted in disappointment at the fruit of real world Christian faith and practice.  It has growing steadily for two centuries in the west and continues to grow today.  So far, western agnosticism has shown itself remarkably resistant to a revival of historic European Christianity.

agnostic_change 1910-2010


Atheism shows a very similar pattern but even more dramatic rise and fall in post-communist countries and the same slow, steady growth in western countries.

atheist_change 1910 - 2010

Next up:  Christianity:  100 Years of Boom & Bust

Religious Change: The Whole World Turned Upside Down PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 27 December 2010 08:41

One of the things that has become obvious as I study the marvelous Atlas of Global Christianity (which I highly recommend to all libraries scholars of Christianity, and practitioners of evangelization), is that trends that western Catholics lament and tend to regard as a crisis of the west, are truly global rather than western.  They cross all kinds of religious, cultural, and national boundaries in ways that would surprise us.

For one thing, the whole world experienced massive religious change during the past century, not just the west and certainly not just Christians.   The fact that so many of our intra-ecclesial discussions presume that the religious world of 1910 still exists should make us stop and re-think our assumptions.  We are still prone to assume that religious identity is fundamentally stable and not easily changed.  But the religious world of 1910 has been swept away and not just in the west!

Here are the top ten global religious traditions by number of adherents in 1910 and 2010:


1.  Christians

2.  Chinese folk religionists

3.  Hindus

4.  Muslims

5.  Buddhists

6.  Ethnoreligionists

7.  Jews

8.  Shintoists

9.  New Religionists

10. Sikhs


2010 (Faiths that have changed position are italicized, new “faiths” are bolded)

1.  Christians

2.  Muslims

3.  Hindus

4.  Agnostics

5.  Buddhists

6.  Chinese folk religionists

7.  Ethnoreligionists

8.  Atheists

9.  New Religionists

10. Sikhs

For instance, the largest faith in Asia in 1910 was not Buddhism.  Only 13% of Asians were Buddhist in 1910.  Far larger was what the AGC calls "Chinese folk-religion" which was practiced by 38% of Asians and 22.3% of the world's people a hundred years ago.

Chinese folk religion is an amalgamation of Buddhist, Confucian, and Daoist traditions, includes ancestor worship, and was practiced almost entirely by Chinese peoples. Today only 6.6% of the world’s people still practice Chinese folk religion.  It declined sharply under Communism when many Chinese folk religionists “converted” to agnosticism or atheism.

Agnosticism, one of the emerging “religious traditions” in the 20th century is defined fairly broadly by the AGC.  It includes 1) “classical’ agnostics who hold that it is impossible to know for certain whether God or any deity exists; 2) those who are uncertain about the existence of God; 3) other non-religious such as secularists and materialists.

A hundred years ago, 83% of agnostics did live in Europe and North America.  (Most of the remainder lived in Uruguay, which was the most agnostic country in the world in 1910.  37% of its population was agnostic.)

The mass conversion of Chinese folk religionists to agnosticism over the past century means that there are almost 4 times as many agnostics in Asia today as in Europe, North America, and Oceania combined. Asia, not the west, is the new center of world agnosticism because the Chinese people experienced massive religious change in the 20th century.

And that change, like all change, had unintended consequences.  The grand-children and great grand-children of those whose traditional folk religion was stripped away under Communist pressure are now becoming Christians in staggering numbers.  Chinese Christians have grown from 1.7 million to 115 million in one century.  In 2010, Chinese Christianity is growing nearly 6 times faster than the population.  The 21st century already looks very different from the world Mao envisioned when he led the Long March.

In many ways, China is the supreme poster child for global religious change.  A bastion of ancient folk religion turned epicenter of agnosticism and Christian powerhouse.  All in one century.

In visual form, the global rise of agnosticism looks like this:

% of world that was religious in 1910



% of world that is religious in 2010

percentage_of_world religious_2010

More on Religious Change: The New World of Unbelief

Evangelization & the World According to Peter Phan PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 26 December 2010 14:19

I have several times before posted on this blog about an understanding of 20th century Christian mission articulated by prominent Vietnam-born Catholic theologian Peter C. Phan in his article, “Proclamation of the Reign of God as Mission of the Church: What for, to Whom, by Whom, with Whom, and How?”

"But now things have changed, and changed utterly. The change from the enthusiasm and optimism of the World Missionary Conference that met in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1910—whose catchy slogan was "The evangelization of the world in this generation"—to the discouragement and even pessimism in today’s missionary circles, Catholic and Protestant alike, is visible and palpable. . . .To the consternation of Western missionaries, the shout "Missionary, go home" was raised in the 1960s, to be followed a decade later by the demand for a moratorium on Christian missions from the West.

In addition to the political factors, the collapse of mission as we knew it was also caused by the unexpected resurgence of the so-called non-Christian religions, in particular Hinduism and Islam. The missionaries’ rosy predictions of their early demise were vastly premature. Concomitant with this phenomenon is an intense awareness of religious pluralism which advocates several distinct, independent, and equally valid ways to reach the Divine and therefore makes conversion from one religion to another, which was considered as the goal of mission, unnecessary."

Phan even contended in an America article, The Next Christianity, that "Christians constitute no more than 3 percent of the entire Asian population—after 500 years of evangelization."  Since this passage occurred in a paragraph about Asian Catholicism, I have to presume it was a mere slip of the keyboard for Phan as he surely must know that while Asian Catholics make up 3% of Asians, Catholics are a distinct minority among Christians in the 21st century.   In fact, Asian Christians make up 8.5% of the population of Asia as I write.

After perusing the Atlas of Global Christianity, I realized that Catholic leaders in Asia may still be reeling from the blows of the 20th century.  In 1910, Catholics did made up 54% of all Christians in the whole of Asia, 85% of all Christians in southeast Asia, and 50% of all Christians in east Asia. Catholics had been the dominant form of Christianity in Asia for over 300 years.  Simultaneously, Catholics had also been a tiny minority who had suffered heroically for the faith.  A people can build a strong sense of self in 300 years that is not easily shifted by changes in the world about them.

But in the last half of the 20th century, the world did change.  The explosion of Protestant missions and indigenous Christian groups in Asia changed everything.  Today, Catholics only make up 38.8% of all Christians in Asia, 68% of Christians in southeast Asia, and a mere 14.4% in east Asia where Independent Christians are now the dominant group.  Over 50% of Asian Christians are now renewalists.  In 2010 alone, there were 4.5 million Asian converts to Christianity, easily outstripping the numbers becoming Christian in Africa.

Christianity in Asia, 1910



Christianity in Asia, 2010



As to the “collapse of Christian mission” that Phan refers to, that has to qualify as one of the most spectacularly failed prophecies of the 20th century.

In 1910, there were 48 nations in Africa and Asia where Christians made up less than 1% of the population.  In 15 of those nations, the number of Christians in the population was so tiny that it was statistically 0.0%.  There were 7 countries where there wasn’t a single known Christian.

In 2010, 7.4 million Christians live in the 7 countries where there wasn’t a single Christian a century ago.  The 15 countries that were 0.0% Christian 100 years ago now hold nearly 36 million Christians.  And the 48 nations where Christians made up less than 1% of the population in 1910 are now home to a staggering 268 million Christians.  There are no nations left on earth without a Christian population of some kind.  There are no countries whose Christian population is a statistical zero.

This series continues with Religious Change: The Whole World Turned Upside Down, Part 1.



Let's Begin: The State of Christianity in 2010 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 26 December 2010 12:21

I got an early Christmas present a couple weeks ago:  The Atlas of Global Christianity.  AGC (as I will abbreviate it) focuses on the global and regional changes in Christianity and other world faiths that occurred from 1910, when the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference took place, to where we are today in the last week of 2010.

AGC is a mighty book: two feet high, one foot wide and 360 pages long.  With thousands of graphs, all of which are available for download on the accompanying DVD!

It is going to be my primary source for my blog series this week on global Christianity and global Catholicism at the end of 2010.   Let me just throw out a few fascinating factoids for you to contemplate as I compose more substantial stuff:

Fastest growing faith in the world? Baha’i which grew from 225,000 in 1910 to 7.5 million today.

Largest group of “renewalists” in the world? Latin Rite Catholics: there are 133 million Latin rite “renewalists”. (“Renewalist” is a generic term for Christians  of any communion with a charismatic colored spirituality.)

Fastest growing Christian community between 2000 and 2010?

Afghanistan: mostly through immigration fueled by the war.  No 2 is Cambodia where Christian growth is mostly due to conversion.

Conversions to Christianity in 2010? 16 million

Country where largest percentage of Christian growth in 2010 is due to conversion? China (65.8%)

Number of Christian baptisms in 2010? 49 million.

US region which saw the largest growth in Catholicism between 1910 and 2010? Middle Africa where Catholics grew from 0.6% of the population in 1910 to 44.4% in 2010.


And here’s something that I find particularly evocative.   A picture of the Christian world that St. Augustine knew compared to the spread of the Christian faith today.

African Christianity in 400 AD

christian ad_400_africa


African Christianity in 2010.

christian ad_2010_africa


This series continues with "Evangelization and the World According to Peter Phan"



Baptism: the Road Less Traveled PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 26 December 2010 00:00

Just after Thanksgiving, a question occurred to me that I had never considered before.  Do we have any idea what percentage of the human race has actually been Christian since Pentecost?

I turned to my copy of the  2001 World Christian Encyclopedia and discovered, as I suspected, that they had not only asked the same question but seriously attempted to quantify an answer.  (Of course, these figures are at best, an educated guess.  But a guess by the only group of scholars in the world who have been pondering these sorts of questions and gathering this sort of data for the past 30 years.   It is the general outline rather than the specific numbers that are most useful.)

The graph below shows a startling reality that our intra-ecclesial discussions hardly ever address: the vast majority of human beings who have ever lived were not only not baptized, they never had an opportunity to hear about the Christian faith and/or be baptized.

As Catholics, we hold the sacramental economy of salvation to be normative, but in global human experience it has been anything but normal. Baptism, it turns out, is the road less traveled.

Take a moment to consider this graph.  The darker terra cotta color on the bottom represents the percentage of the world population that has been Christian over the past 2000 years.  Although there has been truly significant growth over the centuries, it is immediately obvious that non-Christians have always greatly outnumbered Christians.


Here are the numbers that correspond to the graph above:

Year            Global Population (millions)            % Christian                     % Non-Christian

100 AD                          179.51                                      0.45%                               99.55%

500 AD                          190.32                                    19.86%                               80.14%

1000 AD                        263.65                                    16.94%                               83.06%

1500 AD                        422.95                                    17.94%                               82.06%

2000 AD                      6,055.05                                    33.02%                               66.98%

2200 AD (est)             10,561.48                                    36.39%                               63.61%

Most of us would have no problems with acknowledging that in 100 AD, only 1/2 of 1% of the human race was Christian. But most Catholics in the west think of the world of 1500 AD as basically consisting of Christendom, a world where almost everyone was baptized.  But baptized Christians constituted slightly less than 18% of entire human race in 1499, the year that Thomas More first met his great friend, Erasmus.

From a global perspective, Christendom - which was essentially Europe in 1500 - was a ghetto.  Like many other human cultures,  Christian Europe understood itself to be the "civilized world".  Because of the difficulties of travel and communications, medieval Christians had fairly vague ideas of what lay outside.  (For example, the trail-blazing Franciscan John of Montecorvino, the first Archbishop of Peking, spent 5 years on his original journey to China.  Hearing of his wonderful work, the Pope sent out 7 Franciscan bishops to consecrate him Archbishop, but only 3 actually made it to Peking a year later.)

The World Christian Encyclopedia sums up the big picture this way:

  1. 1.  Of the roughly 36.8 billion people born between 33AD and 2000 AD, only 24%, or about 8.8 billion, have been Christians. (24.5% of all the Christians who have ever lived are alive today.  13.6% of all Christians who have ever lived are Catholics alive today.)

  2. Christianity has twice experienced explosive growth that dramatically outpaced world population growth.  The first time was between 33 AD when followers of Christ probably only numbered a few hundred and 500 AD when 37.8 million Christians made up nearly 20% of the global population. The second time was between 1800 and 1900 when Christians grew from 22.68% to 34.46% of the world's population in a single century.   A good deal of this growth was the result of dramatic improvement in health care and life span in 19th century Europe.  At the same time, the great Protestant missionary movement emerged out of an American student revival in New England in the early 19th century.

2.  More than three quarters of all men and women born since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, were never baptized. And this does not include the many millions who were born before the Incarnation!

3.  Evangelization:  Even more thought-provoking is the fact that only about 36% or 13.25 billion of all born during those 1,967 years were evangelized.  That means that only roughly 36% ever had a real opportunity to be baptized and respond to the gospel. Approximately 23.5 billion human beings - 64% of all who have lived since Jesus of Nazareth walked the roads of Galilee - never had the option to become a Christian.

I've been meditating on this for several weeks now.  There are so many implications.  I re-read my 32 page compilation of magisterial teaching on the topic of evangelization.  A number of things really stood out this time.  But one in particular:  most of the time western Catholics think and write and speak and practice as though baptism is the historic norm and not being Christian is the exception. At the beginning of the 20th century this was true for Europe (94.5% Christian), North America (96.6% Christian) and Latin America (95.2% Christian) but 65% of the human race lived in Africa and Asia where it was most definitely not true.

What does the Church say on the topic?  Here's a taste (the emphasis is mine):

  1. 1. "The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all.  . . For such people salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation." (Redemptoris Missio, 10)

2. "Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Savior wills that all men be saved.(128) Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life." (Lumen Gentium, 16)

3. It is necessary to keep these two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind and the necessity of the Church for salvation. Both these truths help us to understand the one mystery of salvation, so that we can come to know God's mercy and our own responsibility. Salvation, which always remains a gift of the Holy Spirit, requires man's cooperation, both to save himself and to save others. This is God's will, and this is why he established the Church and made her a part of his plan of salvation.(Redemptoris Missio 9)

4.  But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.(129) Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, "Preach the Gospel to every creature",(130) the Church fosters the missions with care and attention. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 844)

5.  The respectful presentation of Christ and His kingdom is more than the evangelizer's right; it is his duty. It is likewise the right of his fellow men to receive from him the proclamation of the Good News of salvation. God can accomplish this salvation in whomsoever He wishes by ways which He alone knows.(133) And yet, if His Son came, it was precisely in order to reveal to us, by His word and by His life, the ordinary paths of salvation. And He has commanded us to transmit this revelation to others with His own authority. It would be useful if every Christian and every evangelizer were to pray about the following thought: men can gain salvation also in other ways, by God's mercy, even though we do not preach the Gospel to them; but as for us, can we gain salvation if through negligence or fear or shame—what St. Paul called "blushing for the Gospel"(134)—or as a result of false ideas we fail to preach it? (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 80)

What does it mean, that the mysterious and difficult path through which salvation can happen for the non-baptized, has been the only way available for the majority of the men and women He has created and loved? What does it mean for the Church's primary mission of evangelization, for our theology and pastoral practice?


PS.  I'm posting a new end of year series on the State of Christian and Catholic mission in 2010.  If this sort of thing floats your boat, we'd love to have you join the conversation.

Urbi et Orbi PDF Print E-mail
Written by Istvan Kovacs   
Saturday, 25 December 2010 07:38

Pope Benedict XVI leads the Christmas Mass in Saint Peter's Basilica on Friday.


In the "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message, the pontiff said the Christmas message of peace and hope was always new, surprising and daring and should spur everyone in the peaceful struggle for justice.



  • Alle ore 12 di oggi, Solennità del Natale del Signore, dalla Loggia della Benedizione il Santo Padre Benedetto XVI rivolge il tradizionale Messaggio natalizio ai fedeli presenti in Piazza San Pietro e a quanti lo ascoltano attraverso la radio e la televisione.
    Questo il testo del Messaggio del Santo Padre per il Natale 2010:



    "Verbum caro factum est" – "The Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14).

    Dear brothers and sisters listening to me here in Rome and throughout the world, I joyfully proclaim the message of Christmas: God became man; he came to dwell among us. God is not distant: he is "Emmanuel", God-with-us. He is no stranger: he has a face, the face of Jesus.

    This message is ever new, ever surprising, for it surpasses even our most daring hope. First of all, because it is not merely a proclamation: it is an event, a happening, which credible witnesses saw, heard and touched in the person of Jesus of Nazareth! Being in his presence, observing his works and hearing his words, they recognized in Jesus the Messiah; and seeing him risen, after his crucifixion, they were certain that he was true man and true God, the only-begotten Son come from the Father, full of grace and truth (cf. Jn 1:14).

    "The Word became flesh". Before this revelation we once more wonder: how can this be? The Word and the flesh are mutually opposed realities; how can the eternal and almighty Word become a frail and mortal man? There is only one answer: Love. Those who love desire to share with the beloved, they want to be one with the beloved, and Sacred Scripture shows us the great love story of God for his people which culminated in Jesus Christ.

    God in fact does not change: he is faithful to himself. He who created the world is the same one who called Abraham and revealed his name to Moses: "I am who I am … the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob … a God merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (cf. Ex 3:14-15; 34:6). God does not change; he is Love, ever and always. In himself he is communion, unity in Trinity, and all his words and works are directed to communion. The Incarnation is the culmination of creation. When Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, was formed in the womb of Mary by the will of the Father and the working of the Holy Spirit, creation reached its high point. The ordering principle of the universe, the Logos, began to exist in the world, in a certain time and space.

    "The Word became flesh". The light of this truth is revealed to those who receive it in faith, for it is a mystery of love. Only those who are open to love are enveloped in the light of Christmas. So it was on that night in Bethlehem, and so it is today. The Incarnation of the Son of God is an event which occurred within history, while at the same time transcending history. In the night of the world a new light was kindled, one which lets itself be seen by the simple eyes of faith, by the meek and humble hearts of those who await the Saviour. If the truth were a mere mathematical formula, in some sense it would impose itself by its own power. But if Truth is Love, it calls for faith, for the "yes" of our hearts.

    And what do our hearts, in effect, seek, if not a Truth which is also Love? Children seek it with their questions, so disarming and stimulating; young people seek it in their eagerness to discover the deepest meaning of their life; adults seek it in order to guide and sustain their commitments in the family and the workplace; the elderly seek it in order to grant completion to their earthly existence.

    "The Word became flesh". The proclamation of Christmas is also a light for all peoples, for the collective journey of humanity. "Emmanuel", God-with-us, has come as King of justice and peace. We know that his Kingdom is not of this world, and yet it is more important than all the kingdoms of this world. It is like the leaven of humanity: were it lacking, the energy to work for true development would flag: the impulse to work together for the common good, in the disinterested service of our neighbour, in the peaceful struggle for justice. Belief in the God who desired to share in our history constantly encourages us in our own commitment to that history, for all its contradictions. It is a source of hope for everyone whose dignity is offended and violated, since the one born in Bethlehem came to set every man and woman free from the source of all enslavement.

    May the light of Christmas shine forth anew in the Land where Jesus was born, and inspire Israelis and Palestinians to strive for a just and peaceful coexistence. May the comforting message of the coming of Emmanuel ease the pain and bring consolation amid their trials to the beloved Christian communities in Iraq and throughout the Middle East; may it bring them comfort and hope for the future and bring the leaders of nations to show them effective solidarity. May it also be so for those in Haiti who still suffer in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and the recent cholera epidemic. May the same hold true not only for those in Colombia and Venezuela, but also in Guatemala and Costa Rica, who recently suffered natural disasters.

    May the birth of the Saviour open horizons of lasting peace and authentic progress for the peoples of Somalia, Darfur and Côte d’Ivoire; may it promote political and social stability in Madagascar; may it bring security and respect for human rights in Afghanistan and in Pakistan; may it encourage dialogue between Nicaragua and Costa Rica; and may it advance reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.

    May the birth of the Saviour strengthen the spirit of faith, patience and courage of the faithful of the Church in mainland China, that they may not lose heart through the limitations imposed on their freedom of religion and conscience but, persevering in fidelity to Christ and his Church, may keep alive the flame of hope. May the love of "God-with-us" grant perseverance to all those Christian communities enduring discrimination and persecution, and inspire political and religious leaders to be committed to full respect for the religious freedom of all.

    Dear brothers and sisters, "the Word became flesh"; he came to dwell among us; he is Emmanuel, the God who became close to us. Together let us contemplate this great mystery of love; let our hearts be filled with the light which shines in the stable of Bethlehem! To everyone, a Merry Christmas!




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