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Happy New Year! Time for Roasted Pig Evangelization! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 31 December 2010 12:51

Lol!  And in wonderful Corpus Christi where so many good things are happening (and where outdoor barbeque pits are normal accessories in the parishes I have visited!).

I Refuse to Be a Zombie!

"The other day I went into the bank to cash a check.  “Father, what are you planning on doing for New Year’s Eve?” asked the young bank teller.  “I can’t wait,” I answered.  “Our parish is planning a big family celebration for New Year’s Eve with Mass at 10:00 PM, followed by a dinner with roasted pigs and live jazz music.”  The young girl seemed surprised at my enthusiastic answer and proceeded to tell me even though so many people came into the bank that day, I was the only one who had exciting plans for New Year’s Eve.

My conversation with the young bank teller only affirmed my personal conviction that the gift of Christian joy is the way that we can change the world.  As Deacon Keith Fournier continually tells us, we are living in a new missionary age.  I think that the best way that we can evangelize our sad world is through the gift of Christian joy."

Go and do likewise!  Roasted pig for everyone!  (Except for your friends who are vegans, vegetarians, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim, of course.  Have a killer veggie quiche available for them. ) Happy New Year and God bless!

 


 
Where From Here in the New Year? Start with RCIA PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 31 December 2010 12:32
A few, hastily sketched out, preliminary ideas for such a time as this . . .

Seven years ago, we brought out a landscape designer to look at our tragedy of a back yard and get her suggestions for what we could do with it. She gave it a once over and said "there's nothing here to save". Oookay . . .

She wasn't saying "Abandon all hope, ye who live here". She was saying that the climate here is profoundly different than in Seattle and you can't go about creating a garden high in the Rocky Mountains the way you could in moist, misty, moderate Puget Sound. You have to amend the soil differently and put in irrigation systems and consider how you are going to deal with that dazzling sun and long periods without rain, those hail storms, zero degree temp days (like today!) and those spring blizzards. 

If you don't, your seeds and bulbs which do contain the power and grace of life will behave like the seeds in the parable of the sower. 1) They won't germinate at all; 2) they will come up and be scorched by the sun and die; 3) The birds will eat them; or 4) they will be choked by the dozens of noxious weeds who are just waiting below the surface for a little water in order to emerge and choke everything in sight. 

Or you could give up your old assumptions and expectations and take the trouble to learn how to create a environment in this very different climate that will nourish and protect what you plant and enable them to flourish, blossom and give glory to God. 

Thank God, we choose to jettison what we thought we knew and learn all over again how to garden. 

That is exactly what I am seriously proposing for our approach to RCIA. Revisiting our working assumptions and practices from the ground up because our spiritual climate has changed so profoundly since 1960. (I know this will sound incredible to some readers but the Second Vatican Council didn't cause that cultural change which has impacted nearly everyone on the planet - 83% of whom are not Catholic and two thirds of whom are not baptized.)

I'm not referring at all to changing the liturgical aspects of the process but am suggesting, in as strong terms as I can, that we completely rethink how we approach the initial inquiry process and the task of genuine evangelization and the proclamation of Christ that is the indispensible foundation for all that is to follow.

It is a time of evangelization: faithfully and constantly the living God is proclaimed and Jesus Christ whom he has sent for the salvation of all…

From evangelization, completed with the help of God, come the faith and initial conversion that cause a person to feel called away from sin and drawn into the mystery of God’s love. The whole period of the precatechumenate is set aside for this evangelization, so that the genuine will to follow Christ and seek baptism may mature.”

RCIA Study Edition, 36, 37

1) I'd begin with year round RCIA: potentially the most powerful evangelizing structure that is widespread throughout all dioceses and the vast majority of parishes. 

2) And I'd begin the RCIA process with a true year-round Inquiry process
that moved parallel to the actual catechumenate.
Not a few weeks of "mini-catechesis" but a process without a specific timeline where spiritual seekers can ask any genuine spiritual questions they have and wrestle with them in all their complexity: emotional as well as intellectual, relational as well as doctrinal. A process whose end is first and supremely "personal adherence to Christ', which is the foundation upon which the temple of the Christian life can be built. 

3) Build in regular one-on-one interviews with each candidate - a long one just before they enter - and short (30 min?) ones periodically through the entire experience. In these private talks, focus on the whole person and their lived relationship with God - whatever it has been to this point in their life. In the first session, In addition to the usual church and sacramental background, the bulk of the time would be given to exploring two questions: Can you describe to me your lived relationship with God to this point in your life? If you could ask God one thing that you were certain he would answer right away, what would it be? And listen intently. Ask clarifying questions - but don't catechize. In later interviews, you listen for "Are they receiving the help they need to move closer to Christ and his Church? Do they have important questions or issues that we haven't (or can't) address in the group sessions? What do they need prayer for?

4) Building trust, rousing curiosity about Jesus Christ and his basic gospel (not fine points of Church teaching) and increasing openness to him in all areas of our life would be the non-negotiable heart and soul of this inquiry process. This is the time to shatter the traditional Catholic reticence to speak of our relationship with God.

As one enormously successful and experienced RCIA Director told me: "My job during the inquiry process is to help people fall in love with Jesus. My job during the catechumenate is to help them fall in love with the Church."

But first, we have to help them fall in love with Jesus. First, we make disciples in the inquiry period Then we form and catechize those disciples in the catechumenate. 

" . . . the aim of catechesis is to be the teaching and maturation stage...the period in which the Christian, having accepted by faith the person of Jesus Christ as the one Lord and having given Him complete adherence by sincere conversion of heart, endeavors to know better this Jesus to whom he has entrusted himself; " 
Catechesis in Our Time, 19

5) Separate the issues of marriage and entering the Church entirely. They must be dealt with separately. Remove the "We have set a May date for our wedding" deadline and the "I'm just doing this to satisfy my future in-laws" dynamic at the very beginning. Both are issues of discernment and discernment doesn't work on a pre-determined timeline.

6) Resist the temptation to move people into the formal catechumenate prematurely. They need to have moved from an essentially passive place to active seeking before they are ready to move into the formal catechumenate. At that point, catechesis is not longer a set of abstractions but answers to questions they are really wrestling with as men and women who are seriously considering following Jesus Christ in the midst of his Church.

7) Make sure all the members of your RCIA team and all your sponsors are intentional disciples. If they aren't, recruit new team members and work at making personal discipleship the norm of your team. If your RCIA team is made up of disciples, they will model, talk about, and radiate the reality of discipleship to your inquirers and catechumens. Do not give into the "my fiancee will be my sponsor" idea. Train your team and sponsors to

a) Listen to and recognize pre-discipleship levels of spiritual development and how to respond helpfully.

b) How to share their own witness of what Christ has done in their life.

c) What is the "Great Story" and how to tell it. The "Great Story" (as Fr. Robert Barron calls it) is the kerygma, the core of the Gospel about Jesus' incarnation, life, teachings, miracles, relationships, death, resurrection, and ascension on our behalf - and how he is calling us to respond. To commit their whole lives to Christ, they have to come to know him and every team member has to be able to tell the Great story and then how his or her own personal story relates to the Great story.

d) Help them discern and exercise their charisms because these gifts of the Holy Spirit are channels through which Christ's love, mercy, truth, and provision is made present and they are enormously important in building an effective team of evangelizersl Specific charisms are particularly useful to people at certain places on their journey. Hospitality to build initial trust in the Christian community, evangelism to help people lower their defenses against the possibility of change, etc.

8) Train "Ananiases" - sponsors who can be true spiritual mentors in the those critical early days after baptism or reception. Who can share their own relationship with God, help and encourage the new Catholic in basic spiritual disciplines, help them root in the community, and have someone to talk to about their experiences and feelings as they begin their life as a Catholic. 

9) Create a reinforcing "cycle" of evangelization in the parish by sponsoring one of the many effective parish-based evangelization processes which are aimed at the evangelization of those who are already Catholic. A well structured inquiry-RCIA process can work very synergistically with other evangelization activities in the parish. Some will come out of those retreats ready for RCIA.

If we focus on evangelizing those who are in RCIA today, the graces unleashed will change the dynamics of the rest of the RCIA process - including Mystagogia - and begin to change the entire spiritual climate of the parish itself.


I have posted before the story of one RCIA Director (Corinne) who did go back home after Making Disciples and revamped the parish RCIA process. Corinne wrote:

When we got back from Making Disciples last year, Doug and I went through our old RCIA outlines and basically threw most everything out,” Corinne told me. “We began asking ourselves, ‘Where do we want people to be spiritually when they are baptized or making a profession of faith?’” They decided that they needed to change their inquiry process to focus more on building trust between the members of the RCIA team and the inquirers and to make it clear that the purpose of the RCIA process is to help people become conscious, intentional followers of Jesus. It also meant greater care would be taken in selecting sponsors for the catechumens and candidates – a process that they are still working on.

Snip.

Whether she’s working with an individual, or part of a team working with a group of inquirers, Corinne says the initial focus is on “building a level of trust with them and then introducing Jesus and the possibility of having a relationship with him. We let them discover Him as a person and how he relates to each of us as individuals.” 

Many of the people who enter inquiry have a Christian background. “Some of them who have had an evangelical background already have a relationship with Jesus and want to go deeper, but a lot of the people from mainline Protestant churches haven’t considered the relational aspects of their faith… What we’re going to share with them is the story of Jesus, who really lived. When we do this, so much more of the Catholic faith comes alive… We’ll talk about salvation history, the incarnation, the relationships Jesus had with the apostles and other people; how others sought him out… and how Jesus is the center of the life that comes from God the Father.”

Not only does the inquiry process focus on digging in to the stories in the Bible, people from the St. Thomas More community, including those who recently went through the RCIA process, are invited to come to the inquiry gatherings to share how their lives have been transformed by knowing Jesus.

“Charlotte [not her real name] came from a mainline Christian background. What got her interested in Catholicism was that her son ran with a kid who was Catholic. Her son stayed with them on over Saturday nights and went to Mass with them. That impressed her that their faith was important to them. She went through the RCIA process and when she started to have a relationship with Jesus, she decided to quit her job with Planned Parenthood.”


Snip.

As the process continues, the questions of the catechumens and candidates become more and more a part of the weekly gathering. The team concentrates on keeping the focus of the responses on Jesus. “There’s a total openness to seeing how Jesus is the center of all we do as Catholics,” Corinne said. “Your Catholic faith will lead you to follow Christ and if you’re following Christ you’ll want to be Catholic.”

Snip.

With a greater focus on Christ and the call to conversion, Corinne and her team have noticed the catechumens and candidates were noticeably hungry for solid catechesis. They continue to ask great questions as the team introduces the basics about sacraments, doctrine, and the Church’s social teaching after the Rite of Acceptance at the beginning of Lent.

Last Easter, four adults were baptized, confirmed and received first eucharist, while four others made a profession of faith. Doug and Corinne, through their conversations with them and observing their behavior, knew that all eight were either intentional disciples or seeking to become disciples. “I thought one of the guys was still seeking, but during his confirmation at the Vigil, he almost keeled over. His sponsor had to hold him. Since then, he’s cut a Christian rap CD. He’s on fire with faith and is just exciting to be around. He knows and loves Jesus and Mary!”

As Corinne puts it, “the proof is in the pudding.” All eight of the neophytes are active in the faith community. They’re helping with music at Mass, as lectors, and one fellow – sort of a blue-collar truck driver type - is leading a men’s Bible study. During mystagogia, a period of time after reception of the sacraments of initiation in which the neophytes discuss the effects of the sacraments in their lives, the eight of them were introduced to the charisms and instructed to be on the lookout for their appearance in their lives both inside the parish and in their secular pursuits.

So far this year 17 young adults and adults are journeying through the RCIA process at St. Thomas More, including two adults who “shopped around” various parish RCIA processes and settled in with Corinne, Doug, and their team. Corrine tells her pastor, Fr. Joseph Sergott, OP, that sending her and Doug to Making Disciples, “was the best money he’s spent!”


 
What Can I Do? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 31 December 2010 12:23

On this last day of 2010, in light of all that we’ve been considering, what next?  What can I do?  Here are a few suggestions:

1) Spend some time in prayer and re-commit personally to follow Jesus Christ as Lord in the midst of his Church in 2011. You can't share what you yourself don't have and aren't living.

2) Make a personal choice to let go of the trauma of the 20th century and entrust it into God’s hands now.  The new nones are the grand children and great grand children of the Catholic adults who experienced the seismic shift of the 60’s.  To the average non-Mass-attending 20-something Catholic, the trauma that their grandparents lived through in 60’s and 70’s seems as dim as the fall of Troy.  Hey, the fall of communism a mere 20 years ago is already ancient history for them.

American Catholic leaders have spent two generations obsessing over the 60’s while the world has revolved on its axis and our future walked out the door without us noticing.  It is time to let go of the past and turn our attention to the present and the future.

3) This New Year, spend some time contemplating our 21 century realities on your knees. Just looking at the new Catholic American “majority” should be enough to drive us to our knees: The 70% of all baptized Catholics who have either dropped the identity altogether or hardly ever darken the door.  The 85% of young adult Catholics who still bear the name but don’t attend Mass regularly, who don’t consider it important to be married in the Church (or get married at all!), and who are unlikely to baptize their children – when and if they have them.

4) Deliberately adopt a missional rather than defensive stance toward non-Catholic people in your life and the larger non-Catholic world about you. You can’t evangelize the new agnostics from within a barricade.

5) Remember that the cultural wind of pluralism and personal choice favors those who reach out to evangelize.  In the US, at this very moment, roughly a quarter of American adults are either actively spiritually searching or at least passively open and scanning the horizon for intriguing religious options. You are already in relationship with some of these people.  Many of them are restless Catholics who are considering leaving or lapsed adults of any faith background who looking for alternatives.  The majority of adults raised without a faith in this country will choose one as an adult.  Most Americans have talked to others about their view of God and faith, so they might as well be talking to you!

6) Write down your own story of how knowing and loving Jesus Christ and his Church has impacted your life.  Actively look for opportunities to share that story with others. St. Francis never said “use words if necessary”.  Instead, he walked thousands of miles over Europe and the Middle East to tell The Story to those who had never heard it.

7) Realize that most Catholics and most unbelieving people don’t know much about Jesus and the essentials of the Christian faith and that a good deal of what they “know” is wrong.  Contemplate and practice telling what Fr. Robert Barron calls “the Great Story of Jesus”, the basic essentials of the Gospel that awaken initial Christian faith.  (This is the kergyma which needs to be proclaimed before people are ready for catechesis which is designed to help those already Christian to mature in their faith.  Catholics tend to leap into catechesis long before 21st century people are ready for it and they don't get it.) The only way many of your neighbors will ever hear the Great Story is from you.

8) I'd like to recommend that you read a relatively short, easy to read but remarkably dead-on and practical book: I Once Was Lost:  What Post-Modern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus. The authors of "I Once Was Lost have learned some amazing stuff from their work in campus ministry (in the west, California and Colorado) over the past 20 years and have distilled it in a way that all evangelizers can really benefit from.  This is the source of the central insight behind our Making Disciples evangelization seminars.

9) In the parish, help revamp your RCIA program so that it isn’t just a rite of religious passage but a true evangelizing experience.  As we have seen in parishes, an RCIA program that transforms people’s lives is an RCIA program that other spiritual wanderers will join.  More on that in a separate post.

10)  Gather a group of friends together and being praying regularly for the spiritual renewal of your families and friends, your parish, your neighborhood, and your city. When God’s people pray with passion and consistency, the spiritual atmosphere of a place changes and suddenly people become open to options they never considered before.

And although this series wasn’t intended to be an ad, consider dropping the Catherine of Siena Institute a line at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or check out our 2011 calendar. We offer unique, cutting edge formation training and resources that change the live of individuals and foster the development of an evangelizing, missional culture at the parish level.   We’ve worked in over 100 dioceses and with tens of thousands of lay Catholics and parish and diocesan leaders and we specialize in the formation of evangelizing lay apostles for the 21st century.

 

Wondering where to start at the parish level?  Read Where From Here in the New Year?  Start with RCIA

 


 
The Weight of My Neighbor's Glory PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 31 December 2010 08:57

A couple of commenters have asked the obvious question.  What do all these numbers mean?  The first thing is that Catholics, as a community, must rapidly and radically change our attitude toward evangelization because Christendom is as dead as Jacob Marley.

I was doing the mini-rant thing via e-mail last month.  A friend who reported the response to her appeal to her pastoral council on the topic of evangelization.

"Last night was a lesson in how God asks us to be faithful, not expect to
be successful!

We have a council operating out of a dated paradigm of how church should
be...and those who are not here should be written off, or just get with
the program. Some folks are our age, or younger, with this attitude!
There is a sense that it is a lost cause, and we should just live with a
smaller, purer church. I am not willing to give up so quickly."

To which I responded with considerable heat.

"And it isn't just the older ones - now twenty something Catholics talk that way.  Just where this resistance to and loathing for the idea that we can't just depend upon those born Catholics to just show up anymore, that we might have to actually go to them - reach out to them - comes from, I don't know. Some of your pastoral council people have been reading the blogs, methinks!

How odd it is to realize that almost all Catholics I meet - on all sides of the spectrum - are not just practicing Pelagians but universalist to the core. Less than 1% of the many Catholics I've met all over the world have ever expressed worry about the eternal well-being and happiness of the those who leave.  I don't hear people express concern about their salvation.  I almost never hear Catholics spontaneously talk about Christ's command to make disciples or meditate upon God's eternal desire that all know him, that all be part of his Body, that all men and women spend eternity with him, that he would lose none of those given to him.

We have become a bunch of people who would not only NOT leave the 99 and go out after the one who has strayed, we'd happily drive another 30 or 60 sheep out of the fold ourselves because they weren't meeting our standards.  All we seem to care about is that they are messing with our personal dream of what the Church should be like.  How is it possible that the evangelical spirit of a St. Dominic, a St. Catherine, a St. Ignatius of Loyola, or a St. Daniel Comboni has been so eviscerated in our generation(s)?"

Here's how I would have put my concerns if I had had the wit, talent, and holiness to do so:

"It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.  The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor's glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature, which, is you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping one other to one or more of these destinations.  It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.

This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.  We must play.  But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner-no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your sense.  If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy is almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitate - the glorifier and the glorified, Glory himself, is truly hidden." The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis

When I hear Catholics talk hopefully (or gleefully!) of certain groups of Catholics - whose theological or liturgical leanings they fear and despise - leaving the Church, I know that we cannot have grasped what is at stake.  We cannot have grasped the nature of the immortal beings we are blithely hoping will leave the fullness of the means of grace.   We must recognize that it is a form of profound disobedience, a kind of blasphemy, for us to wish for, in the name of purity, what Christ himself prayed with great intensity would never happen:  that he would lose one of those that his Father had given him.

When Pope Benedict has recognized the likely possibility of a smaller Catholic church, he was merely reading the signs of the times - recognizing that European Christendom, as it has existed for the past 1200 years, (as opposed to European Christianity) is well and truly dead.

That the Church must look again, as she has in the past, not to institutions or societal favor but to the power of the Holy Spirit, the redeeming work of Christ, the truth of the apostolic faith, to the deep personal faith of her people, to the fruit of profound prayer and worship, to the intercession of the communion of saints.  And to the charisms, vocations, saints, cultural creativity, and mighty deeds that arise out of such faith. The faith that gave birth to the structures and cultures of European Christianity in the first place.

But never, never that we should cease to pray for, long for, labor for, and call every man and women to encounter Christ in the midst of his Church.  That we should accept, cooperate with - or most appallingly, rejoice in - events and changes that endanger the eternal glory of millions and millions of those redeemed by Christ's sacrifice and baptized in Christ's name is an abomination.

"It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.  The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor's glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

Now Let's Get Practical: What Can I Do?


 
Conversions & Defections: A World in Constant Spiritual Motion? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 30 December 2010 22:34

Here's where it gets interesting.

The Atlas of Global Christianity lists three basic sources for Christian gains in a specific country: births, conversions, and immigration.  And there are three corresponding sources of Christian losses: deaths, defections, and emigration.

For instance:  In 2010, in the world there were 45.2 million Christian births and 16 million conversions.  There were also 21.8 million Christian deaths and 11.6 million defections.  The end result was a global net gain of roughly 27.8 million Christians in the year ending tomorrow.

But unless we ask what kind of gain or loss is going on in a specific country or area, we can seriously misunderstand the significance of the numbers before us.

For example:  99.9% of Jamaica's Christian gain in 2010 was by births while Mongolia's gain was 70% conversion and almost all of Singapore's gain was through immigration.

Defections account for 31% of Christian losses overall in 2010 but there are different kinds of defection.

The highest rate of defection was in the United Arab Emirates, a startling 68.8%, which represents the defection of Muslim family members from Christianity back to Islam.  Most defections from Christianity this year were to agnosticism as in New Zealand (where defections were 58.5% of all losses), Canada (57.4%), France (57.3%), Australia (56%), and Sweden (54.3%)

Iraq has the lowest defections of any Christian community but that could mask the fact that 86% of Iraq's Christian losses in 2010 were through emigration.

Conversions accounted for 24.5% of Christian gains this year.  Below are the countries where conversions made up the highest percentage of the Christian community's growth in 2010.  The conversions in Asia were primarily from agnosticism or Buddhism while the eastern European nations are still seeing people return to Christianity from agnosticism or atheism in the aftermath of the fall of communism.

China (65.6%), Azerbaijan (61.3%), Cambodia (57.3%), Estonia (56.1%), Belarus (52.0%), Hungary (50.5%), Jordan (50.1%), Canada (49.6%), Latvia (49.1%)

Canada is interesting because it has relatively high percentages of both defections (437,000) and conversions (634,000). The atlas doesn't say what faith or lack thereof the converts are coming from.

So does the US: 5,698,000 conversions and 3,595,000 defections in a single year.  Imagine: over 9.293,000 people moved in and out of Christianity in a single year in our country! (For perspective, it helps to know there were 976,413 new American Catholics in 2009.)

That's 3.1% of the American people.  An average of 25,460 Americans making critical spiritual decisions during every day this year.   1,060 decisions an hour.  That means that an average of 17.7 Americans became Christian or left the faith during every second of 2010.

If 3% do so in one year, no wonder that Pew found that something like 53% of American adults have left the faith of their childhood at some point in their life.   Americans, as the Pew Forum surveys have found, are in constant spiritual motion; being drawn closer to God or moving away in spiritual despair.

But how many of us have the eyes to see it?  How many of us are ready, able, and available to be a friend and companion to those few of these 9 million spiritual wanderers who come our way?  A wonderful question to ask ourselves at the dawn of a new year!

Begin the New Year with a New Attitude: The Weight of My Neighbor's Glory.

 


 
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.

anglican_traditions_2010

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.

roman_catholics_by_continent_1910_and_2010

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.

christian_percentage_of_population_by_major_tradition_19102010

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.

christians_by_continent_1910_and_2010

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.

percentage_of_christians_in_the_global_south


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


 
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