The Fading of the Church

The growth of atheism is coming at the expense of religion. As freethought makes gains in society, it will inevitably start by appealing to those who are religious only by default – the people who go to church because they’ve never known an alternative, those who are receptive to our message and easily persuaded. And as their members join us or simply drift away, the larger, established churches are bound to begin feeling the sting of declining membership. There are encouraging signs that this process is already underway, especially with the single largest Christian denomination, the Roman Catholic church.

The decline of the Catholic church in Europe has long been noted by many observers – even Catholic observers, as in this article from the Catholic magazine America. As a 2005 USA Today article said:

Every major religion except Islam is declining in Western Europe, according to the Center for the Study on Global Christianity at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass. The drop is most evident in France, Sweden and the Netherlands, where church attendance is less than 10% in some areas.

Last month, Pope Benedict XVI lamented the weakening of churches in Europe, Australia and the USA. “There’s no longer evidence for a need of God, even less of Christ,” he told Italian priests. “The so-called traditional churches look like they are dying.”

Even in traditionally Catholic countries like France, Spain and Ireland, the decline is apparent:

In Spain, where 81 percent of the population is Catholic, two-thirds of respondents in a 2002 survey said they rarely or never attend services. (source)

In the 1970s, more than 90% of Irish Catholics said they went to Mass once a week. Now the number is 44%, according to a recent survey.

…Last year, 15 men were ordained as Catholic priests for the entire island, with 5.6 million people. (source)

In 2006, 39 percent of babies were baptized, according to figures from state statistics institute Insee and the Conference of French Bishops. In 1996, it was 55 percent.

About a third of marriages were celebrated with a Catholic Mass in 2006, down from 44 percent 10 years earlier. (source)

America, too, has seen its Catholic population dropping steadily. As many as 10% of Americans are ex-Catholics, and churches and parishes are closing across the country because there are neither enough priests to run them nor people to attend them:

The “most damaging change in Catholic life is the precipitous decline in Mass attendance. It’s the sign of a church collapsing,” says Catholic University sociologist William D’Antonio, co-author of statistical studies of American Catholics.

Nationally, attendance slid from 44% in 1987 to 37% in 1999.

…”Each generation starts with a lower attendance rating. People don’t grow into attending Mass,” he says. (source)

Hispanic immigrants are one of the church’s few bright spots, but even they tend to secularize after one or two generations.

There are several reasons for the steadily dwindling attendance and influence of the Catholic church. One of them, I feel certain, is that young Catholics feel increasingly disconnected from a church that continues to bash gays, exclude women from the priesthood, and preach against contraception. As society becomes increasingly liberal and tolerant, the Catholic church continues to cling obstinately to its irrational rules, and is accordingly being left in the dust. Another is the devastating sex-abuse scandal which has severely damaged the church’s reputation and weakened people’s trust in its hierarchy. A third is probably that people in increasingly prosperous and educated societies see less need for the consolations of religion. And all these factors operate in a positive-feedback loop, making people less willing to attend church or become priests, which contributes to further declines in the church’s wealth and power.

Similar to what’s happened with Judaism, we’re seeing more and more evidence of “cultural Catholicism,” where people identify with the church as part of their heritage and culture, not out of a sense of religious obligation. As the West becomes more secular, Catholicism and other churches are likely to shift their focus to the Third World to survive – yet even that can be at most a temporary refuge. As humanity as a whole makes progress, the churches fade, and freethought grows.

What will become of a post-church world? Articles like this one, “From a Divine Order to the Public Good“, give a hopeful glimpse: as religious orders die out, their land is being bought up for conservation and public use, turned into nature preserves or acquired by schools and nonprofits. I have to say that it echoes a passage of mine from the Ebon Musings essay “Looking Ahead“:

I see a world where the churches have become libraries and schools and museums, institutions dedicated to the preservation and expansion of knowledge, where reason is enshrined rather than faith.

For the good of humanity, I hope that the churches continue to fade, so that a new enlightenment may arise in their place.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Chris Newport

    It’s about damn time.

  • http://wilybadger.wordpress.com Chris Swanson

    I entirely look forward to a day when the Vatican is elevated to being a very impressive art museum, and not the headquarters of a deeply flawed organization.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Amen to that. :)

  • TimJ

    Well, thank God for that! :) Looking wistfully ahead to that blessed day in the far future when religion is simply an interesting historical subtopic, one does wonder what will happen to the architectural edifices which gave the physical reminders of the presence of the various Christian sects. In Europe, of course, many of the cathedrals, such as in Koeln, are not only beautifully baroque but historically significant. In fact, with church attendance dwindling in Europe, there have been efforts from various atheists to preserve some of these structures.

    There are perhaps a few similar structures here in the U.S., but by and large, most of the larger churches I have seen (especially the later mega-churches) are, in my opinion, not at all architecturally interesting and add nothing of value to the surrounding landscape. One large church I used to drive past in the Dallas area looked simply like an oversized barn. But, sure, o.k., with some remodeling, I guess I can see it being converted to a school. :)

  • lpetrich

    A lot of churches get converted to other uses; Steve Bruce’s book on secularization, God is Dead, shows a church that was converted into a carpet store.

    But what might be an appropriate use for pretty architecture? A museum? I think that it would be good to use old churches as museums, even though one must concede that that is what the Soviet Communists had done.

    The rather precipitous decline in new priests and nuns is real: I’d reported in IIDB on Catholic Nuns becoming ‘None’: Dwindling and Aging. For all Americans’ bragged-about piety, hardly any American women are becoming nuns, and the existing nun population has an average age of 70 and is dying off. Much the same has been happening in western Europe, with some western-European Catholic strongholds importing nuns from Eastern Europe and Third World countries.

  • lpetrich

    Also interesting is Canadian Christianity Crumbling: The Women are Leaving:

    But it is impossible to refute or underemphasize the fact that religion was suddenly confronted in the 1960s by changes in the social construct of gender and a resulting severing of the centuries-old linkage between Christian piety and femininity.

    Women — the traditional mainstays of institutional religion — in huge numbers abruptly rejected the church’s patriarchal exemplar of them as chaste, submissive ‘angels in the house’ with all of the social and moral responsibility for community and family but none of the authority.

  • Justin

    While we’re talking about churches being “converted” to other purposes, I recall a story on the Internet about a freethought group that bought an old church and turned it into their meeting headquarters. Does anybody remember hearing about that?

  • bestonnet

    That was the Atlanta Freethought Society whose Atlanta Freethought Hall used to be a church.

    http://www.ajc.com/living/content/living/stories/2008/02/15/atheists_0216.html

  • Entomologista

    When I went to Europe I encountered Catholicism in all its gory glory, and it creeped me the fuck out. They keep body parts around; shriveled, dessicated, amputated body parts. The other group of people with this habit are serial killers. The Catholic Church is one seriously fucked up organization.

  • John

    Some truly terrible arguments put forward here…Misleading in the way they are presented and, and downright ignorant. It is sad that this post will probably be ‘moderated’ and thus prove the hypocrisy of atheists the world over, by showing their general unwillingness to enter into any real, truthful and HONEST discussion with believers. Essentially the arguments here seem to boil down to the assumption that if less people go to church, that makes religion less relevant. Simply not true. If this is posted then I will explain why I think this is the case.

  • Josh

    Actually, as a former Catholic myself, I find the collapse of the church in modern 1st world nations to be pretty disheartening.

    Honestly, if you look at the fall of Catholicism, it coincides directly with the rise of the more “fundamentalist” Christian faiths. The Catholic church is MUCH more moderate than most Christian faiths. They believe in Evolution, they say that while gay sex is morally wrong, they do say being attracted to the same sex is not a sin in itself. Some of the greatest scientists in the world (of any faith) attend the Papal Science Roundtable every four years.

    If this were the decline of “fundy” Christianity which spews hatred and vitriol a helluva lot more than they spread the love, I would applaud this happily. But the fall of the Catholic Church is a sad sad thing in my opinion, because frankly, it is one of the last institutions that (at least to some degree) allow science and faith to co-mingle.

  • Ingersoll’s Revenge

    When I was in Reims, I heard a poem that went, “Celui qui se rend à l’église le dimanche; porte une tête toute en blanche.”

    Basically, the gist of it was that the only people you find in church on Sundays in France are octogenarians (or tourists).

    I think that Ebon was spot-on when he wrote:

    …young Catholics feel increasingly disconnected from a church that continues to bash gays, exclude women from the priesthood, and preach against contraception. As society becomes increasingly liberal and tolerant, the Catholic church continues to cling obstinately to its irrational rules, and is accordingly being left in the dust.

    I myself am a young, former Catholic and I find little – if anything – that I can relate to in today’s world regarding the Church. Intransigence is not a good way to win converts, and when the Vatican has finally been absorbed into secular culture, I won’t even bother to say “good riddance,” because it serves them right.

  • lpetrich

    I wouldn’t be surprised if those are relics of saints — and often bogus relics at that. The Shroud of Turin is only one of a whole genre of such fake relics. Consider that the bones of a certain St. Rosalia of Palermo continued to be credited with curative powers even after paleontologist William Buckland showed that they were the bones of a goat. Must have been a very saintly goat. :)

  • Brad

    I am one of those 10%!

    people … see less need for the consolations of religion.

    My first experience was that the consolations did not come. After questions bounced back and forth in my mind I decided to leave theism altogether, and start my religious thinking out from scratch, like it should have been done in the first place.

    we’re seeing more and more evidence of “cultural Catholicism,” where people identify with the church as part of their heritage and culture, not out of a sense of religious obligation.

    That describes my father pretty well – he thinks “God doesn’t have a religion,” doesn’t go to the masses of obligation, and only contributes 2 cents every week in an envelope. It’s a reputation thing, I guess. I also noticed that many kids in the youth group I used to be a part of are in the group not because they are especially religious but because it’s what they feel is a good thing to do and because it is filled with fun activities, community/friendship, free food and free trips to Worlds of Fun. The kids rarely speak of religious or theological issues, they just replicate what’s the norm for public Catholic religiousity, though they all do personally believe in Catholicism.

  • John

    Don’t look over your shoulder;

    http://summitforthefuture.blogspot.com/2006/02/rise-of-spirituality.html

    “The book Megatrends 2010, written by Patricia Aburdene, predicts the rise of spirituality. She claims this will be the number one megatrend for the future. A megatrend, according to Patricia, “is a large, over-arching direction that will shape our lives for a decade or more”. Whether you believe deeply in spirit or think it is a religious hoax, it will influence your life one way or another. It is inevitable. What is spirituality?”

    “Spirituality’s rising role in medicine stirs debate” (headline from “Nature”)

    Check Amazon and NYT best seller lists, atheism is being dwarfed by a more spiritual awakening. Atheists are the best thing that happened to religion. Keep up the good work.

    Ever hear the term “useful idiot?”

  • Willy

    When every modern religion is considered a myth like the ancient Greek and Roman religions….maybe, just maybe we can finally have some sort of peace in this world. I yearn for that day.

  • MS Quixote

    The other group of people with this habit are serial killers.

    & scientists. Maybe you’re on to something :)

  • heliobates

    Ever hear the term “useful idiot?”

    Pardon my French, but you’re an asshole.

    Some counter trends for you to consider, while you’re busy counting the hits and ignoring the misses:

    http://pewresearch.org/databank/dailynumber/?NumberID=386

    http://richarddawkins.net/article,956,Why-the-Gods-Are-Not-Winning,Edge-Gregory-Paul-amp-Phil-Zuckerman

    http://www.ffrf.org/timely/Religion&Society.pdf

    And seriously, dude. Drop the condescension. We’re already having enough trouble taking you seriously.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Atheists are the best thing that happened to religion. Keep up the good work.

    Ever hear the term “useful idiot?”

    Yes. I am also familiar with the term “concern troll”.

  • bestonnet

    John:

    Some truly terrible arguments put forward here…Misleading in the way they are presented and, and downright ignorant. It is sad that this post will probably be ‘moderated’ and thus prove the hypocrisy of atheists the world over, by showing their general unwillingness to enter into any real, truthful and HONEST discussion with believers. Essentially the arguments here seem to boil down to the assumption that if less people go to church, that makes religion less relevant. Simply not true. If this is posted then I will explain why I think this is the case.

    No, you aren’t likely to be censored here (good speech should defeat bad speech in the market of ideas, not because the bad speech was what accidentally got banned (I say accidentally because if one is banning speech of any kind it is only by accident that the bad speech gets banned and the good allowed)).

    Besides, have you had any previous posts here moderated?

    But it isn’t just whether people go to church or not that shows religion to be dying, we have census results and surveys as to what people believe which show the same thing.

    Josh:

    Actually, as a former Catholic myself, I find the collapse of the church in modern 1st world nations to be pretty disheartening.

    Honestly, if you look at the fall of Catholicism, it coincides directly with the rise of the more “fundamentalist” Christian faiths. The Catholic church is MUCH more moderate than most Christian faiths. They believe in Evolution, they say that while gay sex is morally wrong, they do say being attracted to the same sex is not a sin in itself. Some of the greatest scientists in the world (of any faith) attend the Papal Science Roundtable every four years.

    The decline of moderate religion does mean an increase in fundamentalism (which is often mistaken as an increase in religion by those who want to see that badly enough to ignore contrary evidence) although non-religion is increasing at a much faster rate (so if current trends continue we’ll end up the majority (and already are in some places)).

    Moderate religion is inherently intellectually dishonest as it requires both ignoring reality and ignoring what the holy book of the religion actually says and so those in such religions will tend to migrate outward towards either taking reality seriously or taking the holy book seriously. This does mean that the end of religion will be accompanied by increased fanaticism but it is just the price we’re going to have to pay to get rid of religion.

    Let’s just keep the fundies from causing too much trouble (fortunately the fundies aren’t very good at keeping their children in the religion so for them not to lose numbers they have to get converts who mostly come from more moderate forms of religion, not from irreligion).

    Josh:

    If this were the decline of “fundy” Christianity which spews hatred and vitriol a helluva lot more than they spread the love, I would applaud this happily. But the fall of the Catholic Church is a sad sad thing in my opinion, because frankly, it is one of the last institutions that (at least to some degree) allow science and faith to co-mingle.

    Science is the study of the world using methodology that is designed (or has evolved) to be self-correcting of errors and which has been very successful at describing the universe we live in, faith is belief in things for which there is no good reason to believe in.

    What does faith have to offer the world?

    Nothing that we need. Thus I see no point in having science waste time mingling with it.

    John:

    “Spirituality’s rising role in medicine stirs debate” (headline from “Nature”)

    A large part of this is the replacement of moderate religion (which stays out of such things) with fundamentalist religion (which likes to regulate everyones’ life).

    Ultimately though we’re increasing in numbers quicker than they are so any gains they make in this area will be temporary (and the population isn’t going to tolerate not having access to reproductive cloning technology any more than they’d tolerate not having access to IVF).

    John:

    Ever hear the term “useful idiot?”

    Good description of a religious fundamentalist, quite a few moderate clergy have complained of fundamentalists making all religion look bad.

    Still, I’d prefer it if the fundamentalists weren’t able to cause any problems.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    If this is posted then I will explain why I think this is the case.

    Start ‘splainin’. Specifically you could address this:

    Misleading in the way they are presented and, and downright ignorant.

    By showing us what is misleading and what is ignorant. Perhaps you could also defend your assertion that:

    …by showing their general unwillingness to enter into any real, truthful and HONEST discussion with believers.

    This blog as well as most other atheist blogs are open to comments from all. If you have evidence to the contrary, I’d like to see it.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Quixote,

    & scientists.

    I wasn’t aware that scientists kept old, dessicated body parts lying around for ritualistic purposes.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Josh:

    Honestly, if you look at the fall of Catholicism, it coincides directly with the rise of the more “fundamentalist” Christian faiths. The Catholic church is MUCH more moderate than most Christian faiths.

    On some issues, perhaps. The Catholic church has proven less likely to harbor creationists (and is more friendly to good education in general) than the fundamentalist Protestants, it’s true. But when it comes to culture-war issues like stem-cell research, abortion or gay rights, I’d argue the Catholic church is as much an impediment to progress as the most regressive evangelicals. It also does great harm worldwide by its opposition to contraception, which is much less of a Protestant soapbox.

    On the bright side, I’d point out that Protestants’ numbers are not growing either, at least not in the US. It’s Christianity as a whole that’s in decline. The fading of Catholicism is just the largest and most visible symptom of this, but evangelicals are feeling the pinch as well. The much-ballyhooed rise of the megachurches represents consolidation, not growth in an absolute sense.

  • Entomologista

    There is a world of difference between using a cadaver, respectfully, for teaching or research and fawning over the amputated limbs of long-dead saints.

  • Brad

    Well, to give an opposing example, even atheists can choose to have their bodies cremated after death and potentially “fawned over” by their family. I think the keeping of saints’ supposed bones just represents an over-high interest in keeping relics and images from the past, not a specific hyper-fascination with body parts. (Although “body of Christ” as Eucharist / the Church is a strange image to use too…)

  • bestonnet

    The numbers of protestant fundamentalists is growing though, just not by as much as religion is shrinking. I think that was the point that Josh was trying to make (and it also looks like the Catholic church itself has been moving closer to fundamentalism as of late).

    It seems that religion is polarising away from moderate religion and towards the extremes of no religion (if it can even be called an extreme) and fundamentalist religion.

  • James B

    Here’s an example of a good use for a church.

    Probably does more good in keeping local kids out of mischief too.

  • David D.G.

    John wrote:

    Essentially the arguments here seem to boil down to the assumption that if less people go to church, that makes religion less relevant.

    John, you are confusing cause with effect (perhaps deliberately — it’s hard to tell here whether you are being naturally or deliberately obtuse). It is not that the reduction in church attendance makes religion less relevant; it is the decreasing relevance of religion that results in reduced church attendance. So lower church attendance is taken as evidence of people generally finding religion less relevant.

    ~David D.G.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Yes, I’m all for turning churches into climbing gyms!

  • http:://ozatheist.wordpress.com/ OzAtheist

    What about the rise of Islam?
    Here in Australia the last census showed Islam was the only religion on the increase all others were declining (though some only moderately).

    Should we be concerned about this, and what is causing it?

  • Leum

    I don’t think Islam is that worrisome*. Yes, it’s on the rise, but it’s on the rise due to changing demographics not conversion success (as far as I know). As Muslims move out of their communities into the rest of society, chances are they’ll moderate or even leave the faith entirely (this happens pretty regularly, if communities integrate into the broader society they tend to become more like the society around them). As to the talk of appeasement to Muslims in Europe, to me that seems to be due to a failure to keep Church and State separate, and isn’t limited to Muslims ( Scientology has tried to get special benefits too, but the charges were ultimately dropped).

    *The Modest Agnostic has a video series where he argues that most of the Islamic threat is overblown hype.

  • Christopher

    Brad,

    Well, to give an opposing example, even atheists can choose to have their bodies cremated after death and potentially “fawned over” by their family.

    Personally, I just hope that may family puts a torch to my remains and just scatters it into the wind – as it’s nothing but a bag of chemicals to be disposed of by that time…

  • Christopher

    OMFG,

    Yes, I’m all for turning churches into climbing gyms!

    Or fire pits!

  • bestonnet

    OzAtheist:

    What about the rise of Islam?

    Only the rise in the fundamentalist type is of an real concern, the moderates aren’t going to go around killing us (though they are just as useless as Christian moderates) and if we just wait long enough it’ll suffer the same fate as Christianity.

    OzAtheist:

    Here in Australia the last census showed Islam was the only religion on the increase all others were declining (though some only moderately).

    The same census results also shown the biggest gain in absolute terms was non-religion.

    OzAtheist:

    Should we be concerned about this, and what is causing it?

    Pretty much all immigration, and not too much (very few of them are actually worth worrying about and even some of the ones that do want to commit terrorist acts aren’t very competent).

    The few people who do convert to it though are especially worrying since new converts often end up extremists (this is part of the worry over Caucasian converts to Islam).

    Leum:

    As to the talk of appeasement to Muslims in Europe, to me that seems to be due to a failure to keep Church and State separate, and isn’t limited to Muslims ( Scientology has tried to get special benefits too, but the charges were ultimately dropped).

    The citizens of many of those countries aren’t too happy about that, there’s only so much crap the politicians can force on people before getting voted out (though sadly it seems the One Nation like parties will be the ones that get increased support and in Europe due to Proportional Representation those far right parties can actually get seats, and lots of them).

  • Adam

    The Catholic Church is growing? It seems so…

    The Vatican Publishing House recently published the official Statistical Yearbook of the Church for 2000-2006. The book reports on demographic changes throughout the world.

    In the Americas over these seven years, the Catholic population grew by 8.4%, the number of priests remained about the same representing around 30% of the priests worldwide, and the number of non-ordained religious also remained about the same.

    Worldwide, the number of diocesan priests went up by about 2%, with significant increases in Asia and Africa and a decrease in Europe. The number of non-ordained religious decreased sharply in Europe by 12% and increased sharply in Asia by 21% and in Africa by 8%. The number of seminarians worldwide increased by 4% with most of the growth in Africa and Asia, while Europe accounted for a decrease of 16%.

    Cite: http://blog.activeparishioner.com/2008/06/03/catholic-church-statistics-up-down-and-steady/

    One of them, I feel certain, is that young Catholics feel increasingly disconnected from a church that continues to bash gays, exclude women from the priesthood, and preach against contraception.

    I disagree

  • bestonnet

    Adam:

    The Catholic Church is growing? It seems so…

    Yes, in the third world.

    Adam:

    In the Americas over these seven years, the Catholic population grew by 8.4%, the number of priests remained about the same representing around 30% of the priests worldwide, and the number of non-ordained religious also remained about the same.

    That would be a decline in North America and growth in South America (because there are statistics indicating that the Catholic church is losing ground in the US and Canada). South America is pretty much third world.

    Adam:

    Worldwide, the number of diocesan priests went up by about 2%, with significant increases in Asia and Africa and a decrease in Europe. The number of non-ordained religious decreased sharply in Europe by 12% and increased sharply in Asia by 21% and in Africa by 8%. The number of seminarians worldwide increased by 4% with most of the growth in Africa and Asia, while Europe accounted for a decrease of 16%.

    Exactly, the Catholic church is gaining ground in the third world (Africa and much of Asia) while losing it in the first world (Europe).

    Much of the gain of the Catholic church is due to increasing population and a lot of the rest is conversion of followers of traditional religions (often involving some coercion). As those third world countries increase their standard of living to first world norms what is happening to religion in the first world will happen there as well (i.e. the Catholic church will not last forever).

    It’s also interesting how you didn’t bold the parts that showed the difference in growth (or loss) rates between the third and first worlds.

    Adam:

    Original post:
    One of them, I feel certain, is that young Catholics feel increasingly disconnected from a church that continues to bash gays, exclude women from the priesthood, and preach against contraception.

    I disagree

    You may not have a problem with an intolerant church but that doesn’t mean others find that kind of crap acceptable.

  • lpetrich

    And perhaps more to the point is the remarkable dwindling of US nuns, which I’d posted about earlier here. They are dying off with very few replacements coming in. Adam, what’s your take on that?

  • Adam

    And perhaps more to the point is the remarkable dwindling of US nuns, which I’d posted about earlier here. They are dying off with very few replacements coming in. Adam, what’s your take on that?

    I would say that there are a number of growing communities of catholic sisters and nuns.

    A friend of mine just joined the Brother of St. John. Another one is joining the Poor Clare’s

    And I know of a number of orders that are fastly growing:

    http://www.nashvilledominican.org/
    http://sistersofmary.org/

    I know that with sisters, and with priests, it is important to have quality not quantity.

  • Adam

    bestonnet,

    My point is that Catholic Church is growing in the Americas, and worldwide with it’s priests and deacons.

    My daughter is from a third world country. Do you have a problem with all people in third world countries, or just the Catholics that live there?

    Your reasoning sounds a little silly to me…like people in third world countries don’t count, or something…

  • Christopher

    Adam,

    My point is that Catholic Church is growing in the Americas, and worldwide with it’s priests and deacons.

    But not in developed nations – it’s growing in places where mysticism and superstition still have a strong presence, and soon those havens will fade away as well. The point is this: your religion has become so anitquated that it can’t survive apart from an atmosphere of ignorance and fear of supernatural forces, and those conditions are all but impossible to find on a large scale outside the third-world anymore.

  • Arch

    Thanks for those points, Adam. The Church is certainly strong in many places around the globe, third world or not. Events such as World Youth Day draw millions of youth and young adults from all over–poorer and wealthier countries alike. (likely one of the largest gatherings for one event in human history took place in 1995 at World Youth Day in the Philippines–somwhere between 5-7 million people)
    The Church is strong, energetic, and ever youthful.

  • Mathew Wilder

    Adam, anecdotes cannot trump solid data. A few orders may be growing, but as a whole they are shrinking. Same with the church, and it’s ministers. Christopher rightly argues that the only growth is underdeveloped areas. It doesn’t seem too far-fetched to think that once these areas develop, the same thing will happen there as is happening in the developed world. Also, from your point quality may trump quantity, but that is irrelevant to the our point, since we don’t think there is such a thing as quality when it comes to religion or the religious.

  • Arch

    your religion has become so anitquated that it can’t survive apart from an atmosphere of ignorance and fear of supernatural forces, and those conditions are all but impossible to find on a large scale outside the third-world anymore.

    Christopher, I would like to ask if, prior to making such a statement, you have read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, recent encyclicals by John Paul II or Pope Benedict, the Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas, etc… It is an illegitimate point to state the the Church survives only through fear and ignorance. The Church has constantly promulgated its teachings regarding the intellect, reason, the will, conscience, and how these pertain to our relationship with God. Claiming that faith is about fear or ignorance is a simple argument that fails to recognize almost 2,000 years of explanation of Church doctrine and the reasons it is what it is.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Claiming that faith is about fear or ignorance is a simple argument that fails to recognize almost 2,000 years of explanation of Church doctrine and the reasons it is what it is.

    So you claim. If the church is about reason, intellect, etc. then why are they completely unable to make a rational, coherent, logical argument for god?

  • Arch

    For the same reason an atheist cannot make a rational, coherent, logical argument regarding how all matter, the cell, and human life came to be (and the meaning of it all) without a Divine Being.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    For the same reason an atheist cannot make a rational, coherent, logical argument regarding how all matter, the cell, and human life came to be (and the meaning of it all) without a Divine Being.

    What utter rubbish. One need not invoke a divine being in order to account for nature. Sorry, but that’s one of the irrational arguments of the church that has been debunked. You’ll have to try harder.

    Besides, we do have a rational, coherent, logical argument for the cell and human life (abiogenetic arguments and evolution). So, your statement is doubly wrong.

    And, to make it even worse, your statement does nothing to counter the fact that your religion is necessarily based on irrationality. Even if atheism were similarly based on irrationality, it would not make your religion rational. So, saying that the church is based on reason is simply false.

  • heliobates

    For the same reason an atheist cannot make a rational, coherent, logical argument regarding how all matter, the cell, and human life came to be (and the meaning of it all) without a Divine Being.

    Yeeeaaaah! “Goddiddit” is much more coherent than the Standard Model of particle physics. Which gap will you cram your God into if and when the LHC experiments find the Higgs Boson?

    You’re appallingly ignorant Arch. We know how and approximately when multicellular organisms developed. We know how and approximately when humans split from the other great apes, to the point that we can use haploid groups to trace the broad trends of humann migration evident in each person’s DNA (how does Catholic doctrine account for mitochondrial DNA?). Not knowing the exact nature of the first replicators is no real setback since we probably cannot ever reproduce the exact conditions under which the first replicators formed but what we do have is several hundred years of evidentiary support for a naturalistic world view. You have tradition, ignorance and personal incredulity.

  • Mathew Wilder

    For that matter, heliobates, (though this is getting far afield), how could Christian doctrine accommodate the modern understanding of evolution? We know that there was really no Adam and Eve – so then how to account for the doctrine of the Fall, since there never was one? At which point in hominid evolution did souls become “attached” thus making us human? Was a certain genetic profile necessary before god started attaching souls? (Supposing, of course, we have any idea what a soul is, and how it could interact with a physical body.) Like I said, though, this is a discussion for another thread, I suppose.

  • bestonnet

    Adam:

    I would say that there are a number of growing communities of catholic sisters and nuns.

    A friend of mine just joined the Brother of St. John. Another one is joining the Poor Clare’s

    And I know of a number of orders that are fastly growing:

    http://www.nashvilledominican.org/
    http://sistersofmary.org/

    I know that with sisters, and with priests, it is important to have quality not quantity.

    So a few organisations of the Catholic church are growing?

    Big deal, that doesn’t mean that the whole church is growing, just that part of the church is growing.

    Adam:

    My point is that Catholic Church is growing in the Americas, and worldwide with it’s priests and deacons.

    My point is that the worldwide growth and the growth in the Americas is occurring in the third world, not the first world.

    Adam:

    My daughter is from a third world country. Do you have a problem with all people in third world countries, or just the Catholics that live there?

    No, I’m just noting that pretty much the only growth area for your religion is the third world.

    As the standard of living in the third world increases we can expect it to follow what happened in the first world so in a hundred years the Catholic church in Africa and South America will be dying just like the Catholic church is Europe and North America is.

    Adam:

    Your reasoning sounds a little silly to me…like people in third world countries don’t count, or something…

    Sounds more like you’re just trying to argue away the fact that it is only in areas with a low standard of living that the Catholic church is growing.

  • lpetrich

    “World Youth Day” doesn’t count. All that happened was that the Pope threw a big party and invited everybody. And lots of people *love* going to parties.

    And as to the decline of US nuns, you can see that decline’s effect in Catholic schools. They used to have no trouble finding plenty of nuns to teach in them, but nowadays, they often use laypeople — and often non-Catholic laypeople at that.

    And as to Arch’s claim that “an atheist cannot make a rational, coherent, logical argument regarding how all matter, the cell, and human life came to be (and the meaning of it all) without a Divine Being”, claiming “Goddidit!” is a big copout. There are numerous other possibilities, and the burden of proof is on the positive.

    And the “Goddidit!” solution seems like a case of Richard Dawkins’s Ultimate 747: exchanging a mystery for a bigger mystery.

  • heliobates

    @Matthew Wilder

    …how could Christian doctrine accommodate the modern understanding of evolution?

    Right on, bro!

    Let’s see. On the left side we have WMAP, the Standard Model of particle physics (99.99% experimentally verified), classical physics (99.999999% verified), modern organic chemistry, modern biology, the geologic column, isochron radiometric dating, proof from the Titan probe that complex polymers spontaneously form from available organics, a progression of fossils beginning with simple flatworms through tetrapod development, the dinosaurs, the KT extinction, the rise of mammals, the waves of Holocene gigantism and extinctions, the great ape lineages, DNA, increasing DNA sample sizes allowing us to ‘map’ the genetic development of humans and our nearest primate cousins, modern medicine, and dozens of other mutually-reinforcing disciplines spanning 200+ years with millions of data points to support an understanding of our present condition that is almost completely congruent with all available observations.

    Whatcha got on your side, Adam: warmed over Babylonian and Greek influences, “In the beginning…”, argument from ignorance and argument from personal incredulity.

  • heliobates

    Oops. That last was a response to Matt and directed at Arch not Adam.

  • http://www.ateosmexicanos.com/portal/ Juan Felipe

    Catholic church. One of them, I feel certain, is that young Catholics feel increasingly disconnected from a church that continues to bash gays, exclude women from the priesthood, and preach against contraception. As society becomes increasingly liberal and tolerant, the Catholic church continues to cling obstinately to its irrational rules, and is accordingly being left in the dust.

    I agree completely; in fact, I think thats probably the main reason why the decline of religion is much more apparent in the catholic church. Further evidence for this comes from the fact that, poll after poll, even the so called catholic persons have been shown to hold opinions that disagree completely with the Church regarding sexuality and moral issues. A recent poll in Argentina*, for example, had some really interesting results:

    While 76% of people in Argentina are catholics, 63% of them think abortion is justified in certain circumstances; 92% of the population agrees with comprehensive sex education in schools, 88% think that the government should promote contraception and 86% thinks they should be handed out for free.

    With the possible exception of abortion, most people I know agree with those issues as well. But this get even better: 48% of people think priest should be allowed to marry, and 42% believe women should be allowed to be priest!! Similar results are found in different countries, like Mexico and Spain. It’s good to see that fortunately, few people take seriously the ridiculous and ultraconservative view of sexuality promoted by the catholic church.

    *Source: http://www.lacapital.com.ar/contenidos/2008/08/27/noticia_0047.html

  • seathanaich

    What to do with old church buildings? I’ve seen one turned into a music school and conservatory in Victoria, BC, Canada. In Toronto one is now the Hockey Hall of Fame. Many are turning into libraries, art galleries, and other public buildings – and beautiful ones at that. The only problem is that they are usually energy inefficient and costly to maintain. But in many cases the buildings themselves are worth preserving. over the short term we may see Muslim congregations buying old Christian churches, since Christianity will be only a small fringe group in Europe by the end of this century. However, Islam in Europe will fade away too after a few generations. Harmful and stupid superstition can’t survive if rational thought is vigourously protected in a society as an alternative.

    Religion is dying among educated, wealthy, peaceful societies. Even Muslim and Hindu immigrants become atheists within a few generations; after all, intelligence is not ethnically specific. The trend will only accelerate, unless we have serious social and economic disintigration due to climate change or the collapse of the fossil fuel economy (both very likely possibilities).

    Totatlitarians can will in the short term, but they cannot last forever if people are willing to fight for freedom. Religion is on the wrong side of history, and atheism will destroy the current crop of religions as surely as those religions killed off all the older polytheisms and pantheons.

    However, the need for humans to think that magic and the supernatural are real transcends religion, and is seen in horoscopes, belief in ghosts, alien abduction claims, and the need for people to claim that “everything is for a purpose”. Such superstition will prove more persistent than the individual religions. Also, most of the world will remain poor, which means that religion will persist for centuries yet in Africa and Asia, and probably South America.

  • Bill

    Ah, atheism, the new opiate of the masses. Seems like we always need one …

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Heh, Bill, you go on ahead, and nurture your preconceptions. The longer you stay complacent, the more shocking shall be your disillusionment. Have a great day!

  • Nes

    So, (to extend the metaphor) refusing to take drugs is taking a drug?

    Wow.

  • http://protostellarclouds.blogspot.com/ Mathew Wilder

    @Nes, Very nice!

  • Snoof

    So, (to extend the metaphor) refusing to take drugs is taking a drug?

    Exactly! And bald is a hair colour, and not collecting stamps is a hobby! Sheesh, you people. Don’t you know anything?

  • Tj

    “That would be a decline in North America and growth in South America (because there are statistics indicating that the Catholic church is losing ground in the US and Canada). South America is pretty much third world.”

    “You may not have a problem with an intolerant church but that doesn’t mean others find that kind of crap acceptable.”

    Preaching against intolerance while exhibiting a very smug intolerant attitude towards the rest of the world is bad form.

    South America is not “pretty much third world”, it’s largest countries are “emergent” and on the rise- the Yankees can’t even strangle them these days.

  • http://pioneer513.wordpress.com Linda McLean

    I think that the Church has lost it’s role – it used to be an educator – but now it is not needed for that. It used to provide Social Cohesion: now we have Facebook or Linked In. It used to be able to identify those in most need – now we have Social Workers.
    But there is a role for society, which we ignore at our peril. All we need is the glue. Robert was a non Christian in 1816:
    ‘Robert Owen often talked of the new Millennium; a time, he hoped, when society would be greatly improved. When he opened the Institute for the Formation of Character on New Year’s Day 1816, he gave an Address to the Inhabitants of New Lanark, in which he outlined his hopes for the Millennium, his plans, and his notion that education was the means of achieving a better and fairer society.

    “What ideas individuals may attach to the term “Millennium” I know not; but I know that society may be formed so as to exist without crime, without poverty, with health greatly improved, with little, if any misery, and with intelligence and happiness increased a hundredfold: AND NO OBSTACLE WHATSOEVER INTERVENES AT THIS MOMENT EXCEPT IGNORANCE to prevent such a state of society from becoming universal”.’(MY CAPS)

    As they say, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”
    An effective and useful system was dismantled before our eyes – and we stood by and watched. It is not all about religion.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    An effective and useful system was dismantled before our eyes – and we stood by and watched.

    Yes, I suppose that the over-the-top percentages of ignorant people in America who actually think evolution is bunk is a rather good testament to the effectiveness and usefulness of religious “education.”


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