Response to “10 Signs Christianity Is on the Rise”

I woke up this morning to find this article by Tom Hoopes titled “10 Signs Christianity Is on the Rise.” I read these kinds of things from time to time, and usually they leave my desk with no comment. But when I read this one, each and every point he tried to make was either uninformed at best or dishonest at worst. Either way, his points are so easily refuted by looking at the research into his claims that I’ve decided to address them, point by point.

1. Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds worldwide.

Hoopes starts by writing, “The research shows Christian numbers rising, not falling worldwide.” First I want to take issue with Hoopes for committing the number one sin in reporting. What research?! Although this is a clerical matter, and it in no way means Hoopes is mistaken, he should’ve known better than to not cite his sources.

Anyway, moving on. Even though Hoopes offers no evidence to support this statement, he’s right. As Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart pointed out in 2004, Christianity — and indeed all religious beliefs — will continue in an upward trend globally for many years. But their research also points out that religion is declining in industrialized states and will continue to decline as states modernize. This happens, they posit, because the church is often a source of hope in societies where the threat of death from disease, starvation, or murder is common. As our existential security increases, we find hope in secular places. As disease, starvation, or murder loses its monopoly on our fears, the church loses its monopoly on our hopes. In other words, yes, Christianity is growing much faster than it’s declining globally, but in the industrialized world, it’s been put on the endangered religions list.

2. Nominal Christianity is dead — and that’s a good thing.

In his second point, Hoopes argues that the decline of Christianity in the US is a product of fake Christians finally leaving Christianity. Here Hoopes makes an ad hoc no true Scotsman fallacy. He appears to believe that Christians who leave the church were never Christians to begin with, so good riddance to them! He cites the growing acceptance of atheism as an alternative to Christ as the cause of this, which may be true. Some atheists are closet atheists who pretend to follow a particular religion out of fear of being socially ostracized. But to say it’s a good thing to get rid of them because they weren’t real Christians is merely to ignore objective realities in order to maintain a rhetorical position. Yes, it’s good that atheists are freer today to leave Christianity, but try to avoid rationalizing this reality with us-them arguments.

3. The Church is promoting the sacraments.

Hoopes laments dwindling Catholic attendance at Mass. But his entire argument that this is no indication of a dying church is a planned Vatican event for this Friday. He argues this event has already seen positive results as other cities make preparations for it, but that’s merely a self-fulfilling prophesy. In other words, if you think more Catholics will eventually attend Mass and then organize a massive global Mass, of course more Catholics will attend Mass — that Mass. What happens a month later? Is it likely the Catholic church will substantially and permanently increase Mass attendance, or, going back to the first point, has industrialization in the US affectively put Christianity into a death spiral?

4. Eucharistic Adoration is on the rise.

Here Hoopes essentially makes the same argument as above: The Vatican building Eucharist Adoration chapels is a sign that Catholicism is growing in the US. No. It’s a sign that the church is building buildings. If future generations utilize those buildings at a higher rate then they do now, then Hoopes will have a point. For now, he’s just making prophesy. Furthermore, he makes this argument despite his previous lament that Catholicism is on the decline in the US. If you build it, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will come.

5. Catholic youth movements have never been stronger.

At face value Hoopes has a point here. He cites unprecedented attendance at the church’s World Youth Day and at pro-life rallies. But if we look at the research, this type of activistic growth is to be expected in the face of religion’s weakening grasp. Norris and Inglehart’s study suggests that as religion declines in industrialized and industrializing states, the church will push back against these changing norms with equal force. As these sincerely and deeply held beliefs fall from normal practice, those who still maintain those beliefs must actively justify them. This isn’t a sign that Christianity is withstanding secularism; it’s actually evidence that Christianity is falling victim to secularism.

6. … and the Catholic youth movements are linked to higher education.

Hoopes believes that the massive increase in the National Catholic Register’s list of Catholic universities from 5 to over 30 is somehow a sign that Christianity is on the rise. But he admits this increase is a reaction against “hostile environments that dismantle students’ faith.” In other words, this is the same reactionary force I mentioned above. As universities and students become more secular, religious schools must push harder to justify the teaching of faith. Again, if we consult the research, we would see that this is evidence of a failing religion, not the other way around.

7. New, young vocations.

Hoopes argues that young people are becoming priests and nuns at sufficiently high numbers to replace the literally dying old priesthood. He cites “research” that shows young people are “even more likely” to become nuns and priests, but again he fails to cite that research. I have no idea where this claim came from, and I’m not about to take it at face value. But even if this is true, this phenomenon is occurring despite dwindling church membership. Having a sufficient number of young priests and nuns is meaningless if there’s no one making tithes.

8. Strong, engaged Bishops.

Here Hoopes argues that the Church is showing signs of strength because bishops are more actively getting involved in politics. He cites anti-abortion activism and anti-contraception activism. But again, these are reactionary forces against a secularizing state, not a sign that the church will survive.

9. A new interest in Scripture.

He argues that popular culture — such as the Da Vinci Code — have piqued people’s interest in reading the bible, which is not a bad thing. But an increase in interest in the bible is not indicative of much. If Homer’s Odyssey came back into mainstream pop culture, that too would increase interest in the Odyssey, but that doesn’t mean there’d be an increase in people who worship Zeus.

Furthermore, I invite people to read the bible and then attempt to demonstrate the accuracy of the bible by looking at the evidence. This is how a lot of people go from Christian to atheist. If they can’t support the bible with secular, objective evidence, then they’re less likely to believe the bible.

10. The witness of the martyrs.

Lastly Hoopes makes an appeal to prophesy: If the bible is true then Christianity will survive. If it’s not true, then it will die. Well, duh. He finally writes “But since Jesus Christ really did die and rise and leave us the sacraments, don’t expect it to go away any time soon.” I should ask him, how do you know he really did die and rise…? He offers us nothing but religious conjecture. This final point doesn’t tell us a damned thing! It only serves to reinforce his own beliefs and his readers’ beliefs. It’s not an argument; it’s an opinion, one not supported by a single shred of evidence.

A Brief Discussion

If you believe in Christ, that’s cool with me. I’m only here asking that you justify your belief in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary. But don’t be surprised if future generations leave the church at high rates. And don’t be surprised if Christianity goes the way of Mithraism.

If this world continues to modernize, then we should expect to see a continued trend towards secularism. Even states where religion is growing fast enough to more-than-compensate for the decline of religion elsewhere, we should expect to eventually see an identical reversal of that growth, given sufficient modernization. At least, this is what the evidence suggests.

About Rayan Zehn

I'm a political scientist.
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9 Responses to Response to “10 Signs Christianity Is on the Rise”

  1. Barry says:

    Somehow I doubt we’ll see the end of Christianity any time soon. NZ is one of the most secular nations worldwide, but there are some very obvious trends that are showing up.

    The total number of Christians is declining rapidly, and is more or less evenly spread across the major denominations. But the more fundamentalist and evangelical groups are expanding rapidly. They are still a small proportion of all Christians, but I can see that at some time in the not too distant future, they will be a significant force in Christianity here.

    There is a rapid growth in non-Christian faiths, both in the number of faiths and the number of adherents. I don’t think we’ll see a slow down in growth for a while yet.

    • Rayan Zehn says:

      Yeah I didn’t mean to make it sound like Christianity facing immediate irrelevance. The research instead suggests that on a sufficiently long enough timeline, Christianity and all religions will collapse.

      • Barry says:

        Collapse? I have my doubts, But irrelevant, most likely

      • Rayan Zehn says:

        I’m just guessing here, but I think you have a point in a round about way. I’m guessing that a futuristic secular global society might still reinvent god in a pantheistic fashion. I think we humans are evolved to assume supernatural agency, so even in a religion free society, many of us — or most of us — might still believe in that agency. This might make for some very cool research. In fact, I’ll add it to my research queue. I can smell a paper in there somewhere.

      • Barry says:

        I’ve seen discussion on the possibility of a “God gene” as one explanation as to why so many humans have a belief in the supernatural.

        Naturally, some fundamentalists have seized upon this as “proof” that God exists, when it’s nothing of the kind – simply a conjecture that at some time in our evolutionary past, belief in the supernatural had some advantage to our survival.

  2. Tom Hoopes says:

    I realize I’m commenting on this long after you have posted; you have moved on. But indulge me.

    You were responding to a version of this article that is missing its links, making the “research” seem claimed instead of cited. This version has the links intact, though in a font color that hides them:

    It shows: 1: around the world religion is growing, even in places like China and India where industrialization is growing and 2. The number of unaffiliated Christians is growing even in the West. I expand on this with more links here:

    On my point 3: Good catch. I have no good data about confession and Mass growing more popular. For those of us who have been in the Church a while, seeing the institutional church actually asking people to make use of these sacraments is really something new and exciting. But it could be a reactionary move, you’re right.

    4. You have to understand how Eucharistic Adoration works. It isn’t a new building; it is an accommodation of a spiritual practice. Churches offering Perpetual Adoration is a trailing, not a leading, indicator. You have to have the adorers first. So this one I think is truly good news for people like me.

    5. Youth movements. This one you see as a reactionary effort that might amount to death throes and you could be right. We will have to see. The rate at which these people stay will tell the tale. But the fact that it is an undeniably large and energetic youth movement is telling to me.

    6. New universities. Again this could be a reactionary push-back: Time will tell. But I would also point out that sustaining a college is a trailing indicator: It’s not a “build it and they will come” thing: There is no way to build it unless they are already willing to come. (I know of three new Catholic universities that have failed in the past 20 years, but not due to enrollment; many more have succeeded .)

    7. Young vocations. Another either reactionary push-back or sign of life. But geesh. If having huge youth movements and young priests and nuns is a sign of death, and having no youth movement and no young vocations is also a sign of death, then I feel like I’m in a heads you win, tales I lose situation – and it starts to look like you will take any evidence as a sign that you are right.

    8. Engaged bishops. Your strongest point; this could totally be pushback or reactionary. In fact in some respects it undeniably is.

    9. Cultural interest in scripture. This one looks even stronger this year than it did last year : There is a huge cultural interest in positive portrayals of Jesus. I am 46 and this has never been more true in my life than it is today. (Just look at all the positive portrayals of priests out of nowhere: )

    10. The witness of the martyrs. You call it an appeal to prophecy, and maybe the way I present it is that, but I think martyrdom: 1. Shows the strength of a movement when ordinary members – not just the zealots – die for it; 2. It puts a “white hat” on the movement, and not just because we feel sorry for the bullied, but because we aren’t killing people but rather dying; 3. invigorates the movement, even just humanly, as with Gandhi, Che Guevaera and any terrorist event encourages solidarity with the victims.

    Long answer a year late, so whatever, I guess. At least it made me feel better. Ultimately, if Jesus Christ is not God then you are absolutely right, Christianity will die on the vine and I hope I have the intellectual integrity to denounce it and help kill it. If he is God, then Christianity will keep on keeping on and the Christians at your funeral and mine will plead our case before the Lamb.

    We’ll see.

  3. Good article. Hopefully christianity will die once and for all so we can get on with our lives without hatred.

    • Tom Hoopes says:

      Just like in Stalinist Russia!

    • David says:

      I’d just like to drop my 2 cents, for what its worth. This is a hard concept for people not of the faith, but an even harder one I find for people in the faith, but read the Bible and you too will see, Catholicism is not Christianity. They are two totally different things. The Catholic Church claims to be the only true church of Christ, yet it, like the Pharisee of Old, has added to the Bible with their traditions, such as Marry is a Co-Redeemer. 1 Timothy 2:5 says For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, just to give an example.

      Catholicism is a perverted form of Christianity, used to hide its pagan sun worship and idolization of the Queen of Heaven in the form of Mary worship.

      The so called Protestant movement that came out of the Catholic Church is equally if not more so, not Christian either.

      Where as the Catholic Church teaches a works + faith based salvation, the Protestants teach a Faith only based salvation, an strong Antinomian view, and both are incorrect and do not line up with the teachings of Jesus.

      The Bible teaches that our salvation comes by Grace through faith. This is faith that is cause for you to change your actions, not a simple utterance of words, that’s proselytism.

      If you truly believe something, it changes how you would react, for example, if you are pro-choice, you might have something to say to those pro-life types, or visa versa, your opinions shape your actions.

      Titus 2:11-12 puts this clearly God’s Grace Brings Salvation

      11For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, (Underling the first part of verse 12 peeps) 12Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.

      Our salvation comes when we fully surrender our life’s as a sacrifice to the only living God. Not by cutting our wrists or jumping off cliffs but by making choices to not live a life of sin, but rather a life of righteousness, which can only come because of the death burial and resurrection of Christ, and thus, the Grace of God now upon all men to overcome the world, if they so choose.

      That in a nut shell, simply is why I say, Catholics, and Protestants, are not Christians. If all it means to be a christian is a reconsecration of Jesus Christ, Muslims too then are Christians, they call him Issa. No, what it means to be a Christian, is someone who doesn’t believe in Christ, its one who follows Christ.

      On a last note, as far as Christianity is on the rise? No it is not. Narrow is the way that leadeth to life and few be there that find it. Broad is the road to destruction and many be on that path. Just because people show up to a building they call a church and check a box so they can feel they have some connection to God, does not make them a Christian. Those types may be on the rise simply because of all the prosperity preaching in the Churches today. But going to a “church” makes you no more a Christian, then standing in your garage makes you a car.

      At any rate, the Bible says there will soon come a time (to which I believe we are currently in) where the Apostasy will take place, and many men and women who serve God will fall away in mass droves. Think like if aliens showed up on the White house Door step and claimed to be our creators, panspermia kind of a situation.

      I believe we are already seeing the Apostasy however because “churches” are closing their doors already, and are being reopened as churches of the Flying Spigetti Monster, or Church of Cthulhu, or star wars church and so on, or how about that Baphomet in Detroit. Open Satan worship rampant in the United States, the self proclaimed beacon of light.

      No, Christianity, in its truest form, will never die. Not until the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ.

      The Christian “religion” always chants this no man knoweth the day or hour, lulling the body of believer into this pre-tribulation rapture doctrine, that Jesus is going to do some kind of cosmic drive by and scoop up American Christians, because he cares about them more then Middle Eastern Christians, when the true is, the Bible gives clear signs to look for.

      In the second coming of the Son of man, will be like the days of Noah (trans-humanism), the days of Lot (sexual perversions to the likes of Sodom and Gomorrah), there will begin to be earthquakes, famines, pestilence in diverse places. The apostasy will begin, then the Anti-Christ reveled. And the hunt for real Christians will begin.

      So if you really hate Christianity that much, know, that the Bible teaches there is coming a time where Christian persecution will be like guillotines in the streets. Christians being tossed into Prison, marked as hate crime committing, or simply giving the label terrorists. Oh wait, we already have begun to get those labels.

      Sorry for the long posts, went a bit on a tangent, but ya. I pray you seek God’s face, for YHVH, the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob is real. And this Catholic, Protestant, so called Christian religion, has given a horrible representation of who or what he is. Often preacher types who will say, I know the cure for Aids, its Leviticus 20:13 (i think) stone all homosexuals. That’s not Christian, that’s the spirit of the Devil. Any who I got to run, hopefully that helps clarify “Christianity” and if its on the rise, fall, going to end, what have you.

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