"The popularity of Christianity has always been tidal"
Growing up in the faith has always been regarded as critical for the health of a religion. “Go forth and multiply!” people joke. Genesis 9:7 the Latin Vulgate reads “vos autem crescite et multiplicamini et ingredimini super terram et implete eam,” in English “And you, be fruitful and multiply and increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” It seems this advice has become a little more complicated in America today, and plays out differently in Christianity and Islam according to the latest findings from the Pew Research Center.
While the religious do continue to multiply, how this is impacting overall religious growth in America is markedly different for the two faiths. In Islam, growth levels are being maintained by replacing Muslims leaving the faith with new converts to Islam. Pew estimates that about one-in-five American Muslim adults were raised in a different faith tradition and converted to Islam, and they replace a similar share of Americans who were raised Muslim but now no longer identify with the faith.
This, according to the findings, is where the difference arises. Islam is losing people raised in the faith at about the same rate as Christianity, but Christians are not attracting new converts to replace them. The research by the Pew estimates that adults who are converts to Islam comprise about one-quarter (23%), while only 6% of current Christians are converts. At the same time, a quarter of adults raised Muslim (23%) no longer identify as members of the faith, which is about on par with Americans raised as Christian but no longer identifying with Christianity (22%). Because conversions in America are less in number for Christians than for Muslims, Islam is being replenished in numbers while Christians are falling behind.
This said, Islam remains a minority taste in America, but it is growing. Pew estimates that Muslims currently make up about 1.1% of the total U.S. population, with about 3.45 million Muslims of all ages living in the United States. Their projections suggest the U.S. Muslim population will grow much faster than the country’s Jewish population, and by 2040 Islam will become America’s second-largest religious group after Christians. By 2050, the U.S. Muslim population is projected to double at 8.1 million, or 2.1% of the nation’s total population.
Pew’s first study of Muslim Americans was back in 2007, which estimated 2.35 million Muslims, nearly half of whom were not adults. A 2011 survey estimated a 2.75 million population, again just under half non-adults. (including 1.8 million adults). Since then, the Muslim population has continued to grow at a rate of roughly 100,000 per year. There are two drivers, higher fertility rates and immigration of Muslims into America.
The lesson is that the impact of religious conversions is they are necessary to replenish the number lapsing, leaving the growth of the population to continue much in the way called for by Genesis 9:7. This suggests that if Christianity is to maintain, and even experience growth, then it needs to do so on three fronts. First, to follow Genesis 9:7 by multiplying; secondly, by reducing the loss of the faithful; and thirdly, by following Matthew 28:19, “euntes ergo docete omnes gentes baptizantes eos in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti;” “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
In a nation that is still self-professed three-quarters Christian, one would have thought this would be easier in America than it appears to be from doom-laden forecasts about the religious health of the nation. Perhaps, there needs to be more of a challenge to these perceptions, because as we all know perceptions become reality. In today’s social media world, “facts” are seen as more malleable and people feel entitled to their own "set of facts.” The fact in America is that Christianity is still the largest faith, but it needs revitalising.
If we mull over the Pew figures, there should be cause for hope. Quite apart from the fact that history is ultimately in God’s hands, and without being complaisant, Catholics in America should have a threefold confidence: the confidence in faith to nourish the family; the confidence in doctrine to maintain those in the faith; and, the certainty of the gospel message to bring in converts. The church is in this for the long haul. The popularity of Christianity has always been tidal, and in today’s communications world the church needs to develop better ways to navigate the communication channels.