Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Demographic Divide

Religion in North America Damian Brooks of Babbling Brooks said some nice things about one of my posts last week and then (the dirty rat) asked some questions about which I know very little:
how you interpret the decline in attendance at Catholic churches in Canada in contrast with the increase in attendance at many evangelical churches around the country? Does "preaching style" enter into it? In that context, what do you think of Vatican II and the abandonment of Latin services?
I had to do some searches to try and find some data to work off of, since 1) I am new to church going and can't draw on a lot of personal experience, and 2) most Catholics in Canada have traditionally lived in eastern Canada, especially Quebec. I, on the other hand, have never been east of Alberta. I found a table of information on Religions in North America at The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity. The Centre notes that while Christianity is the major religion in North America by a large margin, it is also declining slightly. The author notes that the decline is not spread out evenly:

[Christianity's] net growth rate of 0.8%--slightly under the region's population growth rate--means it is losing its share of the total population.

Not all Christian traditions are in decline. Roman Catholics are growing both through births and conversions, thus increasing their share of the population. Independent and Non-white indigenous churches, growing at 1.6% per year, are outstripping the population growth rate at a healthy margin; they are adding nearly half a million members through conversion alone. Marginal churches are growing at 1.7%, adding 94,000 yearly through conversion and the balance through birth. Unfortunately, Protestants are in serious decline, losing 1 member through defection for every 2 gained through births.

What I make of this information is that Latin Americans are a hugely growing force in America and they are bringing their faith, Catholicism, with them. Catholics who are faithful to the Church tend to have families that are larger than those who are not, and they are larger still than those who are not religious at all. Catholicism in Canada is hugely skewed by what is happening in Quebec, where the picture is not at all pretty. Demographics are funny things - it does not take very large percentage changes to have very large effects over time, as someone who writes under what appears to be the pen name "Spengler" notes in the Asia Times:
Take this simple calculation: 44% of the US population of 285 million as of the year 2000 census were evangelical (or "born again") Christians, according to an August 2000 Gallup poll. Let us assume that these 125 million evangelicals average three children per family during the next generation, and that the non-evangelical population averages 1.6 children per family. Within one generation (assuming a 0.5% death rate for both groups), evangelicals will form a majority of 61% of the population. This does not take into account the higher birthrate of devout Catholics, who tend toward social conservatism. These are simplistic calculations, but it will not take long for the professionals to produce more accurate ones. Like the French and German general staffs before World War I, the strategists of both US political parties will spend the next four years analyzing demographic tables. Apart from the evangelical surge, the failure of the "youth vote" to buoy the Democratic side was another election surprise. In the future, the youth vote will belong increasingly to the Republicans.
Spengler concludes his look at the U.S. data with the observation that "Those who were horrified by the religious character of the US presidential election had better grow a tougher hide. That, the available evidence shows, only was the beginning." The non religious reproduce at such low rates that their best hope is in "conversion;" one could say they reproduce asexually via the Hollywood meme pool and catalogues from Abercrombie and Finch. The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity notes that Protestants are in decline and it is interesting to note that areas of the U.S. that were settled by the English Puritans tend to be areas that voted for John Kerry and the pro abortion agenda of the Democratic party. I think the slow decline from Puritan to Abercrombie may be the result of a fundamental clash between wealth and power, and the Christian message of equality before God. Spengler writes, in another article that : "Christianity, if I may be so bold, does not fare well as a doctrine for the elites... intellectual elites keep turning away from faith and toward philosophy - something that Franz Rosenzweig defined as a small child sticking his fingers in his ears while shouting 'I can't hear you!' in the face of the fear of death." When the elites are offended at how meagerly their power and wealth are recognized by the faith, it seems they head to the suburban mall for a big TV, or the corner sex shop for a pack of rubbers (although they might stop at a liberal church on the way). There is nothing wrong with a big TV, by the way, unless you place it over your family and community. While in America the tension might be between the pull of the family faith and the call of materialism, in Canada we are moving closer all the time towards making a religion of the state. We have state run hospitals, schools, universities, and, soon, state run daycares. I suggest that this might have two historical sources. Quebec, traditionally Catholic, used Church run schools and hospitals for most of its history. In recent times that province has turned sharply away from the church and has replaced it with government, both Provincial and Federal. It has no tradition of personal independence like the Americans do. The other heavyweight in Canada is Ontario, which is a more traditionally Anglican province. Anglicanism, like old Catholicism, has a long history as a state religion. Ontario seems to lag behind Quebec in swapping Church institutions for government ones, but it does seem to be heading generally in that direction as well. Religious tension in Canada takes place between the church and state, and in America it is between the churches and the market. The Americans have a true debate of ideas going on, while in Canada we have a few lonely voices, derided as cranks, who are willing to suggest that such a debate is even worthwhile. American demographics favour religious growth; Canadian demographics less so:
In 1998, Qu├ębec had the highest rate of abortion with 41.8 abortions per 100 live births, and PEI with the least at 9.9 abortion per 100 births. The Canadian average for abortions per 100 live births was 32.2.
That appalling statistic, nearly 50% of Quebec pregnancies end in a deliberate death funded 100% by the state, suggests that in that province even more so than the others, there are few who want to debate anything. It also suggests that a demographic revival along American lines is farther off. The new Church emerging in Canada is one in which we pay our tithes, not in the hope of storing treasure in heaven, but in the hope of not having to be much bothered about life here and now. We want everything taken care of and we don't want to argue. So Quebec feebly writes draconian language laws in an effort achieve through law what it is unable and unwilling to do the old fashioned way - create a strong culture through strong demographics. The ROC (rest of Canada, for my US readers) isn't fairing much better. We want national daycare, not tax breaks for families, and we want to act through the UN rather than through a well trained and equipped army. I really do worry about this country. As to the question of what sorts of churches are most likely to benefit from changing demographics, Canada is an immigrant country like the U.S. and so it probably has some of the same rough, blank slate qualities to it that allow people to change churches frequently:
During the past generation, the 10 largest born-again denominations have doubled their membership, while the six largest mainstream Protestant denominations have lost 30% This suggests an enormous rate of defection from the mainstream denominations, whose history dates back to the 16th century (in the case of Episcopalians, Lutherans and Presbyterians) or the 18th century (in the case of Methodists), in favor of evangelical churches that existed in seed-crystal form at best at the beginning of the 20th century.
From this I would guess that churches that are firm about holding up the value of what people do (live, work, suffer, raise families) will do better than those who do not. That might explain the appeal of Evangelical churches, some of whom I take it hold a more traditional line than churches that have been in North America much longer. Can Catholics compete for people in such an Environment? I think so. I think the church has a reputation for being a calm spot in a storm, for being an anchor in uncertainty. It has held the most pro family and pro life stance of any church that I am aware of, and that may come to be important for young people fleeing families broken, shrunken and atomized by divorce and abortion. It has not had the decline of mainline North American churches but it has suffered a lack of commitment from some parishioners in recent times. That may change as younger generations grow up and are faced with adult decisions.

No comments: