As I understand it, the poll counted Protestants and Catholics (but not Baptists and Methodists) as separate religions. Interesting.
The big problem with Catholicism is that it’s not as gung-ho and energetic as the charismatic and evangelical Protestants who recruit from among them. The Catholic Church is like Hillary, and the “sects” are like Obama! In time, I expect that the newcomers will lose their luster, much as Christian Science has. (Mark Twain extrapolated, perhaps unwisely, that Christian Science would become the major U.S. religion by the end of the 20th century.)
The JW’s are gung-ho enough, but the social costs of belonging are just too high to appeal to rational people. It costs nothing to be Catholic, with the possible exception of your son’s rectal virginity, and you might even benefit. Judaism is more expensive, but on the whole a good buy, considering the networking possibilities. The JW’s ask that you avoid going to university, accept direction from church elders, and make other sacrifices of this nature. This could only appeal to very low-achieving types. (At least the Mormons are in favor of university education.)
A lot of people seem to approach religion as a form of entertainment. I wonder if this doesn’t account for the mega-church’s appeal (though as entertainment it still seems pretty pathetic). Mainly older people will feel allegience to the traditional Protestant denominations, though younger people may attend their churches out of convenience, and not distinguish between (say) Methodist and Lutheran. And of course there is a growing number of people who are privately religious, or seeking, but do not translate that into a clear institutional identity. The “New Age” movement came and went, but the behavior stayed with us.
Structural demographic change will have a huge impact. I thought Judaism would have fared much worse, for example (though they stand to benefit from increasing immigration out of Israel). For the sake of comparison, the Masons (not a religion!) are in deep trouble–hardly any young men want to join, and the only sign of hope on the horizon is the fact that Dan Brown’s next book will apparently be about them.
Episcopalians appear to be headed for a split, based on members’ fundamentally different perceptions of what their religion ought to be.
It’s never easy to know what to count as a sign of religious identity. In Britain, for example, the number of self-described Protestants and Catholics is about equal–but about 20 times as many Catholics as Protestants go to church on an ordinary Sunday. How important is self-description vs. church attendance? And does this fairly apply across religious borders? Is a Jew who denies God and enters the synagogue only with great reluctance, less religious than the Baptist who goes three times a week? Maybe the Jew is more religious–because he can’t not be a Jew even if he tries, whereas the Baptist has to continually reaffirm his religious commitment (thereby underscoring the possibility of leaving).
I wonder whether “fundamentalist” or conservative forms of religiosity are in the ascendent. For example Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists are all (needless to say, independently of one another) moving away from various social compromises of previous generations, towards more “traditional” norms. Reform Jews are bringing back yarmulkas, Buddhist groups (whether white or immigrant) seem intent on recreating traditional Asian practices, and the Muslims–well, you know about them. On this basis, I expect to see Orthodox Christianity grow considerably. (Conservative Episcopalians ought to be flirting with them instead of the Catholics.)
Baha’is are poised between contradictory pressures. In theory, they ought to benefit from multicultural and multiracial trends, as well as the public’s apparent desire for a more authoritarian leadership. However, they’ve been around for awhile now, and their members are just now realizing that their last several decades of “growth” are in fact an illusion. I would say that their future is looking more and more like Christian Science.
The Hare Krishna have done surprisingly well for themselves. Their now-decentralized structure has helped them avoid too much fallout from scandals similar to those which have plagued the Catholic Church, and they’ve managed to attract enough ethnic Hindus to appear respectable. (Many more of those on the way.) They still have huge turnover, though, and the sex-only-three-times-a-month rule can’t help with member retention.
So, how did the Jedi do this time around? Is the Force still with them, or have they stopped putting medichlorians in the water?