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COMMENTARY: U.S. Religious Trends in the 21st Century: From Catholic to Orthodox, from (Nominal) Christian to Islam

Posted by kinchendavid on January 8, 2007

By Sean Scallon

 Arkansaw, WI   — Demographics is destiny and that’s true not just in politics but business, education, sports, entertainment, culture and religion.



Especially religion.



That’s because numbers and numbers of adherents determine whether or not your faith is taken seriously or is just another kooky cult.



There are two demographic trends that may occur in the 21st Century inside the U.S. that could alter several faiths in the process. Those trends are from Catholic to Orthodox and from (nominal) Christian to Islam.




We start with the Catholic Church. It’s no secret the U.S. Catholic Church is in a deep crisis. The numerous sexual molestation scandals and the class action lawsuits that have followed are draining diocesan treasuries dry. Many such dioceses are selling off buildings like closed churches and schools and other real estate properties they own.



On top of that, the shortage of priests and nuns in the U.S. mean more such closures are on the way. And because of that shortage, the Church’s institutions, its colleges, hospitals and other charitable foundations, will become completely secularized within the next 20 years. The whole infrastructure of the Church within the U.S. could be almost gone by within that time period.



The U.S. Catholic Church will survive, however. It has faced worse challenges in its history and has always survived. But to survive means to adapt and adapting means change and the U.S. Catholic Church will be transformed by this process. The transformation will come demographically as what once was a European-ethnic church will become a predominantly Hispanic and Third World immigrant church.




This is also a process that’s going on world wide as well. Philip Jenkins, the Penn State University theology professor and writer for Chronicles, has documented this coming transformation of the Christian world thanks to demographics in numerous articles and books. Numbers mean power and such power within the Church will come from its Third World adherents.



There’s no doubt next pope will be probably be from the Third World, perhaps Latin or South America first (with a bishop of European immigrant descent) followed by an African pope after that. We’ve already seen the Third World‘s power within the Anglican community already. Several Episcopal churches in the U.S. have left their local dioceses in schisms to align themselves with Anglican dioceses in Third World locations because their bishops are more traditional than their Western counterparts, who are ordaining women and homosexual bishops.




What is fueling the change in the U.S. Catholic Church is immigration. More Hispanic immigrants and other Catholic immigrants from the Third World are filling the pews and in many cases what were once empty pews, especially in big cities. Now as immigration spreads from big cities and the coasts to small towns in the Midwest and South, such change will take place in churches in these locations as well. It’s the Catholic Church that will absorb most of the new immigrants. Although a good chunk of Hispanic immigrants are Pentecostals, they tend to form their own churches separately. Hispanic Catholics are moving into existing communities and existing churches.




All this leaves the European ethnic in a quandary. The term “Catholic” means universal and as such it should not matter what race or ethnic group anyone who calls themselves Catholic is. All are welcomed. Yet such churches were the anchors of previous ethnic communities. Such change can be quite jarring, especially when you add it onto change within the neighborhood, change in the business community and change within the schools thanks to unlimited immigration. It doesn’t take long for one Hispanic mass to become all masses at some point.




Because of this change, some European ethnic Catholics wish that the bishops would either take a stand against immigration or least not be noisy promoters of it like Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahoney. Unfortunately they are whistling past the graveyard. Not even the most conservative of bishops, like Omaha‘s Roman Bruskewitz, are going to oppose unlimited immigration nor will any be recalled by Rome for such support like Mahoney.



The Catholic Church in the U.S. is an immigrant church. Always has been. Always will be. To its bishops and administrators, seeing one immigrant group coming into the church and overtaking another is simply the natural wave of history. It would be unthinkable of them to turn oppose immigration, especially when such immigrants and their money are going to be ones to keep the Church afloat during its time of transformation.



Opponents of unlimited immigration must understand that is how the church thinks and operates and it perfectly fits with its history. It not a “Popish” plot to undermine the United States. This writer (and Catholic) nearly deleted VDARE.com from his list of favorite websites last year because some of its writers began waving the bloody shirt of “rum, Romanism and rebellion” until Peter Brimelow thankfully set them straight and also pointed out Protestantism’s many contributions to our nation’s immigration problems.




But again the quandary for European ethnic Catholic remains. His numbers have been reduced by intermarriage, by the destruction of ethnic neighborhoods by urban renewal and the interstate highway system, by suburban sprawl, by the church’s own problems and divisions within it and by his or her own laziness and sloth. If you don’t show up for mass or to volunteer or be a part of the community, you will lose power and influence to those who do. Whoever said that life is all about showing up was dead on in this regard. So what to do? Join the Orthodox Church.




The Orthodox Church has a number of appeals to the European ethnic Catholic. It is a church that is ethnically conscious and fuses the idea of the church to that of the nation and the culture. That’s why there are Greek Orthodox churches, Russian Orthodox Churches, Romanian Orthodox churches and so forth. (Only the Polish Catholic Church and Uniate churches loyal to Rome are that way amongst Catholics).



It is a decentralized church, which means its doctrines and practices of worship are not subject to the whims of a whole Vatican Council. It’s a church that has avoided a lot of the doctrinal disputes that has divided the Catholic churches because it stays true to its traditions and doctrines which it traces back to the original Christian church. Its mass has gone unchanged for many centuries and one doesn’t have to worry about whether the new priest is going to allows guitars and drums during the worship service, disallows bells or kneeling or whatever fashion of mass is in vogue from the seminary.



 It’s a church whose priests are married which means the problems the Catholic Church has had with homosexual priests (the ones that don’t take their vows of celibacy seriously anyway) aren’t a problem with the Orthodox. It is the Orthodox that is going to be more suspicious of mass immigration (especially immigration from Islamic nations) than other religions.




Of course, if you are an Irish, Italian, French or German Catholic, you just can’t pop into Serbian Orthodox Church and say “I’m a new convert!” unless you marry a Serb. It just doesn’t work that way. To solve that problem, the Orthodox Church of America (OCA) exists.



Formed in the early 1970s by the Russian Patriarchy and separate from it, the OCA is an Americanized version of the of the Russian Church with its services in English and with pews and so forth (the Orthodox church whose fall festival I annually attend in Clayton, Wisconsin, Holy Trinity, is part of the OCA.) Many of the churches are old Russian ones like Holy Trinity, but the OCA also incorporates other ethnic groups like Albanian and Romanian Orthodox that never had separate ethnic bishoprics like the Greeks or Serbs do. The OCA could very easily incorporate ethnic European Catholic refugees in their own churches. Right now the OCA has over 100 churches and a million members, slow but steady growth that I think could easily accelerate in the 21st Century. Conservative writer Rod Dreher of Crunchy Cons fame has already made the switch from Catholicism to Eastern Orthodoxy and I think others will to.




The other trend that will take place will be those from nominal Christian backgrounds converting to Islam. Such conversions have taken place among African Americans for long time and famous ones like Lew Alcindor to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. The Nation of Islam, an organization of Black Muslims, has dominated the Islamic discourse within U.S for many years. However, the NOI’s racist rhetoric against whites has kept Islam’s numbers in the U.S. down from what they could potentially be.




This will change too in the 21st Century. Growth in Islam will come from Third World immigration of course. But it will also come from white converts as well and they will come from two sources of thought.




Islam always has had an ideological appeal to those on the far left and right. To a cultural Marxist, Islam is the God that hasn’t failed (unlike Communism), at least not yet. Its diverse, multicultural following and the fact that it is the religion of the Third Word i.e. it was founded there and expanded there outside of Europe and the West, makes it a perfect vehicle for cultural upheaval and egalitarianism.



Marxism derided religion which limited its appeal while Islam is a religion and has mass appeal. And within an adversarial culture, converting to Islam becomes the perfect vehicle to shock one’s parents and friends and peers. Indeed, Jean-Paul Sartre himself became more and more fascinated with Islam as the communist left declined in his later years. This has more of chance of happening with the nominal baptized or secular Christian than anyone else. Think of John Walker Lindh, the Marin County, California teenager who got fed up with empty secularist lifestyle of parents and neighbors and converted to Islam and joined the Taliban in Afghanistan, and you’ll understand the type.


Since 9-11 and since George W. Bush give Islam his stamp of approval by calling it a “religion of peace,” there’s been a growing study of Islam within in the media and with others who are curious to know more about it. Such study, no doubt, will increase the size of the pool of converts for Islam within the U.S.




On the other side, Nazis have always appreciated Islam’s marshal spirit and ascetic, non-bourgeois lifestyle along with its ability to submit the will of the mass towards one deity or person. They found it far superior to Christian piety which they found to be nothing more than religion for wimps, not the supermen they were supposed to be.



Those who are not inclined towards Nazism still find these same qualities admirable, along with Islam’s male-dominated patriarchy. Women and men do not pray together. If you are a fellow who is unchurched right at the moment because you think the modern church in the U.S. is too female dominated and has no place for you, then Islam may be your scene. Think of guy who used to attend Promise Keeper rallies in football stadiums and spent his time crying on the shoulder of another guy while being told what an awful person he was.



 When he realized the whole thing was nothing more than a religious version of 1990s male bonding without the tom-tom drums, campfires and war paint and when he realized his wife and her friends were laughing their heads off at him down at the solon, then you’ll know the kind of person I’m talking about. In fact the crisis of the maleless church has become such a concern that, according to religious news reports, that certain pastors have gotten to the point of parking Harley-Davidson motorcycles out front of the entryways of their churches and putting on football uniforms and using football metaphors to attract males back into the pews again. But Islam’s call may be more enticing than that just more passing Christian fads.



Islam and Eastern Orthodoxy have never played major roles within the cultural, political or economic milieus of the United States largely because their numbers have never been large enough to do so, let alone attract any attention. But in this century, that could change as numbers and demography head in both faiths’ direction.



Sean Scallon is a writer and freelance journalist living in Arkansaw, Wisconsin. His weblog is Beating the Powers that Be at www.beatingthepowersthatbe.blogspot.com.




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