In a May 2014 article entitled, "Can Christianity in the West Endure?" I expressed concerns about the fate of the Christian faith under the stewardship of current and future generations of western believers. I concluded thusly:
"But for Christians lucky enough to live in the free West, we have in large part become complacent and apathetic. Our embrace of relativism and our addiction to material things, coupled with our self-obsession, has dulled our sense of the Transcendent and diminished our faith. We take our freedom and our God for granted. What will it take to rekindle the vision of Christian martyrs past? Would even the rise of a modern day Bloody Mary be enough to shake us from our stupor, or have we reached that fatal point where perpetual diversion and comfort are more important to us than truth? If this is the case, then the Christian heritage preserved in the cathedrals, monuments, and universities of England and Europe may be all that will endure of Christianity in the West."
A recent report from the Pew Research Center confirms my fears. Entitled, The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050: Why Muslims Are Rising Fastest and the Unaffiliated Are Shrinking as a Share of the World's Population, the report forecasts the following:
Over the next four decades, Christians will remain the largest religious group, but Islam will grow faster than any other major religion. If current trends continue, by 2050 …
- The number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.
- Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France – will make up a declining share of the world's total population.
- The global Buddhist population will be about the same size it was in 2010, while the Hindu and Jewish populations will be larger than they are today.
- In Europe, Muslims will make up 10% of the overall population.
- India will retain a Hindu majority but also will have the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, surpassing Indonesia.
- In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous in the U.S. than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.
If Pew's predictions are correct, then the implications of changing global religious trends do not paint an optimistic picture for the future of freedom around the world. You see, religious ideas do not just deal with views about the future of our souls, they also deal with how we view our fellow man. And how we view our fellow man determines how we treat him and how we order ourselves within society. It has long been observed by historians of western civilization that the modern conceptions of human rights, dignity, and liberty derive in large part from principles expressed through the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. If this is true (and I would maintain that it is), then the waning of these faith influences around the world is something that should worry everyone, even the notorious "nones."
The American founding and the socio-political tradition that grew out of it provides a good example of the Judeo-Christian ethic's significance as a foundation of modern liberalism. The American Republic was forged our of a moral and theological consensus that included the following: 1) There is a God who transcends human history and to whom human beings will ultimately give an account. 2) Human beings are created in the image of God and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights, including the rights to life and liberty. 3) Even though we are fallen in our nature, our essential human dignity is undiminished and each human being is worthy of respect and the protection of the law. 4) Governments are instituted among men to secure mankind's God-given rights.
These principles guided our Founders in their crafting of our government and the rights accorded to its citizens (See e.g., Christianity and the Constitution, by John Eidsmoe). Consequently, America has almost from the moment of her founding enjoyed a global reputation as a bastion of freedom in a world too-often dominated by tyrants. To understand why, all you have to do is ask and answer a few simple questions: 1) What measure of legal protection should be accorded to a human being created in the image of God? 2) Is one's essential human dignity affected by race, creed, gender, age, or state of health? 3) Should government have the right to dictate the manner in which God's creatures worship their Creator, if at all? 4) What right does the majority have to infringe on the rights of the minority, if both groups share equally in legal standing before the law and in the eyes of God? 5) What limits ought to be placed on government from infringing upon the rights of its citizens? 6) What limits ought to be imposed on the powers exercised by government, an enterprise populated with people who are no less fallen in their nature than those over whom they rule, but who are vested with the power of the sword and the purse?
The answers to these questions were self-evident to our Founding Fathers. They were codified in our Founding documents and have resulted in the tremendous freedom that Americans enjoy, a freedom that to this day remains the envy of the world.
But what happens to liberty when the prevailing views of the people in a society change, when the majority of members of a society buy into the notion that God is a creature of our imagination, a fairy story designed to assuage our fear of death? What is left to secure liberty when the prevailing view is that human beings are merely chance products of biological change over time, that there is no self-evident basis for essential human dignity, and that rights flow from Government rather than God? What is left to protect the most vulnerable among us when more and more of us subscribe to a utilitarian ethic that gauges human worth in terms of what we produce in comparison to how much we consume?
Here again, we can forecast the implications of such ideas by asking and answering a few simple questions: 1) Can there be a rational basis for human dignity in a universe governed by chance? 2) On what basis can a person lay claim to inherent rights or dignity in the face of government persecution or overreach? 3) On what basis can a person who is a member of a minority claim to have a right to resist the will of the majority? 4) On what basis can a person who becomes injured or debilitated lay claim to the resources of the public treasury or that of their fellow men?
Sadly, the answers are self-evident and the implications for the future of freedom are significant.
A troubling antecedent to the waning of Christianity and Judaism's influence around the world is the trend projecting the rise of Islam. Comedian and pop-commentator (and strident atheist) Bill Maher recently noted in an interview with PBS's Charlie Rose, Islam is not merely another religion. It is a faith that not only condones but actively prescribes violence, brutality, and oppression:
"Vast numbers of Christians do not believe that if you leave the Christian religion you should be killed for it. Vast numbers of Christians do not treat women as second-class citizens. Vast numbers of Christians do not believe if you draw a picture of Jesus Christ you should get killed for it. So yes, does ISIS do Khmer Rouge-like activities where they just kill people indiscriminately who aren't just like them? Yes. And would most Muslim people in the world do that or condone that? No. But most Muslim people in the world do condone violence just for what you think. . . . There was a Pew poll in Egypt done a few years ago – 82% said, I think, stoning is the appropriate punishment for adultery. Over 80% thought death was the appropriate punishment for leaving the Muslim religion. I'm sure you know these things. . . . So to claim that this religion is like other religions is just naive and plain wrong. It is not like other religions. The New York Times pointed out in an op-ed a couple weeks ago that in Saudi Arabia just since August 4th, they think it was, they have beheaded 19 people. Most for non-violent crimes including homosexuality."
Again, ideas have consequences. What we believe determines how we behave, how we relate to one another and how we govern ourselves. The world is currently witnessing how those who follow the Prophet Mohammed relate to one another and how they govern themselves: The Middle East is burning and innocent people are being brutalized, tortured, and murdered by the thousands. Unless there is a mass change of heart and a shift of focus from the self to the soul, our children and grandchildren will pay a price for our growing apathy and indifference.