Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

March 28, 2010

America the Catholic, t + 40 years

Filed under: Projection,Religion — Razib @ 12:25 am

Bryan Caplan points to a quote from Will Durant’s The Lessons of History:

In the United States the lower birth rate of the Anglo-Saxons has lessened their economic and political power; and the higher birth rate of Roman Catholic families suggest that by the year 2000 the Roman Catholic Church will be the dominant force in national as well as in municipal or state governments. A similar process is helping restore Catholicism in France, Switzerland, and Germany; the lands of Voltaire, Calvin, and Luther may soon return to the papal fold.

Caplan observes that I would not be surprised. Well as I was reading the first sentence I did think, “yes, this is what I talk about all the time….” I remember in 1994 telling a Roman Catholic friend that his church was projected to surpass Protestantism sometime around 2020-2030. Fifteen years later that seems to have been another false prophecy, and data show that Roman Catholicism has had a very hard time hanging onto those raised Catholic in the United States over he past generation. As for France, well:

A poll published in Le Monde des Religions yesterday showed the number of self-declared French Catholics had dropped from 80 per cent in the early 1990s and 67 per cent in 2000 and to 51 per cent today.

The data for Switzerland and Germany are easy to get because church-state separation is not an issue as it is in France (or the USA). Here are some trends (keep in mind Durant wrote in the the late 1960s):


In Switzerland Protestantism seems to be correlated with urbanism and higher SES (though the latter may simply spring from the correlation between Protestantism and urbanism) whether the canton is French or German speaking (recall that Geneva was once the “Rome of French Protestantism”). In Germany the unification in 1990 buttressed the proportion of Protestants because the Lander of the former East Germany were historically Protestant, and their residual religious population remained so. But the big story since Will Durant’s time has been the shift from nominal Christianity toward outright irreligiosity; the proportion of those avowing no religion or being confessionless has rocketed upward across the Western world. In relation to what is happening with the Protestant vs. Catholic dynamic, I think what Durant was witnessing or observing was what had occurred earlier in the Netherlands, the more thorough evisceration of establishment Protestantism as opposed to Roman Catholicism. What he did not anticipate, and was not quite as advanced in the 1960s, was the total rollback of the influence and power of the Catholic Church across much of its historic range of domination, from Quebec in North America, in much of Latin America, as well as Spain and other regions of Europe. This rollback seems to have exhibited time lag with Vatican II, as well as the collapse of the Iberian and Latin American autocracies, as well as the fall of Communism (which made Catholic identity less wedded to nationalism in Poland).

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