The Decline and Fall of Christianity: Religious and Belief Indicators


Changes in Christian beliefs

Over time the Christianity of the West has become less fundamentalist, less rigid and more open. This is a major indicator of the declining influence of traditional Christianity in the modern world.

Through me you enter into the city of woes. Through me you enter into eternal pain, through me you enter the population of loss... Abandon all hope, you who enter here.

--Dante's Inferno

Faith activates God - Fear activates the Enemy.

--Pastor Joel Osteen

God's character

The kind of God that people believe in has changed significantly through the ages. In the medieval period, God was often thought of as a threatening, punishing force. Disease, which was rife in the medieval world, was usually identified as a punishment from God for personal or collective sins.

Today God's loving and forgiving qualities are emphasized. Modern Christians are steeped in a tradition of a loving God who is only nice to people, whereas the actual roots of Biblical Christianity point to a more mixed and darker deity.

Although belief in heaven, hell and other religious concepts has increased in recent years, in 2004 there was a notable gap in belief: about 81% of Americans believed in heaven, but about 70% believed in hell.

In the 1990s, while three quarters of Americans believed in hell, only about one third of British did. Even British Christians were largely optimistic on the afterlife: only 40% believed in hell. About half of both Canadians and Britons do not believe in the devil.

Noah's Ark
Noah's Ark | Source

Literalism and fundamentalism

Literalism and fundamentalism have plummeted in the western Christian world. In the past, the Bible was seen as the only definitive account of world history. It was the first and last source of all knowledge--from the political to the personal, from the scientific to the spiritual.

Today few people have a literal interpretation of the Bible. And even most literalists still do not really apply the Bible to every single aspect of their lives. They visit doctors who studied at secular medical schools, and learn about nature from scientists whose training had no religious content.

Only about a third of Americans are literalist, saying the Bible is the word of God and literally true. Large numbers of Mainline Protestants (28%), Catholics (27%) and Orthodox (29%) believe the Bible is the word of men, not God.


Violence and fanaticism

Fanaticism and radicalism among Christians has declined massively. The Christian west launched numerous religious wars and campaigns of persecution against non-Christians (especially Jews) for centuries, from the Crusades to the Inquisition to witch hunts.

Those days are long gone. Occasionally there is a murderous anti-abortion activist, but widespread Christian fanaticism is simply nonexistent in the rich world. Fundamentalism still exists. But while this fundamentalism would have been quick to participate in or openly support violence in the past, today's fundamentalists are overwhelmingly nonviolent. They are not willing to die for Christ.

If you believe what you like in the Gospels, and reject what you don't like, it is not the Gospels you believe, but yourself.

--Saint Augustine

Religious Choice

The US, the most religiously dynamic country in the rich world, has seen a notable decline in religiosity. Its spiritual free market has also resulted in a loose and individual-centered attitude to religion.

Some studies indicate that the majority of Americans have changed religions at least once in their lives. Even for many devout believers, religion is more a fashion that one "tries on" to experiment, rather than a hard objective truth they must accept whether they like it or not.

Religious inclusivity, unthinkable in the medieval era of persecutions of Jews and wars with Muslims, is now the norm. Americans today are likely to believe that many different religions can lead to eternal life. This is extraordinary, because one of traditional Christianity's core claims is that faith and acceptance of Jesus Christ is the only path to eternal life.

Overall, 70% of Americans agree that "many religions can lead to eternal life." The most inclusive Christian groups are Mainline Protestants (83%), Catholics (79%), and "other Christians" (83%). The only groups with a majority claiming exclusive access to eternal life are Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church, has called for the introduction of Sharia law for British Muslims, arguing that a limited application of religious customs can exist side-by-side with secular state law, as with the Orthodox Jewish community. Among most Christians, the violent absolutism of centuries ago has given way to an undercurrent of relativism, pluralism and even apathy.

Paths to Heaven
Paths to Heaven | Source

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Comments 23 comments

Dave Mathews profile image

Dave Mathews 5 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

secularist: Your twisting of things serves your purpose, but "Christianity" can never decline only become stronger with time.

chefsref profile image

chefsref 5 years ago from Citra Florida

I dunno I keep hearing that we are in the "END TIMES" but when I offer to care for pets during the "RAPTURE" for a reasonable price I get turned down.

I keep hoping that people of faith will hold true to their beliefs and rid themselves of worldly belongings (by giving them to me) to be ready for the Savior. So far I have no takers. Seems like all that faith is rather shallow.

Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Since I'm following the Mayan Calendar (which ends 12/21/2012), I would hope that Christians will take pity on me and send me money.

Actually, like any any other "religion", the Mayan calendar is just a calendar. Just like the bible is just a book.

I am just trying to enjoy my current consciousness :-)

secularist10 profile image

secularist10 5 years ago from New York City Author


Well, I wrote over 700 words in this article and in 1/100th of that you claim I'm "twisting things." Since you don't explicate that point, I'm assuming you have no constructive response, but just disagree with the conclusion on principle.

All five of my articles now demonstrate that Christianity has declined, and continues to decline.

secularist10 profile image

secularist10 5 years ago from New York City Author


Haha. I think I heard about a group of avowed atheists who started a business offering to take care of Christians' pets after the rapture. The Christians wanted their pets to be taken care of after they were taken up in the rapture, and they were guaranteed these people would be around to do it because they were atheist.

secularist10 profile image

secularist10 5 years ago from New York City Author


Actually the funny thing about the Mayan calendar is that even the Mayans didn't believe in it! At least not the way it's being interpreted nowadays.

Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Oh, the Mayans do believe in their calendar just like we believe in our Gregorian calendar or any type of measuring device.

The thing they don't believe in is that the world will end when the Long Count ends. They just start a new Long Count calendar and have a great New Millennium Party! They are calling the next Long Count (which is over 5,000 years long, btw) the Age of Enlightenment. Perhaps this agrees with the decline and fall of Christianity.

One can only hope.

secularist10 profile image

secularist10 5 years ago from New York City Author

Exactly. The end of world hyperventilations are a modern fabrication. "Age of Enlightenment" certainly sounds good to me :)

Kilaminjaro525 profile image

Kilaminjaro525 5 years ago from Wisconsin, United States of America

I'm surprised that Christianity still exists on the scale that it does, especially in this day and age...

I have a theory that religious people create their own God, and pick and choose quotes from their religious book in order to support that belief, and that is the only reason why religion can stand.

secularist10 profile image

secularist10 5 years ago from New York City Author

I think that's a great point, Kilaminjaro. Outside of the vast majority of religious people who mold and adapt their beliefs to the prevailing cultural winds, there are small communities of radicals and extremists.

Isolated communities like the Amish, Ultra Orthodox Jews or Fundamentalist Mormons are windows into the past, keeping traditions alive from centuries ago. While the rest of society wants to hold onto their religion, they also don't want to let go of modern humanist values such as gender equality. So they redefine and update the religion to match the times.

Dave Mathews profile image

Dave Mathews 5 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

secularist: You are entitled to your opinions and points of views. I believe I am entitled to mine also. I see Christianity as thriving, even in the face of all other religions.

secularist10 profile image

secularist10 5 years ago from New York City Author

Who said you weren't, Dave? You are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts. If you have other facts or data contradicting all of the facts I have presented, let's see it.

felixtroll2 profile image

felixtroll2 5 years ago from Manitowoc, WI

You have it all wrong. Not all Christians condemn. I don't

secularist10 profile image

secularist10 5 years ago from New York City Author

What a useless comment. Condemnation is such a small part of what this article is about.

Tusitala profile image

Tusitala 5 years ago

In my mind, well written and fairly presented.

I have a natural knee-jerk point of opinion.

The televangalists killed Christianity, to a great degree. Their constant hand out and admonishments that they were somehow the sole guide to acceptable faith and acceptance into heaven disenchanted the bulk, over a period of time of realization. In essence, they didn't have answers that people needed; because they spent all their time in study of "how to coherse a buck".

Then the exposure naturally followed and there they were, hands clasp with tears running down their faces, asking for forgiveness or stony glares of contempt for and at the media, pursued.

That left all, if not most wondering in a desert of confusion. I stated in one of my hubs that "it's the doctrine not the religion". That's the way I view it.

Adamant doctrine is the bane of most of them. We mostly came to a realization that we didn't need "interpretors" or "middle-men" Personally, I'm kind of glad to see more realization that we don't need to kill that "fellow with an opposing viewpoint or intrepretation". As long as he/she isn't trying to kill us!

That's how the "one worlders" got more influence. They capitalized upon our desire to "just get along". Yes, they'll undobtedly be found with "feet of clay" as well.

After all; they seem to be fullfilling precisely, what was foretold. I think that is the impetus for the "Conservative Christian" quiet and subdued, very protective estimation.

I guess, so many of us have fallen within ourselves for answers and none have the assuredness to believe we "know". For myself, I wouldn't begin to pretend to have "the answer" or most certainly force an opinion on someone else. (That's cultural, due to our broader enbrace of "just about everyone".)

One other observation, I really don't think the world has changed all that much. When you read the Bible and other historical references, you see that mankind has contended with the basic "alternatives" and "confrontations both personally and collectively - almost perpetually and the impetus for our faults repeat as a constant theme through every life.

Anway, for what it's worth?

Siaosi T.

secularist10 profile image

secularist10 5 years ago from New York City Author

Thanks for coming Tusitala. It's interesting that modern Evangelism has that tendency of creating "middlemen" between followers and God, when this was a major reason for the development of Protestantism in the first place--the rebellion against excessive middlemen in the Catholic Church.

Tusitala profile image

Tusitala 5 years ago

Yes, as you pointed out, in the good ol' days, the "Church" had Torqimada (Sp.?) and the Inquisition to keep everybody in line and on their knees. Oooops!

The "thought police" are probably on their way?


Silent Joe 3 years ago

I have a magic book. If you believe the protagonist in this book is real and do what the books says to do, death is no longer a threat to you.

secularist10 profile image

secularist10 3 years ago from New York City Author

Sounds like a pretty good deal, Joe! Then again, as they say, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is...

Rodric29 profile image

Rodric29 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

I used your article as a related to my own. I was intrigued by your article though I do not agree with one part in particular. Mormons do not believe that they are exclusive to eternal life.

I am one, and we believe all people will God to heaven. We believe that each person will get his or her just reward for the level of righteousness that they lived in life.

We do believe that only those members of our church who keep the covenants of marriage in the Temple will be exhaled to become like God, however. We believe all people have this opportunity through the priesthood authority of Christ which is only found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

That believe drives us to build temples where we offer membership to all those who have passed on who we believe live in the Spirit awaiting an opportunity to accept vicarious ordinances.

We believe when Jesus Comes, we will perform ordinances for all the deceased of mankind who did not have the opportunity to hear of Christ and His ordinances. So in effect, everybody will become Mormons!

Well, only those who accept the ordinances that we will perform.

Anyway, I enjoyed the article and voted it up.

secularist10 profile image

secularist10 2 years ago from New York City Author

Hi Rodric, thank you, glad you liked it.

That part about the Mormons is from the Pew survey linked just above in the essay.

The Pew survey found that 57% of Mormons agree with the statement "My religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life." So that is why I said the majority of Mormons hold that belief.

The only other American Christian group where a majority agree with that statement are the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 2 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

So, what do the other 43% of Mormons believe?

secularist10 profile image

secularist10 2 years ago from New York City Author

Austinstar, long time no see!

39% of Mormons agree with the statement "Many religions can lead to eternal life."

And tiny percentages either don't know or say "neither" or "both."

Of course these numbers are from awhile ago, 2008 to be exact. I should update these hubs at some point.

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