These days, it is very easy for Christians to get discouraged. And we are not alone. According to Scott Rasmussen, nearly 70 percent of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track. Everywhere one turns, the culture appears to be unraveling, “slouching towards Gomorrah.” And our society, from an unsustainable national debt to illegal immigration, appears teetering on the brink. Secular liberals are as nasty and noisy as ever, and conservatives appear incompetent, insincere, or both.
But there is another way of looking at things.
There are several indicators that suggest that we are at the early stages of nothing less than a societal revolution. It appears that conservative Christians are poised to lead the way to a post-secular society.
Let’s look at some data from this vantage point, from the perspective of a collapsing secular society and a rising post-secular society.
According to the Heritage Foundation’s recently published “Index of Culture and Opportunity” for 2014, the marriage rate dropped in the U.S. by 23 percent from 2001 to 2011. This is in line with trends since the 1960s, which indicate a total marriage rate drop of 50 percent. Moreover, the divorce rate from 2001 to 2011 remained relatively the same, about 0.4 divorces per 1,000 people. This means that only about half of American adults are married and only half of the children living in the States are in a home with two parents.
With marriage rates declining, fertility rates are falling as well. Since 1972, the fertility rate in the U.S. has reached the golden replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman only twice, in 2006 and 2007.
In contrast, marriage remains relatively strong in the church. Conservative Christian couples are far less likely to divorce. Sociologist Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia found in 2007 that Protestants and Catholics active in their churches were over 30 percent less likely to divorce than their secular couples.
And University of London scholar Eric Kaufmann’s detailed study on global demographic trends found that conservative evangelical women in the U.S. averaged 2.5 children, representing a 28 percent fertility edge over their secular counterparts. Kaufmann notes that this demographic deficit has dramatic effects over time. In a population evenly divided, these numbers indicate that conservative evangelicals would increase from 50 to 62.5 percent of the population in a single generation. In two generations, their number would increase to 73.5 percent, and over the course of 200 years, they would represent 99.4 percent.
Kaufmann’s data projects that secularists, who consistently exemplify a low fertility rate of around 1.5 (significantly below the replacement level of 2.1), will begin a steady decline after 2030 to a mere 14 to 15 percent of the American population. Similar projections apply to Europe as well.
We should therefore not be surprised to find that the prolife movement is winning. The abortion rate continues to decline, down to four abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age. In fact, 2011 recorded the lowest number of abortions since 1973. And Kaufmann’s demographic study sees the prolife position becoming the overwhelmingly dominant perspective in the U.S. in just a matter of a few decades.
In terms of education, the Heritage study found that proficiency in reading among 17-year-olds remains relatively low despite all the new programs and spending for public education, such as New Directions, No Child Left Behind, Vision 2012, Vision 2015, and Race to the Top. According to data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, very little has changed in terms of academic performance among high school seniors since the 1970s. For example, in 1971, 17-year-olds averaged 285 points out of 500 in their reading proficiency, which rose to 288 points in 1999, but dipped back to 287 in 2012. Similar trends were found in math and science; this despite the fact that per-pupil school costs have risen significantly since the early 1970s.
In contrast, according to the Association of Classical Christian Schools membership statistics, there were 10 classical schools in the nation in 1994, today there are over 230. Since 2002, student enrollment in classical schools has doubled from 17,000 nationwide to 35,000, and all indicators suggest that the next decade will be one of significant growth. And we are already seeing the effects of this kind of education. Classical schools in 2011 had the highest SAT scores in each of the three categories of Reading, Math, and Writing among all independent, parochial and public schools; and this at a fraction of the cost per student in public schools.
Moreover, there has been nothing less than an explosion in homeschooling over the last decade alone. In 2003, there were an estimated 2,100,000 children homeschooled nationwide, which grew to 2.5 million in 2009, representing an average growth rate of 7-15% per year. According to the National Center of Educational Statistics, the percentage of all school aged children homeschooled in the US increased from 1.7% in 1999 to 3% in 2009, representing a 74% increase over a ten-year period.
And the school choice movement is stronger than ever. As of June 2012, 16 states and the District of Columbia offered private school choice programs. Over 300,000 students nationwide have left the public school system through voucher programs, tax-credits, or education savings accounts.
3. Church Attendance
Even within our secular malaise, church attendance actually looks rather healthy. Stats from the Heritage study show that the percentage of Americans who attend church services weekly declined only one percent between 2002 and 2012. Byron Johnson of Baylor University observes that church membership is at an all time high. And as for young people, well, while twenty-somethings tend to sleep in on Sunday morning, once they get married and have children, Johnson found that they tend to come back to the church.
So, yes, things are certainly bleak out there. But that is because secular society appears to have reached its terminus point. It is stuttering, gasping, and beginning to collapse.
In its wake, there will be the church, as it has always been, transfiguring society into images, foretastes, of resurrection.
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