6.) Institutional collapse: Religion
Unlike sports, religion has been a source of global conflict for centuries. Sadly, the 2010s was a decade where support for religion cratered for a variety of reasons. Some of the problems existed well before 2010. The sexual abuse scandal involving priests that rocked the Catholic Church took began in 2002. Radical Islam began in 1972 at the Munich Olympics and accelerated with the attacks of September 11, 2001. However, the 2010s saw attempts to destroy religion taken to a new level.
2019, in particular, brought a pair of brutally timed religious gut punches.
Attacks were launched on the holiest holidays of at least two major faiths. On Easter Sunday, a terrorist bombing in the Congo was a direct attack on religious Christians.
On the last day of Passover which was also the Jewish Sabbath, a gunman shot and killed people at a Synagogue near San Diego. Chabad of Poway would have been an even bigger bloodbath had Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein not used his hands to protect his face.
He had a pair of fingers blown off but saved himself and others. The Poway attack was only six months after a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, the first time in American history this occurred. Synagogues were no longer immune from the tragedies that affected Christian Churches.
Attacks on Easter and Passover were specifically designed to make congregants fearful to attend their place of worship. A defiant Rabbi Goldstein was invited to the White House, where he told the world to keep faith in God and practicing religion.
The Catholic faith also took a beating when the 800-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral burned to the ground.
As of now, that fire has been labeled a tragic accident. Given that it occurred at the same time as the Easter and Passover attacks, skeptics question the accident narrative. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the fire. Meanwhile, armed guards and congregants are now a way of life at religious institutions.
Declining religious identity is also accelerating. A late 2018 study showed that only 43% of Americans consider religion to be important to their daily life. 35% of Americans identify as atheist, agnostic or some other form of “none of the above.”
Nearly 50% of Millennials identify with no religion.
The data offers some fascinating contradictions. While young people are more likely to be non-religious, young people who do identify with a religion are far more likely to adhere to strict doctrine than their parents. In both Islam and Judaism, older congregants are trying to liberalize the rules while younger adherents are wanting more obedience to religious laws.
Judaism has faced existential threats throughout its history, but the biggest internal threat in recent decades has been the 52% intermarriage rate. Yet in the 2010s, a stunning divergence took place among the various Jewish sects.
Orthodox Judaism is thriving.
A very traditional sect known as Chabad has seen astronomical growth in religious centers. Chabad Houses are popping up all over the world. Reform Judaism has suffered a major division between those who want more traditions and those who want fewer traditions. Reform Judaism is losing tons of its congregants to unaffiliated status. Conservative Judaism was created decades ago as a centrist compromise between the liberal Reform and the strict traditional Orthodoxy.
Conservative Judaism is getting squeezed on both sides between those who want to be closer to Orthodox and those who want to be closer to reform.
In the 2010s, Conservative synagogues began closing up shop at an alarming rate.
The only thing saving Reform synagogues from this fate was an influx of Conservative Jews who did not want to gravitate too Orthodoxy. These Conservative Jews replaced the Reform Jews who gave up affiliation altogether. While acknowledging that trends are always subject to change, the current trend lines see a return to a world that existed 200 years ago. In 200 years, the only Jews who exist may be Orthodox.
Catholicism is facing an existential crisis of its own. In 2013, the unthinkable happened when Pope Benedict abruptly announced his resignation. Popes do not just quit. They do not turn in their papers. Well, this one did. The Conclave following Benedict’s announcement resulted in a man who was supposed to be the safe consensus candidate.
Pope Francis took over and was initially seen as a rock star who could revitalize the Catholic Church.
He showed tremendous humility. He carried his own luggage. He went on Twitter and asked Catholics everywhere to pray for him. He washed the feet of poor people. He preached tolerance for gays.
Then he became controversial and divisive by wading outside of his Catholic mandate and into politics. He spoke about the need to combat climate change. This led to a generational divide among Catholics. While Judaism and Islam are seeing a return to stricter tradition among the young affiliated, Christian sects including Catholicism see young people demanding more liberalization. Older Christians including Catholics still by and large demand strict adherence to religious doctrine.
Young Catholics love this new Pope for his perceived modern and even progressive views.
Older Catholics see him as violating Catholicism. While Catholics agree that Catholicism is whatever the Pope says it is, that only applies to the Catholic religion itself. Traditional Catholics accept that the Pope is the absolute moral authority on internal religious matters. His proclamations are codified Catholic law. However, his edicts on anything outside of Catholicism such as politics are not binding at all.
Time will tell whether this split can be healed, and if not, which side will win. The fate of Catholicism depends on it.
What is not in dispute is that while America still has a significant plurality of deeply devout people, religious ties are fraying. Yet the 2020s may see a complete reversal of this decline. Illegal immigration is a major issue in America, and a significant plurality of these illegal immigrants are Hispanics. Many of these Hispanics are deeply religious Christians. This could lead to a significant increase in Catholicism and several forms of Protestantism.
Until then, the story of the religious decline in the 2010s is the dominant religious narrative.