Earlier this month, a pretty impactful author died at 92 years old, but his death went largely unnoticed. His name was John Naisbitt, and in 1982 he published a book that changed the way business was conducted in many parts of the world. It was called Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives.
He had researched the book for nearly a decade, and in it, he traced giant themes of cultural and attitudinal changes that Wall Street sat up and paid attention to. Naisbitt's notion that the direction of the world (collectively) can be discerned by tracing certain major barometers may seem somewhat passé now — or even obvious — but in 1982, it was groundbreaking.
Still, the idea of trying to look into the future based on giant trends or "megatrends," is lost on a large number of people. So when a study or poll or some intense research is published demonstrating what amounts to a megatrend, it really is surprising how few people actually take note.
Here are two societal megatrends, for example, both pointing in the same direction — and for believing Catholics and men of goodwill, that direction is the wrong direction.
The first is the drop-off in organized religion across the board. A couple weeks ago, Gallup published a comprehensive study that concluded that the practice of religion has now sunk to below 50%. Specifically, only 47% of Americans had official membership in a church, temple or mosque. And to show the trend, specifically the megatrend, just two years earlier, membership stood at 50%. And that was down from 70% just 20 years earlier in 1999.
In 1937, the first year the question was polled, 73% said they belonged to a church, temple or mosque. And it stayed pretty much the same for roughly 60 years until 1999, when the drop began. So for 62 years, about three-quarters of Americans claimed religious membership. Then, in over just 20 years, it plummeted to a minority of less than half. That is the very definition of a megatrend, a huge shift with enormous impact.
The other megatrend we see at play comes to us as we dig down into the 2020 Census numbers. Laying aside the political-power shift to GOP states, the main concern is the reduction in population growth — its lowest since the Great Depression. Various analysts are pointing to two main causes: fewer births and diminishing legal immigration.
Another interesting point that emerged is there are more Americans over 80 than there are under 2 years old. That is the heart of the notion of a megatrend: a societal movement so pronounced and demonstrable that it becomes predictive. So as we look out across America, we see an aging country that is rejecting God more and more with each passing generation. That is one giant collective megatrend.
What does this mean now for Catholics? It means that the environment for exercising our Faith and for evangelizing is becoming more hostile. That's culturally speaking, but it also means the electorate, however divided, will be more and more sympathetic to anti-God legislation. It likely won't be an overt attack against God as God in Himself, but it will be legislation decidedly anti-religious, which means aimed at people who are believers.
When Obama infamously declared back in 2006 that America is no longer just a Christian nation, he was actually correct, regardless of how many took it as an insult. It probably was said as a type of insult, but whether he meant it or not, it was spot-on — especially the last item he included: "Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation, at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation and a Hindu nation and a nation of nonbelievers."
That was in 2006. Now, in 2021, a generation later, the percentage of Americans who identify as having no religious affiliation has jumped to the top of the pile, eclipsing Catholics and evangelicals. There are many ways to go at this information. We can (and should) ask, "What went wrong?" But we also have to ask, "What now, from here?"
Some things we will not be able to control. Some of the effects of all this are already in the pipeline and will have to be lived through. But it should also serve as a giant wake-up call that individual Catholics need to start turning things around in their own orbit. While megatrends make headlines and point to powerful forces, they did not emerge from nowhere. They are the culmination of many forces at play that cause certain trends to be set in motion.
If the bad trends are not defeated early on, they gather steam. However, it is also the case that good trends can be produced, but it will always be an uphill battle. That reality doesn't excuse us from working to produce a good trend; it just makes us approach the reality from a sober point of view.
Ultimately, world trends impact eternal salvation, as we can see with the rise (and now dominance) of the irreligious. As Catholics, we can no longer live on the fumes of prior centuries and generations because even the fumes are almost gone. We need to understand where we are, how we got here and what we need to now do.
If that seems daunting, consider what the Apostles saw when they stared into the depths of the Roman Empire. And yet, you have your Faith because they did exactly what had to be done. This is now our time, and the sooner we embrace this, the sooner we can begin a Catholic megatrend.
That's what Our Lord meant when He commanded we go out and baptize all nations.