On Church and Sect in the 21st Century

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Sectarian religious groups claim to have exclusive access to supernatural rewards and compensators, while more “churchlike” groups are more universalistic in their approach to divine rewards and generally abhor the notion of punishments coming from their gods. It has long been fashionable to assume that religious exclusivism was a plus for religious groups, and it was wrongly associated with shifting religious allegiances favoring sectarian groups. In reality, what little growth sectarian groups saw in the late 20th century was a function of high birth rates. The more universalistic mainline Protestant churches “lost” because they had fewer kids after the immediate post-war baby boom.

The notion of mainline Protestant collapse has become so entrenched that even liberal protestant clergy miss the demographic point, and seem not to understand how to respond to their fundamentalist brethren touting the superiority of exclusivism as a solution to empty pews. The fact is, white mainline protestants command almost exactly the same share of the religious market as white sectarian Protestants. You wanna talk market share? Look at that! Mainliners need to suck it up and stop acting like they’re whupped by these mouthbreathing morons.

Notably, not only does Pewk mislead the public about mainline “collapse” and sectarian growth, they also claim that Catholicism is on the wane, which it is not. Further, the growth of the “nones” isn’t just a white thing, it’s spurred even more by increasing Latino defection, and also higher proportions of Asians, who are disproportionately irreligious, as I show in Changing Faith.

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