What's the fastest growing religion?
It's "No religion."
The source? The American Religious Identification Survey of 2001, with comparisons to their last survey, done in 1990. While this is a little old, I see no reason why the trends should have changed over the past few years.
What prompted me to dig up this material? Well, the other day, I was at a talk given by a prominent non-Orthodox rabbi, and somehow he/she got on the topic of Mormons and Evangelical Christians. This led him/her to go off on a genteel quasi-rant about how liberal (in the religious sense) Jews could learn from these religions, that supposedly make religious demands on their followers. This was combined with some shreying gevalt about the Orthodox and their superior commitment and higher birthrate were going to inherit the entire Jewish religion.
This led me to wonder whether or not the Mormons and Evangelical Bible Thumpers were really as fast-growing as all that. And even whether the Orthodox are growing as rapidly as everyonte thinks.
Let's start with ARIS:
OK, the Papists are the largest single religious denomination in the USA
Catholics 1990: 46 million 2001: 51 million % change: +11
Now let's look at some of the Protestant Bible thumpers:
Baptists: 1990: 33.9 million, 2001, 33.8 million % change: ~0
stam "Evangelical"" 1990: 0.24 million, 2001: 1.03 million, % change +329
Mormon: 1990 2.5 million, 2001, 2.8 million, % change +12
Now for some non-Christian faiths
Jews (oy vey!) 1990: 3.1 million, 2001, 2.8 million % change -10
Muslims: 1990, 0.5 million, 2001: 1.1 million % change: +120
Hindus, 1990, 0.2 million, 2001, 0.8 million, % change +300
Wiccan, 1990 8 thousand, 2001, 134,000 % change +1,570
Note that the number of Jews refers only to those who identify religiously as Jews.
Also, I suspect that the growth in Muslims and Hindus (and probably Catholics, too) comes from immigration. We'll see how long their descendants hold on to their faiths after a couple generations of assimilation.
Now, for the piece de resistance, here's the numbers for "No Religion"
1990: 14 million, 2001, 29 million for a percent change of +107% !!
People without religion represent 14% of the population, the third largest religious group after Catholics and Baptists. That I suspect is where all those disappearing Jews are going.
What the data show is that religions that make heavy demands on their followers aren't necessarily destined to be the ones that inherit the earth. And the large growth in stam "Evangelical" merely proves my point, along with the growth in "no religion." Despite their profession of absolute rules, these popular Evangelical churches are actually quite lax about enforcement of those standards. The impending shotgun nuptials of Sarah Palin's daughter is a case in point. Their church rants about sexual purity, but the young lady doesn't follow the rules, and she's not kicked out of the family or anything. You can go to any random town in the Bible Belt on a Saturday night and see the "Evangelical" faithful committing sins for which they'll go to church the next morning and ask for forgiveness. In fact, I'll bet if the Bible Thumpers were to enforce their rules the way the right-wing Orthodox Jews do, you would see empty megachurches from Richmond, Virginia to Orange County, California.
So my rabbi friend was blowing smoke out of various bodily orifices. But why should he/she do this, as he/she's very knowledgeable and usually quite perceptive? The only thing I can think of is professional jealousy. After all those fundamentalist preachers and black-hatter gedolim have followers who actually listen and do what they are taught. This rabbi has to herd cats. Well, too bad for him, but good for personal autonomy and individual freedom that the American public is moving away from the authoritarian religious model. He/she should chill and let the flock do what they want, as long as they renew his/her contract with a decent cost of living increase.