The Ascension of the Lord

Dear Friends in Christ,

Between 2007 and 2014, over five million Americans ceased to identify themselves as Christians. In only 7 years, more Americans than the population of South Carolina have stopped saying that they believe Jesus Christ is Lord, and these numbers are only part of the bad news reported by the Pew Research Center from a survey conducted in 2014. The last time Pew conducted a survey this large was in 2007, and I wrote to you about their findings in 2008. The numbers then were not encouraging, and the trends identified seven years ago have only accelerated.

In 2007, 78.4% of Americans identified themselves as Christians (either Catholic or Protestant), but in 2014 that number dropped to 70.6%. In 2007, 23.9% of Americans stated they were Catholic; in 2014 that number fell to 20.8%. In 2007, 10% of Americans said that they were ex-Catholics, while in 2014 that number rose to 13%. And in 2007, 16.1% of Americans described themselves as atheists, agnostics or as having no religious beliefs, but in 2014 that number jumped to 22.8%. This means, among other things, that those who have no religious beliefs now outnumber Catholics in the United States and that 13 out of every 100 Americans are former Catholics. These numbers reveal a clear and growing trend towards the abandonment of the Gospel by millions of people in a short span of time, and we need to ponder these facts.

The collapse of cultural Christianity has been unfolding in Europe and the Anglosphere for several decades, and in some places that collapse has been swift and complete — for example, Quebec, the Netherlands and Ireland. By cultural Christianity, I mean the outward form of Christian faith and life without the interior conviction and conversion which come from personal faith in the Lord Jesus and obedience to the truth of his Gospel as the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. Seen in this way, cultural Christianity is not true Christianity in any sense, and so the collapse and disappearance of cultural Christianity can be understood as a positive development — something that strips away the pretense of a false religion that seems to be authentic right up to the moment when it vanishes like mist in the morning sun. But even if the end of cultural Christianity is a positive development for authentic Christian faith, it is also a challenge and a warning: no one is born a Christian, and no one will be a Christian because his or her mother or father were Christians.

These numbers from the Pew Research Center are available at, and I encourage you to have a look at the results of the 2014 survey. It is well for us to ponder the challenges of mounting a New Evangelization in our time and under these circumstances. But that is precisely what we are called to do by radical conversion, deep fidelity, joyful discipleship and courageous evangelism. Let us be Evangelical Catholics who lead others to know, love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ in his holy Catholic Church.

Father Newman