The decrease in Americans identifying as Christian could prove to be "good news," a podcasting priest told Fox News.
"There's something about that that is potentially hopeful," Father Mike Schmitz told Fox News. "Because maybe for the first time in generations, we actually know where people are standing."
In 1990, 90% of U.S. adults raised Christian still identified that way in their 30s compared to just 65% in 2020, a September Pew Research Center poll found. Similarly, 31% of people over 30 who were raised Christian identified as religiously unaffiliated in 2020, compared to just 8% in 1990.
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"If people are going to be honest about ‘here's what I truly believe in,’ then we as a church can be honest and say, ‘okay, I can speak to that,’" Schmitz said. The Roman Catholic priest from Minnesota rose to prominence in 2021 with the release of his podcast, The Bible in a Year, which consistently ranks at the top of Apple’s Religion & Spirituality charts.
Pew predicted that if declines continue, Christianity could become a minority religion by 2045. Still, Schmitz is hopeful that youth today still believe in religious principles, even if they're less likely to identify with any specific organized religion.
"I wonder if it isn't people finally being honest," Schmitz told Fox News. "It's them finally saying, 'my parents checked the box — I'm Lutheran, I'm Evangelical, I'm Catholic — but they didn't do anything about it.'"
"They’re saying ‘I believe in the same kind of God, but I'm not going to check the box,’" he continued.
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Schmitz' position comes from first-hand experience. Despite growing up in a Catholic family, Schmitz had a distaste for the church until shortly after graduating from college when he suddenly became deathly ill. He had a spiritual awakening after a priest offered to hear his confessions.
Despite the drop in Christian affiliation, more than 81% of American adults believe in God, though that's an all-time low, a Gallup survey found in June. In 2020, more than half said religion can still answer most or all of today's problems.
Schmitz thinks an increasing number of young people believe in what is called "moralistic therapeutic deism," a set of commonly held spiritual beliefs that include a belief in some kind of distant God who wants people to be good and that good people go to heaven. He fears an increasingly secular population will result in a less moral society, and as a result, a less free one.
"One of the big messages of Christianity, particularly for this incredible country of the United States of America, is that we've been blessed with freedom." Schmitz said. "We have also been given the responsibility of freedom."
He believes a less religious populace will mean more chaos, which will lead to calls for more government intervention.
"The government can only do so much to keep its citizens morally upstanding," Schmitz said.
"Religion is not meant to keep people in line, it's meant to give them freedom," he added. "But not freedom to do what I want, freedom to do what I ought."
To watch Schmitz's full interview, click here.