For the first time since researchers began tracking the religious identity of Americans, fewer than half said they were Protestants, a steep decline from 40 years ago when Protestant churches claimed the loyalty of more than two-thirds of the population.
I see no problem here with this, and the eonic effect clearly suggests the Axial Age religions will wane. But the problem here is that Protestantism is not an Axial Age religion: it is a modern product of early modern transition. Please note this fact: Protestantism is a dynamic modern phenomenon that carried the early modern trend toward secularism (which is not anti-religion), reborn over and over again, but probably destined to damp out with increasing distance from the early modern. To say Protestantism is declining is misleading: all its early phases have declined, or evolved into new forms. And Catholicism is essentially a form of Protestantism at this point, confusing the question. Seventeenth century Pietism is an archaic form of Protestantism, for example, that doesn’t exist any more (as far as I know). The waning of Protestantism has been observed/predicted for centuries, but it always seems to be ‘still here, but still declining’.
Look at the eonic effect/Axial Age: we see the seeds of new spiritual formations in the Axial interval, but the religions that appeared from those seeds were centuries in the making. Protestantism like early Israelitism (totally different in aspect) will remorph into a new form of religion and/or secular post-theism over the centuries to come. Note that the far more potent Buddhism is struggling to survive, and that it is an Axial religion. Note that early Israelitism was also a form of “protestantism’, in its radical protest against polytheism. Just like modern Protestantism still looking backward to an earlier era, Israelitism was still in the world of the prior age even as it generated a revolution against that age. Israelitism is misleading to us now because it was constantly being updated, but, in reality, until the generations before the Exile, from the Prophets onward, Israelitism, as the Prophets make clear, was still very much a transitional hybrid, and the remnants of polytheism have left some vestigial traces. In the same way modern Protestantism is a hybrid, and slightly schizophrenic.
In any case, Protestantism can reinvent itself all over again, and is probably doing so now. The movements of the ‘new atheists’ wish to inherit the decline of Christianity, but their formulation is too thin a soup to do this job. The new atheists are really a splinter group of Protestantism, and will force Protestants to de-infantilize their ‘god’ ideas. The New Age movement is a chaos of seminal confusions, that will inevitably influence a future Protestantism, if any. Hegel, and German Classical Philosophy, were definite phases in the cascade of Protestant modernity, as the philosopher Hegel noted, claiming this phase of philosophy was the conclusion to the Reformation. Maybe so, or not… But note that figures like Tillich and King were influenced by this phase of the Reformation. The theology of Tillich puts on four league boots and steps over Huck Finn nonsense like the new atheism. Howls of protest from conservative theologians fingerwagged Tillich was not even a theist. Nope. But with figures like Tillich who needs the new atheists?
Protestants are basically protesters, and the movement needs something to protest. As I have suggested they have a ready job at the twilight of capitalism. Our many posts on ‘ultra far left communist Xtiantiy’ are a ‘help wanted’ sign out in the open. The Puritans gave birth to modern politics in the English Civil War, and the Quakers abolitionism. They could do the same for communism in the making, which will have a lot of stressful moments that honest Xtians could moderate. The body count of early failed communism was high. Xtian Protestant communists could intervene in all phases of the ‘liquidation’ process and subtitute a new ‘communist’ baptism for the liquidations in the (now obsolete) gulags.
You can get Puritan hats cheap on the Internet.