A new Pew study of trends in world religions says that Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion. Though Islam will come close, Christianity will still have the greatest numbers, with 40% living in sub-Saharan Africa. The number of atheists, agnostics, and the unaffiliated–though increasing in the United States–will dwindle worldwide. Details and more findings after the jump. [Read more…]
The rise of religion globally threatens human rights, according to British academic Stephen Hopgood in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post. After the jump, read his argument and consider the thoughts I raise. [Read more…]
Once again I see on the LCMS website in the “View from Here” feature an article I wrote a long time ago, I think for Lutheran Witness. It takes up what has been called “the scandal of particularity”; that is, the claim that there is only one way that leads to Heaven, the person and work of Jesus Christ. Why aren’t other religions equally valid? How can we credibly hold to Christ as the only way to Heaven in our current climate of religious pluralism? And, as if that isn’t a difficult enough problem, I throw in the question of how a just God could condemn someone for not being a Christian. Reading the piece long after I have forgotten what I said, I found myself approaching it like any other reader and, in an odd way, learning from myself. I’ll present the essay in its entirety after the jump.
A new study, entitled The Global Religious Landscape, from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, has found, among other interesting facts, that Christianity has become fairly evenly distributed around the world. The Asia and Pacific regions contain most of the other world religions, as well as most of the religiously unaffiliated.
Christians are the world’s largest religious group and are nearly evenly dispersed globally, according to a new Pew study on the size, geographic distribution and median ages of the world’s major religious groups.
Of the world’s 6.9 billion people, 2.2 billion or 32 percent are Christians, Pew reported Dec. 18. While only 12 percent of Christians live in North America, the vast majority of Christians, 99 percent, live outside the Middle East-North Africa region where Christianity began.
Apart from North America, Christians are geographically dispersed, with 26 percent in Europe, 24 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean, 24 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and 13 percent in the Asia-Pacific region, the study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found, based on 2010 data.
Researchers did not study the degree to which people actively practice their faiths, but relied on the subjects’ self-identification of their religious affiliation. . . .
The majority of the world’s other religions lives in the Asia-Pacific region, including nearly all Buddhists and Hindus, and most Muslims and the religiously unaffiliated, researchers found. While 58.8 percent of the world’s population lives in the Asia-Pacific region, it is home to 99 percent of Hindus and Buddhists, 62 percent of Muslims and 76 percent of the religiously unaffiliated.
Pew reported that the world’s population includes 1.6 billion Muslims, 1 billion Hindus, nearly 500 million Buddhists, 400 million adherents of various folk and traditional religions, 58 million adherents the study confined to the category of “other,” comprised of many religions including Baha’i faith, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism and Wicca.
A plurality of the world’s 14 million Jewish people, 44 percent, live in North America, while 41 percent live in the Middle East and North Africa, nearly all of them in Israel, the study found.
In the U.S., 78 percent, or 243,060,000 of the country’s 310,390,000 people are Christian, the study found. The U.S. also has 50,980,000 religiously unaffiliated, 5,690,000 Jewish people, 3,570,000 Buddhists, 2,770,000 Muslims, 1,790,000 Hindus, 630,000 adherents to folk religions and 1,900,000 affiliated with other religions. . . .
Globally, about half of all Christians are Catholic. An estimated 37 percent of Christians are Protestant, including Anglican, independent and nondenominational churches. The Orthodox Communion, including the Greek and Russian Orthodox, make up 12 percent of Christians.
Researchers categorized Christian Scientists, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses as “viewing themselves as Christian,” and computed them as comprising about 1 percent of the global Christian population.
Most of the world’s population, 5.8 billion or 84 percent, affiliates with a particular religion, leaving 1.6 billion, or 16 percent, with no religious affiliation, the study found. But many with no religious affiliation hold religious or spiritual beliefs, such as a belief in God or a universal spirit, while not identifying with a particular religion.
Christianity may be declining in the West and Islam is surging, but in the world as a whole, it’s a different story. So says Ryan Mauro:
It’s true that Islam (as well as atheism and universalism) is growing in the West, mostly because of high birth rates among Muslims and immigration, but the exploding growth of evangelical Christianity around the world through conversion is unreported. The analysis is distorted because of the lack of reporting from places like Africa, where nearly half of the population is estimated to be Christian. In other places like China, news of such trends is suppressed, leaving few to know that some estimates put the Christian population there at up to 111 million. There may be more members in the underground evangelical movement there than in the 75-million strong Chinese Communist Party. It’s been reported that 10,000 Chinese convert to Christianity per day. That number may be a stretch, but if current trends hold, predictions that China will become the country with the largest number of Christians by the middle of the century could come true.
The image in one’s mind of a Christian is usually of an American or European. The decline of Christianity in the West gives the impression that the religion is collapsing when it is really transforming. In Dinesh D’Souza’s What’s So Great About Christianity, he writes that in 1900, over 80 percent of Christians lived in Europe and the U.S. Now, two out of three evangelicals live in Asia, Africa, and South America. South Korea now holds the title as the second-place country in sending out missionaries, despite the fact that the number one country, the U.S., has over six times as many people.
Another fact to consider is that while the number of Christians overall is declining in the West, the number of evangelicals is rising. There are less of those “Sunday Christians” who do the church routine and don’t make having a relationship with God part of their very being. They are falling away from church as it becomes more socially acceptable to do so and are turning to agnosticism, atheism, and a universalism that believes all religions are one and the same. Christianity is changing into a smaller but more devout and active force.
It is much harder to detect “Friday Muslims” in the Islamic world than it is “Sunday Christians” in the West because of the societal repercussions and the suppression of other religions. Those questioning their faith are likely to keep it private and still go to mosque even if they party on the weekends. The dismal state of the Islamic world economically and politically and the savagery of extremism is turning many Muslims away. For example, I’ve been surprised at how many Iranians I’ve communicated with are atheists or aren’t devout Muslims. There is a clandestine movement to acquire Bibles and practice Christianity in private homes, as up to 1 million are said to have turned to Christianity in the past five years.
This is a problem that raises significant concern in the Muslim world, but the West misses it. In April 2008, Andrew Walden wrote a top-notch piece here at Pajamas Media about this phenomenon. One top Islamic scholar in Libya says that 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity every day and Walden writes that evangelist Wolfgang Simpson says that “more Muslims have come to Christ in the last two decades than in all of history.” He writes that the mufti of the Malaysian state of Perak says that about 250,000 Muslims in his country have filed to officially leave Islam, including 100,000 that have converted to Christianity. The mufti warned that this number doesn’t include those who are non-practicing Muslims.
It is undeniable that Islam is growing in the West, but there are signs that the number of Muslims that don’t diligently practice the faith is increasing just as is the case with Christianity. In February 2005, the Sunday Times wrote that “one estimate suggests that as many as 15 per cent of Muslims in Western societies have lost their faith.” A Pew poll in July 2007 found that Muslim-Americans are in third place in how many describe religion as playing a “very important” role in their lives, with 72 percent affirming the statement as compared to 79 percent of white evangelicals and 85 percent of black Protestants. Most interestingly, only 50 percent of Muslim-Americans take their holy book, the Koran, literally, whereas 66 percent of white evangelicals and 68 percent of black Protestants take the Bible literally.