Muslims on the Rise? Misreading the Pew Report

Muslims on the Rise? Misreading the Pew Report April 7, 2015

AHHHHHH! The Muslims are coming the Muslims are coming.

I’d barely seen the headlines before a reporter from Houston called me to comment. A new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts says “that the number of Muslims would exceed the number of Christians in the world by 2070!”

At least that was the headline for NPR, CBS and the Daily Mail. Politico led with “Muslims to Outnumber Jews by 2015.”

Only the last of these was accurate. The Pew Report projects that in the US Muslims will outnumber Jews, but even with continued migration Muslim will only be about 2.4% of the US population.

More importantly, those headlines stating that Muslims would outnumber Christians by 2017 were not accurate. The Pew report clearly states: “With each passing year, however, there is a chance that unforeseen events – war, famine, disease, technological innovation, political upheaval, etc. – will alter the size of one religious group or another. Owing to the difficulty of peering more than a few decades into the future, the projections stop at 2050.” Beyond that what one has is guesses – but its little surprise that this was what led in the headlines.

The media has missed the plot here, but that is par for the course with religion – almost inevitably taken out of social context even in reporting on a study specifically about population grown.

So let’s go back to the core of the report: the population of Muslims will rise faster than the population of Christians worldwide; almost entirely because Muslims have a higher birthrate than Christians in the areas where populations are expanding most rapidly. So the expansion of both religions will be driven primarily by high birth rates in Africa and the Middle East.

In short, religion in general, and Islam specifically, is growing most rapidly in the regions of the world that are most politically unstable, economically fragile, and most subject to both war and famine. And that is the real story.

Regardless of migration patterns the likely future of the US and Europe is societies heavily dominated by people who profess to be Christians, followed by those with no religious affiliation, and finally by Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Jews.

In Asia Muslims or Hindus will dominate in specific regions, while no group will have a majority in the region over all. Latin America will continue to be almost entirely Christian.

But Africa and the Middle East will be ever more religious primarily because their populations will continue to expand; right along with war, disease, famine, political oppression, corruption, and death. Unless they stabilize under the influence of education, political stability, increasingly longevity, and improving economic opportunity.

If you are thinking of things to fear, that is what we need to fear: the world-wide effects of having a huge part of the world’s population in endless crisis. That it is a very religious population only means that sectarianism rather than ethnicity is a likely way of choosing teams in the inevitable violent conflict.

We need to quit worrying about which religion leads the world in growth, and what all religious people should be doing to actually create good governance, economic productivity, and educated and healthy citizens.

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