It's almost inevitable that when I speak to groups about interfaith matters and ask them the name of the world religion with the most adherents, the first guess will be Islam.
No. It's Christianity. At the moment the best guesses are that there are about 2.3 billion Christians in the world compared to some 1.8 billion Muslims. (Compared, by the way, to some 15 or 16 million Jews, followers of the religion in which both Christianity and Islam find their roots.)
But a new analysis of this kind of religious demographic data by the Pew Research Center suggests that change is in the air.
For one thing, the Pew study notes, although more babies are born now to Christian mothers than to mothers of any other religious tradition, within about 20 years, Muslim women will give birth to more children than Christian women.
As the Pew press release about this information notes, "Muslims are projected to be the world’s fastest-growing major religious group in the decades ahead, as Pew Research Center has explained, and signs of this rapid growth already are visible. In the period between 2010 and 2015, births to Muslims made up an estimated 31% of all babies born around the world – far exceeding the Muslim share of people of all ages in 2015 (24%).
"The world’s Christian population also has continued to grow, but more modestly. In recent years, 33% of the world’s babies were born to Christians, which is slightly greater than the Christian share of the world’s population in 2015 (31%)."
One issue for the global Christian community is that even though Christianity continues its impressive growth in Africa and the Southern Hemisphere generally, the religion is struggling to hold its own in Europe and, increasingly, in North America.
"Indeed," the Pew report says, "in recent years, Christians have had a disproportionately large share of the world’s deaths (37%) – in large part because of the relatively advanced age of Christian populations in some places. This is especially true in Europe, where the number of deaths already is estimated to exceed the number of births among Christians. In Germany alone, for example, there were an estimated 1.4 million more Christian deaths than births between 2010 and 2015, a pattern that is expected to continue across much of Europe in the decades ahead."
What continues to amaze me, however, is the success of Judaism in carrying out its original mandate from God, who told Jews to be a "light to the nations," the word "nations" there meaning non-Jews. In other words, the task of the people of Israel was to honor God by showing others what it means to live in a healthy relationship with that God. So of the globe's 7.5 billion people, today more than half (more than 55 percent) identify as worshipers of the God whom Judaism introduced to the world. And, yes, Christians and Muslims worship the same God, though they have substantially different ways of identifying that deity. The book to read on that subject is Allah, A Christian Response, by Miroslav Volf.
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SAUDI ARABIA MAKES ISLAM LOOK BAD AGAIN
Saudi Arabia seems to have sentenced a man to death for being an atheist. That kingdom's radically foolish insistence that Islam is the only religion that can be practiced there makes Islam look weak. Muslims would do well to protest against this governmental action. After all, religions that seem unable to stand on and by their own truths without being propped up by a government seem to outsiders to be unattractive. And as artist Ben Shahn once said, you haven't convinced someone just because you have silenced him.