Sunday, April 05, 2015

Does Religion Have a Future?

With Easter and Passover here and all the television programming, I was wondering about the state of religion. Interestingly, a Pew Research just came out with a report which states that the fastest growing religion is Islam, which, by the year 2050, will be on par with Christianity; by 2070, it will exceed Christianity to become the world's largest religion. The largest centers of growth will be in the poor and over populated continents of Africa and Asia. Even in India, which is and will remain predominately Hindu, the Moslem population will grow dramatically. The result will be that while India remains Hindu, the growth of Islam will give India the world's highest concentration of Moslems, exceeding even Indonesia. The population of Buddhism, the next most popular religion, will remain largely unchanged.

In Europe, 10% of the population in 2050 will be Moslem. Some currently Christian nations in Europe, such as Norway, Germany, Belgium and Holland, could end up with either Moslem majorities or large pluralities, especially as the native European birth rate continues to decline and their populations gray and Moslem fertility rates increase. This numerical change could be large enough to make a difference politically and culturally.

The Pew Research results point out that overall, the Christian population in America will continue to decline while non-religious--Atheists and Agnostics---will make up an increasing share of the declining religious population. While Judaism will increase slightly in size globally, it will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion in the US. That honor will, again, fall to Islam. Those who adhere to non-traditional religions such as Native American Spirituality or Wicca, will also see a growth in numbers. Other, more smaller religions such as the Taoists, Jainists, Sikhs, will also see modest growth over the next few decades.

Interestingly, the largest centers of decline seem to be the industrial centers and areas with the lowest birthrates and ageing populations. The same areas which appear to growing in terms of the non-religious. Another factor to look at are those leaving their current faiths. According to the report, Christianity is expected to add around 60 million worldwide, mostly from poorer countries in Africa, and Asia, while at the same time, it's expected to lose some 106 million, mostly in developed countries, with the majority becoming non-affiliated as previously stated. Moslems are expected to add only slightly to their numbers through conversion between now and 2050. Judaism and Buddhism are both expected to experience some losses, due mostly to conversion, but overall their numbers will largely remain steady. In fact, due to the high fertility rate in Africa, all religions can expect to see growth there, along with Asia, but it is Islam and Christianity that will be the big winners.

Globally, those claiming to be religious has declined approximately 9% while those who claim to be atheist has increased 3%. A 2013 Gallup poll reported that America was pretty much average when it came to religion, whereas countries like Nigeria, Armenia, Macedonia, and Romania all scored in the 10% while predominately European nations like France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Japan, and China were ranked toward the bottom of the list as least religious. It seems that one of the keys factors is the economic satisfaction of the population with their status. The poorer the people, the higher their religiosity, while, conversely, the better off they were economically, the less religious they were. Could there be a correlation between one's religious beliefs and their economic status? Could be. Poorer people feel less in control of their lives and feel more vulnerable. Whereas richer individuals would seem to feel that they have more control, or at least the financial wherewithal to influence their economic situation. Thus, the poorer you are the more likely you are to believe that you are at the mercy of outside influences and thus need a "protector" or "guide" to help you through; at least that's the implication of the polls. With the increasing gulf between the rich and everyone, this is likely only to increase.

It is also the poorer nations, which conversely seem to have the highest birth rates, that are also the most politically unstable. It's here that we often find juntas, tribal war lords, and petty thug rule. And it is also here that we find a fertile ground for religious extremists such as we're seeing in places like along the Africa Horn. To ask "why?" is also almost redundant since the poor are the ones who feel they have the least to lose and, as often is taught, it is God the that favors the "dispossessed" most. Many believe or have been convinced to believe that their actions, however horrific, are just; divine in its brutal justice without thought to the loss of human life.

A good friend of mine once told me that Communism doesn't come with armies, warships, and tanks. It comes with food. An old military
maxim states that to conquer and keep a country, you must first conquer the people's needs, and that is usually through food, medical care, housing, and education. Islam is doing that, at least to a degree, Christian missionaries are doing that. Now what's happening with extremist groups such as the Taliban, Al Shabab, and Boko Haram is quite different. Here, we're seeing some act out the précis of Machiavelli's "The Prince" without first actually understanding it. They are following the single principal of "it's better to be feared than loved", however, that is not how you win territory or win the populace. They are trying to impose a form of religion onto people through intimidation--be it throwing acid in the faces of women and girls seeking an education, or beating them for walking alone or not dressing properly to forcing men to grow beards and shun the last 10 centuries as if they never happened. What they are doing is, in reality, a recipe for a disastrous ending. On the other end of the spectrum, we have countries becoming, for all intents and purposes, regional subsidiaries of corporations where consumption is substituted for faith. Again, a recipe for disaster. Many who turned to religion, especially the poor, found only another master in the guise of a priest, Inman, or pastor dictating the terms of their "salvation" often at the cost of only more poverty.

So, what's left for those who drearily shuffle through life to do? Their only hope being that of a decent life for themselves and their families; one free from disease, hunger, thirst and the opportunity for knowledge---if not for them, then at least for their children. They hope to find at least some fulfillment in the religion of their choice, yet end up find a more subtle form of abuse and pillage. As for Americans, and perhaps even Europeans, we seem to have lost, not our faith per se, but trust in our institutions, so out of frustration, we've turned inward into ourselves where we can at least find a small measure of security. When we substitute hope for intimidation and trust for corruption, society itself loses. Consumerism can satisfy all of our wants, for a price, except one---the want in our souls for solace. Mankind requires inspiration. It's what drives us. It always has. Real inspiration can't be bought or sold. That is, perhaps the true value, and test of religion; a sense of awe, inspiration, and inner fulfillment that comes without a price tag.

Ultimately, despite all the conflicts, we are really one people clinging to a tiny blue, white and green ball tucked away in the remote corner of a rather non-descript galaxy orbiting a run-of-the-mill sun in the cold vacuum of a infinite universe. It doesn't care what we call ourselves, or the color of our skin, or our gender, or even what we claim to believe or not. It is without pity, remorse, or compassion. Those are solely human emotions. There may too be life on other planets. In fact, it's pretty probable. But just as probable, they won't care one wit about our planet---our cosmic home---or us. It's time we accept that all we have is each other and that this floating dot is the only home we have or will likely have for the near future. Differences in religion, the existence of Heaven or Hell, and so forth will be decided by Eternity, not Man. Economics, the environment, and mutual equality are more than enough for us to handle. We need to move past the trivia of what divides us and focus on what we share in common and what can bring us closer together.

The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010 - 2050

Most Religious Countries And Most Atheists Countries

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