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I'm interested in historical trends in religion and wondered if anyone knows of any reasonable sources of data on the number of adherents, for any/all different religions, throughout human history.
Obviously, older numbers would be very approximate estimates - and modern numbers would also likely be rough, given that this is a personal matter and somewhat sensitive in some parts of the world.
Does this information get included in census data - or has it ever been in the past? Do you know of any sources of data on this, even for single periods or religions, that I could use to piece together a fuller picture?
I know about this, which is great, but fairly recent and major religions only. Anything older, covering more religions?
Here is one data point (from Jakob Burckardt's The Age of Constantine the Great) presumably among very many and already self-contradictory (translation courtesy of Google :)
The last time of Diocletian and Maximiam has come through the torture and blood streams of the great persecution of Christians into a horrible reputation. It has tried in vain to determine the amount thereof and the number of victims even close, so it has no basis each calculation, namely a reliable date on the number of existing at all at that time in the Roman Empire Christians. After Staudlin they accounted for half of the total population, according to Matter fifth, according to Gibbon merely one-twentieth, one-twelfth to La Basti, which perhaps comes closest to the truth.
As also indicated in my earlier comment, IMHO you can't hope for any definite answer to a question such as this one, the more so the "older" any conceivable numbers may get.
The Religious Affiliation of U.S. Immigrants: Majority Christian, Rising Share of Other Faiths
Over the past 20 years, the United States has granted permanent residency status to an average of about 1 million immigrants each year. These new “green card” recipients qualify for residency in a wide variety of ways – as family members of current U.S. residents, recipients of employment visas, refugees and asylum seekers, or winners of a visa lottery – and they include people from nearly every country in the world. But their geographic origins gradually have been shifting. U.S. government statistics show that a smaller percentage come from Europe and the Americas than did so 20 years ago, and a growing share now come from Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East-North Africa region.
With this geographic shift, it is likely that the religious makeup of legal immigrants also has been changing. The U.S. government, however, does not keep track of the religion of new permanent residents. As a result, the figures on religious affiliation in this report are estimates produced by combining government statistics on the birthplaces of new green card recipients over the period between 1992 and 2012 with the best available U.S. survey data on the religious self-identification of new immigrants from each major country of origin.
While Christians continue to make up a majority of legal immigrants to the U.S., the estimated share of new legal permanent residents who are Christian declined from 68% in 1992 to 61% in 2012. Over the same period, the estimated share of green card recipients who belong to religious minorities rose from approximately one-in-five (19%) to one-in-four (25%). This includes growing shares of Muslims (5% in 1992, 10% in 2012) and Hindus (3% in 1992, 7% in 2012). The share of Buddhists, however, is slightly smaller (7% in 1992, 6% in 2012), while the portion of legal immigrants who are religiously unaffiliated (atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular) has remained relatively stable, at about 14% per year. 1
Unauthorized immigrants, by contrast, come primarily from Latin America and the Caribbean, and the overwhelming majority of them – an estimated 83% – are Christian. That share is slightly higher than the percentage of Christians in the U.S. population as a whole (estimated at just under 80% of U.S. residents of all ages, as of 2010). 2
These are among the key findings of a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life examining recent trends in the geographic origins and religious affiliation of immigrants to the United States. (For information on religion among migrants not just in the U.S. but globally, see the Pew Research Center’s 2012 report “Faith on the Move: The Religious Affiliation of International Migrants.”)
About the Estimates
The U.S. government does not collect data on the religious affiliation of immigrants. However, estimates can be made using information gathered by the Department of Homeland Security on the countries of origin of new green card recipients. To estimate the religious breakdown of immigrants from each country, the Pew Research Center relied primarily on the New Immigrant Survey, a nationwide survey conducted in 2003 by scholars at the RAND Corporation, Princeton University, New York University and Yale University that asked more than 8,500 recent legal immigrants about their religion, among other questions. 3
The use of survey data along with country-of-origin data improves the reliability of the estimates because, in some cases, the religious makeup of migrants differs from the religious composition of the overall population in their country of birth. This study does not automatically assume, for example, that if the population of Country A is 75% Muslim, then 75% of migrants from Country A to the United States must be Muslim. On the contrary, the study uses data from the New Immigrant Survey on the religious breakdown of new U.S. green card recipients to estimate the religious affiliation of the vast majority (95%) of legal immigrants.
On the other hand, the use of a single survey conducted at one point in time (albeit roughly in the middle of the 20-year period under examination) may introduce some time-related bias. In the absence of survey data on new immigrants from other years, this study assumes that throughout the period from 1992 to 2012, the religious breakdown of legal immigrants to the U.S. from each country of origin was the same as in 2003, at the time of the survey. For example, if the New Immigrant Survey found that 60% of new green card recipients from Country B were Christian and 40% were Buddhist, then those percentages were applied to the number of new green card recipients from Country B in every year from 1992 to 2012. This means that all of the estimated change in the religious makeup of legal immigrants reported in this study is a result of shifts in their geographic origins. This study is unable to capture any changes that may have occurred in the religious mix of migrants from a particular country.
Other evidence attests to some of the broad patterns identified by the study, however. For example, Pew Research Center surveys of U.S. Muslims in 2007 and 2011 suggest that the number of Muslims living in the United States rose in that four-year period by about 300,000 adults and 100,000 children, to a total of about 2.75 million Muslims of all ages – a rate of increase that is in line with the estimates in this report and would be difficult to explain without rising immigration. Similarly, a Pew Research Center survey of Asian Americans in 2012, combined with U.S. Census data, suggests that the number of Hindus in the United States has been increasing in large part due to rising immigration over the past two decades.
To reflect some of the uncertainty inherent in the estimates, all population numbers in this report are rounded to the nearest 10,000 and percentages are rounded to whole numbers.
For more explanation of how the estimates were calculated, see the methodology.
The geographic origins of new permanent residents have shifted markedly during the past two decades, according to U.S. government data. In 1992, a total of 41% of new permanent residents came from the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East-North Africa region or sub-Saharan Africa. By 2012, more than half (53%) of new green card holders were from those regions.
Conversely, the annual percentage of legal immigrants coming from Europe and the Americas has decreased. In 1992, well over half (59%) of all new legal immigrants came from Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean or North America. By 2012, fewer than half (47%) came from those regions.
The number of immigrants who are granted legal permanent residency fluctuates from year to year, but generally has been increasing since 1945. 4 It rose from about 250,000 annually in the 1950s to an average of about 1 million per year over the last two decades. In 1992, for example, there were approximately 970,000 new green card recipients. Of these, an estimated 650,000 were Christians (68%), 180,000 belonged to other religious groups (19%) and 130,000 were religiously unaffiliated (14%). 5
In 2012, by comparison, approximately 1,030,000 immigrants received permanent residency status, including an estimated 620,000 Christians (61%), 260,000 people of other faiths (25%) and 140,000 religiously unaffiliated immigrants (14%).
Christians remain by far the largest religious group among legal U.S. immigrants, though their estimated share has decreased from 68% in 1992 to 61% in 2012. Over the past two decades, the U.S. has admitted an estimated 12.7 million Christian immigrants.
The second-largest religious category among legal immigrants is the unaffiliated, which includes atheists, agnostics and people who do not identify with any particular religion. In recent years, the share of immigrants who have no religious affiliation has held fairly stable, at about 14%. Since 1992, the U.S. has admitted an estimated 2.8 million religiously unaffiliated immigrants.
Over the same period, the estimated share of legal Muslim immigrants entering the U.S. each year has roughly doubled, from about 5% of legal immigrants in 1992 to about 10% in 2012. Since 1992, the U.S. has admitted an estimated total of about 1.7 million Muslim immigrants.
Hindu immigrants also have increased in number over the past 20 years, rising from about 3% of new permanent residents in 1992 to 7% in 2012. In that span, the U.S. has admitted nearly a million Hindu immigrants, according to the Pew Research Center’s estimate.
By contrast, the annual share of Buddhist immigrants has dipped somewhat, going from an estimated 7% of legal immigrants in 1992 (near the end of a wave of refugees from Southeast Asia that began during the Vietnam War) to about 4% annually a decade ago and about 6% in 2012. Over the past two decades, the U.S. has admitted an estimated total of about 1 million Buddhist immigrants – approximately the same as the number of Hindus.
The estimated share of immigrants of all other religious groups – including Jews, Sikhs and adherents of Chinese folk religions – has remained relatively stable over the past 20 years, at roughly 3% of new permanent residents. Since 1992, the U.S. has admitted an estimated 600,000 immigrants who belong to these groups.
This report focuses mainly on legal immigrants, or legal permanent residents, admitted to the United States between 1992 and 2012. About half of LPRs are granted permanent residency status while already living in the U.S., typically on temporary visas. The other half receive permission for permanent residency before entering the U.S. from a foreign country.
Under immigration laws originally enacted in 1965 and subsequently amended several times, permanent visas are allocated to four main groups of immigrants: family members of U.S. citizens and residents (in recent years, about 65% of LPRs), people in the U.S. on temporary employment visas (about 15% of LPRs), refugees and asylum seekers (about 15% of LPRs) and winners of diversity lotteries from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. (about 5% of LPRs).
Although international students and some workers also can reside legally in the U.S., they are generally considered temporary migrants and are not included in the figures for legal immigrants in this report.
Comparisons With Unauthorized Immigrants
The United States has a total of about 43 million foreign-born residents. Roughly three-quarters of them are legal immigrants, and a quarter are in the country without legal permission. The religious makeup of the legal permanent residents is quite different from that of the unauthorized immigrants. 6
Of the approximately 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. in 2011, an estimated 9.2 million (83%) are Christians, mostly from Latin America. Many of the remaining 17% are religiously unaffiliated, and fewer than one-in-ten unauthorized immigrants are estimated to belong to non-Christian religious groups. 7 Due to insufficient data on religious affiliation within this hard-to-measure population, this report is unable to estimate the number of unauthorized immigrants who belong to specific non-Christian groups.
The remainder of this report provides more detail on the estimated size and geographic origins of the major religious groups among legal permanent residents in the U.S.
Over the past two decades, an estimated average of about 600,000 Christian immigrants became permanent U.S. residents each year. Annual levels of legal Christian immigration appear to have been lower in the late 1990s (around 430,000 per year), while the recent peak (more than 800,000) was in 2006. The number of legal Christian immigrants per year has declined somewhat since 2006, and is estimated at 620,000 for 2012.
From 1992 to 2012, an estimated 12.7 million Christians received green cards. By comparison, the total Christian population in the U.S. was about 247 million in 2010.
Over the past 20 years, roughly six-in-ten legal Christian immigrants have come from Latin America and the Caribbean (an average of about 370,000 each year). At the same time, more Christian immigrants have been coming from sub-Saharan Africa. In 2012, an estimated 11% of Christian immigrants came from sub-Saharan Africa, compared with just 3% in 1992. Meanwhile, the percentage of Christian immigrants from Europe has been declining. In 2012, about 9% of new Christian immigrants were from Europe, down from an estimated 15% in 1992.
Religiously Unaffiliated Immigrants
The number of religiously unaffiliated immigrants (which includes atheists, agnostics and people who do not identify with any particular religion) has been fairly stable over the past two decades. In 1992, an estimated 130,000 new permanent residents had no religious affiliation. The estimate for 2012 is 140,000.
Since 1992, the U.S. has admitted nearly 2.8 million religiously unaffiliated legal permanent residents. By comparison, the U.S. population in 2010 included more than 40 million people with no religious affiliation. 8
The geographic origins of unaffiliated immigrants also have not changed much during the past 20 years. More than half come from countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including China and Vietnam. About a quarter come from nations in the Americas, such as Mexico and Canada. Another significant share of unaffiliated immigrants were born in Europe, although that percentage has decreased since 1992.
The estimated number of new Muslim immigrants varies from year to year but generally has been on the rise, going from roughly 50,000 in 1992 to 100,000 in 2012. Since 2008, the estimated number of Muslims becoming U.S. permanent residents has remained at or above the 100,000 level each year.
Between 1992 and 2012, a total of about 1.7 million Muslims entered the U.S. as legal permanent residents. That constitutes a large portion of the overall U.S. Muslim population (estimated at 2.75 million as of 2011).
In the early 1990s, the great majority of Muslim green card recipients came from Asia and the Pacific or the Middle East-North Africa region. The most common countries of origin among Muslim immigrants in 1992 included Pakistan, Iran and Bangladesh. Those countries, as well as Iraq, also were among the most likely birthplaces of Muslim immigrants to the U.S. in 2012.
In recent years, a higher percentage of Muslim immigrants have been coming from sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 16% of Muslim immigrants to the U.S. in 2012 were born in countries such as Somalia and Ethiopia. In 1992, only about 5% of new Muslim immigrants came from sub-Saharan Africa.
The number of Hindus becoming permanent residents in the U.S. has increased in recent years. An average of about 30,000 Hindus were admitted each year in the 1990s by contrast, the U.S. admitted an estimated 70,000 Hindu immigrants in 2012.
During the past 20 years, nearly 1 million Hindu immigrants have entered the U.S. as permanent residents, substantially increasing the total American Hindu population, estimated at about 1.8 million as of 2010.
The great majority of Hindu immigrants come from India and neighboring countries with significant Hindu populations, such as Nepal and Bhutan. The share coming from the Caribbean (or “West Indies”) has decreased significantly, dropping from an estimated 16% of all Hindu immigrants to the U.S. in 1992 to 5% in 2012.
The number of Buddhists receiving permanent residency in the U.S. decreased sharply during the 1990s, following a wave of refugees that began during the Vietnam War. In recent years, the estimated number of Buddhist immigrants has rebounded somewhat, but it still was not as high in 2012 (60,000) as in 1992 (70,000).
Between 1992 and 2012, slightly more than 1 million Buddhists received green cards. Overall, there were an estimated 3.6 million Buddhists in the U.S. as of 2010.
Nearly all Buddhist immigrants come from Asia. In 1992, the most common countries of origin for Buddhist immigrants to the U.S. included Vietnam, Laos, Taiwan and China. In 2012, Myanmar (formerly Burma) also was a major source of Buddhist immigrants.
Immigrants of Other Religions
An estimated average of 30,000 immigrants belonging to other religions have become legal permanent residents of the U.S. each year since 1992. They include Sikhs and Jains from India, followers of folk religions from China and Hong Kong, followers of African traditional religions from sub-Saharan Africa and Jews from the former Soviet Union, among others.
From 1992 to 2012, an estimated 600,000 legal immigrants belonging to other religions entered the U.S. By comparison, the total population in the U.S. belonging to other faiths was about 8.2 million in 2010.
Nearly half of legal immigrants belonging to other religions are from the Asia-Pacific region. Europe and the Middle East-North Africa region are the other two major areas of origin for these immigrants, many of whom are Jews from Eastern Europe and Israel.
Numerous data sources were used in compiling the estimates included in this report. Data were collected first on the geographic origins of immigrants. Later, religious distributions were applied to the flows of immigrants from each origin country.
Tables showing the countries of birth of new legal permanent residents were downloaded from the Department of Homeland Security’s website (http://www.dhs.gov/immigration-statistics).
In these tables, data points for a few countries (cells) either were missing or could not be broken down by religious affiliation, typically because they are either newly recognized countries (such as South Sudan and Kosovo) or countries that have dissolved and been superseded by other entities (such as the former Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia). Undisclosed cells for origin countries with small populations were assumed to be zero.
Data on the origins of unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. in 2011 (or total stock) were prepared by Jeffrey Passel of the Pew Hispanic Center. Methods used to calculate these estimates can be found at https://www.pewresearch.org/hispanic/2011/02/01/appendix-b-methodology/.
Religion information for U.S. immigrants was drawn primarily from the New Immigrant Survey (NIS). 9 The NIS interviewed new legal immigrants who entered the U.S. or adjusted their status to permanent residency in 2003. The survey had a 69% response rate and included more than 8,500 respondents. Interviews were conducted in each immigrant’s preferred language about a quarter were in Spanish. Interviewers asked each respondent about his or her religious affiliation.
Almost all of the religion estimates (about 95% of the total immigrant population) for both legal and unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. included in this report rely on the New Immigrant Survey for religious breakdowns by country of birth. However, the religious breakdowns for a few countries with small numbers of immigrants in the U.S. (about 5% of the total immigrant population) were drawn from the 2012 Pew Research Center report “The Global Religious Landscape.” For this latter group, the religious breakdown of immigrants in the U.S. is assumed to be the same as the general population in their country of origin in 2010. 10
Immigrant religion estimates
Religious distributions were applied to the origins of immigrants (both legal and unauthorized) regardless of which year they came to the U.S. Consequently, it is assumed that the religious distributions for the origins of immigrants were the same for all years between 1992 and 2012. The religious breakdown of immigrants from a particular country may fluctuate over a 20-year period, but it is expected that these shifts would be small and gradual and would not result in major changes to overall estimates. To allow for slight changes over time, the population counts in this report are rounded to the nearest 10,000, while percentages are rounded to whole numbers. All numbers for religious groups in this report are estimates.
As a check on the robustness of the estimates in this study, Pew Research Center demographers examined various other survey data as well as estimates of the growth of minority religious groups in the United States, particularly Muslims and Hindus. These additional sources of information also indicate that Muslims and Hindus have made up a rising share of legal immigrants, consistent with the estimates presented here.
For example, the Pew Research Center’s 2011 survey of U.S. Muslim adults found that 63% were born abroad. The largest single country of origin was Pakistan (9%), followed by a number of other countries, including Iran, Bangladesh, Yemen, Jordan and Iraq. U.S. government statistics show that the number of legal immigrants from these countries has either held steady or grown substantially in recent years. For example, nearly 15,000 new immigrants came from Pakistan in 2012, compared with about 10,000 in 1992. More than 20,000 Iraqis received permanent residency status in the U.S. in 2012, compared with about 4,000 in 1992. And nearly 15,000 new green card recipients in 2012 were from Bangladesh, compared with fewer than 4,000 in 1992.
Data from the Pew Research Center’s 2011 survey of Muslim Americans also show that a rising share of Muslims have arrived in more recent years. Among the foreign-born Muslim adults surveyed, 12% came before 1980, 16% came during the 1980s, 31% came during the 1990s, and 40% came since 2000.
|Number of New Permanent Residents from Selected Countries, 1992 vs. 2012|
|Source: Office of Immigration Statistics, Department of Homeland Security|
Among Hindus, the Pew Research Center’s 2012 survey of Asian Americans found that the overwhelming majority of Hindu adults in the U.S. were born abroad (96%), and that most come from India (87%). U.S. government statistics show rising rates of immigration from India over the past two decades. In 1992, about 40,000 people born in India became legal permanent residents. In 2012, the figure was nearly 70,000.
Data from the 2012 Asian American survey also indicate that a rising share of Hindus have arrived in more recent years. Among foreign-born Hindu adults surveyed, about 9% came before 1980, 18% came during the 1980s, 27% came during the 1990s, and 44% came since 2000.
1 The change among religious minorities as a whole (up 6 percentage points) does not equal the sum of the changes among individual groups (Muslims up 5 points, Hindus up 4 points, Buddhists down 1 point, other groups stable) because of rounding to whole numbers. (return to text)
2 For more information on the share of Christians in the population of the United States and other countries, see the Pew Research Center’s 2011 study “Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population.” (return to text)
3 For more information on the New Immigrant Survey, see http://nis.princeton.edu/. The survey was designed and conducted by scholars at several academic institutions (not by the Pew Research Center) and was supported in part by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts. (return to text)
5 Percentages are calculated from unrounded numbers and may not add to 100 due to rounding. (return to text)
6 Data on the annual number of unauthorized immigrants entering the U.S. are very limited. Consequently, it is not possible to estimate how the religious composition of the unauthorized immigrant population may have changed in recent decades. The figures on unauthorized immigrants in this report are for the entire population of unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. as of 2011 (stocks), not the number entering the country in any particular year (flows). (return to text)
7 For more information on estimates of the unauthorized immigrant population, see the Pew Research Center report “Unauthorized Immigrants: 11.1 Million in 2011.” (return to text)
8 For more information on the number of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated, see the Pew Research Center’s 2012 report “Nones on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation.” (return to text)
9 For more information on the New Immigrant Survey, see http://nis.princeton.edu/. (return to text)
10 For more information on the religious composition of countries around the world, see the Pew Research Center’s 2012 study “The Global Religious Landscape: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Major Religious Groups as of 2010.” (return to text)
The Changing Global Religious Landscape
More babies were born to Christian mothers than to members of any other religion in recent years, reflecting Christianity’s continued status as the world’s largest religious group. But this is unlikely to be the case for much longer: Less than 20 years from now, the number of babies born to Muslims is expected to modestly exceed births to Christians, according to new Pew Research Center demographic estimates.
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%).
While the relatively young Christian population of a region like sub-Saharan Africa is projected to grow in the decades ahead, the same cannot be said for Christian populations everywhere. Indeed, 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.
A note about terminology
The phrase “babies born to Christians” and “Christian births” are used interchangeably in this report to refer to live births to Christian mothers. Parallel language is used for other religious groups (e.g., babies born to Muslims, Muslim births).
This report generally avoids the terms “Christian babies” or “Muslim babies” because that wording could suggest children take on a religion at birth.
The assumption in these estimates and projections is that children tend to inherit their mother’s religious identity (or lack thereof) until young adulthood, when some choose to switch their religious identity. The projection models in this report take into account estimated rates of religious switching (or conversion) into and out of major religious groups in the 70 countries for which such data are available.
Globally, the relatively young population and high fertility rates of Muslims lead to a projection that between 2030 and 2035, there will be slightly more babies born to Muslims (225 million) than to Christians (224 million), even though the total Christian population will still be larger. By the 2055 to 2060 period, the birth gap between the two groups is expected to approach 6 million (232 million births among Muslims vs. 226 million births among Christians). 1
In contrast with this baby boom among Muslims, people who do not identify with any religion are experiencing a much different trend. While religiously unaffiliated people currently make up 16% of the global population, only an estimated 10% of the world’s newborns between 2010 and 2015 were born to religiously unaffiliated mothers. This dearth of newborns among the unaffiliated helps explain why religious “nones” (including people who identity as atheist or agnostic, as well as those who have no particular religion) are projected to decline as a share of the world’s population in the coming decades.
By 2055 to 2060, just 9% of all babies will be born to religiously unaffiliated women, while more than seven-in-ten will be born to either Muslims (36%) or Christians (35%).
These are among the key findings of a new Pew Research Center analysis of demographic data. This analysis is based on – and builds on – the same database of more than 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers used for the 2015 report “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050.” Both reports share the same demographic projection models, but the figures on births and deaths in this analysis have not been previously released.
In addition, this report provides updated global population estimates, as of 2015, for Christians, Muslims, religious “nones” and adherents of other religious groups. And the population growth projections in this report extend to 2060, a decade further than in the original report.
The projections do not assume that all babies will remain in the religion of their mother. The projections attempt to take religious switching (in all directions) into account, but conversion patterns are complex and varied. In some countries, including the United States, it is fairly common for adults to leave their childhood religion and switch to another faith (or no faith). For example, many people raised in the U.S. as Christians become unaffiliated in adulthood, and vice versa – many people raised without any religion join a religious group later in their lives. But in some other countries, changes in religious identity are rare or even illegal. 2
At present, the best available data indicate that the worldwide impact of religious switching alone, absent any other factors, would be a relatively small increase in the number of Muslims, a substantial increase in the number of unaffiliated people, and a substantial decrease in the number of Christians in coming decades. Globally, however, the effects of religious switching are overshadowed by the impact of differences in fertility and mortality. As a result, the unaffiliated are projected to decline as a share of the world’s total population despite the boost they are expected to receive from people leaving Christianity and other religious groups in Europe, North America and some other parts of the world. And the number of Christians is projected to rise, though not as fast as the number of Muslims.
Global population projections, 2015 to 2060
Christians were the largest religious group in the world in 2015, making up nearly a third (31%) of Earth’s 7.3 billion people. Muslims were second, with 1.8 billion people, or 24% of the global population, followed by religious “nones” (16%), Hindus (15%) and Buddhists (7%). Adherents of folk religions, Jews and members of other religions make up smaller shares of the world’s people.
Between 2015 and 2060, the world’s population is expected to increase by 32%, to 9.6 billion. Over that same period, the number of Muslims – the major religious group with the youngest population and the highest fertility – is projected to increase by 70%. The number of Christians is projected to rise by 34%, slightly faster than the global population overall yet far more slowly than Muslims.
As a result, according to Pew Research Center projections, by 2060, the count of Muslims (3.0 billion, or 31% of the population) will near the Christian count (3.1 billion, or 32%). 3
Except for Muslims and Christians, all major world religions are projected to make up a smaller percentage of the global population in 2060 than they did in 2015. 4 While Hindus, Jews and adherents of folk religions are expected to grow in absolute numbers in the coming decades, none of these groups will keep pace with global population growth.
Worldwide, the number of Hindus is projected to rise by 27%, from 1.1 billion to 1.4 billion, lagging slightly behind the pace of overall population growth. Jews, the smallest religious group for which separate projections were made, are expected to grow by 15%, from 14.3 million in 2015 to 16.4 million worldwide in 2060. 5 And adherents of various folk religions – including African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions, among others – are projected to increase by 5%, from 418 million to 441 million.
Buddhists, meanwhile, are projected to decline in absolute number, dropping 7% from nearly 500 million in 2015 to 462 million in 2060. Low fertility rates and aging populations in countries such as China, Thailand and Japan are the main demographic reasons for the expected shrinkage in the Buddhist population in the years ahead.
All other religions combined – an umbrella category that includes Baha’is, Jains, Sikhs, Taoists and many smaller faiths – also are projected to decrease slightly in number, from a total of approximately 59.7 million in 2015 to 59.4 million in 2060. 6
The religiously unaffiliated population is projected to shrink as a percentage of the global population, even though it will increase modestly in absolute number. In 2015, there were slightly fewer than 1.2 billion atheists, agnostics and people who did not identify with any particular religion around the world. 7 By 2060, the unaffiliated population is expected to reach 1.2 billion. But as a share of all people in the world, religious “nones” are projected to decline from 16% of the total population in 2015 to 13% in 2060. While the unaffiliated are expected to continue to increase as a share the population in much of Europe and North America, people with no religion will decline as a share of the population in Asia, where 75% of the world’s religious “nones” live.
Geographic differences like these play a major role in patterns of religious growth. Indeed, one of the main determinants of future growth is where each group is geographically concentrated today. For example, the religiously unaffiliated population is heavily concentrated in places with aging populations and low fertility, such as China, Japan, Europe and North America. By contrast, religions with many adherents in developing countries – where birth rates are high and infant mortality rates generally have been falling – are likely to grow quickly. Much of the worldwide growth of Islam and Christianity, for example, is expected to take place in sub-Saharan Africa.
Change in where groups are concentrated
The regional distribution of religious groups is also expected to shift in the coming decades. For example, the share of Christians worldwide who live in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to increase dramatically between 2015 and 2060, from 26% to 42%, due to high fertility in the region. Meanwhile, religious switching and lower fertility will drive down the shares of the global Christian population living in Europe and North America.
Sub-Saharan Africa is also expected to be home to a growing share of the world’s Muslims. By 2060, 27% of the global Muslim population is projected to be living in the region, up from 16% in 2015. By contrast, the share of Muslims living in the Asia-Pacific region is expected to decline over the period from 61% to 50%. The share of Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa is expected to hold steady at 20%.
As of 2015, three-in-four unaffiliated people live in Asia and the Pacific. But that share is expected to decline to 66% by 2060 due to low fertility and an aging population. At the same time, a growing share of the unaffiliated will live outside of the Asia-Pacific, particularly in Europe and North America. By 2060, 9% of the global unaffiliated population will live in the United States alone, according to the projections.
The vast majority of Hindus and Buddhists (98-99%) will continue to live in the Asia-Pacific region in the next several decades. Most adherents of folk religions, too, will remain in Asia and the Pacific (79% in 2060), although a growing share are expected to live sub-Saharan Africa (7% in 2015 vs. 16% in 2060). Roughly equal shares of the world’s Jews live in Israel (42%) and the United States in 2015 (40%). But, by 2060, over half of all Jews (53%) are projected to live in Israel, while the U.S. is expected to have a smaller share (32%).
Age and fertility are major factors behind growth of religious groups
The current age distribution of each religious group is an important determinant of demographic growth. Some groups’ adherents are predominantly young, with their prime childbearing years still ahead, while members of other groups are older and largely past their childbearing years. The median ages of Muslims (24 years) and Hindus (27) are younger than the median age of the world’s overall population (30), while the median age of Christians (30) matches the global median. All the other groups are older than the global median, which is part of the reason why they are expected to fall behind the pace of global population growth. 8
Moreover, Muslims have the highest fertility rate of any religious group – an average of 2.9 children per woman, well above replacement level (2.1), the minimum typically needed to maintain a stable population. 9 Christians are second, at 2.6 children per woman. Hindu and Jewish fertility (2.3 each) are both just below the global average of 2.4 children per woman. All other groups have fertility levels too low to sustain their populations.
In addition to fertility rates and age distributions, religious switching is likely to play a role in the changing sizes of religious groups.
Pew Research Center projections attempt to incorporate patterns of religious switching in 70 countries where surveys provide information on the number of people who say they no longer belong to the religious group in which they were raised. 10 In the projection model, all directions of switching are possible, and they may partially offset one another. In the United States, for example, surveys find that although it is particularly common for people who grew up as Christians to become unaffiliated, some people who were raised with no religious affiliation also have switched to become Christians. 11 These types of patterns are projected to continue as future generations come of age. (For more details on how and where switching was modeled, see Appendix B: Methodology.)
Between 2015 and 2020, Christians are projected to experience the largest losses due to switching. Globally, about 5 million people are expected to become Christians in this five-year period, while 13 million are expected to leave Christianity, with most of these departures joining the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated.
The unaffiliated are projected to add 12 million and lose 4.6 million via switching, for a net gain of 7.6 million between 2015 and 2020. The projected net changes due to switching for other religious groups are smaller.
The demographic challenges of the religiously unaffiliated
Although current patterns of religious switching favor the growth of the religiously unaffiliated population – particularly in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand – religious “nones” are projected to decline as a share of the world’s population in the coming decades due to a combination of low fertility and an older age profile.
Between 2015 and 2020, religious “nones” are projected to experience a net gain of 7.6 million people due to religious switching people who grew up as Christians are expected to make up the overwhelming majority of those who switch into the unaffiliated group. 12 Still, if current religious switching patterns continue, gains made through religious disaffiliation will not be large enough to make up for population losses due to other demographic factors.
For example, the 2015 to 2020 total fertility rate for religiously unaffiliated women is projected to be 1.6 children per woman, nearly a full child less than the rate of 2.5 children per woman for religiously affiliated women. And although religious “nones” tend to be younger than religiously affiliated people in the United States, the opposite is true at the global level: Unaffiliated women are older than the affiliated and thus more likely to be past their prime childbearing years. In 2015, the global median age for the female unaffiliated population was 36, compared with 30 for the religiously affiliated.
These demographic patterns are heavily influenced by the situation in Asia, and particularly China, which was home to 61% of the world’s unaffiliated population in 2015.
What Americans believe and expect about the global size of religious groups
Before releasing projections of the future size of religious groups in 2015, Pew Research Center asked members of the American Trends Panel a few questions about their perceptions of the global religious landscape – and their expectations for its future.
About half of Americans (52%) have an accurate idea of which religious group is currently the largest in the world, correctly saying that Christians make up the largest religious group, while a quarter think (incorrectly) that Muslims are largest. Fewer U.S. adults say that people with no religion (15%) or Hindus (6%) are the largest religious group.
The survey also asked Americans how they expect the share of the global population with no religion to change in the coming decades. Most Americans (62%) predict that the global share of religious “nones” will increase between now and 2050 – an expectation perhaps colored by what is happening on a national level.
Indeed, in the U.S. and many other Western nations, the unaffiliated share of the population has been increasing and is expected to continue to rise as many Christians and others shed their religious identity and as younger, less religious generations replace older, more religious ones. However, because most religious “nones” live in Asia, where the religiously unaffiliated population is relatively old and has relatively low fertility, Pew Research Center projects that the global unaffiliated population will decline in the decades ahead, even after factoring in expected gains via religious switching. Only 15% of U.S. adults surveyed expect that people with no religion will decline as a share of the global population by 2050. 13
Asked which group they expect to have the most adherents globally in 2050, Americans are closely divided among those who say religious “nones” (33%), Christians (32%) and Muslims (29%). A small share (4%) anticipates that Hindus will be the largest group.
Expectations about which group will become the largest vary by respondents’ age, religion and political party affiliation. For instance, nearly half (46%) of U.S. adults under 30 predict that people with no religion will outnumber Christians, Muslims and Hindus in 2050, while only about three-in-ten of those ages 50 and older anticipate that religious “nones” will be the largest group at mid-century. Meanwhile, older Americans are more likely than young adults (under 30) to say that Muslims will be the largest group.
Christians are more likely than religious “nones” to say that Christians will be the largest group in 2050 (36% vs. 22%). And the unaffiliated are more likely than Christians to say people with no religion will be the largest group at mid-century: 44% of religious “nones” say this will be the case, compared with 31% of Christians.
Differences in expectations about the future size of religious groups also are apparent across the political spectrum. Americans who identify with or lean toward the Republican Party are more likely than those who identify as or lean Democratic to predict that Muslims will make up the largest religious group in the world in 2050 (36% vs. 25%). By contrast, Democrats are more likely than Republicans (35% vs. 29%) to expect that people with no religion will be the largest group.
How births and deaths are changing religious populations
As the world’s largest religious group, Christians had the most births and deaths of any group between 2010 and 2015. During this five-year period, an estimated 223 million babies were born to Christian mothers and roughly 107 million Christians died, meaning that the natural increase in the Christian population – i.e., the number of births minus the number of deaths – was 116 million over this period.
Muslims had the second-largest number of births between 2010 and 2015, with 213 million babies born to Muslim mothers. But Muslims saw the largest natural increase of any religious group – more than 152 million people – due to the relatively small number of Muslim deaths (61 million). This large natural increase results from both high Muslim fertility and the concentration of the Muslim population in younger age groups, which have lower mortality rates.
Compared with the overall size of the religiously unaffiliated population (16% of the world’s people), there were relatively few recent births to unaffiliated mothers (10% of all births between 2010 and 2015). Religious “nones” are the third-largest group overall, and yet due to lower levels of fertility, they rank fourth behind Hindus in terms of babies born. Between 2010 and 2015, an estimated 68 million babies were born to unaffiliated mothers, compared with 109 million to Hindu mothers. Hindus also saw a much larger natural increase than the religiously unaffiliated (67 million vs. 26 million).
Births also outnumbered deaths among other major religious groups between 2010 and 2015, including among Buddhists, Jews and members of folk or traditional religions.
Beyond 2015, Christian and Muslim mothers are expected to give birth to increasing numbers of babies through 2060. But Muslim births are projected to rise at a faster rate – so much so that by 2035 the number of babies born to Muslim mothers will narrowly surpass the number born to Christian mothers. Between 2055 and 2060, the birth gap between the two groups is expected to approach 6 million (232 million births among Muslims vs. 226 million births among Christians).
By contrast, the total number of births is projected to decline steadily between 2015 and 2060 for all other major religious groups. The drop-off in births will be especially dramatic for Hindus – who are expected to see 33 million fewer births between 2055 and 2060 than between 2010 and 2015 – due in large part to declining fertility in India, which is home to 94% of the global Hindu population as of 2015.
The number of deaths is projected to increase for all religious groups between 2015 and 2060, as the world’s population continues to grow – and grow older. 14
Regional and country-level patterns of births and deaths
For religious groups in most countries, there is currently either positive natural increase (more births than deaths) or little net change due to births and deaths. But many European countries are experiencing a natural decrease (more deaths than births) in the populations of certain religious groups, especially Christians.
Throughout Eastern Europe and parts of Western Europe, deaths outnumbered births among Christians between 2010 and 2015 in 24 of 42 countries. Deaths also outnumbered births by at least 10,000 among religiously unaffiliated populations in Austria, Ukraine and Russia. But religious “nones” in most European countries saw either a positive natural increase (in 19 countries) or little net change during the period from 2010 to 2015 (in 20 countries). This reflects the relatively young age profile of the religiously unaffiliated compared with the Christian population in Europe.
Among Muslims, there were no European countries where the number of deaths exceeded the number of births. Throughout most of the region, the number of babies born to Muslim women exceeded the number of Muslim deaths between 2010 and 2015 (in 21 countries). In Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Russia and France, there were at least 250,000 more Muslim births than deaths in each country over that period. At the same time, migration is also driving Muslim population growth in Europe.
No Christian, Muslim or unaffiliated populations living in countries outside of Europe experienced more deaths than births in the 2010 to 2015 period. Similarly, other religious groups saw either positive natural increase or little net change, with a few exceptions: Buddhists in Japan, Hindus in South Africa and adherents of folk religions in South Korea and Tanzania had a larger number of deaths than births between 2010 and 2015.
There are important regional differences in birth and death trends for some religious groups. Among Christians, for example, sub-Saharan Africa experienced the biggest natural increase between 2010 and 2015 – with 64 million more births than deaths – followed by smaller Christian increases in Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific and North America.
In Europe, however, Christian deaths already outnumber births – a deficit that is projected to grow through 2060. And in North America, the number of Christian deaths will begin to exceed the number of births by around 2050.
These trends signal that much of Christianity’s future growth is likely to be in the global South, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa – the only region where natural increases in the Christian population are expected to grow even larger in the coming decades. (This means that not only will there continue to be more Christian births than deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, but births will exceed deaths by even larger numbers in upcoming five-year periods.) In Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region, the number of Christian births will continue to exceed the number of deaths through 2060, but the natural increases in the 2055 to 2060 time period will be much smaller than they are now as these regions experience significant declines in fertility.
The global Muslim population also is projected to undergo an important geographic shift toward sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, more Muslims live in Asia and the Pacific than in any other region, and as a result, this region had the largest natural increase in the Muslim population between 2010 and 2015.
But sub-Saharan Africa’s Muslims also experienced far more births than deaths during this period, and the natural increases in the Muslim population in sub-Saharan Africa are projected to grow even larger in the five-year periods ahead, driven by high fertility. By about 2040, the natural increase in the Muslim population in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to exceed the natural increase in Asia.
Muslims in Asia and the Middle East-North Africa region will experience slower growth in the coming decades as Muslim fertility in these regions declines. These populations will continue to have more births than deaths through 2060, but they will grow at a slower rate.
Muslims in Europe and North America also are expected to have more births than deaths through 2060.
Currently, there are more births than deaths among religious “nones” in all regions, led by the Asia-Pacific region, which is home to a majority of the global religiously unaffiliated population.
But this will change in the coming years. For people with no religion in Asia, the number of deaths will begin to exceed the number of births to unaffiliated mothers by 2030, a change driven by low fertility and a relatively old unaffiliated population in China. By 2035, unaffiliated deaths are expected to outnumber births in Europe as well.
This entry is an ordered listing of religions by adherents starting with the largest group and sometimes includes the percent of total population. The core characteristics and beliefs of the world's major religions are described below.
Baha'i - Founded by Mirza Husayn-Ali (known as Baha'u'llah) in Iran in 1852, Baha'i faith emphasizes monotheism and believes in one eternal transcendent God. Its guiding focus is to encourage the unity of all peoples on the earth so that justice and peace may be achieved on earth. Baha'i revelation contends the prophets of major world religions reflect some truth or element of the divine, believes all were manifestations of God given to specific communities in specific times, and that Baha'u'llah is an additional prophet meant to call all humankind. Bahais are an open community, located worldwide, with the greatest concentration of believers in South Asia.
Buddhism - Religion or philosophy inspired by the 5th century B.C. teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (also known as Gautama Buddha "the enlightened one"). Buddhism focuses on the goal of spiritual enlightenment centered on an understanding of Gautama Buddha's Four Noble Truths on the nature of suffering, and on the Eightfold Path of spiritual and moral practice, to break the cycle of suffering of which we are a part. Buddhism ascribes to a karmic system of rebirth. Several schools and sects of Buddhism exist, differing often on the nature of the Buddha, the extent to which enlightenment can be achieved - for one or for all, and by whom - religious orders or laity.
Theravada Buddhism: The oldest Buddhist school, Theravada is practiced mostly in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, and Thailand, with minority representation elsewhere in Asia and the West. Theravadans follow the Pali Canon of Buddha's teachings, and believe that one may escape the cycle of rebirth, worldly attachment, and suffering for oneself this process may take one or several lifetimes.
Mahayana Buddhism, including subsets Zen and Tibetan (Lamaistic) Buddhism: Forms of Mahayana Buddhism are common in East Asia and Tibet, and parts of the West. Mahayanas have additional scriptures beyond the Pali Canon and believe the Buddha is eternal and still teaching. Unlike Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana schools maintain the Buddha-nature is present in all beings and all will ultimately achieve enlightenment.
Hoa Hao: a minority tradition of Buddhism practiced in Vietnam that stresses lay participation, primarily by peasant farmers it eschews expensive ceremonies and temples and relocates the primary practices into the home.
Christianity - Descending from Judaism, Christianity's central belief maintains Jesus of Nazareth is the promised messiah of the Hebrew Scriptures, and that his life, death, and resurrection are salvific for the world. Christianity is one of the three monotheistic Abrahamic faiths, along with Islam and Judaism, which traces its spiritual lineage to Abraham of the Hebrew Scriptures. Its sacred texts include the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament (or the Christian Gospels).
Catholicism (or Roman Catholicism): This is the oldest established western Christian church and the world's largest single religious body. It is supranational, and recognizes a hierarchical structure with the Pope, or Bishop of Rome, as its head, located at the Vatican. Catholics believe the Pope is the divinely ordered head of the Church from a direct spiritual legacy of Jesus' apostle Peter. Catholicism is comprised of 23 particular Churches, or Rites - one Western (Roman or Latin-Rite) and 22 Eastern. The Latin Rite is by far the largest, making up about 98% of Catholic membership. Eastern-Rite Churches, such as the Maronite Church and the Ukrainian Catholic Church, are in communion with Rome although they preserve their own worship traditions and their immediate hierarchy consists of clergy within their own rite. The Catholic Church has a comprehensive theological and moral doctrine specified for believers in its catechism, which makes it unique among most forms of Christianity.
Mormonism (including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints): Originating in 1830 in the United States under Joseph Smith, Mormonism is not characterized as a form of Protestant Christianity because it claims additional revealed Christian scriptures after the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. The Book of Mormon maintains there was an appearance of Jesus in the New World following the Christian account of his resurrection, and that the Americas are uniquely blessed continents. Mormonism believes earlier Christian traditions, such as the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant reform faiths, are apostasies and that Joseph Smith's revelation of the Book of Mormon is a restoration of true Christianity. Mormons have a hierarchical religious leadership structure, and actively proselytize their faith they are located primarily in the Americas and in a number of other Western countries.
Jehovah's Witnesses structure their faith on the Christian Bible, but their rejection of the Trinity is distinct from mainstream Christianity. They believe that a Kingdom of God, the Theocracy, will emerge following Armageddon and usher in a new earthly society. Adherents are required to evangelize and to follow a strict moral code.
Orthodox Christianity: The oldest established eastern form of Christianity, the Holy Orthodox Church, has a ceremonial head in the Bishop of Constantinople (Istanbul), also known as a Patriarch, but its various regional forms (e.g., Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox) are autocephalous (independent of Constantinople's authority, and have their own Patriarchs). Orthodox churches are highly nationalist and ethnic. The Orthodox Christian faith shares many theological tenets with the Roman Catholic Church, but diverges on some key premises and does not recognize the governing authority of the Pope.
Protestant Christianity: Protestant Christianity originated in the 16th century as an attempt to reform Roman Catholicism's practices, dogma, and theology. It encompasses several forms or denominations which are extremely varied in structure, beliefs, relationship to state, clergy, and governance. Many protestant theologies emphasize the primary role of scripture in their faith, advocating individual interpretation of Christian texts without the mediation of a final religious authority such as the Roman Pope. The oldest Protestant Christianities include Lutheranism, Calvinism (Presbyterians), and Anglican Christianity (Episcopalians), which have established liturgies, governing structure, and formal clergy. Other variants on Protestant Christianity, including Pentecostal movements and independent churches, may lack one or more of these elements, and their leadership and beliefs are individualized and dynamic.
Hinduism - Originating in the Vedic civilization of India (second and first millennium B.C.), Hinduism is an extremely diverse set of beliefs and practices with no single founder or religious authority. Hinduism has many scriptures the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad-Gita are among some of the most important. Hindus may worship one or many deities, usually with prayer rituals within their own home. The most common figures of devotion are the gods Vishnu, Shiva, and a mother goddess, Devi. Most Hindus believe the soul, or atman, is eternal, and goes through a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (samsara) determined by one's positive or negative karma, or the consequences of one's actions. The goal of religious life is to learn to act so as to finally achieve liberation (moksha) of one's soul, escaping the rebirth cycle.
Islam - The third of the monotheistic Abrahamic faiths, Islam originated with the teachings of Muhammad in the 7th century. Muslims believe Muhammad is the final of all religious prophets (beginning with Abraham) and that the Qu'ran, which is the Islamic scripture, was revealed to him by God. Islam derives from the word submission, and obedience to God is a primary theme in this religion. In order to live an Islamic life, believers must follow the five pillars, or tenets, of Islam, which are the testimony of faith (shahada), daily prayer (salah), giving alms (zakah), fasting during Ramadan (sawm), and the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj).
The two primary branches of Islam are Sunni and Shia, which split from each other over a religio-political leadership dispute about the rightful successor to Muhammad. The Shia believe Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, Ali, was the only divinely ordained Imam (religious leader), while the Sunni maintain the first three caliphs after Muhammad were also legitimate authorities. In modern Islam, Sunnis and Shia continue to have different views of acceptable schools of Islamic jurisprudence, and who is a proper Islamic religious authority. Islam also has an active mystical branch, Sufism, with various Sunni and Shia subsets.
Sunni Islam accounts for over 75% of the world's Muslim population. It recognizes the Abu Bakr as the first caliph after Muhammad. Sunni has four schools of Islamic doctrine and law - Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i, and Hanbali - which uniquely interpret the Hadith, or recorded oral traditions of Muhammad. A Sunni Muslim may elect to follow any one of these schools, as all are considered equally valid.
Shia Islam represents 10-20% of Muslims worldwide, and its distinguishing feature is its reverence for Ali as an infallible, divinely inspired leader, and as the first Imam of the Muslim community after Muhammad. A majority of Shia are known as "Twelvers," because they believe that the 11 familial successor imams after Muhammad culminate in a 12th Imam (al-Mahdi) who is hidden in the world and will reappear at its end to redeem the righteous.
Ismaili faith: A sect of Shia Islam, its adherents are also known as "Seveners," because they believe that the rightful seventh Imam in Islamic leadership was Isma'il, the elder son of Imam Jafar al-Sadiq. Ismaili tradition awaits the return of the seventh Imam as the Mahdi, or Islamic messianic figure. Ismailis are located in various parts of the world, particularly South Asia and the Levant.
Alawi faith: Another Shia sect of Islam, the name reflects followers' devotion to the religious authority of Ali. Alawites are a closed, secretive religious group who assert they are Shia Muslims, although outside scholars speculate their beliefs may have a syncretic mix with other faiths originating in the Middle East. Alawis live mostly in Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey.
Druze faith: A highly secretive tradition and a closed community that derives from the Ismaili sect of Islam its core beliefs are thought to emphasize a combination of Gnostic principles believing that the Fatimid caliph, al-Hakin, is the one who embodies the key aspects of goodness of the universe, which are, the intellect, the word, the soul, the preceder, and the follower. The Druze have a key presence in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel.
Jainism - Originating in India, Jain spiritual philosophy believes in an eternal human soul, the eternal universe, and a principle of "the own nature of things." It emphasizes compassion for all living things, seeks liberation of the human soul from reincarnation through enlightenment, and values personal responsibility due to the belief in the immediate consequences of one's behavior. Jain philosophy teaches non-violence and prescribes vegetarianism for monks and laity alike its adherents are a highly influential religious minority in Indian society.
Judaism - One of the first known monotheistic religions, likely dating to between 2000-1500 B.C., Judaism is the native faith of the Jewish people, based upon the belief in a covenant of responsibility between a sole omnipotent creator God and Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism's Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh. Divine revelation of principles and prohibitions in the Hebrew Scriptures form the basis of Jewish law, or halakhah, which is a key component of the faith. While there are extensive traditions of Jewish halakhic and theological discourse, there is no final dogmatic authority in the tradition. Local communities have their own religious leadership. Modern Judaism has three basic categories of faith: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform/Liberal. These differ in their views and observance of Jewish law, with the Orthodox representing the most traditional practice, and Reform/Liberal communities the most accommodating of individualized interpretations of Jewish identity and faith.
Shintoism - A native animist tradition of Japan, Shinto practice is based upon the premise that every being and object has its own spirit or kami. Shinto practitioners worship several particular kamis, including the kamis of nature, and families often have shrines to their ancestors' kamis. Shintoism has no fixed tradition of prayers or prescribed dogma, but is characterized by individual ritual. Respect for the kamis in nature is a key Shinto value. Prior to the end of World War II, Shinto was the state religion of Japan, and bolstered the cult of the Japanese emperor.
Sikhism - Founded by the Guru Nanak (born 1469), Sikhism believes in a non-anthropomorphic, supreme, eternal, creator God centering one's devotion to God is seen as a means of escaping the cycle of rebirth. Sikhs follow the teachings of Nanak and nine subsequent gurus. Their scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib - also known as the Adi Granth - is considered the living Guru, or final authority of Sikh faith and theology. Sikhism emphasizes equality of humankind and disavows caste, class, or gender discrimination.
Taoism - Chinese philosophy or religion based upon Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, which centers on belief in the Tao, or the way, as the flow of the universe and the nature of things. Taoism encourages a principle of non-force, or wu-wei, as the means to live harmoniously with the Tao. Taoists believe the esoteric world is made up of a perfect harmonious balance and nature, while in the manifest world - particularly in the body - balance is distorted. The Three Jewels of the Tao - compassion, simplicity, and humility - serve as the basis for Taoist ethics.
Zoroastrianism - Originating from the teachings of Zoroaster in about the 9th or 10th century B.C., Zoroastrianism may be the oldest continuing creedal religion. Its key beliefs center on a transcendent creator God, Ahura Mazda, and the concept of free will. The key ethical tenets of Zoroastrianism expressed in its scripture, the Avesta, are based on a dualistic worldview where one may prevent chaos if one chooses to serve God and exercises good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. Zoroastrianism is generally a closed religion and members are almost always born to Zoroastrian parents. Prior to the spread of Islam, Zoroastrianism dominated greater Iran. Today, though a minority, Zoroastrians remain primarily in Iran, India (where they are known as Parsi), and Pakistan.
Animism: the belief that non-human entities contain souls or spirits.
Badimo: a form of ancestor worship of the Tswana people of Botswana.
Confucianism: an ideology that humans are perfectible through self-cultivation and self-creation developed from teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius. Confucianism has strongly influenced the culture and beliefs of East Asian countries, including China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
Inuit beliefs are a form of shamanism (see below) based on animistic principles of the Inuit or Eskimo peoples.
Kirant: the belief system of the Kirat, a people who live mainly in the Himalayas of Nepal. It is primarily a form of polytheistic shamanism, but includes elements of animism and ancestor worship.
Pagan is a blanket term used to describe many unconnected belief practices throughout history, usually in reference to religions outside of the Abrahamic category (monotheistic faiths like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).
Shamanism: beliefs and practices promoting communication with the spiritual world. Shamanistic beliefs are organized around a shaman or medicine man who - as an intermediary between the human and spirit world - is believed to be able to heal the sick (by healing their souls), communicate with the spirit world, and help souls into the afterlife through the practice of entering a trance. In shaman-based religions, the shaman is also responsible for leading sacred rites.
Spiritualism: the belief that souls and spirits communicate with the living usually through intermediaries called mediums.
Syncretic (fusion of diverse religious beliefs and practices)
Cao Dai: a nationalistic Vietnamese sect, officially established in 1926, that draws practices and precepts from Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Catholicism.
Chondogyo: or the religion of the Heavenly Way, is based on Korean shamanism, Buddhism, and Korean folk traditions, with some elements drawn from Christianity. Formulated in the 1860s, it holds that God lives in all of us and strives to convert society into a paradise on earth, populated by believers transformed into intelligent moral beings with a high social conscience.
Kimbanguist: a puritan form of the Baptist denomination founded by Simon Kimbangu in the 1920s in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Adherents believe that salvation comes through Jesus' death and resurrection, like Christianity, but additionally that living a spiritually pure life following strict codes of conduct is required for salvation.
Modekngei: a hybrid of Christianity and ancient Palauan culture and oral traditions founded around 1915 on the island of Babeldaob. Adherents simultaneously worship Jesus Christ and Palauan goddesses.
Rastafarian: an afro-centrist ideology and movement based on Christianity that arose in Jamaica in the 1930s it believes that Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930-74, was the incarnation of the second coming of Jesus.
Santeria: practiced in Cuba, the merging of the Yoruba religion of Nigeria with Roman Catholicism and native Indian traditions. Its practitioners believe that each person has a destiny and eventually transcends to merge with the divine creator and source of all energy, Olorun.
Voodoo/Vodun: a form of spirit and ancestor worship combined with some Christian faiths, especially Catholicism. Haitian and Louisiana Voodoo, which have included more Catholic practices, are separate from West African Vodun, which has retained a focus on spirit worship.
Agnosticism: the belief that most things are unknowable. In regard to religion it is usually characterized as neither a belief nor non belief in a deity.
Atheism: the belief that there are no deities of any kind.
Muslim 99.7% (Sunni 84.7 - 89.7%, Shia 10 - 15%), other 0.3% (2009 est.)
Muslim 56.7%, Roman Catholic 10%, Orthodox 6.8%, atheist 2.5%, Bektashi (a Sufi order) 2.1%, other 5.7%, unspecified 16.2% (2011 est.)
note: all mosques and churches were closed in 1967 and religious observances prohibited in November 1990, Albania began allowing private religious practice
Muslim (official predominantly Sunni) 99%, other (includes Christian and Jewish) <1% (2012 est.)
Christian 98.3%, other 1%, unaffiliated 0.7% (2010 est.)
Roman Catholic (predominant)
Roman Catholic 41.1%, Protestant 38.1%, other 8.6%, none 12.3% (2014 est.)
Protestant 73.2% (includes Anglican 22.7%, Methodist 19.4%, Pentecostal 10.5%, Seventh Day Adventist 8.3%, Baptist 7.1%, Church of God 4.9%, Presbyterian 0.2%, Brethren 0.1%), Roman Catholic 6.8%, Jehovah's Witness 1.1%, other Christian 10.9%, other 3.2%, unspecified 0.3%, none 4.5% (2011 est.)
Antigua and Barbuda
Protestant 68.3% (Anglican 17.6%, Seventh Day Adventist 12.4%, Pentecostal 12.2%, Moravian 8.3%, Methodist 5.6%, Wesleyan Holiness 4.5%, Church of God 4.1%, Baptist 3.6%), Roman Catholic 8.2%, other 12.2%, unspecified 5.5%, none 5.9% (2011 est.)
nominally Roman Catholic 92% (less than 20% practicing), Protestant 2%, Jewish 2%, other 4%
Armenian Apostolic 92.6%, Evangelical 1%, other 2.4%, none 1.1%, unspecified 2.9% (2011 est.)
Roman Catholic 75.3%, Protestant 4.9% (includes Methodist 0.9%, Adventist 0.9%, Anglican 0.4%, other Protestant 2.7%), Jehovah's Witness 1.7%, other 12%, none 5.5%, unspecified 0.5% (2010 est.)
Protestant 23.1% (Anglican 13.3%, Uniting Church 3.7%, Presbyterian and Reformed 2.3%, Baptist 1.5%, Pentecostal 1.1%, Lutheran .7%, other Protestant .5%), Roman Catholic 22.6%, other Christian 4.2%, Muslim 2.6%, Buddhist 2.4%, Orthodox 2.3% (Eastern Orthodox 2.1%, Oriental Orthodox .2%), Hindu 1.9%, other 1.3%, none 30.1%, unspecified 9.6% (2016 est.)
Catholic 57%, Eastern Orthodox 8.7%, Muslim 7.9%, Evangelical Christian 3.3%, other/none/unspecified 23.1% (2018 est.)
note: data on Muslim is a 2016 estimate data on other/none/unspecified are from 2012-2018 estimates
Muslim 96.9% (predominantly Shia), Christian 3%, other <0.1, unaffiliated <0.1 (2010 est.)
note: religious affiliation for the majority of Azerbaijanis is largely nominal, percentages for actual practicing adherents are probably much lower
Protestant 69.9% (includes Baptist 34.9%, Anglican 13.7%, Pentecostal 8.9% Seventh Day Adventist 4.4%, Methodist 3.6%, Church of God 1.9%, Brethren 1.6%, other Protestant .9%), Roman Catholic 12%, other Christian 13% (includes Jehovah's Witness 1.1%), other 0.6%, none 1.9%, unspecified 2.6% (2010 est.)
Muslim 73.7%, Christian 9.3%, Jewish 0.1%, other 16.9% (2017 est.)
Muslim 89.1%, Hindu 10%, other 0.9% (includes Buddhist, Christian) (2013 est.)
Protestant 66.4% (includes Anglican 23.9%, other Pentecostal 19.5%, Adventist 5.9%, Methodist 4.2%, Wesleyan 3.4%, Nazarene 3.2%, Church of God 2.4%, Baptist 1.8%, Moravian 1.2%, other Protestant 0.9%), Roman Catholic 3.8%, other Christian 5.4% (includes Jehovah's Witness 2.0%, other 3.4%), Rastafarian 1%, other 1.5%, none 20.6%, unspecified 1.2% (2010 est.)
Orthodox 48.3%, Catholic 7.1%, other 3.5%, non-believers 41.1% (2011 est.)
Roman Catholic 50%, Protestant and other Christian 2.5%, Muslim 5%, Jewish 0.4%, Buddhist 0.3%, atheist 9.2%, none 32.6% (2009 est.)
Roman Catholic 40.1%, Protestant 31.5% (includes Pentecostal 8.4%, Seventh Day Adventist 5.4%, Anglican 4.7%, Mennonite 3.7%, Baptist 3.6%, Methodist 2.9%, Nazarene 2.8%), Jehovah's Witness 1.7%, other 10.5% (includes Baha'i, Buddhist, Hindu, Mormon, Muslim, Rastafarian, Salvation Army), unspecified 0.6%, none 15.5% (2010 est.)
Muslim 27.7%, Roman Catholic 25.5%, Protestant 13.5% (Celestial 6.7%, Methodist 3.4%, other Protestant 3.4%), Vodoun 11.6%, other Christian 9.5%, other traditional religions 2.6%, other 2.6%, none 5.8% (2013 est.)
Protestant 46.2% (includes Anglican 15.8%, African Methodist Episcopal 8.6%, Seventh Day Adventist 6.7, Pentecostal 3.5%, Methodist 2.7%, Presbyterian 2.0%, Church of God 1.6%, Baptist 1.2%, Salvation Army 1.1%, Brethren 1.0%, other Protestant 2.0%), Roman Catholic 14.5%, Jehovah's Witness 1.3%, other Christian 9.1%, Muslim 1%, other 3.9%, none 17.8%, unspecified 6.2% (2010 est.)
Lamaistic Buddhist 75.3%, Indian- and Nepali-influenced Hinduism 22.1%, other 2.6% (2005 est.)
Roman Catholic 76.8%, Evangelical and Pentecostal 8.1%, Protestant 7.9%, other 1.7%, none 5.5% (2012 est.)
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Muslim 50.7%, Orthodox 30.7%, Roman Catholic 15.2%, atheist 0.8%, agnostic 0.3%, other 1.2%, undeclared/no answer 1.1% (2013 est.)
Christian 79.1%, Badimo 4.1%, other 1.4% (includes Baha'i, Hindu, Muslim, Rastafarian), none 15.2%, unspecified 0.3% (2011 est.)
Roman Catholic 64.6%, other Catholic 0.4%, Protestant 22.2% (includes Adventist 6.5%, Assembly of God 2.0%, Christian Congregation of Brazil 1.2%, Universal Kingdom of God 1.0%, other Protestant 11.5%), other Christian 0.7%, Spiritist 2.2%, other 1.4%, none 8%, unspecified 0.4% (2010 est.)
British Virgin Islands
Protestant 70.2% (Methodist 17.6%, Church of God 10.4%, Anglican 9.5%, Seventh Day Adventist 9.0%, Pentecostal 8.2%, Baptist 7.4%, New Testament Church of God 6.9%, other Protestant 1.2%), Roman Catholic 8.9%, Jehovah's Witness 2.5%, Hindu 1.9%, other 6.2%, none 7.9%, unspecified 2.4% (2010 est.)
Muslim (official) 78.8%, Christian 8.7%, Buddhist 7.8%, other (includes indigenous beliefs) 4.7% (2011 est.)
Eastern Orthodox 59.4%, Muslim 7.8%, other (including Catholic, Protestant, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox, and Jewish) 1.7%, none 3.7%, unspecified 27.4% (2011 est.)
Muslim 61.5%, Roman Catholic 23.3%, traditional/animist 7.8%, Protestant 6.5%, other/no answer 0.2%, none 0.7% (2010 est.)
Buddhist 87.9%, Christian 6.2%, Muslim 4.3%, Animist 0.8%, Hindu 0.5%, other 0.2%, none 0.1% (2014 est.)
note: religion estimate is based on the 2014 national census, including an estimate for the non-enumerated population of Rakhine State, which is assumed to mainly affiliate with the Islamic faith as of December 2019, Muslims probably make up less than 3% of Burma's total population due to the large outmigration of the Rohingya population since 2017
Roman Catholic 62.1%, Protestant 23.9% (includes Adventist 2.3% and other Protestant 21.6%), Muslim 2.5%, other 3.6%, unspecified 7.9% (2008 est.)
Roman Catholic 77.3%, Protestant 4.6% (includes Church of the Nazarene 1.7%, Adventist 1.5%, Assembly of God 0.9%, Universal Kingdom of God 0.4%, and God and Love 0.1%), other Christian 3.4% (includes Christian Rationalism 1.9%, Jehovah's Witness 1%, and New Apostolic 0.5%), Muslim 1.8%, other 1.3%, none 10.8%, unspecified 0.7% (2010 est.)
Buddhist (official) 97.9%, Muslim 1.1%, Christian 0.5%, other 0.6% (2013 est.)
Roman Catholic 38.3%, Protestant 25.5%, other Christian 6.9%, Muslim 24.4%, animist 2.2%, other 0.5%, none 2.2% (2018 est.)
Catholic 39% (includes Roman Catholic 38.8%, other Catholic .2%), Protestant 20.3% (includes United Church 6.1%, Anglican 5%, Baptist 1.9%, Lutheran 1.5%, Pentecostal 1.5%, Presbyterian 1.4%, other Protestant 2.9%), Orthodox 1.6%, other Christian 6.3%, Muslim 3.2%, Hindu 1.5%, Sikh 1.4%, Buddhist 1.1%, Jewish 1%, other 0.6%, none 23.9% (2011 est.)
Protestant 67.8% (includes Church of God 22.6%, Seventh Day Adventist 9.4%, Presbyterian/United Church 8.6%, Baptist 8.3%, Pentecostal 7.1%, non-denominational 5.3%, Anglican 4.1%, Wesleyan Holiness 2.4%), Roman Catholic 14.1%, Jehovah's Witness 1.1%, other 7%, none 9.3%, unspecified 0.7% (2010 est.)
Central African Republic
Christian 89.5%, Muslim 8.5%, folk 1%, unaffiliated 1% (2010 est.)
note: animistic beliefs and practices strongly influence the Christian majority
Muslim 52.1%, Protestant 23.9%, Roman Catholic 20%, animist 0.3%, other Christian 0.2%, none 2.8%, unspecified 0.7% (2014-15 est.)
Roman Catholic 66.7%, Evangelical or Protestant 16.4%, Jehovah's Witness 1%, other 3.4%, none 11.5%, unspecified 1.1% (2012 est.)
The World Christian Database contains data on over 9,000 Christian denominations throughout the world. Denominational data are reconciled with information on people groups and country of residence. Thus, complex reports can be generated about people groups or countries based on hundreds of possible variables. The WCD also includes information on world, regional, and national Christian communions.
Major traditions represented
Giving Up on God
In the early years of the twenty-first century, religion seemed to be on the rise. The collapse of both communism and the Soviet Union had left an ideological vacuum that was being filled by Orthodox Christianity in Russia and other post-Soviet states. The election in the United States of President George W. Bush, an evangelical Christian who made no secret of his piety, suggested that evangelical Christianity was rising as a political force in the country. And the 9/11 attacks directed international attention to the power of political Islam in the Muslim world.
A dozen years ago, my colleague Pippa Norris and I analyzed data on religious trends in 49 countries, including a few subnational territories such as Northern Ireland, from which survey evidence was available from 1981 to 2007 (these countries contained 60 percent of the world’s population). We did not find a universal resurgence of religion, despite claims to that effect—most high-income countries became less religious—but we did find that in 33 of the 49 countries we studied, people became more religious during those years. This was true in most former communist countries, in most developing countries, and even in a number of high-income countries. Our findings made it clear that industrialization and the spread of scientific knowledge were not causing religion to disappear, as some scholars had once assumed.
But since 2007, things have changed with surprising speed. From about 2007 to 2019, the overwhelming majority of the countries we studied—43 out of 49—became less religious. The decline in belief was not confined to high-income countries and appeared across most of the world.
Growing numbers of people no longer find religion a necessary source of support and meaning in their lives. Even the United States—long cited as proof that an economically advanced society can be strongly religious—has now joined other wealthy countries in moving away from religion. Several forces are driving this trend, but the most powerful one is the waning hold of a set of beliefs closely linked to the imperative of maintaining high birthrates. Modern societies have become less religious in part because they no longer need to uphold the kinds of gender and sexual norms that the major world religions have instilled for centuries.
Although some religious conservatives warn that the retreat from faith will lead to a collapse of social cohesion and public morality, the evidence doesn’t support this claim. As unexpected as it may seem, countries that are less religious actually tend to be less corrupt and have lower murder rates than more religious ones. Needless to say, religion itself doesn’t encourage corruption and crime. This phenomenon reflects the fact that as societies develop, survival becomes more secure: starvation, once pervasive, becomes uncommon life expectancy increases murder and other forms of violence diminish. And as this level of security rises, people tend to become less religious.
THE RISE AND FALL OF FAITH
Our earlier study, published in 2011, compared levels of religious belief measured as early as 1981 with findings from the latest surveys then available, from around 2007, bridging a period of roughly a quarter century. In each survey, respondents were asked to indicate how important God was in their lives by choosing a value on a scale ranging from one—“Not at all important”—to ten—“Very important.”
Examining how a country’s level of religiosity changed over time led to some striking findings. A majority of the countries surveyed showed upticks in a belief in the importance of God. The largest increases were in former communist countries. For example, from 1981 to 2007, the mean score of the Bulgarian public rose from 3.6 to 5.7. In Russia, it rose from 4.0 to 6.0. In part, this growth in religiosity was a response to the severe decline of economic, physical, and psychological security experienced after the Soviet Union disintegrated religion was filling the ideological vacuum left by the collapse of communism. Religious beliefs also increased in many developing countries outside the former Soviet Union, including Brazil, China, Mexico, and South Africa. On the other hand, religion declined in most high-income countries.
Since 2007, there has been a remarkably sharp trend away from religion. In virtually every high-income country, religion has continued to decline. At the same time, many poor countries, together with most of the former communist states, have also become less religious. From 2007 to 2019, only five countries became more religious, whereas the vast majority of the countries studied moved in the opposite direction.
India is the most important exception to the general pattern of declining religiosity. The period of the study coincides roughly with the return to power of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, whose brand of politics seeks to conflate national identity with religious identity. The BJP government has advocated policies that discriminate against the followers of other religions, particularly India’s large Muslim minority, polarizing communities and whipping up religious sentiments.
A dramatic shift away from religion has taken place among the American public. From 1981 to 2007, the United States ranked as one of the world’s more religious countries, with religiosity levels changing very little. Since then, the United States has shown one of the largest moves away from religion of any country for which we have data. Near the end of the initial period studied, Americans’ mean rating of the importance of God in their lives was 8.2 on a ten-point scale. In the most recent U.S. survey, from 2017, the figure had dropped to 7.0. For years, the United States had been the key case demonstrating that economic modernization need not produce secularization. By this measure, the United States now ranks as the 32nd least religious country for which we have data.
Influential thinkers from Karl Marx to Max Weber to Émile Durkheim predicted that the spread of scientific knowledge would dispel religion throughout the world, but that did not happen. For most people, religious faith was more emotional than cognitive. And for most of human history, sheer survival was uncertain. Religion provided assurance that the world was in the hands of an infallible higher power (or powers) who promised that, if one followed the rules, things would ultimately work out for the best. In a world where people often lived near starvation, religion helped them cope with severe uncertainty and stress. But as economic and technological development took place, people became increasingly able to escape starvation, cope with disease, and suppress violence. They become less dependent on religion—and less willing to accept its constraints, including keeping women in the kitchen and gay people in the closet—as existential insecurity diminished and life expectancy rose.
Secularization doesn’t happen everywhere at once it occurs when countries have attained high levels of existential security, and even then it usually moves at a glacial pace, as one generation replaces another. It can even reverse itself, with societies becoming more religious if they experience prolonged periods of diminished security. Secularization has been gradually taking place since the nineteenth century, starting with the societies of western Europe and North America that were most secure economically and physically and then spreading to more and more parts of the world.
Although secularization normally occurs at the pace of intergenerational population replacement, it can reach a tipping point when the dominant opinion shifts and, swayed by the forces of conformism and social desirability, people start to favor the outlook they once opposed—producing exceptionally rapid cultural change. Younger and better-educated groups in high-income countries have recently reached this threshold.
LOSING THEIR RELIGION
Several other factors beyond rising levels of economic and technological development help explain the waning of religion. In the United States, politics accounts for some of the decline. Since the 1990s, the Republican Party has sought to win support by adopting conservative Christian positions on same-sex marriage, abortion, and other cultural issues. But this political appeal to religious voters has had the corollary effect of pushing other voters, especially those who are young and culturally liberal, away from religion. It once was generally assumed that religious beliefs shaped political views, not the other way around. But recent evidence indicates that the causality can run the other way: panel studies have found that many people change their political views first and then become less religious.
The uncritical embrace of President Donald Trump—a leader who cannot be described as a paragon of Christian virtue—by many prominent evangelicals has led other evangelicals to fear that young people will desert their churches in droves, accelerating an ongoing trend. The Roman Catholic Church, for its part, has lost adherents because of its own crises. Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center found that fully 92 percent of U.S. adults were aware of recent reports of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and about 80 percent of those surveyed said they believed that the abuses were “ongoing problems that are still happening.” Accordingly, 27 percent of U.S. Catholics polled said that they had scaled back their attendance at Mass in response to these reports.
But perhaps the most important force behind secularization is a transformation concerning the norms governing human fertility. For many centuries, most societies assigned to women the role of producing as many children as possible and discouraged divorce, abortion, homosexuality, contraception, and any sexual behavior not linked to reproduction. The sacred writings of the world’s major religions vary greatly, but as Norris and I have demonstrated, virtually all world religions instilled these pro-fertility norms in their adherents. Religions emphasized the importance of fertility because it was necessary. In the world of high infant mortality and low life expectancy that prevailed until recently, the average woman had to produce five to eight children in order to simply replace the population.
During the twentieth century, a growing number of countries attained drastically reduced infant mortality rates and higher life expectancies, making these traditional cultural norms no longer necessary. This process didn’t happen overnight. The major world religions had presented pro-fertility norms as absolute moral rules and stoutly resisted change. People only slowly gave up the familiar beliefs and societal roles they had known since childhood concerning gender and sexual behavior. But when a society reached a sufficiently high level of economic and physical security, younger generations grew up taking that security for granted, and the norms around fertility receded. Ideas, practices, and laws concerning gender equality, divorce, abortion, and homosexuality are now changing rapidly.
This shift is quantifiable. Data collected in the World Values Survey over the years offer a glimpse of a deep transformation. The survey uses a ten-point scale based on each country’s acceptance of divorce, abortion, and homosexuality. The tipping point is around the middle of the scale, at 5.50: lower scores indicate that a majority of the country’s people harbor more conservative views, and higher scores indicate that a majority have more liberal views centered on individual choice. Around 1981, majorities in every country for which we have data supported pro-fertility norms. Even in high-income countries, the mean scores ranged from as low as 3.44 (Spain), 3.49 (the United States), 3.50 (Japan), 4.14 (the United Kingdom), and 4.63 (Finland) to as high as 5.35 for Sweden—then the most liberal country but with a score still slightly below the scale’s tipping point. But a profound change was underway. By 2019, Spain’s mean score had risen to 6.74, the United States’ to 5.86, Japan’s to 6.17, the United Kingdom’s to 6.90, Finland’s to 7.35, and Sweden’s to 8.49. All these countries were below the 5.50 tipping point when first surveyed, and all of them were above it by 2019. These numbers offer a simplified picture of a complex reality, but they convey the scale of the recent acceleration of secularization.
This trend has been spreading to the rest of the world, with one major exception. The populations of the 18 Muslim-majority countries for which data are available in the World Values Survey have stayed far below the tipping point, remaining strongly religious and committed to preserving traditional norms concerning gender and fertility. Even controlling for economic development, Muslim-majority countries tend to be somewhat more religious and culturally conservative than average.
THINGS WON’T FALL APART
For centuries, religion has served as a force for social cohesion, reducing crime and encouraging compliance with the law. Every major religion inculcates some version of the biblical commandments “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not kill.” So it is understandable that religious conservatives fear that the retreat of religion will lead to social disarray, with rising corruption and crime. But to a surprising extent, that concern is not supported by the evidence.
Since 1993, Transparency International has monitored the relative corruption and honesty of government officials and business people around the world. Each year, this watchdog group publishes the Corruption Perceptions Index, which ranks public-sector corruption in 180 countries and territories. These data make it possible to test the actual relationship between religiosity and corruption: Is corruption less widespread in religious countries than in less religious ones? The answer is an unequivocal no—in fact, religious countries actually tend to be more corrupt than secular ones. The highly secular Nordic states have some of the world’s lowest levels of corruption, and highly religious countries, such as Bangladesh, Guatemala, Iraq, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, have some of the highest.
Clearly, religiosity does not cause corruption. Countries with low levels of economic and physical security tend to have high levels of religiosity and also high levels of corruption. Although religion may once have played a crucial role in supporting public morality, that role shrinks as societies develop economically. The people of religious countries are slightly more likely to condemn corruption than the people of less religious countries, but the impact of religion on behavior ends there. Religion may make people more punitive, but it does not make them less corrupt.
This pattern also applies to other crimes, such as murder. As surprising as it may seem, the murder rate is more than ten times as high in the most religious countries as it is in the least religious countries. Some relatively poor countries have low murder rates, but overall, prosperous countries that provide their residents with material and legal security are much safer than poor countries. It is not that religiosity causes murders, of course, but that both crime and religiosity tend to be high in societies with low levels of existential security.
The evidence suggests that modern societies will not descend into nihilistic chaos without religious faith to bind them, but that may not always have been the case. In early agrarian societies, when most people lived just above the survival level, religion may have been the most effective way to maintain order and cohesion. But modernization has changed the equation. As traditional religiosity declines, an equally strong set of moral norms seems to be emerging to fill the void. Evidence from the World Values Survey indicates that in highly secure and secular countries, people are giving increasingly high priority to self-expression and free choice, with a growing emphasis on human rights, tolerance of outsiders, environmental protection, gender equality, and freedom of speech.
Traditional religions can be dangerously divisive in contemporary global society. Religions inherently tend to present their norms as absolute values, despite the fact that they actually reflect their societies’ histories and socioeconomic characteristics. The rigidity of any absolute belief system can give rise to fanatical intolerance, as the historical conflicts between Catholics and Protestants and Christians and Muslims have demonstrated.
As societies develop from agrarian to industrial to knowledge-based, growing existential security tends to reduce the importance of religion in people’s lives, and people become less obedient to traditional religious leaders and institutions. That trend seems likely to continue, but the future is always uncertain. Pandemics such as the COVID-19 one reduce people’s sense of existential security. If the pandemic lasts for many years or leads to a new Great Depression, the cultural changes of recent decades might begin to reverse.
But that shift remains unlikely, because it would run counter to the powerful, long-term, technology-driven trend of growing prosperity and increased life expectancy that is helping push people away from religion. If that trend continues, the influence that traditional religious authorities wield over public morality will keep shrinking as a culture of growing tolerance becomes ever stronger.
CORRECTION APPENDED (February 10, 2021)
An earlier version of this article cited a 2017 World Values Survey on religious beliefs that overstated an apparent decline in religiosity in the United States. The survey claimed that Americans’ mean rating of the importance of God in their lives dropped from 8.2 on a ten-point scale, in 2007, to 4.6, in 2017. In January, however, the WVS discovered an error in its data and revised the 2017 figure to 7.0. Thus, the United States has not shown the largest move away from religion of any country, as the article stated, but rather one of the largest moves away from religion. And the United States is not the 11th least religious country for which data are available, but rather the 32nd least religious country.
Quotations, history, numbers, & historical texts:
Tao (pronounced "Dow") can be roughly translated into English as path, or the way. It is basically indefinable. It has to be experienced. It:
". refers to a power which envelops, surrounds and flows through all things, living and non-living. The Tao regulates natural processes and nourishes balance in the Universe. It embodies the harmony of opposites (i.e. there would be no love without hate, no light without dark, no male without female.)" 3
This is not a power in the sense that scientists define power. It is not something that can be measured in a laboratory.
The founder of Taoism is believed by a few religious historians to be Lao-Tse (604-531 BCE). His life overlapped that of Confucius (551-479 BCE). Alternative spellings of his name are : Lao Tze, Lao Tsu, Lao Tzu, Laozi, Laotze, etc. However most historians suggest that he is a synthesis of a number of historical figures, or that he is a mythical figure. Still others suggest that he lived in the 4th century BCE.
He was attempting to find a way that would avoid the constant feudal warfare and other conflicts that disrupted society during his lifetime. The result was his book: Tao-te-Ching (a.k.a. Daodejing).
Taoism started in China as a combination of psychology and philosophy. It evolved into a religious faith in 440 CE when it was adopted as a state religion. At that time Lao-Tse became popularly venerated as a deity. Taoism, along with Buddhism and Confucianism, became the three great religions of China. Many followed a blend of all three religions.
"Alyosha77" wrote on "Zen and Taoism: A connection" thread on Beliefnet's Taoism Community:
"Daoism and Buddhism in China were influenced by each other as they developed. Buddhism was in fact mistaken by some early Daoists as a new form of Daoism. Some early translations of Buddhist texts used Daoist terms to interpret Buddhist concepts, so the Chinese probably first understood Buddhism in a very Daoist way. During the 3rd and 4th century [CE], there was a Neo-Daoist movement called Xuan Xue, and many Buddhists entered into Xuan Xue discourses, and it was by way of Xuan Xue discourses that Buddhism became integrated into the intellectual mainstream of Chinese thought. On the more popular level, the turbulent times from the beginning of 3rd to the beginning of the 7th century [CE] in China caused many to look for hope in immortality and salvation, so Daoism and Buddhism both became increasingly influential on the popular level. Throughout Chinese history, there had been some hostilities between them, but I believe their mutual influence and in mutual inclusivity are more significant." 4
According to the BBC, Taoism:
". grew out of various religious and philosophical traditions in ancient China, including shamanism and nature religion. . "
"Taoism became a semi-official Chinese religion during the Tang dynasty and continued during the Song dynasty [from 960 to 1279 CE]. As Confucianism gained popularity, Taoism gradually fell from favour, and changed from an official religion to a popular religious tradition."
At the end of the Ch'ing Dynasty in 1911 CE, state support for Taoism ended. Much of the Taoist heritage was destroyed during the next interval which is called the "warlord era" of China. After the Communist victory in 1949, the new government severely restricted religious freedom. Arthur P. Wolf commented:
"The new government put [Taoist] monks to manual labor, confiscated temples, and plundered treasures. Several million monks were reduced to fewer than 50,000 by 1960." 5
During the cultural revolution in China from 1966 to 1976, much of the remaining Taoist heritage was destroyed.
Although Taoism is primarily an Asian religion with ancient roots, it has had a significant recent impact on North American culture in areas of "acupuncture, herbalism, holistic medicine, meditation and martial arts. " 6
More recent history of Taoism since the mid-20th Century:
Some historical facts about the development of Taoism are:
- Taoism was banned when the Communists took over in China [in 1949].
How many Taoists are there worldwide?:
The number of followers of Taoism is impossible to estimate with any accuracy. One reason is that Taoism is sometimes practiced as a separate religious faith, and more often is combined with Buddhism and Confucianism to form a what is referred to as Chinese traditional religion, popular religion, folk belief, and by many other terms.
- There are currently over 225 million followers of Chinese traditional religion.
About 8 million Taoists live in Taiwan, where they constitute about 33% of the population. 12
About 30,000 adults in the U.S. identify themselves as Taoist.
During 2011, the Canadian census reported 3,620 individuals in Canada who identify Taoism as their religion. 5
Some Internet sources have attempted to estimate the number of Taoists worldwide. A sampling of the Internet on 2015-DEC-02 showed values between 6.1 million and 173 million -- a range of over 28 times!
- According to book by Katharina Wenzel-Teuber & David Strait which gives a statistical overview in 2011 of religions in China:
"The number of Taoists is difficult to estimate, due to a variety of factors including defining Taoism. According to a survey of religion in China in the year 2010, the number of people practicing some form of Chinese folk religion is near to 950 million (70% of the Chinese). Among these, 173 million (13%) practice some form of Taoist-defined folk faith. Further in detail, 12 million people have passed some formal initiation into Taoism, or adhere exclusively to it." 7
- Tao-te-Ching ("The Way of Power," or "The Book of the Way") is believed by many to have been written by Lao-Tse. It describes the nature of life, the way to peace and how a ruler should lead his life.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Institutions, religions, Catholics, and perversions
I have written this commentary for several reasons. I have added updates as Pell’s guilty verdict and subsequent appeals have been announced. However, worldwide, the Catholic Church’s conduct is a never ending and sickening saga, and Pell has occupied centre-stage for some time. I am publishing this ‘final’ updated version now the final Pell High Court appeal has been determined. More revelations have been made now (May 2020) the unredacted version of the (Australian) Royal Commission findings have been made public — in brief, the commission were of the opinion that he did know, before the 1980s, and various times thereafter, about this behaviour and that at various times from then on he should have done something.
On August 21 st 2019 Pell lost his first appeal two of the three judges from Victoria’s Court of Appeal determined he was to stay in jail.
Subsequently, in April 2020, a final appeal to the Australian High Court overturned the verdict, and Pell was freed.
The basis of the decision was that the jury had made an unsound judgement and could not reasonably have come to the conclusion that he was guilty beyond reasonable doubt. This interesting decision casts more new light on hundreds of years of the principle of what juries exist to do: it could be seen as setting the High Court up as a ‘mini-quasi-jury’ capable of overturning previous jury opinion and conclusions. Why have jurors at all? the reasons may be seen as harking back to mediaeval times when there was usually no evidence other than witness evidence. The reasons for Juries may no longer be extant — nowadays the main issues involve understanding complex scientific evidence, and even some judges struggle with that, so what chance do ordinary people have who sit on juries? Anyone familiar with the writings of AP Herbert will realise these concepts were humorously explored 100 years ago, in a satirical way. He concluded that even if the ‘reasonable man’ might possibly exist the reasonable woman did not! and that the chance of finding 12 reasonable men together on one jury was infinitesimally small.
In the Pell case, one seemingly missing piece of evidence is noteworthy. This eminent member of the church is stated never to have performed any function, without his attendants, whilst at the cathedral (indeed, it was claimed that it was not even possible for him to go to the toilet without assistance). Despite this, the prosecution did not produce one witness to testify that they were with him at the times these offences were held to have been committed. Considering that these faithful attendants must be presumed to have been keen to prove his innocence, this absence of any witness deserves explanation — that explanation seems not to have been forthcoming. Lastly, Pell never took the witness stand and spoke for himself — ‘excusatio non petita accusatio manifesta’.
A considerable amount of other material was put to one side: the prosecution decided to proceed on this one case not the other possible charges/cases. Then there is the clear history of his previous behaviour — one can say it appears that he exhibited inappropriate behaviour and relationships with young boys. Such information comes from a number of different sources in different places at different times, making it a little more difficult to believe it was fabrication or misremembering. I make no judgement as to whether any of those activities he engaged in were criminal or not.
Science teaches that we should not put reliance on eyewitness testimony or the reliability of human memory, see, ‘How Your Mind Works: It is Magic’ https://psychotropical.com/the-mind-and-magic-2/
Therefore, one must regard a conviction based on ‘eyewitness’ testimony and human memory to be insufficient without corroboration: indeed, I find it quite extraordinary that the legal system continues to allow this despite, for instance, the multiple examples of murderers (convicted by eyewitness testimony) who have been subsequently proved innocent by forensic evidence.
One has to say that the legal fraternity are not exactly noted for their up-to-date and perceptive interpretation and understanding of science. Indeed, I should state that I gave up participating in medicolegal work largely because of the bombast, hubris, and ignorance that I encountered when acting as an expert witness (not to mention the dishonesty).
I remind everyone: inaccurate recollections are precisely why doctors are required to write contemporaneous notes about their consultations, not something remembered days or weeks later. That is recognised by the fact that the courts give much less credence to evidence that is not supported by a contemporaneous record – and quite rightly so.
The Roman legal code had it figured out more sensibly 2,000 years ago: they had the maxim. ‘testis unus, testis nullus’ (one witness is no better than no witness).
The Roman legal code also incorporated the notion ‘excusatio non petita accusatio manifesta’ [he who excuses himself, accuses himself]. That has been an established ‘common sense’ view for over two thousand years, despite British practice giving people that ‘get out of jail free’ card of keeping silent. Pell declined to ‘take the stand’ and give evidence on his own behalf — a reasonable person can be excused for making the obvious inference from that. Perhaps the defence thought that his intellectual equipment, always less than first-rate, was too close to its use-by date. Anyone who listens to the contribution he made on the ABC program linked below will see that his ability to extemporaneously construct a coherent sentence in the English language was so poor as to indicate that his IQ must be modest, embarrassingly modest.
As a Bayesian, I have little doubt that he engaged in actions and behaviours that any sensible person would have to consider inappropriate for someone in his position.
One should also be aware of the unredacted ‘Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’ now made available in full. Pell, in his evidence (via video-link from Rome, because he was ‘too unwell’ to attend in person) denied any knowledge of the convicted Gerald Ridsdale’s appalling abuse, despite having shared a house with him.
Claims of child sexual abuse against priests were made by 140 people in the diocese of Ballarat where Pell was — yet he claims to have had little idea of what was going on.
Anyone whose credulity allows them to believe that is exhibiting naïveté at stratospheric levels. Such a person as Pell should not be given responsibility for the care of a jar of jellybeans. He was certainly not an appropriate person to be put in charge of an investigation into ‘priestly misbehaviour’.
If he really did not know, or suspect, what was going on, then he is clearly someone of such stupendously poor perspicacity and judgement as to be unsuitable for any position of responsibility in any organisation, never mind Vatican banker.
Then again, lots of people are going to vote for President Trump a second time, and lots of people still support the Catholic Church, you cannot help some people, they will burn each other ‘at the stake’ rather than recant — one can only say ‘de religiosa non est dispuntandum’.
Posted in 2017
‘Proselytizing is an indispensable and inalienable characteristic of Religions ‘believers’ are impelled to convert others because they know the real truth and must save others from their (incorrect) beliefs. Religions are therefore inherently divisive and alienating. As history reveals, unfettered, proselytizing soon descends the path to division, fear, and thus conflict. Consequently, religions are only peaceful, safe, moral, and acceptable when they have been made so by being neutered through the influence of rationalism, education, science, and a secular society, with a complete separation of church and state — which has not yet been accomplished by any western country.’
I could have written the account below long ago, and I do so now (2017) because the time for restraint and silence is past. My research and teaching, and the content of this website, is about psychopharmacology, so this is somewhat peripheral to my errand.
The first reason for writing this is articulated by Edmund Burke’s attributed words:
‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’
In this instance, professional experts like me, who have special confidential knowledge, as well as skills and experience at evaluating people’s stories and motivations, must speak of what they know about wrongdoing in various groups and churches etc., ‘for the record’: to stay silent is to do nothing, and therefore to be complicit*. People who are persuaded to follow these faiths and support the churches that claim to practice those faiths, deserve to know what is really going on, and what the story is, as other people see it. That includes the Catholic Church just as it includes more fringe ‘religious’ organisations like Scientology or the Mormons.
*Notwithstanding the fact that the current Pope has labelled me as ‘a friend of the Devil ‘ because I am one of those who has repeatedly criticised the Catholic Church. I am quaking in my boots. What a deluded clown.
My second reason is to offer reassurance to the multitudes of people, who have been abused in many and various ways, that their accounts are believable and believed, at least by sensible independent observers, and professional experts like me (and the unanimous opinion of 12 jurors hearing Pell’s case). Take note of the ongoing Royal commission findings. They found, for instance, ‘Overall, 7 per cent of priests ministering in Australia between 1950 and 2010 were accused of child sexual abuse’. If I was giving advice as an expert witness in a legal case involving these issues, I would advise the judge that in my professional opinion that figure would be certain to be half the real figure, and quite possibly only a fraction of it.
When prominent, powerful and senior members of Church organisations make repeated vehement denials of criticisms, and criminal charges proved against them, that denial influences their members and adherents, and facilitates the psychological denial mechanisms that are so easily engaged in the minds of such people. When such people are found guilty by criminal courts, as they have been, all over the ‘western’ world and beyond, that is an important confirmation of the plausibility and believability of those less-advantaged people who have been the subject of such misdeeds and assaults. It does not matter whether it is a famous actor, or the Pope, it is important that the misdeeds of such people are widely publicly acknowledged, so that those who have suffered at their hands are acknowledged as being believable, and possibly truthful and correct.
The third reason I have written this is to remind everyone how the simple inaction of not supporting them is the power they already possess to promote change — any support for an organisation that protects thousands of paedophile offenders makes the supporter complicit in its misdeeds and crimes. It is not quite the same as supporting a terrorist organisation, but it is that not that much different either. That makes supporters morally compelled to share a proportion of the guilt, and to consider their position judiciously, just as I would have to do if I invested my pension-savings in an arms or tobacco company.
I am focussing the account on my experience of treating Catholic ‘clergy’ and being the director of an inpatient psychiatric unit in a Catholic private hospital, since they have made themselves the center of attention in what seems like an endlessly repeating sick ‘real-life’ TV drama (see today’s episode).
At the end of the day it is the inevitably distorted belief-driven thinking of the ‘religious’, who would/might otherwise be ordinary decent folk, that produces the kind of immoral insanity, described in my account below, of my deluded doctor colleague who told me I was speaking the words of the devil — this process is not so different to that which drives the suicide bomber that we have all become so aware of in the last few decades.
Pope Francis has revealed his true colours and we can see that my doctor colleague was taking his cue from the supreme leader. In Feb 2019 he stated, I paraphrase, that those who criticise the Catholic church are ‘friends of the devil’. There must be legions of educated people who are flabbergasted that in the third millennium someone can come out with that kind of primitive paranoid thinking.
The organisation he represents has been incontrovertibly proved to have hidden criminal paedophile offenders thousands of times over many decades.
And he says that if you criticise that repeatedly, because they are doing it repeatedly, then you are a friend of the Devil. Such comments betray the thinking that drives this most extra-ordinarily dysfunctional of all organisations.
Have no doubt, they would drag us all back into the middle-ages if they had the power to do so.
Now we know what we are really dealing with, deeply embedded denial and no sign of significant change. In my opinion, no hope of change. Those in these faiths who cannot deal with that are in for deep emotional, moral, and spiritual trauma for a long time yet.
Belief and rationality are thus demonstrated to be inalienably antithetical in such cognitive processes — to put it in everyday language, religious people often cannot think straight. Such extreme cognitive distortions are common to all of those who hold extreme views, religious, political, or otherwise.
I also proffer my simple and clear conclusion that preventing these perversions*** requires nothing less than removing the power and privilege accorded to this chronically dysfunctional institution.
*** Throughout, I use the word ‘perversions’ in both senses defined by the SOED.
Installing new actors and directors to run the show would change nothing. This is because what drives all this is not individuals, but the inalienable nature of the dogmas and doctrines as well as the pathologically misogynistic hierarchical structure and secrecy of the institution itself. There have now been numerous convictions of longstanding and high-ranking members of such organisations. The great majority of them protested their innocence as vehemently as Pell — one might think that it is rather unlikely that they have all been falsely accused and mis-tried.
All this reliably indicates that such behaviours are part of the warp and weft of the whole organisation (probably throughout its history).
Now we hear that nuns have joined ‘me-too’ movement so, we are undoubtedly in for yet more revelations. I am not surprised by that, because of my own personal knowledge and experience: also, I remember reading a review 30 years ago about a book written by a Catholic doctor in a large diocese in a Metropolitan area of North America, New York, if I recall correctly. He stated in his book that in his time every single nun in the setup he was involved in had been pregnant, and in most cases the father was a member of the Catholic clergy. I do not remember if he offered a view as to what proportion of those were rapes (one would be astonished if any of them were truly consensual), or what proportion of them were aborted.
Dogma, belief, secrecy, misogyny, patriarchy, and autocracy rarely produce good outcomes: there is no more spectacular and enduring demonstration of the truth of that proposition than the Catholic Church.
Such a simple solution, cease support
The simple realization that the inaction of ‘not-supporting’ is the one key step that individuals can take is empowering, because it shows that ‘adherents’ of any of these organisations could choose to end it all, simply by ceasing to support. Neither fairies nor monsters exist for people who do not believe in them. It is such a simple way to further diminish the steadily dwindling remnants (in civilised societies) of this unbelievable erstwhile theocracy (well, not quite ‘erstwhile theocracy’, since the Vatican still exists).
My first-hand experience of Catholics in medical practice
This commentary pertains particularly to my first-hand experience, as a specialist psychiatrist, of Catholics, and of the misbehaviours of Catholic ‘non-laity’ (of whatever gender or title).
I shall say ‘they’ and ‘them’ from now on, because they deserve no self-granted grandiose titles, dwellings, glittering robes (bit of a clue there?) or descriptions. Many of them have mediocre intellects and modest educational achievements that would make it less easy for them to attain similar status or position in the ‘outside’ world.
Definition: Clergyman. ‘A man who undertakes the management of our spiritual affairs as a method of bettering his temporal ones’. Ambrose Bierce.
I offer this variant of Ambrose Bierce’s acerbic observation:
Definition: Clergyman. ‘A man who undertakes the betterment of our moral life as a method of bettering his own opportunities for an immoral life’. Gillman’s maxims.
Perhaps, from this record of my experience, people adversely affected by their misbehaviour may be reassured about the complete justification for the disbelief, that any ‘man-of-the-world’ must experience, of the chorus of vehement denials we hear (forgetting, lying about, turning-a-blind-eye to, whatever evasive tactic, or euphemism for perfidy, is employed). Be robustly assured that many ‘external’ observers and experts like me are convinced, beyond doubt, from their professional experience, that the evidence of wrong-doing that is now evident (much of it confirmed in various courts of law) is but the tip of the iceberg: a large proportion of them are subject to urges they do not control, and that their church does not adequately assist them in controlling, and are indeed practitioners of various types of perversions (not just sexual) and are also cowardly (but well-practiced) liars who are utterly undeserving of the privileged position into which they have inveigled themselves in society. Relegation to the role of ‘translocation of ordure’ is for many of them closer to their deserved position in society.
The Vatican and the UN and others
Here is just a fleeting glimpse of the various international bodies, and academics and intellectuals etc., who also ‘see through’ the Catholic church’s lies, evasiveness and inaction.
The United Nations ‘Committee on the Rights of the Child’
The United Nations ‘Committee on the Rights of the Child’ have clearly expressed their view that the Vatican protects its reputation rather than children. Catholics have opposed the US ‘Child victims’ act — what a surprise, as they blocked similar UN action. If their morality was any more distorted it would not be recognisable as morality at all.
A detailed and lengthy academic history and analysis related to such issues is here and I can do no better than to quote this paragraph from it. Catholic Church: An Interpretive Review of the Literature and Public Inquiry Reports by Cahill & Wilkinson RMIT University 2017
Very little moral heroism has been demonstrated by the Catholic Church during the whole sorrowful saga of clerical child sexual abuse. How many bishops have resigned in protest or because of their own failures or at disgust with the failures? How have the bishops and religious superiors morally justified their actions or inactions to themselves? The data suggests that they justified their actions or inactions to themselves by portraying them as serving the worthy purpose of defending the reputation and integrity of an ‘all-holy’ Catholic Church. They wanted above all to prevent salacious ammunition reaching the hands of opponents of the Catholic Church. In this way, they were able to preserve their view of themselves as moral agents. The same process is regularly seen in bishops who condemn homosexuality, when they themselves are homosexual. Through this cognitive redefining process, they see themselves fighting ruthless secular opponents, media attack-dogs and fierce advocacy groups, protecting their cherished Catholic values learned through their narrow seminary formation and education, preserving the Church’s reputation and honouring the Church’s stated commitment to marriage, the child and the family.
Psychology, belief, and division
A brief comment about the lack of insight and paranoid stance of the Catholics, and ‘believers’ in general, as well-described in the above paragraph, will help. They talk about ‘fighting ruthless secular opponents …’ (and cf. Francis comments about the ‘friends of the devil’ above). What an astonishingly distorted perspective that represents — these ruthless secularists make the Spanish inquisition look like pussycats.
From a psychological point of view (there is a considerable academic literature on this subject) defining your group as different from others increases group cohesion, which helps them to lead their adherents — ‘us vs. them’.
Also, the ‘us vs. them’ dichotomy leads to prejudice against people who are seen as ‘them’. Research indicates that prejudice is more prevalent among religious people than among people with no religious affiliation.
When groups of any sort present themselves to the general community by emphasizing differences that they exhibit or claim, they inevitably polarize the perception of themselves by all others. This ‘presentation’ may be via special modes of dress, or ostentatious architecture (a cathedral in the middle of the city, a mosque), or representation in discourse and debate (preaching and proselytizing), or through influencing social policy for everyone (e.g. no shopping on Sundays would be one of the less intrusive examples, but there are many more intrusive impositions — like no same-sex relations, no abortion). That example, of preventing everybody in the community from accessing abortion opportunities, is an example of how people who hold beliefs simply cannot stop themselves trying to impose those beliefs on others — that is to say proselytizing, and often cruelly and violently, if they are allowed the power and the chance, like the current Islamists. Remember Charlie Hebdo, because that is what the Catholics were like until barely one hundred years ago. That is, of course, another step down the slippery slope to fighting battles in the name of a deity, or torturing and killing people to save their souls.
Any psychologists who are working towards better ways to enable the deceived, bullied and betrayed supporters of such institutions, cults, and religions, to gain insight into cruel threatening, bullying, and wicked practices, are doing society a service. Such insight is facilitating removal of their support, so they fade away faster.
As a recipient of abuse, or a friend or a supporter of sufferers, try to educate people that any support of any sort for the institution concerned, makes the supporter, by proxy, an abuser themselves. This is because the very existence and continuation of the institution inevitably means continuation of abuse and perversions. Even being a passive observer involves a degree of collusion, as does merely attending one of their churches: the quotation attributed to Edmund Burke says it all:
‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’
That sentiment has been a major motivator for me to write this commentary. If I do not tell what I know, and give my expert opinion, then I too am a complicit bystander.
As I wrote the first draft of this commentary, in the early part of 2017, we were drowning in a sea of news about the perverted behaviour of enormous numbers of people in institutions, mostly religious, and especially Catholic. I refer to the news here in Australia — but it is equally bad where-ever Catholics have a presence, as documented in the book by the famous Australian jurist, Geoffrey Robertson QC, ‘The Case of the Pope’. We are still, years later, drowning in a sea of similar news: indeed, it was on my birthday (Dec 2018), that Mr Pell (or is he still to be addressed as ‘cardinal’?) learned his fate as a result of the charges against him.
Famous and eminent persons from all walks of life, the military, politics, the arts, academia, have all been found guilty of various offences and great majority of them have been said to be wonderful characters of exemplary past behaviour by other eminent persons who have declared that they cannot imagine them committing such an offence or crime.
How laughably naïve. If people have not learned by now that such endorsements are not worth the paper they are written on, then they are slow learners.
An eminent Jesuit lawyer has expressed amazement about the impossibility of him getting his male member out from under his robes in relatively brief five minutes or so during which the offence is said to have happened. Many of these older males have enlarged prostates and continence problems (and I do not just mean sexual continence), so how on earth would they avoid soiling themselves when they need to go to the bathroom urgently — I can’t believe he had to be accompanied there by his dresser! He was defended by an eminent QC, said to be one of the finest criminal lawyers, so if this was really a valid defence, I am sure it was paraded before the 12 good men and true, who obviously gave it no credence when handing down their unanimous guilty verdict not one dissenter amongst them*. That in itself is notable given the profile and circumstances of the trial. Even if he slips off the hook, on appeal, that still leaves a large dark cloud of the other offences which were dropped. Why they were dropped, we don’t know, but you can see for yourself how revealing and plausible they are from the link to the video below. ‘I put it to you, members of the jury, would you entrust your child to this man on a weekend retreat!’
To anyone who answers yes to that question, I despair for your children. But, sadly, they would be a numerous company.
*it subsequently became evident that this issue of how easy it was for him to expose his member from under his robes was indeed dealt with to the extent that the jury tried on the appropriate robes so they could test it for themselves. It would seem that our Jesuit lawyer commentator above was indeed being Jesuitical, or else he was ignorant of the facts.
Pervasive and persistent perversion
I need hardly have said ‘as I write this’ because information such as I am giving has been known to informed persons during all of the Catholic church’s influence over, and domination of, Western religious thought and Western society.
The very persistence and pervasiveness of perversion is what indicates it is part of the warp and weft of the institution itself. There have been, in all times and places, individuals who have thrived in, and dominated over, and perverted, institutions with such autocratic belief systems, such secrecy, and such a patriarchal/misogynistic and hierarchical structure.
For a current and spectacular example of why my conclusion is correct — that it is part of the warp and weft of the institution itself — read about Pennsylvanian Catholics (below).
I state, ‘any informed person’, with due recognition of the fact that until more recent times the church’s domination of society, at all levels and in all professions, was sufficient that it was often possible for them to suppress knowledge and criticism rather effectively. Just read about the suppression in ‘our time’ of the appalling business of the ‘Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home’. Catholics have suppressed books, especially the contents of the bible, knowledge in general, knowledge of their own bad behaviour — I know, ‘bad behaviour’ may seem an understatement, but if understatement is not employed we will exhaust hyperbole in no time.
A powerful example of the deep insidious roots of a belief-distorted mentality, from my personal experience, is given below (in anecdote 1), when I was accused by a (Catholic) medical colleague of uttering the words of the devil (perhaps he could have arranged an exorcism foe me! – see below). It will shame, enrage, or amuse, depending on your viewpoint.
Those who claim to be offended are reflexively revealing their inherent prejudice or bias, their limited ability to make a reasoned counter-argument, and also their insecurity and paranoia. Those attributes stem from ‘belief’ and predispose to an aggressive or even violent response in those who are religious.
As their ability to achieve universal domination and bullying has been steadily eroded, by education, knowledge, science, rationalism, and secular society, the extent of their undesirable behaviours in so many spheres have become more and more apparent to more and more people. I doubt not that perversion has been just as frequent throughout the history of the church. It has just been revealed more often, and to more people, in our age.
If belief about their deity, and the assembled writings associated with their message, makes people torture and burn to death other people, just for translating a book from one language into another***, then one might easily suppose that all the perversions we have been informed about in recent times might have been accomplished with ease and an unruffled conscience, before breakfast. After all, what Catholics believe now is little different to what those who did the burning and torturing believed, and it was those beliefs that convinced them it was all justified, for the glory of god, or whatever. Remove the influence of modern scientific secular society and the Catholics would be dragging us all back to the middle ages, in competition with the Islamists, in no time at all.
***A reminder, for those less familiar with the history of their perverted practices (and many Catholics have little knowledge of the true history of their own faith): poor Tyndale was tortured and burned alive, for translating the bible into English. So much for church claims to lead the improvement of the moral behaviour of society! There was a death penalty for possession of the bible in English. If this reminds you of the sorts of behaviours by other religious groups currently reported daily in the international news, and if you still think religion leads the advance of moral outlooks and behaviours, then I suggest you have a bit of explaining to do. That will involve you in some pretty tortuous and tiring mental gymnastics (but a quick refresher-course at a Jesuit seminary might help).
I do not propose to expend more of my own time, or my readers time, in discussing religious belief and the Catholic church. Essentially, belief is the adoption of precepts and ideas for which there is no sound reason or reproducible evidence, usually against the laws of nature and what common experience demonstrates to be the case — miracles, divinely inspired prophets (very few of whom agree with each other on even the most fundamental of facts), inscriptions found on mountains in remote locations which have a habit of mysteriously disappearing, etc.
One believes in fairies, but one deduces (if only vicariously) Darwin’s theory of evolution (or any other scientific ‘theory’) from reproducible evidence. Such evidence is therefore not a unique one-off experience by an individual. It is reproducible, and to an extent modifiable, by anyone, at any time, who wishes to go and dig up a few fossils. It is democratic. Fossils were not ‘revealed’ to Darwin, only to then disappear from human perception, leaving only his word. As Carl Sagan said (in the tradition of Hume), ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’. And indeed, Darwin produced extraordinary evidence, and a very great deal of it. So much, that those able to understand even simple science, cannot doubt or contradict it. How spectacularly different that is to the belief demanded of a potential adherent to a religion (often under threats of hell, damnation, violence, etc.). Nice people.
Definition: Faith. Belief in one instance of the extra-ordinary, related in another tongue, from another land, by persons of unknown sobriety or sanity, which contradicts what we know to be true here and today.
My experience of ‘channelling’ the devil
As a doctor of reasonably broad experience, I can affirm that most of these catholic ‘clergy’ were up to no good and gave clear indications that many of their mates were the same. Obviously, many of them knew, or suspected, that most of the rest of them were up to no good. That leaves few who are truly innocent and blameless, in the ‘Burkian’ sense. The oft repeated story that they did not know ‘that sort of thing’ (they exist in a world of euphemisms and denial) was going on might very occasionally be true, because some of them may be that wilfully ignorant and naïve (however, being that wilfully ignorant and naïve is in itself reprehensible and culpable in those who profess to be enlightened leaders — so they are damned either way). The phrase, ‘lying for God’, covers it for many of them. That rapidly morphs into lying for their own good. Many of them become fluent and frequent liars.
When they revealed to me their behaviours and their problems in consultations, I would ask, what happens when you confess? The standard reply, usually proffered without a moment’s hesitation, and often accompanied by a wry smile, was ‘Oh! I wouldn’t confess to that’.
Time for another definition in the spirit of Bierce
Definition: Confessional. A place for practicing and perfecting the arts of denying and lying.
Selection and self-selection of particular ‘character traits’
It is also essential to appreciate that an enormous amount of self-selection, and selective screening, of who gets into the church, and who progresses once in it, has been going on for centuries. As with any powerful, hierarchical and secretive organisation these elements inevitably foster perversion and corruption. The added element of celibacy in the Catholic church means that it is almost inevitable that a substantial proportion of the entrants will be ‘unusual’ personalities, by whatever criteria one applies to such things.
The indications are clear that the church’s tendency to attract marginalised, abnormal, and ‘deviant’ personalities has always been prominent — despite that it seems to be one of the few organisations in the modern era that does not employ expert advice or psychological screening of applicants (if they did they’d get rather less applicants): thus it is possible to be accepted even if a previous refusal for fitness to work in a child-care center exists.
Indeed, the tendency to attract ‘unsuitable’ personalities is inevitably becoming more pronounced as the church and educated western societies move further apart — I gather most Australian seminaries have empty echoing rooms, and many parishes now need to import their incumbents from Africa. The immigration department could put a stop to that one right away! Especially since we cannot possibly know which ones are paedophiles, or whatever. The United Nations, no less, have been blocked by the Vatican on child protection issues — because those measures would allow extradition of thousands (that is not an exaggeration, it would be thousands) of paedophile Catholic priests to face prosecution, which at present cannot be done.
Even the current Pope has not rescinded the instruction to bishops to keep secret such cases, in countries where reporting is not mandated by the state: in the light of the enormity and universality of the problem this refusal must seem incomprehensible to any reasonable person — I will not occupy space going into that reprehensible stance, but information is easily available.
My experience was that they had a wide selection of odd people including the obviously homosexual, the neurotic, the inadequate, and many of rather second-rate intellect, like Cardinal Pell from Australia.***.
*** Listen to him talking on the ABC TV program (‘Q & A’) referenced, his verbal ability (a reliable indicator of IQ) is at a level where I would predict he would not qualify as proficient to enter tertiary education. I cannot imagine any intelligent religious person could listen to this without being horribly embarrassed. This courageous and principled gentleman found his health insufficiently robust to make a trip from his refuge in the Vatican (what a timely appointment) back to Australia to answer questions at the Royal commission of enquiry, relating to abuse, including by him. It is easy to learn for yourself how specific, and in my professional opinion, convincing, the many accusations against Pell are.
He presided over a process set up by the church to help those who had been abused, whilst having persuasive evidence hanging over him that he too had an abnormal physical interest in young boys (that is not a casual comment, more a professional opinion). To be specific, he spent time at swimming pools where he physically handled many boys, playing in the pool, and where he spent long spells naked in the changing rooms in the presence of young lads. That much seems hard to contradict — what else? I, for one, am not awarding any prizes for the answer to that.
So, Pell dealing with accusations of abuse. Talk about setting set the fox to guard the henhouse. And now (as I update this in 2018), we have Archbishop Wilson of Adelaide refusing to resign even after being found guilty of offences, he did give in to pressure in the end, but is still a Bishop and Catholic clergy defying the law of the land by saying they will go to jail rather than reveal information from the confessional — what would the reaction be if this was translated into an Islamist context?
Thus, the bizarre greenhouse of the Catholic Church allows these odious specimens to grow and thrive, in power and luxury.
I think Pell would have found himself to be well enough to attend a ceremony to honour a new (fast-tracked) saint. Was his health really any worse than the millions of retirees who jet about the world daily? His excuses for non-attendance at the Royal commission were accepted whether that constitutes preferential treatment which would not have been accorded to the average person, I cannot say.
Dec 2018 Pell has been found guilty by a unanimous verdict on 5 charges according to Wikipedia (Feb 2019, now made public in Australia). Apparently, there is a suppression order on matters relating to his trial (because he has further charges he must yet face) and the Australian media have reported nothing except that he has been relieved of his duties at the Vatican.
And how can we forget Peter Hollingworth, an Anglican Bishop (we must not leave the Anglicans out), and the one-time Australian governor-general, who had to resign as governor-general in 2003 because, among other mistakes and indiscretions, he allowed paedophile priest John Elliot to carry on despite admitting that he had sexually abused boys and despite psychiatric advice that he was at risk of re-offending. Hollingworth is still getting around half-a-million dollars a year from the government (nearly tax free) and is still a bishop, openly supported by his Archbishop, Philip Freier. As one ‘victim’ expressed it in good plain English ‘they just don’t get it’.
A humble, simple man, of modest needs, and consumed by remorse? Or does he give it all to charity (probably not, since his declared travel expenses were around $250,000 — 5-star hotels do you think?).
The expression of sacrifice, humility, recompense, and contrition is conspicuous by its absence: I do not think anyone has resigned because they are so ashamed of these organisations.
One cannot help but recall the mediaeval story of the Bishop, caught in flagrante delicto, with a maiden in his flock, by a group of redoubtable burghers of his parish. It was contended that the devil had taken the Bishops’ form in order to deceive the parishioners who had observed this indiscretion, and thereby to test their faith. Since ‘nothing changes’, one can guess what the modern version of this approach will be.
Definition: Saint. A dead sinner revised and edited. Ambrose Bierce.
A here is a lovely song in Pell’s honour
When a grossly disordered group of people like this are permitted to retain money and power, with next-to-no accountability, one will always have the perfect recipe for perpetuating perversions and much else that is undesirable and unpleasant: that is made self-evident by these tediously ongoing revelations.
And to test how distorted belief will make those of a religious persuasion so readily claim ‘offence’, try this:
I suppose it is also relevant to note the words of Epicurus from nearly 2,000 years ago: ‘It is not things that disturb men, but way they think about those things.’
The lesson from history
The lesson from this is simple and revealed by history. It is utterly impossible for Churches to self-regulate, any more than financial institutions (as our Australian inquiry into the banks has spectacularly revealed). This obscene farce will continue for as long as they are permitted to retain the unchecked and unregulated status, power, privileges, and influence that large sections of our naïve society still allow them. Until a sufficient proportion of the population demand the removal of their status and powers and make them answerable fully to all the proper constraints of society, nothing will change, Royal commissions or whatever.
It has always puzzled me that so few clergy have been assaulted by family members of those abused, or church property or churches burned down. I wonder if those who insure them are re-assessing the level of risk and may be thinking of upping the premiums. Think of it like this: churches get hit by lightning just as frequently as other buildings, so that indicates their hypothesised ‘God’s’ influence, or opinion, over such matters.
Stop supporting. Stop believing even. Neither fairies not angels exist, neither devils nor gods, however comforting or frightening such ideas may be.
Make no mistake: to continue supporting, in any way, is to collude in, and be complicit in, a panoply of perversions.
Anecdote — hear no evil
It is important to understand that ‘belief’ will turn apparently civilized and educated people into irrational and immoral people: no religion can escape that trap. Belief is antithetical to rational thinking, the more fervent the belief, the greater the distortion of rationality, thinking, and morality. Once belief is established it can pervert any action, or inaction, and justify it, because it is ‘in God’s name’.
Remind yourself, what I relate here happened close to the dawn of the third millennium. Not in the dark ages — the halcyon days of the church when there was no accountability.
After I had been practising as a specialist in Mackay for a few years I established a psychiatric unit at the local Catholic private hospital. They engaged in all sorts of dubious behaviours. I remember being flabbergasted on discovering that on Sundays, when I was not around, they were taking psychotic patients into the chapel to cure them by speaking in tongues, or casting out devils, or whatever (medieval madness that I presumed, till then, had disappeared from civilized countries).
In due course things started to go more seriously amiss, because senior nuns in the hospital were exercising their sexual predilections in a manner that became harmful to the hospital, and to other staff who were not ‘in on the act’. I decided to advise them to curb these activities, and as a first step in that process I arranged a meeting at my home with the senior Catholic doctor on the board of the hospital. What I had to tell him need not be described in detail, in outline it was simply that inappropriate sexual relationships were occurring involving the nun in charge of the hospital. As an atheist, there was nothing in that to concern me (only adults were involved), except that it was resulting in other members of staff who were aware of the situation being dismissed, disadvantaged etc., we were losing good staff, and it was bad for the proper operation of the hospital.
So, this doctor, a fellow specialist at the hospital, arrived. I sat him down at the table and began succinctly to tell him the problem. I said that there was a serious situation that was harming the running and reputation of the hospital that involved Sister X who was having a lesbian … .
Believe it or not, that is as far as I got well, at least as much as he heard. This mature professional man heard no more of what I said because he thrust his fingers into his ears and started repeating over and over in a loud voice something like: “this is the Devil speaking, I will not listen, this is the Devil speaking, I will not listen …”.
He went on repeating that until he saw my lips stop moving. At that point, he got up from the table and left hurriedly, saying, in Parthian style, ‘over his shoulder’, as he went, “I’m not calling you a liar, but …”.
I must say that I thought, as a psychiatrist, I was knowledgeable about psychology and the extent to which belief systems distort people’s rational processes, but this first-hand example of such an extraordinary piece of behaviour illustrates the enormity and the real-life impact of the problem. It left me appalled and aghast: but with laughter not far behind.
Belief turns people who might otherwise be rational into immoral idiots. Is there any other way to describe that educated professional person’s behaviour? Not in my book. Could you have respected that man? I could not.
In recounting this now I can still hardly believe it happened. But it did.
Never forget, there are millions more just like him indeed, some of them are barristers, judges etc., let us hope such lunacy does not derail Pell’s trial.
I did not let it rest there. I ‘persuaded’ the board to act (incidentally, I had forgotten this, but the Bishop was up to no good as well). No prizes for guessing what they did: off to Africa with her, I seem to recall. Needless to say, I was ‘persona non grata’, and my unit closed.
* I must record how one of the oldest nuns, a dear lady, who I am quite sure knew exactly what was going on, came up to me in the hospital, after all this had unfolded, and took me gently to one side. She indicated the sign of the ‘Sisters of Mercy’ and whispered to me, ‘they should take that down’, and tottered away. So, you see, some people can transcend the power of belief and see the truth! But I guess she said nothing, except to me, and one can understand that: she was too old for Africa.
If there is anybody out there who still rates the chances of these abused people, who have been mistreated by the church for so long, being listened to by the church and its followers in anything approaching a sane and fair hearing, let them ponder my account. This was a doctor dealing with a fellow professional. What chance would a child have, or a lay-person, if they related their account to a priest, or a catholic policeman, teacher, or even their own parent. I can tell you what chance: I have had patients who have experienced just such things, in varying degrees, and they would all say that they felt they could not tell even their own family because they feared, rightly, that not only they would not be believed, but that they would be beaten and castigated for lying — which many of them were.
Such knowledge and experience make it hard not to have sympathy with the view that religion poisons everything, as expressed by Hitchens in his book ‘God is not great’. Poisoning the trust between parents (who have, and will, react similarly to my colleague above) and a child is surely up near the top of the ratings in the ‘league table of wickedness’. Young children pick up the not-so-subtle clues which tell them that making any adverse comment about the clergy will attract instant, and sometimes severe, disapproval and censure (just as a dog learns to read an aggressive owner). Indeed, it is all part of the ‘grooming’ process. What a horrible and insidious way of poisoning a child’s perception and trust.
But such events and consequences are inevitable, they are built into the Catholic set-up, as much as gold and interest rates are part of capitalism.
This commentary could go on forever: however, one cannot let the Tuam scandal, in the news at the time of writing (and doubtless for some time to come), go unremarked on. See also this BBC ‘update’ with a wider perspective (April 2019). https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/the_girls_of_bessborough
This Tuam incident involving nuns and single mothers is a powerful reminder that the gross distortion of morals and behaviour that seems to be an inevitable concomitant of a belief system, especially a religious belief system, is not confined to men abusing boys, girls, and the Nuns. The Nuns’ treatment of these young women and their babies invites comparison, however odious this may be, with slavery and with the treatment of Jews by the Nazi regime — regarding other humans as sub-human.
I thought I had become inured, but I suggest you look at this next link only if you have a strong stomach and but little imagination, it is about that Irish single-mothers’ home in the town of Tuam, the ‘Bon Secours’ home (what irony: that is French for ‘good help’).
And on the same day, I saw this (it is not an excerpt from Mr Brown’s ‘Da Vinci Code’, it is real life): ‘Mastering the devil: A sociological analysis of the practice of a Catholic exorcist’, which indicates they are still performing many thousands of these rituals.
And, as dramatic closing confirmation of what I said above about how they select deviant personalities and all know about it, just inform yourself of the Pennsylvania story.
The Pennsylvania Attorney-General, Josh Shapiro, said the two-year probe found a sophisticated systematic cover-up by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.
The grand jury said it believed 300 clergy committed the abuse and the number of children was “in the thousands”.
That is all that needs to be said for people to decide what to do.
The last word
Greek philosopher Epicurus lived 2000 years ago and wrote a great deal, sadly little of it survived (possibly because the church suppressed it). What has survived, and what has been reported in other ancient writings that have survived, led to the philosophical argument expressed in modern times, the wording of which we may owe to the Scottish philosopher David Hume in its common occurrence it goes like this:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Is he both able and willing?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Refutations of this simple proposition, 2,000 years later, remain abstruse exercises in sophistry, and are convoluted and unconvincing, except to those fixated on their pre-existing beliefs, which can be equated with autochthonous delusions. The word ‘autochthonous’ is particularly apposite because it means ‘arising out of the native land’ — which is exactly what religious belief does — almost all people brought up in a Catholic households become Catholic, just like almost all people brought up in a Jewish or Islamic household follow that set of beliefs. So much for revealed truths.
Major World Religionspopulations pie chart statistics list
This pie chart is based on statistics listing peoples self-admitted adherence to one of the major world religions, or to other faiths, or to people stating that they are of no religion.
As you will see the pie chart only mentions percentages of the world's population whose religiously related self-admission places them in each category.
To get a better idea of the numerical population size statistics please consult the following list of the major world religions.
Christians: 2,100,000,000 - tending to decline in terms of global percentage
Muslims: 1,500,000,000 - tending to increase in terms of global percentage
Of no religion: 1,100,000,000 - tending to decline in terms of global percentage
Hindus: 900,000,000 - stable in terms of global percentage
Chinese folk religionists: 400,000,000
Primal religionists: 400,000,000
Buddhists: 375,000,000- stable in terms of global percentage
This listing of figures hopefully gives a good approximation of the world's populations self-professed adherence to major world religions, other religions, or their self-professed state of not being religious.
This World Religions pie chart is sourced from Wikipedia
The Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish faiths all feature differences
of faith interpretation, outlook, or practice, which are or similar significance
to the Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Other divergences within Christianity.
Interestingly, many people have tried to assess whatever "common ground" there might be between the major world religions - not so much in terms of their founding prophetic figures or their revered Holy Books but moreso in terms of an identifiable commonality of their respective spiritual teachings:-
The following scrollable panel displays " Key Spiritual Insights " from Christian Sources.
And this scrollable panel displays " Key Spiritual Insights " from Inter-Faith Sources.
7 facts about American CatholicsParishioners worship during Mass at St. Paul Cathedral, the mother church of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, on Aug. 15. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
The Catholic Church is larger than any other single religious institution in the United States, with over 17,000 parishes that serve a large and diverse population. In spite of its size and influence, the church in recent decades has faced a number of significant challenges, from a decline in membership to a shortage of priests to continuing revelations that some Catholic clergy sexually abused minors and (in many cases) that their superiors covered up these actions.
Here are seven facts about American Catholics and their church:
1 There are roughly 51 million Catholic adults in the U.S., accounting for about one-fifth of the total U.S. adult population, according to Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study. That study found that the share of Americans who are Catholic declined from 24% in 2007 to 21% in 2014.
2 Catholicism has experienced a greater net loss due to religious switching than has any other religious tradition in the U.S. Overall, 13% of all U.S. adults are former Catholics – people who say they were raised in the faith, but now identify as religious “nones,” as Protestants, or with another religion. By contrast, 2% of U.S. adults are converts to Catholicism – people who now identify as Catholic after having been raised in another religion (or no religion). This means that there are 6.5 former Catholics in the U.S. for every convert to the faith. No other religious group analyzed in the 2014 Religious Landscape Study has experienced anything close to this ratio of losses to gains via religious switching.
3 Catholics in the U.S. are racially and ethnically diverse. Roughly six-in-ten Catholic adults are white, one-third are Latino, and smaller shares identify as black, Asian American, or with other racial and ethnic groups. The data also show that the share of U.S. Catholics who are Latino has been growing, and suggest that this share is likely to continue to grow. Indeed, among Catholic Millennials, there are about as many Hispanics as whites. (For information on the demographic characteristics of U.S. Catholics, including age, education, income and more, see “America’s Changing Religious Landscape.”)
4 Compared with some other religious groups, Catholics are fairly evenly dispersed throughout the country: 27% live in the South, 26% in the Northeast, 26% in the West, and 21% of U.S. Catholics live in the Midwest. Since many American Hispanics are Catholic, the continuing growth of this community as a share of the U.S. population is gradually shifting the geographic center of U.S. Catholicism from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and the West. Indeed, three-quarters of Hispanic Catholics reside in the South or West, while six-in-ten non-Hispanic Catholics live in the Northeast or Midwest. Overall, the share of U.S. Catholic adults who reside in the Northeast and the Midwest declined by 5 percentage points between 2007 and 2014 (from 53% to 48%), while the share of Catholics who live in the South and West grew by an equal amount (from 47% to 52%).
5 Many U.S. Catholics say they want to see the church make significant changes. For example, six-in-ten say they think the church should allow priests to marry and allow women to become priests. And nearly half of U.S. Catholics say the church should recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples. Support for these kinds of changes is lower – though still substantial – among Catholics who attend Mass regularly than it is among those who attend Mass less often.
6 Politically, Catholic registered voters are evenly split between those who identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party (47%) and those who favor the GOP (46%). In their partisanship, U.S. Catholics are deeply divided along racial and ethnic lines. Most Hispanic Catholics identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, while 54% of white Catholics today identify with or lean toward the GOP.
7 Large majorities of U.S. Catholics have admired Pope Francis throughout his tenure, but there are growing signs of discontent. In 2014, 54% of American Catholics gave Francis “excellent” or “good” marks for his handling of the church’s sex abuse scandal. But in a Pew Research Center poll conducted in September 2018 – shortly after recent reports about sex scandals in the U.S. Catholic Church – the share of Catholics saying this had fallen 23 points, to 31%. The recent survey also found that the pontiff’s overall approval rating among U.S. Catholics had dropped to 72%, down from 84% in January of this year.
Note: This is an update of a post originally published Sept. 4, 2018.