Last year, headlines pointed to an increase of religious “nones,” announced the death knell for faith and reporting religion in a swan dive around the world, but all that is changing with 84% of the global population identifying with a religious group – what is driving the increase?
According to the most recent statistics available, in an article published in 2017 based on data gathered by the Pew Research Center in 2015, the main religions of the world are Christians (31.2%), Muslims (24.1%), Hindus (15.1%), Buddhists (6.9%), folk religions (5.7%), other religions (0.8%), and Jews (0.2%). The number of people unaffiliated with any religion is 16%.
Another study by the Pew Research Center in 2018 examined where the faith was most important to the different religions of the world in different countries.
Some of the countries with the highest percentage of the population who said religion was very important in their lives was as follows: Ethiopia 98%, Pakistan 94%, Indonesia 93%, Honduras 90%, Nigeria 88%, Uganda 86%, India 80%, Iran 78%, South Africa 75%, Egypt 72%, Brazil 72%, Turkey 68%.
Religion is actually growing everywhere in the world – almost. The most religious countries are Africa the Middle East, South Asia, and Latin America.
Oppositely, the least religious societies are in Europe, East Asia and Australia, and despite over half of Americans finding religion important and a continent with a rich Christianity history, religion is declining in North America, driven by higher numbers of decline in Canada and Mexico.
While American Christians are undoubtedly hopeful for an awakening that leads to a resurgence of Christianity, only about 53 percent of Americans say religion is very important to their lives.
Islam is rising in popularity, and countries that were previously Christian are becoming less religious. The Pew Research Center predicts that Islam will become the dominant religion in the future. There are number of factors for this projection.
One thing that isn’t helping to expand Christianity in America is a declining birthrate, as well as the fact that Christians are making up a larger share of all deaths.
Islam is expected to grow as Muslim births will outpace that of Christians globally, as will the number Christian deaths outpace those of Muslims.
The Pew Research Center estimates that by 2035, Muslim births will begin to surpass Christian births by roughly 225M-224M, then rapidly accelerate and outpace Christian births by a margin of 232M-226M by 2060.
A current uptick in religious faith may be the result of the global coronavirus pandemic. Congregations are already reporting a surprising increase in their numbers since they started holding virtual services. Many they say they are going to continue and expand in this area.
Some congregations are realizing they have tapped into an area they hadn’t explored before and are shocked to find their congregations growing rather than declining as they expected when services moved online.
The uncertainty and frailty of life has become abundantly apparent amid the COVID-19 outbreak and people have been looking toward faith for answers and its promises of hope.
However, prior to the outbreak religion appeared to be on the decline, as Pew Research Center study in 2018 seem to indicate.
Only two highly industrialized Western countries rated above 50 percent of the population stating that religion was very important to their lives: Greece at 56% and the United States at 53%.
According to the study mentioned above, with the exception of Spain (22%), less than twenty percent of the population of Europe and Scandinavia ranked religion as being important in their lives.
The numbers were extremely low for Sweden (10%), UK (10%), Germany (10%), and France (11%). Russia was at 16 percent.
Religion also ranked low in the English-speaking countries of Canada (27%) and Australia (18%).
In the Far East, only 10% of Japan ranked religion as important. China was the lowest in the world, in terms of the importance of religion, at only 3 percent of the population.
As the religious landscape changes, it may lead to an increase in religious persecution. Already, as many places in the Middle East become Muslim majority, many Christians have been driven out of the region.
China is cracking down on both Christians and Muslims and putting people in “reeducation” camps. Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are on the rise in Europe. Many fear that a rise in faith, particularly fundamentalism, could lead to hostility, violence, and even genocide.
There is also an increase in infighting between the different factions of Islam (Sunni versus Shiite), and in the Christian faith as well. Conservative Catholics are battling the liberal efforts of Pope Francis to modernize Catholicism.
The United Methodists Church looks to divide over beliefs largely related to LGBT issues, and other denominations may also find themselves in similar schisms based on biblical doctrines and denominational dogmas.