New Internationalist

Alive & kicking - the facts

Issue 370

Despite rumours to the contrary religious faith is thriving in the world today. And its relation to violence and warfare is as hotly contested as ever.

Faith in numbers

Christianity is the religion with the largest following in the world. Islam is the fastest growing.

Sven Torfinn / http://www.panos.co.uk
Sven Torfinn / http://www.panos.co.uk


Christianity: 2 billion
Islam: 1.3 billion
Hinduism: 900 million
Buddhism: 360 million
Chinese traditional religion: 225 million
Primal-indigenous: 150 million
African traditional and diasporic: 95 million
Sikhism: 23 million
Juche (N Korea state religion): 19 million
Spiritism: 14 million
Judaism: 14 million
Others include: Baha’i 6 million; Jainism 4 million; Shinto: 4 million; Cao Dai (synthesis of religions): 3 million; Tenrikyo 2.4 million; Neo-Paganism 1 million; Unitarian-Universalism 800,000; Rastafarianism 700,000; Scientology 600,000; Zoroastrianism 150,000. Some 850 million people define themselves as secular, non-religious, agnostic or atheist.1

Rise and fall

Sven Torfinn / http://www.panos.co.uk
Sven Torfinn / http://www.panos.co.uk

Some religions are rapidly increasing their world share of adherents, while others are stable or dropping as a percentage of the population.

ISLAM is growing at a rate of 2.9% a year. The fastest growing world religion, it has doubled its adherents since 1970. Of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims, 85% are Sunni and 8.6 per cent are Shi’a.2,3

CHRISTIANITY is growing at about 2.3% annually. Born-again Christians number 680 million – 11 per cent of the global population and 33% of all Christians.2 Pentecostal churches are growing at a rate of 8.1%, evangelicals by 5.4%.2 In Latin America US sponsored Pentecostal and charismatic churches now claim 10% of the population.4 Roman Catholicism is growing by only 1.3 % worldwide, less than the global population growth of 1.4 %.2

JUDAISM has grown slowly since 1945, when the world Jewish population was estimated at 11 million to the current 14 million.5

BUDDHISM and Hinduism have kept stable at around 6% and 15% of world population respectively.2

INDIGENOUS AFRICAN religions have declined from 60% in 1900 to just 11 per cent today. Most of the gains went primarily to Christian churches, then Islam.2

With God on our side

Religion’s role in major wars7
On a scale of 1-5

Note: Five aspects are taken into account in calculating the role of religion in major wars: religion as a mobilizer; religious motivation and discourse by political leaders; attacks on symbolic religious targets; conversion goals; strong support from religious leaders.

Arab Conquests 632-732 The Crusades 1097-1291

al-Qaeda Terror War 1992-

Reformation Wars 1562-98 US and Allied Invasion of Iraq 2003- Afghanistan’s anti-Soviet War 1979-89 Thirty Years War 1618-48

Moghul Conquest of India 1503-29, Spanish Conquests in North and South America 1492-1541, War of the American Revolution 1775-83, Sudan Civil War 1983- , American Indian Wars 1860-90, European Colonial Wars, Africa, Asia, Pacific 1870-1945, Spanish Civil War 1936-39, Arab-Israeli Wars 1947-82, US-Soviet Cold War 1948-91

Fall of Constantinople 1453; Seven Years War 1756-63; Second World War 1939-45; Northern Ireland 1968-98; Iran-Iraq War 1980-88; Bosnia 1994-95; Chechen Wars 1994 and 1999; US and Allied invasion of Afghanistan 2001- • Many smaller scale conflicts, such as Hindu-Muslim clashes in India (claiming some 2,000 lives in 2002) and Christian-Muslim clashes in Indonesia and in Nigeria are closely tied to religious identity.

Bloodiest hands7

• Predominantly Christian states have killed more Jews and Muslims than predominantly Muslim states have killed Christians or Jews.

• In the past 1,000 years there have been more devastating wars among Christian states fighting each other than between Christian and Muslim states.

• Two atheistic totalitarian states – Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China – have perpetrated more mass murder than any state dominated by a religious faith. Stalinism cost the Soviet Union between 9 and 60 million lives; Maoism cost China between 30 and 40 million.

• In killing six million Jewish people, Hitler’s Germany was responsible for the single most devastating genocide in history of a group identified by their religion and race.

Humanitarianism

Religious motivation has provided a basis for or has been a key player in numerous movements to save lives and promote social justice.

• The Anti-Slavery Movement. • Black Civil Rights. • The Jubilee 2000 ‘Drop the Debt’ campaign. • Anti-apartheid movement and Peace and Reconciliation in South Africa. • Ghandhist non-violence, drawing on various sources, including Hinduism. • The Islamic practice of zakat (or alms tax) whereby 2.5% of income is donated for those in need. • Humanitarian agencies and charities of various denominations.

Some religious beliefs – such as Buddhism, Jainism and Quakerism – have non-violence as a central tenet.

Social violence

Religion is used to do social violence within communities

• Women’s rights have been eroded in 25 countries, mainly where religious fundamentalism has increased. These countries include Algeria, Nigeria and the US.8

• ‘Honour’ killings of women are often religiously motivated or backed.

• Women reporting rape have been prosecuted for adultery under Islamic sharia law in Pakistan and Dubai. The charge may carry a death sentence.

• Homosexuality is punishable by death in nine states where Islamic sharia law is applied. Executions have taken place in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan in recent years.9

• In the US, Baptist preacher Fred Phelps, who runs a website named God Hates Fags, has called for the death sentence for homosexuals.

• Religious codes are used to justify human-rights abuses of children including forced marriages and genital mutilation.

Levels of belief

Holy Lucre

• The finances of the Roman Catholic Church are legendarily opaque, but in 2000 the US Church alone recorded parish level donations of $7.5 billion (a sum that would earn it a place in Fortune’s 500 richest corporations). Since 1985, however, it has had to pay out a billion dollars as settlement in sex abuse cases in the US.10

• The Secretary of Federal Tax Collections of Brazil has accused the Moonies (The Church of the Holy Spirit for the Unification of World Christianity) of $10.7 million tax evasion annually, sponsorship of illegal immigration and money laundering of $165 million.11

• The Mormon Church in the US is now a corporate empire worth between $12 and $30 billion.12

WARNING: Figures of religious affiliation are often inflated, especially when it comes to large, established religions. People may identify with a religion culturally or habitually rather than out of belief.

  1. http://www.adherents.com last modified 6 September 2002.
  2. http://www.religioustolerance.org/worldrel.htm
  3. http://www.islam.about.com
  4. Mike Davis, ‘Planet of Slums’, New Left Review, No 26, Mar/Apr 2004.
  5. American Jewish Committee, 28 October 1998 http://www.charitywire.com/charity11/00433.html
  6. BBC, ‘What the World thinks of God, survey of 10,000 people in 8 selected countries conducted by ICM, February 2004 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/wtwtgod/3518375.stm
  7. Greg Austin, Todd Kranock and Thom Oommen, God and War: An Audit and an Exploration, Bradford Peace Studies Group, 2004.
  8. Nikki van der Gaag, No Nonsense Guide to Women’s Rights, Verso/New Internationalist, 2004.
  9. Sodomy Laws, Laws Around the World, http://www.sodomylaws.org/world/world.htm
  10. Business World Online: ‘The economic strain on the Church’, 15 April 2002, http://www.businessweek.com
  11. ARGENPRESS (Peru), April 1, 2004 http://www.latinamericapress.org
  12. Richard Abanes, One Nation Under God: The History of the Mormon Church, Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003.

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