When I was a very young man and just married to a very cute Jewish girl from the Bronx, we were visiting Chicago and attended Unitarian services at The University of Chicago. Up to that point my wife and I had casually discussed rotating religions a year at a time but things changed when we were exposed to Unitarianism.
Religion is funny business and quite interesting. I studied the world’s religions to some extent at University and subsequent readings I have done through the years have still kept me fascinated. No, I don’t have a religion—strict Atheist or as one of my friends says, Card Carrying Atheist Member of the ACLU with a Good Conduct Medal—but it’s always good to remind yourself of some of the basics.
Here, more for comparison purposes than accuracy, are the populations of various religions around the world:
Religion ….. Adherents
Christianity ….. 2.1 billion
Islam ….. 1.6 billion
Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist ….. ≤ 1.1 billion
Hinduism …..1 billion
Chinese traditional religion ….. 394 million
Buddhism …..376 million
Ethnic religions excluding some in separate categories …..300 million
African traditional religions …..100 million
Sikhism ….. 23 million
Juche[e] ….. 19 million
Spiritism …..15 million
Judaism …..14 million
Bahá’í ….. 7 million
Jainism ….. 4.2 million
Shinto …..4 million
Cao Dai …..4 million
Zoroastrianism …..2.6 million
Tenrikyo ….. 2 million
Neo-Paganism …..1 million
Unitarian Universalism ….. 800,000
Rastafarianism ….. 600,000
It looks like Christianity is comfortably in the lead having almost as many followers as the next two categories combined. But Chrisianity has a central religious figure, Jesus Christ, that is decidedly out-of-date. The Moslems might have problems with the Christians for a number of reasons, but one that is hard to refute is that their central religious figure, Mohammed, is a much more up-to-date prophet. But remember, Muslims believe that prophets Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, among others, were all Islamic prophets, and they have equal veneration in the Qur’an. What does the Bible say about Mohammed? Oh, silly me: Christianity is the old religion and still believes that God stopped getting involved in the world a few thousand years ago.
So the number of followers of Islam might well overtake Christianity when Islam has been around as long as Christianity. For that matter, the kitchen sink category involving various levels of non-belief might well overtake both Christianity and Islam.
We would be remiss in our discussion if we didn’t acknowledge that the Bahá’i religion is far newer than either Christianity or Islam and, as you might imagine, demonstrates precedence over the older religions. Here what Wikipedia has to say:
Started in what is now Iran in the 19th century, Bahá’i is established on three core principles: the unity of God, that there is only one God who is the source of all creation; the unity of religion, that all major religions have the same spiritual source and come from the same God; and the unity of humanity, that all humans have been created equal, and that diversity of race and culture are seen as worthy of appreciation and acceptance. According to the Bahá’í Faith’s teachings, the human purpose is to learn to know and love God through such methods as prayer, reflection and being of service to humanity.
That sounds pretty reasonable and a whole lot more friendly than the other, old fashioned religions like Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. Bahá’i seems to encompass, in fact, welcome adherents from the other religions.
I see religion, irrespective of it’s being a human construct, to be much like a school district: Christians dropped out of school in the fourth grade and many still believe the Flintstones to be a documentary. But Bahá’i isn’t claiming any post-graduate credentials either. I suspect when the ships from some adventurous galactic race lands in Central Park, we might discover that all our ideas (and myths) about religion need to be reworked.
And now for something completely different …