Descriptive Religion/World religion
"The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness." Karl Marx.
"....mankind will overcome this neurotic phase [religion], just as many children grow out of their similar neurosis." Sigmund Freud.
"Gods and Ideas are potent reminders of man's dissatisfaction with all that is given in this world - spurs to reach out beyond. But when gods and Ideas become facts or objects of belief, when the dimension reason requires is peopled with them, reason rebels." Walter Kaufmann.
"God is dead. God remains dead! We have killed him." Fiedrich Nietzsche.
"In one hundred years this book [the Bible] will be forgotten and eliminated...." Francois-Marie Arouet (Voltaire).
The above graphic shows the major world religions by percentage adherence with the least eleven broken out. The data was taken from Adherents.com, July 31, 2006. Obviously, many religions are left out.
Evidently, despite the predictions of many philosophers, religion is still alive and well in the world.
World religion is a vast and varigated thing. It runs the gamut from atheistic and agnostic philosophies to ancestor worship to ethical monotheism. Individual religions are held by particular people or span the globe. Some religions welcome the thoughts of all other religions, some reject all thoughts but their own. There are religions with billions of adherents and there are religions with only a few hundred. Religion is a theme with many variations and we will be able to look at only a very few of those variations here. But we will look at the most common ones.
As technology has changed at an ever faster pace in the last two centuries, so many changes have occurred in religion. Many of these will be discussed in the companion volumes to this book. Many will be discussed as we look at the individual religions here.
To begin, let us look at some statistics.
According to the World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions - AD 30 to 2200 (David Barnett et al., editors, Oxford University Press, 2001) there are 19 major world religions subdivided into 270 large religious groups. 34,000 smaller religions have been identified. Over half of them are independent and not interested in connecting with the larger groups.
According to the Religious Tolerance website, the two largest religious groups in the world are Christianity and Islam. Christianity represents about 32% of the world population and Islam makes up about 19% but the growth rate of Christianity is dropping and that of Islam is rising so that, given the current statistics, Islam is expected to overtake Christianity as the world's dominant religion sometime in the 21st century. Christianity is growing at about 2.3% annually and Islam is growing at about 2.9%.
Descriptive Religion is a dynamic disciple. Technology, population dynamics, changing societal issues, and many other factors affect the characteristics of world religions. Each religious group, indeed, each religious individual has to constantly make decisions about whether to "keep up" with their changing environment or to hold to centuries old traditions. Many feel that their religious beliefs and traditions are timeless and appropriate for any age. So religions continue to divide and change.
Undoubtedly, by the time this book is finished, there will have been more changes in the nature of world religious groups, some of those changes very significant. For that reason, the very interested person would do well to supplement their study by referring constantly to changing data in websites such as those given below and other statistical references.