A common assumption in Western nations is that religion is decreasing in popularity. There seems to be a trend towards atheism and agnosticism, an increasing acceptance of living a secular life. In the U.S., that assumption isn’t necessarily wrong. According to The Telegraph, more than one-third of Americans aged 18 to 29 claim to have “no religious affiliation.” That statistic contrasts with the country’s eldest generation, of which less than 10 percent lacked a religious affiliation.
On a global scale, religion is growing in size. A recent Pew Research Center report found that nonreligious individuals “will make up a declining share of the world’s population” by 2050. The report does note that the religiously unaffiliated population will increase in number by that year, but the overall percentage will be lower than it is today, declining from an estimated 16 percent to 13 percent.
Among the major faiths, Islam is growing the fastest. According to the same projection by the Pew Research Center, “the number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world” by 2050. The trend also applies to the U.S., as Christians are expected to decline from three-quarters of the population to two-thirds, with Islam surpassing Judaism as the second most popular religion in the country. Christianity is currently the most popular religion, with 2.17 billion followers compared to 1.6 followers of Islam.
These numbers are estimates, but they take into account important factors like fertility and mortality rates, as well as the youth populations of religions and conversion rates. Pew claims developing countries with high birth rates and decreasing infant mortality rates are likely to raise larger populations of religious individuals. Relatively nonreligious nations, on the other hand, have low fertility and aging populations.
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Although the Pew poll has been thoroughly researched and takes into account all of the aforementioned important factors, there’s no way to predict whether or not the youthful populations born into a particular religion will actually grow up believing in or practicing that religion. By 2050, religion as we know it today might not be as strong. People could identify with one of the world’s major faiths, but it could be considered more of an ethnic identifier than an actual belief system.
Although the projection suggests otherwise, it’s hard to believe that religion will continue rising while secularism decreases. Science and technology are advancing at an exponential rate, and the world is only growing increasingly interconnected. In at least three countries covered by the Pew poll — France, New Zealand and the Netherlands — those without any religious affiliation are expected to take over Christians as the “religious” majority. Religion itself may be growing, but it’s not safe to say that religious belief will remain a lasting concept. If it is, the best the world can hope for is that tolerance increases as well.
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