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← Graphic: A demographic breakdown of the world of religion

Graphic: A demographic breakdown of the world of religion - Comments

IDLERACER's Avatar Comment 1 by IDLERACER

There should be a token entry for Scientology. I'll write the blurb: "Scientologists worship a funny looking guy in a yachting cap who died in 1986 while on the lam for tax evasion."

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 05:38:58 UTC | #931615

Mike Kemp's Avatar Comment 2 by Mike Kemp

I am surprised by the absence of what might be termed "fantasy" religions, which might include Scientology but also Jeddi and other recent inventions that must be evolving in fantasy gaming. Also what about black magic beliefs, voodoo for example? And devil worship? Perhaps there should also be a catch-all for self asserted religions, as anyone can assert their beliefs are religious in order to obtain the privileges that follow, including freedom from being challenged.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 07:00:16 UTC | #931624

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 3 by Jos Gibbons

Why do I get the feeling the National Post pulled together data uncritically from multiple sources without checking whether they were even using consistent definitions? For starters, the “no data” regions for religiosity include China, where about one fifth of the world’s population lives (as was also true in 2003 – wait, this data is almost a decade old?). In that case, how reliable can your data be on those views that are popular in China and/or near exclusive to it, e.g. Chinese universalism, Buddhism and (we are so often told in debates about whether Communism casts atheism in a bad light) atheism? Admittedly the National Post doesn’t explicitly advance the “the Chinese are an overwhelmingly atheist nation” idea that’s at odds with the world’s atheists combined only being 146,241,000 people in 2003, but I think we can safely say, given the claims that circulate, that no consistent set of definitions makes all of the numbers they’ve used reliable. I’m not asking journalists to include error bars, but could they at least not look silly with the diagrams they combine?

I would have preferred the name “Vedic” for “Dharmic” religions, but I won’t complain about that. What would have been nice, however, was if the Abrahamic/Dharmic comparison chart contained an explanation as to what its numbers mean. Since its shading tells us of a region only the percentage incidence of one religion type, and since the percentages run from 100 to 100 with 50 in the middle, presumably the colour is determined by working out what percentage of the Abrahamic-or-Dharmic people in a nation are Abrahamic, and using a bluer colour if it’s a lot of them, and labelling the purple end of the scale with 100 % Dharmic, but they could have done a much better job of clarifying. The problem with a graph like that is it doesn’t tell you what total percentage of a nation’s population is neither Abrahamic nor Dharmic (which, to within a small percentage worldwide, means “isn’t religious”, so the non-religious are effectively marginalised). The graph whose lack of data for China I already mentioned above provides light on that issue for most nations, but how are we to make sense of the fact that China only gets the “no data” hue in that graph? What, did the Chinese government tell us the Abrahamic-to-Dharmic ratio but not how many people were in each camp?

If you look at these graphs’ sources, you start to understand what went wrong. Pew data has been supplemented with several different sources, some of which aren’t very trustworthy, e.g. I wouldn’t trust Adherents.com as far as I could throw its server(s). And I’m terrible at throwing, by the way.

I won’t read through every claim in the top diagram to see whether I agree with it, but I notice an artificially narrow definition of atheism is at work, as is a misguided attempt to also say how many people are secularists, which is a political view, not a religious one. And since any two of agnostics, atheists and secularists aren’t mutually exclusive, and nor are all three combined, each viewpoint’s frequency is lost in the “breakdown” they effect – not that they quantify anything besides atheism anyway.

Oh, one last point: where’s scientology? It may not be as big as its church claims, but it is estimated by objective outsiders to have 500,000 members (if I recall correctly), far more than some of the smaller groups to get onto this chart.

All in all, “based on the best data available” as a phrase, even if true (maybe you don’t agree with my opinion on the Pew-supplementing sources at the bottom, but who can say how good are the sources to the top diagram; they’re unstated), belies the way things can go wrong when you don’t know how to put information together properly from multiple sources. The question as to which data are best is, of course, an interesting one, which I would have been happier to debate at greater length if all the sources were named. I can’t help but think data more recent than 2006-8 or 2003 would have been nice. As for the Abrahamic/Dharmic map, your guess is as good as mine concerning which year they got that from. (Were all the colours even based on the same year?)

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 07:03:22 UTC | #931625

the great teapot's Avatar Comment 4 by the great teapot

mike, most of the fantasy religions are included. Which ones would you consider non fantasy religions?

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 07:05:21 UTC | #931626

Michael Gray's Avatar Comment 5 by Michael Gray

The map shows the USA as being "Less Religious" than average. I call "foul".

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 07:48:00 UTC | #931628

paulmcuk's Avatar Comment 6 by paulmcuk

Amazing. All those different religions and all absolutely right. I sense that the Post produced this to somehow prove that religion must be right because the religious outnumber atheists, but frankly it just illustrates what a ridiculous mess the whole thing is.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 08:18:55 UTC | #931632

Fouad Boussetta's Avatar Comment 7 by Fouad Boussetta

I don't really like the National Post. It's definitely a very biased newspaper, very much skewed to the Right. Hence the tone of the comment under the map's title.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 09:17:44 UTC | #931639

Anonymous's Avatar Comment 8 by Anonymous

Comment Removed by Moderator

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 09:53:53 UTC | #931642

idlemoor's Avatar Comment 9 by idlemoor

That's an appallingly lame graphic. Subdivisions are included in the parent bubble, and presented in the same way, so the visual impact of a minority counts double or even triple, but sometimes only once, depending on the author's whim. The sub-bubbles don't always add up to 100% of the parent, and the worst offence is against "Secular/Irreligious/Agnostic" who don't get shown past level one. If you're an Abrahamic or Hindu adherent, you get three times the pixels of a "Secular/Irreligious/Agnostic" individual. That stinks.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 10:01:02 UTC | #931643

debonnesnouvelles's Avatar Comment 10 by debonnesnouvelles

Comment 8 by Tony d :

Look what is up on YouTube. Richard Dawkins speaks at Rock Beyond Belief.

Dear mods i think it might be possible to find fort Bragg on the map in the above graphic so this post is not unrelated.

Yes, the clip is situated in the black and grey bubble on the map. Pretty much. Looking at the map I am very surprised about the alleged sizes of certain religions. Just shows how, without accurate information, one is likely not to have a clue.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 10:27:20 UTC | #931647

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 11 by Alan4discussion

Here is a link to a simpler graph of the major sectors worldwide @ 2005.
+ more detailed explanatory text.

http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html

There is also this chart which gives a clear summary of the various diverse beliefs.

http://www.religionfacts.com/big_religion_chart.htm

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 10:38:16 UTC | #931648

drumdaddy's Avatar Comment 12 by drumdaddy

I suspect that hundreds of millions of people in the religion bubbles would also feel comfortable in the ominously black secular bubble with regard to keeping religion out of governments.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 11:22:43 UTC | #931650

oeditor's Avatar Comment 13 by oeditor

Comment 12 by drumdaddy

I suspect that hundreds of millions of people in the religion bubbles would also feel comfortable in the ominously black secular bubble with regard to keeping religion out of governments.

I'm sure they would. It could well be an uncomfortable or even dangerous journey going along the line to get there, though.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 11:40:51 UTC | #931651

nurnord's Avatar Comment 14 by nurnord

"Below are estimates of the world religions based on the best data available" - fair enough, proceed to the graphic... "All the people in the world 2003 est." - abandons any hope of useful insight from the article, the end.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 11:42:56 UTC | #931652

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 15 by Cartomancer

There are, as has been pointed out, numerous problems with the graphic even if one assents to the fundamental assumptions it makes. But I would go further. I dislike intensely the very premise of this graph - the idea that the people of the world can be broken up and labelled as "belonging to" a particular religion, and their numbers counted for a collective figure. I think that fundamentally distorts the nature of the phenomenon, condemns human individuality and plays right into the hands of the religious groups that want desperately for us to see the world in this way. "These are our people, those are our rivals". "Our lot believe this, that lot believe something else". "We have a duty to correct and enforce the beliefs of our adherents, and convert those who are not".

My version of the graph would have six to seven billion tiny circles of exactly the same size, labelled "What Joe Bloggs believes", "What John Smith believes", "What Mohammed Qadari believes", "What Richard Dawkins believes" and so on. Because in reality there are as many religious viewpoints as there are individual people. Anything above the level of the individual is simply an arbitrary group label, and the wider the label encompasses the less useful it is.

People might identify themselves with particular group-labels, but that's a strategic political act, and assenting to these self-chosen labels of group identity as valid and important markers is also a strategic political act. Two people who describe themselves as "christian" might believe radically different things in almost every sphere of life. One might be a fiercely conservative bigot from Australia who believes in astrology, the other as woolly a liberal as you can get who is strongly secular and also a Scottish nationalist. Why is the label "christian" superlatively relevant here? Why SHOULD we acquiesce in the unfounded notion that these labels are the valid and significant ones? We don't divide up the world into charts based on preferred ice-cream flavour, because we know that, while it could quite easily be done, it doesn't really say anything meaningful about people. The assumption is that religious identity DOES say something meaningful about people, but that's an assumption I would very much question. Indeed, it is my assertion that such an assumption is harmful, and assenting to the assumption perpetuates the assumption. Even if religious identity DOES say more about people than preference in ice-cream flavour, why is it the only characteristic that is routinely presented in this manner? Why not a graph splitting the world by the stripe of political party they follow - conservative, liberal, socialist, single-issue, joke or other? Why not one based on the economic doctrine they follow - Keynsian, Monetarist, Free-market fundamentalist etc? Why not the philosophical ethical scheme they most assent to - Platonic, Aristotelian, Cartesian, Hegelian, Rawlsian etc? Surely all those things have just as much claim as religious identity to describing the essentials of a person? But we don't habitually use them as group-labels. Why does religion, the same kind of phenomenon, get a pass here? Because it asks for one? Because it has traditionally always had one? What kinds of stupid reasons are those to give it one?

People should not be encouraged to think in these terms. These terms are arbitrarily divisive and plug straight into tribalism and group-think. While these terms have value the priests and hierarchs have power, and their power is not questioned. Richard keeps banging the drum that labelling children with their parents' religious identity is a form of child abuse, but I think the problem goes much further than children. I think our society needs to fundamentally rethink its use of religious labels for everyone.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 12:05:09 UTC | #931654

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 16 by Jos Gibbons

That's an interesting point Cartomancer, but it leads me to an important associated question: would you similarly argue political parties are a misleading concept, or do you think in that example opinions are more homogenised than in the religious case so that a party system is valid?

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 12:53:40 UTC | #931657

RW Millam's Avatar Comment 17 by RW Millam

The black circle at about 4:00 in the diagram would have you believe that "Secular/Irreligious/Agnostic/Atheist" are religions. IMO, the fact that this huge error is so prominently displayed reduces the entire report to total bullshit.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 12:56:31 UTC | #931658

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 18 by Cartomancer

That's an interesting point Cartomancer, but it leads me to an important associated question: would you similarly argue political parties are a misleading concept, or do you think in that example opinions are more homogenised than in the religious case so that a party system is valid?

Well, qua marker of one's personal nature and opinions, the political party one supports is often just as inadequate and misleading as one's preferred religious label. But the big difference is that most of us implicitly understand that this is the case, and see voting for a particular political party as an act of choosing the best fit to one's beliefs from a limited number of options. And the parties thus chosen have a very immediate and practical gubernatorial mandate to fulfil, and will be judged on how well they do it, whereas a religious affiliation is a very much more general thing and considered to be more reflective of personal idiosyncrasies in a wider and more permanent sense. It's not so much about the labels being misleading as it is about people recognising that they are misleading and not placing so much stock by them as they do. People understand this, for the most part, in the case of political party affiliations, whereas they generally do not for religious ones. Or at least the language they habitually use suggests that they do not.

The difference in how the two identity markers are framed in the popular imagination can be seen in how people talk about changing their allegiance from one to another. People are "supporters" of a political party, or if particularly keen "members", but changing from one to another is not considered a big deal. You "switch" or "change" or "go over to" another party, or at worst "defect" if you're a prominent member. There's even a term - "floating voters" - for people who have no particular commitment to one or another but choose pragmatically at a given moment. Religious changing of allegiance is called "converting" or "renouncing", or "apostasy", being "born again" and so forth. You aren't a "supporter" of a religion, you're a "believer", "worshipper", "devotee" or "adherent", and often metaphors of family are involved. We would think it slightly odd to call someone "my brother in Conservatism", but "my christian brothers" is quite usual. Likewise someone who does not participate in politics is simply apathetic, but someone who does not participate in religion is an atheist or nonbeliever - the implications are subtly but tellingly different.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 13:11:52 UTC | #931661

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 19 by AtheistEgbert

I don't like the graph and I think Cartomancer's point about identity politics is pretty important.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 13:38:35 UTC | #931664

zengardener's Avatar Comment 20 by zengardener

Another problem with this chart is that it lumps all the people who identify as "culurally Catholic" along with the pope.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 13:55:24 UTC | #931665

Mike Kemp's Avatar Comment 21 by Mike Kemp

Comment 6 by paulmcuk :

Amazing. All those different religions and all absolutely right. I sense that the Post produced this to somehow prove that religion must be right because the religious outnumber atheists, but frankly it just illustrates what a ridiculous mess the whole thing is.

Oh, I thought the point it was trying to make was that the whole religion thing was fatally flawed by there being so many contending "one true way"'s. If they were trying to make the opposite point, they should have said.

Comment 4 by the great teapot :

mike, most of the fantasy religions are included. Which ones would you consider non fantasy religions?

Yes, good point. What would constitute a non fantasy religion? Mine of course. Wait a minute, I haven't got one. Back to the drawing board...

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 15:43:41 UTC | #931676

the great teapot's Avatar Comment 22 by the great teapot

not quite sure why not believing in a god is included as a form of believing in a god.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 17:35:49 UTC | #931689

Jonathan Dore's Avatar Comment 23 by Jonathan Dore

The Anglican figure (73 million) is the one that includes everyone baptized into the Church of England, which accounts for over a third of that total (including me), most of whom would have been infants and the majority of whom are not believers in any meaningful sense. This is a church that routinely gets 1.5% of the population at Sunday Services claiming to represent 50% of the population.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 17:56:49 UTC | #931693

Layla's Avatar Comment 24 by Layla

Interesting to discover there are almost the same number of Jehovah's Witnesses as Jews and that Christianity is so overwhelmingly Catholic.

I suspect the author of this graph is a Christian as they made sure to say “The oldest sect of Hinduism considers Shiva as the supreme being", "Vaishnavites consider Lord Vishnu as the supreme deity", "Muslims...believe that Muhammed is the final prophet" but " Jesus is the son of God, sent to Earth by God to save humanity..."

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 18:41:04 UTC | #931698

Stonyground's Avatar Comment 25 by Stonyground

Can someone explain to me why the comments go immediately into slagging off atheism? It just occured to me that the discussion might be in reverse order so the first comments that I read might have been the newest, but it still seems rather odd. The arguments against atheism are of course the same old easily refuted ones that we have heard and refuted a thousand times before.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 19:07:14 UTC | #931705

Carl Sai Baba's Avatar Comment 26 by Carl Sai Baba

Viewing this circular diagram, it occurs to me that our solar system has more religions than planets. I begin to think that this may eventually be a problem.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 19:57:25 UTC | #931716

cerad's Avatar Comment 27 by cerad

One of this year's better April Fools joke.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 20:51:52 UTC | #931722

AULhall's Avatar Comment 28 by AULhall

Comment 23 by Jonathan Dore :

The Anglican figure (73 million) is the one that includes everyone baptized into the Church of England, which accounts for over a third of that total (including me), most of whom would have been infants and the majority of whom are not believers in any meaningful sense.

Yes, and even more errant is the fact that the graph is designed to include the entirety of the world's population -- even though a significant percentage of the world's population is too young to have any religious views at all. This child mislabelling (mentioned by Cartomancer above) is a point that Richard Dawkins champions often, though few religious people seem to even consider it as controversial.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 22:23:45 UTC | #931746

xmaseveeve's Avatar Comment 29 by xmaseveeve

Excellent point Cartomancer. I was baptised Catholic but have never been one.

Mon, 02 Apr 2012 02:35:46 UTC | #931800

Chad_Is_Rad's Avatar Comment 30 by Chad_Is_Rad

Why can't we even get the definition of atheism correct? Atheists don't flat out reject god. To say "there is no god" is as blind and irrational to say there is. Of course the evidence isn't there and of course we live our lives as if there isn't, but to say there couldn't be or can't be, puts you on the same playing field as the evangelical Christian if you ask me.

Mon, 02 Apr 2012 13:57:51 UTC | #931904