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Friday, March 23, 2012

Counting Christian Noses

An article at the American Interest on the number of Christians in the world:
The world population has, of course, expanded enormously between the two dates. Thus the proportion of Christians in the world population has remained stable at about 33%. But the absolute number of Christians has increased very greatly, from about 600 million to about 2.8 billion. Christianity is by far the largest religion in today’s world. Muslims come second, at about 25% of the world population. Among Christians, about 50% are Catholic, about 37% Protestant. [These last figures should be taken with a grain of salt: Catholics tend to include as adherents all who were baptized as Catholics—even if, particularly in Latin America, many may now be noisily enthusiastic (mainly Pentecostal) Protestants. In the other camp, many Protestants (again especially Pentecostal ones) belong to informal groups meeting in private homes, storefronts, garages—and are thus hard to count. Therefore, the above total of Protestants is probably an underestimate. General advice: When counting Christian noses, have a good supply of salt at hand.]

If the size of world Christianity today is amazing, the distribution is even more so. There has been a massive shift in the geography of the religion. In 1910 two thirds of Christians lived in Europe. In 2010 26% lived in Europe, 37% in the Americas, 24% in Africa, 13% in Asia and the Pacific region. But this still does not give the full picture. The figure for “the Americas” is ambiguous, since it includes both North and Latin America. According to the Atlas of Global Christianity (2009—it, by the way, was co-edited by Todd Johnson), in 2010 there were about 283 million Christians in North America (United States and Canada), about 549 million in Latin America. The basic fact: About 1.3 billion Christians, 61% of the total number, live in the Global South. [This is without figuring in the fact that a considerable number of Christians in North America, Catholics as well as Protestants, are Latinos.] The most dramatic shift has occurred in Africa: Christians were 9% of the population in 1910, 63% in 2010. [This figure lumps together mainly Muslim northern Africa and mainly Christian sub-Saharan Africa. The percentage of Christians in the latter would be much higher: Sub-Saharan Africa is basically Christian territory.] Example: Nigeria now has twice as many Protestants than Germany, the homeland of the Reformation. Example: Brazil has twice as many Catholics than Italy, where the Vatican sits as it tries to make sense of the religious landscape. [It is hardly surprising that Pope Benedict XVI regards the “evangelization of Europe” as a top priority. Some African priests might be helpful for this project.]

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