In a recent Sightings newsletter, the regular distribution from the Martin Marty Center at University of Chicago divinity school, Marty wrote about the religion statistics as reported by the World Christian Database. Among their findings are the following figures on Christians across the world.
“Roman Catholics” claim 1,130,401,000…The 422,659,000 “Independents” outnumber 386,644,000 “Protestants” and 252,891,000 “Orthodox” and the rest.
The quantifying of the faithful has lately been of interest to me as I consider the method that one might use to actually count a person as a member of one denomination or strain, and not another. This came home to me recently while playing, of all things, an online game of Scrabble. I had just discovered the Scrabulous online community last Saturday and quickly found it to be very addicting. After a night on the town I settled down for a quick game around 1AM. Most of these games are between two people and the interface includes a chat screen next to the game board. Though in the screen of the games I had played earlier that day the comments were limited to, “hi and gl”, gl meaning “good luck.” In this game my opponent asked me the city in which I was playing, and after my reply I learned that this woman was placing her tiles in the Phillipines.
Well, a long conversation ensued, which, at times, was much more interesting than the game. How we got on the topic of her personal religion I cannot remember, but what was fascinating to me were all of the details around her faith life. She considers herself to be, in her words, Roman Catholic, Charismatic, Renewed, and yet she attends a Methodist church because she likes the way they worship, e.g. dance, sing, praise, etc., and she says she has the gift of speaking in tongues which makes me wonder if she might also blur the lines of Pentecostalism, though I think charismatic and renewal Catholics also speak in tongues. So, I guess I can’t help but wonder if the figures reported by the WCD above, can necessarily be all that accurate. Though, I do not know what their accounting methods are, I certainly am not questioning the integrity of their data.
What’s more, I can’t help but consider the words of Harvey Cox who, on a recent program, said,
“even inside the most ardent fundamentalist, who, of any — who, in the dark of night or early morning hours, might begin to doubt his or her utter and complete assurance about this or that, or the skeptic who, equally in the dark of night, begins to wonder whether his or her skepticism or agnosticism is really something he can live with.”
So, in a world of 6,691,484,000 people, perhaps there are really 6,691,484,000 believers, and just as many non-believers?
*Qis is the plural of Qi, meaning life force, in Chinese medicine. Now, go get that Scrabble board!