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Religions of the World

1Christianity 800,000,000 2,300,000,000
2Islam1,150,000,000 1,700,000,000
3Non-religious800,000,000 1,200,000,000
6Chinese traditional400,000,000
7animism250,000,000 1,500,000,000
New Religious Movements100,000,000
8Sikhism23,000,000 25,000,000
9Juche 20,000,000
10Spiritism13,000,000 15,000,000
11Judaism15,000,000 15,000,000
13Baha'i 7,500,000 8,000,000
15Jainism 4,300,000 5,000,000
16Shinto2,700,000 4,500,000
17Cao Dai 4,500,000
18Zoroastrianism 2,700,000 3,000,000
19Taoism 2,700,000
20Tenrikyo 2,000,000
21Neo-Paganism 1,000,000
22Unitarian-Universalism 800,000
23Rastafarianism 600,000
24Scientology 500,000
25Wiccan 500,000

Estimates of world-wide religious populations are far less reliable than generally understood. They are not based on windows into the human soul. Different religions have different criteria for judging religious affiliation, and even within religions the counting rules may vary. Mormonism is in pretty good shape, since one flavor of Mormonism accounts for almost all adherents. Judaism is probably in better shape than most religions, since almost all Jews were born of Jewish mothers, and the State of Israel has spent a lot of time worrying about the "who is a Jew" question to handle immigration issues.

Islam would seem to be on firm ground, as anyone born to a Muslim father is a Muslim, and apostasy is punishable by death. So the narrow range of estimate for the global Muslim population - 1,550,000,000 to 1,700,000,000 - is not too surprising. But the syncretic Sufism that everywhere emerged on the periphery of Dar al Islam is probably not true Islam. These "Islamic" faiths have become integrated with many beliefs and practices not integral to Islam. In so many countries where Sufism predominates, it would be difficult to draw a line between animistic practices indigenous to pre-Islamic culture that were used to drive off evil spirits and local Islamic ceremonies, because each contained aspects of the other.

Among the world's ten largest "Muslim" countries, with a bit over a billion Muslims, are Indonesia, with an estimated 200,000,000 "Muslims", Bangladesh, with an estimated 100,000,000 "Muslims", Nigeria, with an estimated 75,000,000 "Muslims". Probably fewer than 20% of the "Muslims" in these countries practice "pure Islam", while the rest practice a pre-Islamic animist faith overlaid by a veneer of Muslim ritual and phraseology. These three countries alone would reduce the global Muslim population by 300,000,000. Of world's remaining 550,000,000 to 700,000,000 Muslims, possibly another 100,000,000 are also Sufi animists of some sort, suggesting a low end estimate for the global Muslim population of 1,150,000,000, not 1,550,000,000.

The various published estimates of the global Christian population are generally in the range of 2,100,000,000 to 2,300,000,000. Christians today are generally inclined to accept the Christianity of those who claim such belief, but the criteria for counting as a Christian may go beyond Latitudinarian tolerance and require answering "who is a Christian"? Unlike Muslims, Christians are made, not born. Christianity is congregational, with an emphasis on fellowship, not solitude. Consequently, to be counted as a Christian would require more than simple self-identification or vague awareness of stray doctrinal tenants of faith. Many "Christian" countries have large populations of non-practicing believers, or of non-believing practitioners. And various public opinion polls suggest that while large number of Americans may be nominally "Christian", many of them have religious knowledge that seems largely derived from Hollywood movies about angels and demonic possession.

A close examination of religious practices in 11 countries generally assessed as having large Christian populations is illuminating. A high end estimate for these countries suggests a Christian population of about 1,100,000,000, comfortably half of the global Christian population by many estimates. But a closer look suggests these countries might have only slightly more than 400,000,000 Christians, suggesting a global Christian population as low as around 800,000,000.

Upon request, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) furnishes, at no charge to the applicant, a headstone or marker for the grave of any eligible veteran in any cemetery around the world. Government-furnished headstones and markers must be inscribed with the legal name of the deceased, branch of service, and years of birth and death, in that order. An emblem of belief also may be inscribed. A listing of the approved emblems for inscription (attached) is on the VA Web site and also on the back of the VA 40-1330 application form. Authorized Emblems of Belief for Inscription on Government Headstones and Markers:

    Aaronic Order Church Atheist Bahai Nine-Pointed Star Buddhist (Wheel of Righteousness) Christian Christian and Missionary Alliance Christian Church Christian Reformed Church Christian Scientist (Cross and Crown) Church of World Messianity (Izunome) Community of Christ Eckankar Episcopal Cross Greek Cross Hindu Humanist Emblem of Spirit Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii Judaism (Star of David) Konko-Kyo Faith Lutheran Cross Mormon (Angel Moroni) Muslim (Crescent and Star) Muslim (Islamic Five-Pointed Star) Native American Church of America Presbyterian Church (USA) Presbyterian Cross Russian Orthodox Cross Seicho-No-Ie Serbian Orthodox Cross Sikh (Khanda) Soka Gakkai International (USA) Sufism Reoriented Tenrikyo Church Unitarian Church (Flaming Chalice) United Church of Christ United Church of Religious Science United Methodist Church United Moravian Church Wicca (Pentacle)

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