In a recent column in The Guardian, Giles Fraser suggests reports in the early part of last century forecasting the death of religion were premature. Predictions that “religion would wither and die in the 20th century” have not come to fruition. In fact, according to Fraser, the reverse has happened.
He argues that the perception people are less religious can be attributed in large part to our society’s ethnocentric view of the world – we tend to see what is on our own doorstep. While religious affiliation is declining in the Western world, Fraser cites figures that show a massive increase in religious belief world-wide.
That this increase is occurring predominantly in developing countries leads Fraser to his cause-and-effect contention that religion is more appealing to the world’s poorest.
Much of Fraser’s argument is based on statistics and numbers. He writes that in the early 1900s, there were eight million Christians in Africa, now there are 335 million. While this would seem to indicate a huge increase in religious belief, he fails to acknowledge the enormous increase in the actual population throughout that time.
It would seem Fraser’s selective use of numbers alongside percentages is (to paraphrase Mark Twain) a case of “…lies, damned lies and statistics”.
What can’t be denied is that, as religious leaders in the West look with alarm at their ageing, rapidly dwindling congregations, churches throughout Africa and Asia in particular are standing-room only. Publishers of the bible can’t keep up with demand in countries such as China.
Fraser suggests that as individual wealth increases, people are less inclined to think of communal wellbeing. In societies where survival depends on the common good, people are more likely to ascribe to a collective set of values. Basically, he calls it the clash of God versus mammon. A battle that, in Fraser’s opinion, God will win.
Is religious belief dependent on poverty?
Can a wealthy person still be religious?
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