New -- 1 April 2009
Probably the most involved topic in the world today -- not to mention the world of yesteryear where it was even more predominant -- is religion. Seemingly, most every problem, solution, controversy, motivator, instigator, facilitator, or whatever... is based at its most fundamental level upon religion, ideologies, and very importantly, in the differences between various faiths.
Furthermore, any study of history will reveal the overwhelming presence of religion in every aspect of society. For example, even in a novel of soap opera proportions, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, one is struck by the power of the Russian Orthodox Religion in the late 19th Century to dictate that no one could be married without first going to confession and being blessed by a priest. Meanwhile, in modern Israel, trying to get married will absolutely require the male to be circumcised. Obviously 19th Century Russia was already far advanced from the dictates of modern day Israel.
The progress or advancement of religions in different nations and parts of the world is highly variable, both in terms of the number of adherents and the evolvement of the religion itself. Accordingly, the future of religion, on the one hand, is about its variable rate of progress throughout the world. On the other hand, no nation or religion is being left alone to do its own thing, and thus the degree to which different religions fare depends on the world view as much as the local perspective. The key question in both cases is the degree to which relgion is gaining or losing strength... and more noteworthy, what is the future of religions and its influence upon the world and its many diverse societies.
On the one hand, a recent poll (the American Religious Identification Survey) has concluded that:
The most noteworthy aspect of the poll, of course, is that it was limited to the United States. One must go to other sources to find out about how religions throughout the world are faring.
In this regard, it should be noted that one can infer from statistical data all sorts of hidden meanings... for example, as to which religions are faring better than others... and/or which religions have a stronger hold on their faithful. Muslims, for example, take a very, very dim view of apostasy, the act of giving up a religion. The Muslims in fact often murder such people... while on the other hand, Catholics tolerate even their priests or bishops to even deny the Jewish Holocaust. Either way, these religions are working very diligently to keep their flocks. But inasmuch as the Catholic religion has recently been surplanted as the number one religion in the world (in terms of total populations -- [See, for example, Oh Ye of (One) Little Faith] -- it would appear that the threat of murder is the preferred technique for keeping the faithful in line. Eternal damnation has always worked well for millennia, but is waning in its popularity.
Meanwhile, in Europe, for example, one academic study has reported:
Please note the emphasis on "modern society". Supposedly, as the world at large becomes ever more the "modern society", all sorts of possibilities rear their heads.
Other research has indicated:
In the Third World, one assumes that we might be talking about an entirely different story. For example, one website on Religion and Population (an excellent site, by the way) has noted in one case:
The problem here should be readily apparent. However, it may be important to recognize that the United States is something of a bellweather state and trend setter in geopolitical and economic matters. Accordingly, trends in the United States may ultimately and strongly influence trends in the rest of the world. Influence may, in fact, be less of a subtle force, and instead a near directive. "You want food, fine; take this portion, the one laced with birth control medications."
George Friedman, in his excellent book, The Next 100 Years, has taken the position that the expanding populations in third world countries cannot be assumed to continue at its present rates, and may in fact be on the early stages of contracting. For example:
Note, accordingly, that the rate of having babies is independent of the rate of population increase, with the latter being strongly tied to the local death rates (from war, disease, famine, drought, and so forfth). Thus, it appears that fashionable assumptions about constantly increasing numbers of religious adherents in such areas because of massive increases in population may also have to be revisited.
This is important in that in many Third World Countries (and apparently in an increasingly fewer number of adherents in First and Second World Countries), the traditional views on families may themselves be on the endangered list. For example, George Friedman has noted Osama Bin Laden's view of such matters, and where such views are still prevalent, even if possibly losing ground:
This view of families is under intense scrutiny, with education being the primary motivator to make some badly needed changes in such "traditional" views. In effect, the maintenance of this view is essentially contrary to natural law. Insisting upon an unchanging structure in a universe based on constant change is simply ignorance taken to an extreme. Also, under increasing scrutiny is the exhortation to go forth and multiply and subdue the earth. Folks, the earth is already pretty much on the ropes!
Education, of course, is the key. The more the people of the world learn about the glorious possibilities open to them from the establishment of free and unfettered societies, the more likely change is inevitable.
The facts remain that for a long time, the Catholic hierarchy and other religions depended upon overpopulating the planet in order to keep up their numbers (and their percentages of the world's population). Such numbers are very important when it comes to religious wars... with battles often going the way of the largest number of warriors pressing onward... and/or the most motivated... military force. Relgions have traditionally made a huge effort to increase their numbers and motivate their soldiers (with everything from promises of virgins for the faithful to threats of eternal damnation for the hesitant), if only because the religious leaders needed the people as so much cannon fodder for their wars of power, control, and greed.
The problem, at least from the individual family perspective, however is that life has not quite worked out in this way. Instead of large familites being a blessing (whereby the children could be low or unpaid workers... in full accordance with the Osama vision of the family), children have become more consumers and less workers. Accordingly, the birth rates throughout the world have fallen, and the religions have suffered as a result in terms of having enough human resources to prosecute their wars.
Even more importantly, the quest for a higher quality of human life has begun to supercede the need for numbers in forging the decisions in wars. In the last couple of centuries, weapons of mass destruction were the necessary fashion. Most weapons were in fact based entirely upon projectiles which followed allegedly preset trajectories... but where in reality, a soldier or airman was simply attempting to aim while being shot at. Very importantly, once the projectile was released, there was no opportunity to divert its path in order to account for the lost of accuracy in launching the projectile... or for changes in the target, who understandably might be trying to avoid the projectile. This led to the factor that in order to account for the low accuracy and target movement -- whereby a remarkably low percentage would actually result in hitting a target -- one had to blanket the area with munitions. This resulted in massive amounts of colateral damage, as non-targets were destroyed just in order to get a comparatively much smaller target. It was a lot like some forms of health treatment where the entire body is assaulted in the attempt to destroy a very small, but potent intruder in the body. [Of course, the health community refers to this factor as "side effects", instead of "collateral damage"... but it's pretty much the same thing.]
This is now changing, as advances in technology have allowed munitions to go from being delivered as projectiles (where numbers are everything, in order to saturate the battlefield), to more focused weaponry (where technological advances can pin point with increasing precision a target). There is even one case where a directed missle entered through an open door (probably without knocking) before exploding int the interior of the desired target. Thus, there is far less need for large numbers of humans to conduct modern warfare. Instead, what is needed is smarter weaponry... and this tends to be the province of the more developed nations.
Weapons can of course be stolen... but those with the highly advanced weapons (and the training to use them effectively) tend to understand this potential problem and spend a LOT of time countering the problem. There's always a few leaks, but these are minimized, both from the viewpoint of security precaus tions as well as from the fact that highly technical weapons require a sophisticated infrastructure in order to produce and support the weaponry.
The basis gist here is that: 1) we don't need nearly the number of people in order to act as cannon fodder in the various wars, 2) the traditional large family has gone from an asset to a serious liability, 3) women are discovering there is more to life than being confined to a home and/or hovel, and 4) the basic appeal of many religions and ideologies is being countered by education and international communications. As a result, the numbers of religious adherents is likely to continue to fall. Such lovely pie charts as shown by one site, are likely to require some serious modications. One can only hope.
BTW, for those who thought this was an April Fools' gag. Keeping in mind the orgins of April Fools, i.e., we can reference Wikipedia's article on the subject (including several of the classic gags):
Wilstar provides a bit more on this subject, noting that part of the problem was that in the changeover from the Julian to Gregorian calendars, many of the people outside the major cities (and probably a fair number in the cities) simply did not get the word about what was going on. Thus the pseudo sophisticated folk decided that anyone ignorant of the change was an April Fool.
Considering how many people might not have gotten the word about religion and its failures, they might also be considered to be an April Fool. It is, after all, just about ignorance -- at least from the viewpoint of someone, however intelligent, simply not getting the word, not being copied on the memo, or whatever.
For example (from Wikipedia):
Now if we could just get the word to them...
(It's also considered wise to add a little humor when answering to the classic, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set ye free." But when you first learn the truth, you're likely to be really ticked!)
 "Poll Warch", The Week, March 20, 2009, page 19.
 "The Porn Paradox", The Week, March 20, 2009, page 22.
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