Religion is not an independent entity
In a March 30 article in the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Monsignor Vittorio Formenti stated that Catholicism is no longer the dominant religion in the world, and that this position is instead now held by Muslims. The projected number of Catholics is approximately 1.13 billion people, which, although by no means insignificant, falls short of the estimated 1.3 billion Muslims around the world.
Initially, I had to wonder about the potential bias present in this information, and, if the report was true, what the repercussions would be for world religion in the 21st century.
While this information was initially surprising, it became increasing less so as I thought about the data. My surprise was rooted in the fact that Catholicism is seemingly everywhere. The constant presence of the papacy in world news, the monumental cathedrals found in major cities, and the large number of Catholic groups I have encountered in both high school and college have together convinced me of the permanent nature and seeming dominance of the Catholic religion. In reality, however, such monuments are merely symbols of a cultural group that depends on something far less conspicuous than its ornate cathedrals, but far more important in the long run: its followers. In this regard, it appears that the largely Eastern setting in which Islam is being taught has played a major role in its increasing dominance.
The outspokenness of the Vatican on this change in the field of religious dominance seems to be reflective of two things. First, this is not a shift which will immediately be reversed, but rather is a developing pattern that could continue for several decades. Second, this shift is of a large enough magnitude to spark unrest and force the Vatican to find ways to call out to and restore the followers that it seems to have lost.
So why does this growing gap between the number of Muslims and Catholics exist? According to the article, Formenti says Muslim families are increasingly larger than Christian ones, which is a driving force behind Islam’s growing world presence. In an interview with NBC, the monsignor said that it “is true that while Muslim families, as is well known, continue to make a lot of children, Christian ones on the contrary tend to have fewer and fewer.”
Islam’s presence is primarily found in Eastern societies. According to www.islamicweb.com, close to 88 percent of the world’s Muslim population resides in Asia and Africa. In contrast, a report by BBC News estimates that the majority of the world’s Catholics resides in the Americas and Europe.
Generally speaking, these Western societies have a faster-paced and more technology-oriented framework than the Muslim-dominated Eastern societies do. Religion by nature is designed to be a reflective and lifelong journey, and can often demand more time than those of us constantly on the run are willing to give. While one could argue that it’s no more time-consuming than the scientific endeavors that currently appear to dominate our time, it is also undeniably true that the questions provoked by religion rarely provide the definite and immediately relevant answers offered by scientific studies. In contrast, Eastern cultures typically revolve around a slower pace of life, which is more conducive to religious teachings. The spiritual heritage of large families, then, is simply a magnification of the religiously favorable environment the surrounding culture creates.
It is important to realize that religion is not an independent entity. Rather, it is a small part of a society’s overarching structure and culture. If the scale on which Catholicism and Islam are practiced is to be changed, or the relations between different schools of thought are to be significantly improved, alterations in the fundamental aspects of the cultures themselves must first be made.