According to a recent Pew Form on Religion and Public Life report Nearly 1 in 4 people worldwide is Muslim. The report admits that the question being answered is how do people identify themselves. Freaked out American fundamentalists can relax that the 1.57 billion people who identify as Muslim is still fewer than the 2.25 billion Christians. Except that the report didn’t yet answer the more important question: religiosity, that is, what do people actually believe.
“Spiritual but not religious,” is so common it’s how folks describe themselves on internet dating services. ”I believe in a supreme being but no particular god or religion” is something I hear during barstool conversations. Surely many of these folks are sincere in their beliefs, and their unwillingness to sign up to some dogmatic, organized, religion, but, like many so-called “agnostics,” many of them are really just lazy atheists. Upon reflection they may not really believe in anything. If you doubt religion, then, honestly, until you come around to finding that faith, you don’t believe it in yet, even if some part of you is scared you might be struck by a godsent bolt from the sky if you say it out loud.
Their non-specified ‘god’ is much the same as Einstein’s god, it’s really just any part of nature that, even geniuses like Albert don’t yet understand and, well, it really is quite amazing.
As a rule these folks don’t pray. They don’t vote based on their lack of religion (except, perhaps, to avoid the religious extremists.) They receive little guidance and know, deep inside, that it’s not OK to steal or rape little children without having to read it in a book. Religion plays little or no part in their lives. It is not a place they go to for solace or thanks. Many of them would self identify as (nominally) Christian. I’ve even met a few say the believe in God when asked casually, because it just isn’t socially acceptable not to.
Many Europeans and Americans fall into the description I’ve laid out here, but far fewer Muslims do. In the west it is less socially acceptable to be Muslim in the first place (at least in the last decade it has become more challenging thanks to 9-11 and similar attacks in Spain and the U.K.) Muslims must stand against the criticism against them thanks to the acts of a few so it takes a certain courage and commitment to identify as such when anyone, including a survey, asks. Who knows how religious the citizens of the Iranian and Saudi theocracies are, but we can assume that they, at least outwardly, pay more than lip service to their self-identified religion.
I’m afraid, then, that the Christians might have something to worry about after all. At least if they continue to assume that there are 1.6 billion terrorists out there.