Faith by Numbers; Researchers Document All Angles of religion.(NATION)(CULTURE, ET CETERA)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 15, 2002 | Go to article overview

Faith by Numbers; Researchers Document All Angles of religion.(NATION)(CULTURE, ET CETERA)


Byline: Julia Duin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

RICHMOND - In this steamy Southern city, two men have divided up the world. Demographers David Barrett and Todd Johnson have partitioned the globe into 238 countries, 33,800 denominations and 13,600 groups of people speaking 12,500 languages for their World Christian Encyclopedia.

Now they want to put the mammoth amount of information that details global Christianity and sums up other religions on the World Wide Web and in a CD-ROM.

"There used to be all sorts of disparaging things said about large numbers; that they mean nothing or they are exaggerated," Mr. Barrett says. "You don't get that kind of opposition now. You do not ask how a billionaire knows he's a billionaire."

The encyclopedia, which comes in two volumes, includes 1,699 pages of tables, graphs and maps summing up facts on religion. What separates the encyclopedia from other compilations is its reliance on a massive network of churches, agencies and missionaries that document the real numbers of Christians in isolated parts of the world.

According to that research, Christianity is the most universal religion. The 2 billion Christians constitute 33 percent of the world's population and have representation in every country. But Baha'is (218 countries) and Muslims (204 countries) aren't far behind.

The world's atheists and agnostics number 918 million, or 15.2 percent of the population. The bulk of them (500 million) live in China.

"Everyone has underestimated the magnitude of what we are talking about," said Mr. Barrett, who along with Mr. Johnson has gathered data since 1968 for several editions of the encyclopedia first published in 1982.

They still are collecting information. Mr. Johnson left last weekend for a six-month research trip to Singapore. In January, the two men will move their research facilities from a Presbyterian church in Richmond to Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary near Boston.

As civilizations clash, religion and its role are as vital as ever. Birthrates are important, which is why an Islamic growth rate of 2.13 percent bodes well for that religion. Christianity is growing at 1.36 percent.

The two researchers said Islam's growth owes a lot to high birthrates in the Middle Eastern and South Asian countries where the bulk of its adherents live.

The researchers went to great pain to document martyrdoms, especially those of the 70 million Christians over the past 20 centuries. The worst single massacre was China's Great Proletarian Revolution of 1966 and 1967, in which 22 million people died, 3 million of them Christian. It was the most systematic attempt by a single nation to wipe out Christianity.

"In one place," Mr. Barrett says, "they lined up 600 Roman Catholic priests. And they shot them all."

Over 20 millennia, however, that number pales in comparison with the 37.4 million Orthodox Christians who top the list of martyrs. Most of them died under communism. The next highest category are the 12.4 million Nestorian Christians in Central Asia and China who died in the 13th and 14th centuries at the hands of Mongols Genghis Khan and Tamerlane.

More than half of all Christian martyrdoms occurred in the 20th century. The World Christian Encyclopedia lists 112 methods, including atheistic Croats tossing Catholic priests into icy rivers in the 1970s and the crucifixions of Japanese Catholics during the 17th century Tokugawa period. …

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