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“No religion” is fastest growing religious designation?

That’s true, in the United States (15%, up from 8% in 1990) but there is a qualification: Growth increments of small numbers are much more impressive than equal size growth gains of large ones.

For example, Wicca or neo-paganism: Wicca claims to be the fastest growing religion. Actual numbers? 1-3 million Wiccans vs. 2 billion Christians. So we are looking at a thousand-fold difference in size.

Why does that matter? On the ground, it is much harder for a very large organization to grow in apparently dramatic increments.

If half a million people became Wiccans, it would be a dramatic growth surge. If half a million people became Christians, it would be a drop in the bucket, possibly unnoticed except in some missions mags.

This fact is important in addressing prejudice: If we take the “fastest-growing” group to be competition or a threat, we must factor in actual numbers, to get a clear picture.

An illustration: If someone starts a suicide cult, then recruits someone else, the cult doubles in numbers. If both are obedient to the cult’s demands, it ceases to exist. If even one of them is obedient, the cult’s growth stats are zero. In other words, the dramatic impact of increments does not necessarily work in a new movement’s favour. It is just a fact about numbers, to be noted when we read dramatic headlines.

Very large groups may find that dramatic increments are impossible.

More than 85% of Indians are Hindu and about 90% of Poles are Catholic. In either case, a doubling of numbers due to new local converts is impossible (if we believe that numbers relate to logic or reality).

None of this relates to more arcane questions such as whether people who say they identify with a group are “good” members or “really” believe it. It is usually beyond the scope of the gathering of broad statistics data to assess that. And it’s not usually their purpose anyway.

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