Less Frequently Asked
(but nevertheless interesting)

This L-FAQ contains the following sections:
  • May I suggest that you change Baha'ism to BAHA'I FAITH. Baha'ism is not a word. Answer

  • The statistic that says 32% of the world is Christian is ridiculous! For instance, the actual number of people who attend church in the United Kingdom is 1%, and the percentage for the United States, while not nearly as low, is still between 5-15% of the population, hardly the 85-90% that you stated. Answer

  • I noticed that under 'Major Traditional Branches of Christianity' you list Catholics as having 968 million, yet under 'Major Denominational Families' [on the "Major Branches of World Religions page] you list Catholics as having 1030 million. Would you be able to explain why the difference? Answer

  • Why don't you have a category "Japanese traditional religion", like you do for China? I feel you underestimate the number of Shinto believers. Answer

  • I'm writing a thesis on the effects of believing in a higher power on the academic achievement of students with special needs. Answer

  • Jesus Christ was a Baptist! Methodists, Catholics and all the rest are going to HELL! Answer

  • It is my understanding that Humanism and its daughters atheism and evolutionism are recognized religions of the USA but I am unable to verify. Answer

  • What is the total number of Methodists' in the world? What is the total number of Methodists in the USA? Answer

  • I want to correlate information on religious affilliation with criminal behaviour, have you any idea as to how I could do this please. Answer

  • Why is Animal Rights regarded as a religion? Answer

  • Why are no Nazis listed on the famous Lutherans page? Answer

  • Can you give me the current numbers for member in the Catholic Church worldwide? In the U.S.? Has there been a decline in membership in the Catholic Church over the past 10 years? Answer

  • I just wonder if values can only come from religious beliefs? Answer

See also:'s FAQ page.

May I suggest that you change Baha'ism to BAHA'I FAITH. Baha'ism is not a word.

Summary: To make a surprisingly long story short, after much conversation between myself and a helpful Baha'i, and between herself and many other Baha'is, here is what we've learned: It turns out that the word "Baha'ism" is often used academically, and has been frequently used by English-speaking Baha'is themselves until recently. Now it seems that there are Baha'is who find the word offensive, or at least misrepresentative of their views. To avoid giving offense, I've changed my umbrella term to the more precise "Babi and Baha'i faiths," which refers to all Babi and Baha'i faiths, including Babis who did not become Baha'is and Baha'i groups NOT "in communion" with the Haifa-based organization. I continue to refer to the Haifa-based Baha'i body as the "Baha'i Faith," and sometimes as the "Baha'i World Faith."

Original Answer:

If you have looked at my main index page (, I'm sure that you saw I use the term "Bahai Faith, as you suggest (well, I don't use the diacritical, mostly for technical and internet reasons -- it is my understanding that "Bahai Faith" is a legitimate, accepted variant spelling of the name of the organization).

Where you have seen Baha'ism must be on the summary page of the world's major religions.

If you read the supporting comments, perhaps you can understand why I use the word "Baha'ism" rather than "Baha'i Faith" in the list. Let me briefly explain my reasons here, but let me also point out that nothing on this page is "set in stone" or unchangeable. I have no agenda to push, I just want to be accurate, and on many occasions I have made revisions based on input from readers.

None of the "world religions" I have listed are single churches, single monolithic organizations. All of them are categories which encompass multiple groups and churches. There is no such thing as the Christian Church. There are thousands of distinct churches which consider themselves Christian. There are many distinct branches within Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, etc.

This is true even among Baha'is, though to a lesser extant than most other world religions. Almost all Baha'is (at least 97%) ARE part of a single, unified organization, the Baha'i Faith based in Haifa.

This is only my thinking, as somebody who is an outsider looking in, trying to use standardized methods and terminology for all religious traditions. When "Baha'ism" is placed on a list with other contemporary religions (Islam, Tenrikyo, Shinto, Buddhism), it is being forced into a position that is not always the way its members view it.

Certainly nothing pejorative or critical is meant by use of the word "Baha'ism", any more than "Buddhism" is considered a derogatory word instead of "Sangha" or "Hinduism" is considered derogatory instead of "Vedanta." The word "Baha'ism is frequently used in academic literature, even if it is no longer in favor among Baha'i writers themselves.

Q. The statistic that says 32% of the world is Christian is ridiculous! For instance, the actual number of people who attend church in the United Kingdom is 1%, and the percentage for the United States, while not nearly as low, is still between 5-15% of the population, hardly the 85-90% that you stated.

Answer: doesn't "state" anything. It's a list of citations from books and other sources. ALL the citations and bibliographical data are available side by side so that researchers can evaluate them for themselves.

It would certainly be fair to wonder if may be telling a one-sided story by being selective about what citations it presents. But even a cursory examination of the large variety of statistics and citations (over 20,000 records now) makes it clear that I'm simply presenting all the statistical adherent data that I come across. All statistics citations that people have suggested which weren't already in this collection have been promptly added.

There is nothing on my web site which claims that all those listed as adherents of a certain religion (for example, Christianity) are in attendance at religious services every week. Figures about attendance are labelled as such and listed separately. Most scholars agree that although attendance at religious services is an important sociological marker, it is not the only criterion by which religious affiliation may be measured.

Your figures may differ from other published figures that I've collected so far, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're wrong. Many books have published estimates of church attendance in the U.S. at around 50%, but these figures, as is evident from the text accompanying my listings, are based on surveys.

More careful observational studies (not just asking people about their behavior) indicate that actual attendance is about half that, or around 25%. For example, the study done in 1994 by the University of Notre Dame sociologists Mark Chaves and James C. Cavendish found that the national average was 26.7% of Americans attending religious services in a given week. This information is in the list already, right alongside the conflicting citations based on polling data.

Your figures would be on the web site as well if you can send me a copy of the pages from a published source they appear in, or point me to the URL where they appear. It is unlikely, however, that you figures have any empirical basis, as they are quite different from the actual, published academic data that we have see. Whether or not only 1% of Anglicans in England attend church weekly, if when one adds in the many adherents of groups which have higher attendance rates, such as Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Latter-day Saints, Evangelicals, etc., a higher figure than 1% is calculated.

I really do appreciate your taking the time to respond, but I wonder if you're responding to something that isn't there. There's certainly no citation that says that 85-90% of Americans attend church regularly. And nowhere do I state that 32% of the world is Christian, although it's quite probable that I list citations that make such a statement.

Q. I noticed that under 'Major Traditional Branches of Christianity' you list Catholics as having 968 million, yet under 'Major Denominational Families' [on the "Major Branches of World Religions" page] you list Catholics as having 1030 million. Would you be able to explain why the difference?

Answer: These two lists are presenting two different (but closely related) categories, they are for different years and they have two different sources.

The "Major Traditional Branches of Christianity" list (as noted underneath the heading) is taken directly from the Encyclopedia Britannica's world religion figures for mid-1995. Their annually issued world religion table (essentially compiled for them by David Barrett, who also compiles the World Christian Encyclopedia's statistics) include exactly these five categories as presented in the list: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Other Christians, Orthodox, Anglicans.

But I also wanted to present a more detailed look, not just of "Traditional Branches" but Denominational Families. So the Denominational Families table does not come from the Encyclopedia Britannica. Rather, it comes from the entire database. It is my best attempt to form a synthesis of hundreds of citations. It also attempts to present current figures, not mid-1995 figures.

So the figure is different partially because there has been some growth in Catholicism in the intervening three years. But growth hardly accounts for a difference of 60 million people. Another reason the figure in the "Denominational Families" list is larger is that it is for "Catholics" as a denominational family, not just the Catholic Church.

The notes accompanying the Britannica list state that "non-Roman Catholics" are included in the figures for "Other Christians." This may be more convenient for the compilers of the Britannica list, but in my own lists I felt it made more sense to group clearly Catholic groups together with each other under a single figure, rather than counting them in "Other Christians."

There are many different Catholic churches which are not Roman Catholic, and not even Uniate (Uniate Catholics are not Latin Rite, but in communion with Rome). (I am not referring churches which are lower-case "catholic" in the Protestant sense of having a universal uniting and governing organization rather than autonomous congregational polity.) Churches which are Catholic but not part of the Catholic Church (not in papal communion) are generally much closer to the main Catholic Church in doctrine, forms of worship, culture, etc. than they are to other groups. These churches include groups such as the Mariavite Old Catholic Church, the Aglipayan Church of the Philippines, and the Catholic Patriotic Association of China (which is disallowed communion from Rome by Communist law, not by the choice of the members). Britannica's "Other Christians" category includes everything from Kimbanguists to Jehovah's Witnesses.

But you should not take this to mean there is exactly 62 million (1030 million minus 968 million ) NEW Catholics and/or alternative Catholics between the years 1995 and 1998. 1,030 million is a best estimate of current Catholic population, but there's no real way to come up with an exact count. The numbers in these lists are there primarily to provide a basis for comparing the size of different groups with each other.

If you want to see original source material, feel free to look at the alphabetical index on the home page, under "Catholic" -- click on "C." Because there are many pages of data under the "Catholic" listing, you'll get to the "world" totals faster if you click on the entry AFTER "Catholic" (i.e. "Catholic - Antiochene/Syrian Rite" or something like that) and backtrack.
16 January 2000. The following question was asked by somebody whose return email address, for some reason, didn't work. The server kept saying our reply couldn't be delivered. So we have put the answer here.

Q. My name is Jarbas I'm from Brazil and I study theology in a Baptist Bible School. I'd like to thank you for this useful site. I've been using it as a reference for my papers on world religions. But I'm curious. Are you a Christian or what religion do you profess? And why did you decide to do a site like this? Anyways thanx a lot for putting in on the Net.

Answer: Thank you very much for writing. We appreciate your kind words regarding and we're glad you have found it useful.

As a general policy, we do not publicize the various religious affiliations of the people responsible for Because we are not actually presenting information about any religions, but are presenting demographic and statistical data, we don't believe that our personal affiliations have any effect on the data presented. We present data from a secular/statistical perspective, and not from the perspective of any one religious group. We would not want researchers to mistakenly think our data is unapplicable to their needs because some of the people who have collected it and created these HTML pages belong to religions other than their own.

If you have a specific question we will probably be glad to answer it. (Examples: Do you believe there is such a thing as good and evil? What impact does the ordination of women have on church growth? Is Zoroastrianism going to grow or shrink in this century? Etc.)

But, because of policy, we're sorry we can't answer your question about religious affiliation directly. Even a simple yes or no answer would not necessarily be sufficient to answer your question for two main reasons: The efforts of many different people have contributed to the collection the data presented on the web site. Many people have assisted directly in the generation and subsequent modification of these web pages. Some of these people are Christian and some are not. Secondly, do not know which meaning of the word "Christian" you are using. A great many people in your country of Brazil and in other countries do not regard Baptists as authentically Christian. In the United States some (not all) Baptists do not in any way regard non-Evangelical Christian groups (such as Catholics, Orthodox, Copts, Quakers, Christian Scientists, etc.) as Christian. We find these exclusionary practices distasteful and historically unjustified, whoever is doing it. All of these groups, and more, certainly are Christian. In a theological sense, according to some denominations, it may not be possible to say whether all of the particular members of a given denomination are "spiritually Christian" or "born again" or demonstrably Christian in their actions. But the groups/denominations are Christian and to say otherwise is a political/tribal act, and not a Biblical one. We hold all of these groups in high regard, and other religions as well, although as individuals we do not agree with everything that every single religious group teaches.

As for why we put together the web site: This was simply a topic we were interested in. We tried to find this kind of statistical affiliation information on the internet, and couldn't find anything very comprehensive, so we collected some data. When we had quite a collection of statistics, we thought other people might find it interesting, and so we made a web site.

Q. Why don't you have a category "Japanese traditional religion", like you do for China?
I feel you underestimate the number of Shinto believers, and I think the Japanese religious attitudes are broadly similar to the Chinese one.

Answer: Thank you very much for writing.

The estimates for the number of Shinto believers are based on surveys done in Japan. Only 3 or 4 million Japanese people say that their religion is Shinto. Most say that they are Buddhists. This fact, coupled with the fact that few Japanese people study Shinto or attend shrines regularly, etc., leads us to have a fairly low number. We count most Japanese as Buddhists because, even though they don't attend Buddhist worship services either, at least they consider themselves Buddhists.

My wife is Japanese and I've been considerable time there, so I like to think I have some familiarity with the subject.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with thinking of most Japanese people as Shintoists. In fact, has many statistics that indicate this is the case. (The Largest Religious Bodies in the World page lists Jinja Honcho, the Shinto organization which is, technically, one of the largest religious bodies in the world.

But for other purposes and tables, we have listed statistics based on people belonging to only one religion, which, I realize, is a very Western concept. One of the "religions" we have listed as one of the largest in the world is "Chinese traditional religion," which is essentially a cultural fusion of Chinese Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. Why do this for China and not Japan?

Your suggestion about having a category for "Japanese traditional religion" is actually very good, and it most accurately reflects the true situation. But other standard texts and statistical resources don't use that term, while they do refer to "Chinese traditional religion." As is usually the case, is here merely following academic standards (as long as we feel them to be useful enough, though not necessarily perfect).

One difference between Chinese and Japanese people is that self-identification data (asking people what their religion is, and having an answer) is widely available for the Japanese populace, while it is not available for the Chinese populace. So we classify Japanese alternatively as Buddhist and Shintoist. (And there really are many who clearly are one or the other, by choice.) Realistically, if we were to exclude self-identification as a consideration and classify everybody based on actual behavior and belief, we would have to classify many populations differently. Perhaps 50% of Americans would have to classified under "American traditional religion", because such things as movies, the high school prom, the 4th of July, football, and American politics have more influence on their lives than any traditional religious denomination. Many sociologists say that America's true dominant religion is "American secular religion," but when people answer the question in polls, nobody picks this one.

Q. I'm writing a thesis on the effects of believing in a higher power on the academic achievement of students with special needs. Can you tell me statistics regarding how many people nationwide and/or world wide have a belief in a higher power? My research does not investigate specific religions per se, just belief in a higher power.

Short answer: You asked about belief in God/higher power both nationwide and worldwide.

A detailed answer about how many people nationally and worldwide believe in God or a Higher Power can be found here.

As for relating such information to your study about special needs education: Because most people express belief in a higher power, in fact, nearly all people in some countries, your specific thesis question may be problematic, even impossible to address. If you were speaking only of the U.S., for instance, and 95% of people in the U.S. say they believe in God, then the only way you could make any statistically valid statements was if you actually had educational data separated based on that one particular question. So, as such data do not exist because nobody has tried to collect such information, you can't really say anything.

You CAN, for instance, make statistically valid statements regarding relative performance of males and females, or people in different states, or Hispanics vs. African Americans vs. Caucasians, as these types of data are widely collected.

There are even survey and other data available that break down people by religious denomination, and correlate this to college enrollment, high school graduation, etc. Kosmin's book, based on surveys of 113,000 Americans, has some information like that. Some of the religious groups included in the education tables are "Agnostic" and "Nonreligious". But there are only a couple education-oriented tables, and they do not relate to "special needs", so I don't know if any of that would be useful.

But educationally-oriented data regarding the relatively few people in the United States who do not profess belief in God may be skewed due to differences in social class, profession, level of income, etc., and not simply due to belief in God or a higher power.

As a sociologist, I would not expect to find measurable differences between people who simply profess a belief in God, but are otherwise non-religious, and people who say they don't believe in God. In a study, I would probably not classify people who believe in God but are otherwise not actively religious with people who actively exhibit religious/spiritual behaviors, such as prayer, worship service attendance, membership in a congregation, dietary modification, avoidance of drugs/alcohol/tobacco, etc. I would assume that specific behaviors, and association with an extended support group/congregation/tight-knit community would all have important effects on educational issues.

Participation in such activities varies widely between different religious groups. Southern Baptists have very different rates of high school graduation, college enrollment, etc., than Catholics. Hindus exhibit educational statistics widely different from Jehovah's Witnesses, although both express belief in higher powers.

The following email, typical of many we have received from Baptists, came to us on 23 May 2002 from Jacki Brosnan, :

Q. Your statistics on the religions of the world is bias. The catholics, jw's the mormons should NOT be put in the relm of Christianity they are just a bunch of good for nothing heathens. The name Christian is no longer in their religion, they've taken Christ out of their religion and should no longer be included in the "Christian" section of the statistic. And why isn't Baptists included in the Christian statistic or why isn't it mentioned? We are the only true Christians living on the face of the earth. You see Jesus Christ was a Baptist, He was baptized by John the Baptist not John The Methodist or John the Catholic. All these religions are just a load of rubbish. They all can't get you to heaven. They'll just bring you down to hell. Only by accepting that you are a sinner, the punishment for that is HELL and receiving Jesus Christ into your heart will take you to heaven. Being good will not take you to heaven because to God your good works are just filthy rags. You need to pray to God and mention all these things or you will go to HELL! and one last thing, wanna statistic? Measure the size of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana. Go there for yourself.

Answer: Thank you for writing. I don't have any plans to be in Hammond, Indiana any time soon. I'll take your word for it that it is a big church.

Q. It is my understanding that Humanism and its daughters atheism and evolutionism are recognized religions of the USA but I am unable to verify.

Answer: It is true that some religions are "officially recognized" in a number of countries. For example, Singapore officially recognizes religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, and even include such classification on identity cards. Greece does something similar, recognizing religious groups such as Greek Orthodox and Catholic and Islam.

The United States does not do something exactly like this. Christianity is not an "officially recognized" religion in the U.S. Nor is Islam, Judaism, etc.

There are procedures by which a religious body or organization can file for official recognition/status as a non-profit religious organization. Such ORGANIZATIONS do this in order to maintain tax-exempt property status, achieve legal status in performing marriages, funeral rites, etc. There are no real theological requirements for achieving such status -- it's mostly a matter of applying for the status and filling out the right forms. Really, it is a legal matter, and as such lies outside's area of expertise. I can tell you that religious bodies that have been granted such status include groups as diverse as the Catholic Church, the United Methodist Church, Wiccan groups and the Church of the Bunny.

Yes, there are humanist organizations that have applied for and granted such status, on both national and state levels. This, however, does not mean that "Humanism" is an officially recognized religion any more than "Christianity" is. It means that specific Humanist religious bodies are legally recognized as religious organizations. I can't think of any atheist-specific organizations off the top of my head that have official status as religious bodies, but there is no reason why such an organization wouldn't be given the same status if it applied. Atheist organizations may also have official status as non-profit organizations. Once again, these are legal questions, and outside my specialty -- which is statistics and geography.

From a more sociological point of view, it is true that Humanism is a religion, as is atheism. But both are also philosophical positions on specific topics. There are people for whom Humanism or Atheism is their religion. In the ARIS and NSRI studies by Kosmin, a small percentage of Americans cited either Humanism or Atheism as their religious preference (0.4% - about half of one percent - of Americans said their religious preference was Atheism in the ARIS poll of 2001, which had a sample size of 50,000 adult Americans; a much smaller number said their religion was Humanism).

But for many people, humanism or atheism are NOT their religion, but they still may be an atheist or a humanist. A person may very much consider themself a Jew or a Buddhist, for example, but feel that on the specific question of whether there is a God or not, the answer is no, making them an atheist, but not negating the fact that they have a religious preference. Far more common are people who are humanists -- that is, they place humans and humanity as a very high priority, or have as a main goal the improvement of the human condition -- yet still be very much a Catholic or a Muslim or Presbyterian or whatever. A "Catholic Humanist" may be a priest who holds no unorthodox views whatsoever with regards to his faith, but who is committed to humanistic service in his daily life, and is not interested in monasticism or other possibilities.

I am not familiar with anybody who considers "evolutionism" their religion, and from a sociological perspective, I do not believe that a statistically significant number of people live or think in such a way that "evolution" or "evolutionism" could be considered their religion. Certainly there are no organizations committed to evolution that have filed for status as a religious organization. Sociologically, there is such a thing as "scientism", which describes placing science as the highest (perhaps only) ideal. But evolution is only one aspect of science.

People have different opinions about evolution: that it is false, or that it is true, or that it is dangerous, or that it is inspirational. But I do not consider it a religion from a sociological or legal sense any more than I would consider the electromagnetic spectrum or genetics or meteorology to be religions.

One should keep in mind that evolution is widely accepted by many devout religious adherents - including Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc., and many religious bodies have no teachings against evolution. On the other hand, many completely non-religious people do not believe in evolution or ignore it altogether. Within nearly every religious group one will find a proportion of adherents who believe in evolution. There is a continuum of belief, from believers holding to a literal interpretation of the Biblical account in Genesis to others who accept essentially all scientific theories of evolution, but believe a divine intelligence must be at work guiding it all. Even Fundamentalists and Biblical literalists generally accept the idea of limited, intra-species evolution.

On a related subject, it is worth noting that many people have misinterpreted the writings of Charles Darwin and subsequent scientific thinking on biological evolution and espoused theories that may be classified as "social Darwinism." This is basically applying Darwin's concept of "survival of the fittest" to humanity. Adolph Hitler's efforts to exterminate all Jews and other minority groups in Europe and Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger's efforts to eliminate Asians from the gene pool are examples of this philosophy. The beliefs of ethnic cleansers and eugenicists such as these have nothing to do with the actual science of evolution, and, in fact, display a gross misunderstanding of genetics.

Q. What is the total number of Methodists' in the world? What is the total number of Methodists in the USA?

Date: 7 April 2004

Answer: In 2001 the City University of New York conducted the ARIS study (American Religious Identification Survey), with a national sample size of 50,000 people who were asked what their religious preference is. This study was conducted under Dr. Barry Kosmin, and was a follow up to his 1990 study (NSRI) of a similar nature.

6.8% percent of respondents said that they were Methodist (or Wesleyan).

6.8% of the U.S. population in 2001 was 14,150,000 people (counting men, women, and children).

According to U.S. Census Bureau projections based on the 2000 Census and growth rates, there are currently (7 April 2004) approx. 292,967,656 people in the United States.

Today, 6.8% of the total U.S. population is 19,921,801 people.

So I would say that there are nearly 20 million Methodists in the United States, but I would point out that this includes people who only nominally identify themselves as Methodists.

Less than half of these are actually members of Methodist congregations. Keep in mind that nearly all Methodist bodies which split apart since the early days of the movement in the United States have over the last 40 years re-united and most Methodist congregations today are part of the United Methodist Church (UMC). In 1999 the UMC issued statistics stating that they had 8,333,770 congregants (including full and unconfirmed members) in the United States.

The 2-to-1 ratio - twice as many total self-identified adherents as there are actual members of denominations/congragations - is typical of "mainline" Protestant denominations. This pattern is repeated, for example, by Episcopalians and Presbyterians. Twice as many people identify themselves as adherents of these denominational families than are actually on any church roles. Some may attend one church or another. Sociologically, the self-identified but non-membership "Methodists" do not differ in any measurable way from the general population, although the word "Methodist" retains some resonance with them.

Worldwide, official sources site figures of about 30 million Methodists worldwide, and also 70 to 80 million Methodists worldwide.

Once again, the difference between these estimates is based on who you are counting as a Methodist. The lower figure would be the number of people on Church roles in the various denominations worldwide which are part of the World Methodist Council. The larger figure would be based only on self-identification, surveys, polls, estimates, etc., and would include a large number of people who are nominally Methodists, but are not on church roles and are probably not meaningfully part of Methodist community life.

Q. I want to correlate information on religious affilliation with criminal behaviour, have you any idea as to how I could do this please.

Date: 12 April 2004

Answer: I think it would be difficult to do this in a comprehensive way. It is certainly a valid and interesting topic, but I am not aware of any major study of this sort. Two of the biggest recent studies of religious identification are NSRI (sample size, 130,000, 1990) and ARIS (sample size 50,000 people, 2001), which included questions on income, educational status, political affiliation... but nothing on criminal behavior.

Of course excellent, detailed data exists in county-by-county data for criminal behavior -- police data is detailed and widely available from government sources and has been studied extensively. But mostly the statistics associated with these reports are only ethnic/racial, gender, age. Because religious affiliation is not a documented characteristic in police reports, it is difficult to do the kind of detailed analysis with it that is done with race, gender, age.

Generally I believe you will find that sociologists associate criminal behavior more closely with socioeconomic status. This is one factor that makes correlating criminal behavior to religious affiliation problematic: different religious groups occupy different socioeconimic strata. Episcopalians, for example, have an average income far higher than Baptists. Obviously a far higher percentage of Baptists have a criminal record than Episcopalians. But is this a result of religious differences, or can the difference be largely explained because of the difference in income status?

On the other hand, there are some clear differences which one would have to attribute to religious affiliation. Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, have an average economic status even lower than Baptists, but also have a much lower level of criminal behavior and incarceration. Racially, the two groups are essentially the same, so the determinate factor would seem to be the marked sociological difference among Jehovah's Witnesses with regards to criminal behavior.

A related page can be found here:

Q. First, thank you very much for your excellent and much needed website. As you point out, the usual listings of "major religions" are very misleading. To get the "big picture", one must have accurate information. I'm baffled, however, by your assertion that "Animal Rights" is a religion. I know many vegetarians, vegans and animal rights activists. I've never heard of anyone who views compassion towards animals as a religion. It's true that many religions include it, but in and of itself, no religion exists.

Date: 15 August 2005

Answer: It is certainly true that Animal Rights is never regarded as a religion by people for whom it is a religion. Also, most all people I know of for whom animal rights and compassion toward animals are important values (including myself) truly are adherents of other religions, and in no way could Animal Rights be said to be their religion.

Our website's page you are referring to, at, explicitly does NOT list Animal Rights as a major world religion. It also explicitly points out that for the majority of people associated with animal rights activism, vegetarianism, etc., Animal Rights is NOT their religion - it is simply a movement they are interested in, or (as with vegetarians) a lifestyle choice.

I suggest reading our article here:

Other Primary-Identity Sub-Cultures and Movements

On that page Animal Rights is very clearly identified as being among a group of "major primary-identity sub-cultures and movements which function in the same sociological niche as religions, but which are not usually classified as religions."

Reading that may clear up your questions. But I'll add a few points, further in agreement with what you said.

I can assure you that most Americans have never heard of Peter Singer, Tom Regan, Ingrid Newkirk, etc. Even most vegetarians have never heard of them. But for people for whom Animal Rights is a religion, their ideas and positions (whether attributed to them by name or not) are not simply notions that one hears of casually and more or less agrees with. Rather the doctrines of Animal Rights formulated by and promulgated by Singer and other major leaders of the movement are of paramount importance - something they think about frequently, ideas they wish to see adopted by an increasingly larger segment of society. For a large proportion of Vegans and PETA activists, Animal Rights is indeed a religion in a sociological sense.

The Animal Rights movement functions as a religion when its adherents look to certain leaders such as Peter Singer in the same way that other groups might look upon Mary Baker Eddy or the Dalai Lama or Billy Graham or Malcolm X. Adherents look to certain publications (such as Singer's Animal Liberation) and tracts as essentially scripture (not that such writing is claimed to have been dictated by God or anything, but that the writing is regarded as extremely important and truthful and a guide to proper, ethical behavior). Adherents congregate with like-minded individuals at regular meetings or events. Also, they have distinctive beliefs and practices which the rest of society may tolerate, yet does not agree with. The strain of Animal Rights that functions as a religion is not simply general "animal rights" and compassion for animals as most people understand these ideals. When sociologists talk about Animal Rights being a religion, what is meant is only the strain that matches key definitions of a religion. That is, those beliefs associated with the movement that are neither scientifically/mathematically replicable nor shared by the majority or even a large minority of society. So while most Americans have no argument with the concept of pet ownership or eating meat or humane and rule-governed use of lab mice for medical experimentation, there truly are many people for whom these activities seem abhorent. Yet people for whom Animal Rights is a religion truly believe these teachings and are either unaware or unconcerned that their beliefs have no scientific basis nor are accepted by mainstream society. Many of the appeals to science made by the Animal Rights movement are directly analogous to the efforts by some Evangelicals to reject evolution on supposedly scientific grounds, or the efforts by Christian Scientists to show how Einsteinien discoveries and quantum physics support the non-materialism teachings of Mary Baker Eddy. Although there are indeed scientists sympathetic to Animal Rights agenda (and most scientists desire to conduct their research as humanely as possible), the overwhelming majority of actual professional scientists reject the most extreme planks of the Animal Rights agenda and consider the movement an annoyance at best, and terrorists at worst. The Animal Rights movement has frequently angered GLBT advocates and others in the Gay/Lesbian community, who believe that Animal Rights activities have hindered AIDS research. It should be obvious that most animal rights terrorists who actually practice violent and/or illegal actions in order to further their beliefs have become involved in this belief system to the degree that it is their de facto religion. But even many individuals who neither practice nor advocate illegal or violent means believe in many of the more "radical" (i.e., less commonly agreed upon) tenets of this brand of the Animal Rights belief system.

Q. I liked your web site, but want to understand this: Under Famous Catholics you had a spot for dictators/nazis. Under Lutherans you didn't have a spot for Nazis. Why is this?

Date: 5 August 2005

Answer: Thanks for taking the time to write... This is certainly a legitimate question. I don't have a full-size dedicated "Famous Lutheran" page or "Famous Catholic" page on the website. I only made pages for groups for which an existing page could not be found. Otherwise, I have simply linked to pages made by somebody else. There are long-standing pages for Famous Catholics and Famous Lutherans, and I have simply linked to these outside sources.

I have linked to a rather lengthy, well-researched list of Famous Catholics, created by Ed Gardner, a devout Catholic, and I have linked to a lengthy, well-researched list of famous Lutherans, created by the Lutheran pastor of the Faith Lutheran Church in Groton, CT.

The compiler of the Catholic page choose to include some nefarious people (including dictators like Fidel Castro and Adolph Hitler) on his page, because he knows they are baptized Catholics, even though they rejected Catholicism as adults. The compiler of the Lutheran page has apparently chosen not to include anybody comparable. Perhaps he simpy is less informed than the Catholic page compiler, or perhaps he is not inclined to include people who were born or raised as Lutherans but who so clearly rejected their religious background and embraced evil.

I have copied the names only (not all the supporting details, professions, dates, etc.) from both of these lists onto some pages on my own website, only to facilitate single-site searches. In doing so, I simply copied the names from these and other lists, without doing any kind of checking about who was on the list.

Actually, on a Lutheran page on my own website (but NOT the main "Famous Lutherans" page, which is OFFSITE):

...I have a few names listed under "Other Famous Lutherans" that are certainly comparable to the nefarious names on the Catholic list: Karl Marx (anti-religious Communist whose ideas led to murderous and oppressive Communist governments), Leni Riefenstahl (the Nazi film maker who lent Adolph Hitler so much propaganda assistance), and also less-nefarious but not necessarily faithful Lutherans such as Ingmar Bergman (an atheist) and Jesse Ventura. These names I compiled biographical data for (and added to this page) in the course of doing other research and webpages NOT directly related to Lutherans (influential filmmakers, influential people in history, U.S. governors, etc.)

So actually, yes, I do have at least one Lutheran Nazi, plus a Lutheran Communist, on the, plus a full-length article about the religiosity of each, if that's what you're wondering about.

Q. Can you give me the current numbers for member in the Catholic Church worldwide? In the U.S.? Has there been a decline in membership in the Catholic Church over the past 10 years?

Date: 4 August 2005

Answer: See our page here:

The latest detailed, large-sample survey of U.S. religious affiliation was the ARIS study done in 2001 out of City University of New York by Kosmin et al., using a sample size of 50,000 Americans, it was a follow-up to the NSRI study of 1990 (sample size: 113,000). Based on this study, we can very accurately say that 24.5% of the U.S. population states that they are Catholic. This represents a 11% increase over the number of Catholics between 1990 and 2001.

This equates to 50,873,000 ADULT Catholics in the year 1990, or a total of 71,796,719 TOTAL Catholics (including children) for the year 2004.

HOWEVER, this represents a 1.7% DECREASE in the PROPORTION of the U.S. population that identified itself as Catholic, between 1990 and 2001.

So to answer your question, YES, there has been a 1.7% decline in Catholic membership (proportion) in the U.S. in the last ten years, and NO, there has NOT been a decline - there has been an 11% increase (total population) in the last ten years.

Also, it should be noted that the total proportion of Americans who say they are Catholic slightly exceeds the number claimed by the Catholic Church, by about 1 or 2 percent. What does this mean? There is a mis-perception that Catholic membership records are vastly inflated because they are based on baptismal records. Actually, this isn't true. Total U.S. Catholic membership records are based on reporting from individual dioceses, which in turn are usually based on reporting from individual parishes. These parish-level reports are prepare non-uniformly, some based on baptismal records, but often based on estimates of the total Catholic population in the parish. The actual total estimate of Church membership for the U.S. ends up being very close to the number of self-reported Catholics. Actual attendance is another matter. 48% of U.S. Catholics report weekly church attendance, and based on studies done on this type of reporting, this probably equates to about 48% of self-reported Catholics who are attending at Mass at least monthly. This is 11.7% of the total U.S. population that is basically pretty active as Catholics.

The other half of the Catholic population identifies themselves as Catholic, even though they aren't regularly attending any services. There ARE lots of U.S. Catholics - probably at least 2 million - who were born Catholic and now no longer call themselves Catholic and may, in fact, have converted to a different religion. Yes, a large proportion of these are still on parish records as "baptized Catholics," but not all of these are reported as part of Catholic membership, because not all parishes report statistics that way. Also, this segment of the population is offset (exceeded, in fact) by the proportion of the U.S. population who are Catholics but NOT included in the official Church membership count. This segment includes millions of illegal alien Catholics who were not born in the U.S.

So, just think of one-quarter (25%) of the U.S. being Catholic, and you'll be about as accurate as we can possibly be given available data.

The worldwide size of the Catholic Church? Trickier, because there are no standard survey or census methodoligies used among different nations. So I just use the Catholic Church's official estimate, which is accurate enough for my purposes. There ARE groups whose membership estimates are wildly inaccurate and unreliable (Scientology, Falun Gong, National Baptist Convention U.S.A., Eastern Orthodox in the U.S., etc.), but the Catholic Church is NOT among these.

So 1.1 billion is a fine number of total Catholics worldwide, for my purposes. I don't know the exact current reported figure. There's a Catholic Almanac at your local library which has slightly more up-to-date figures than mine.

As far as a decline in worldwide membership of the Catholic Church in the last ten years? I seriously doubt that. There was probably a slight decline in the proportion of the world's population that is Catholic, and certainly the proportion of the world's population that is PRACTICING (churchgoing) Catholic has been in decline for many decades. But certainly the raw number membership total has not declined at all, nor would it be possible for it to decline any time soon given the birthrate in many heavily Catholic populations, notably in Latin America, Asia and maybe a little bit in Africa. Yes, the European countries have declining populations as a whole, including among Catholics, but this is offset by birthrates elsewhere.

Q. I just wonder if values can only come from religious beliefs?

Date: 9 June 2006
I just wonder if values can only come from religious beliefs? ...I know a very wonderful woman right now who is a profound atheist. Not one of those hates everything churchy types, just a very logical minded woman who does not believe that enough evidence for a divine power that requires our adoration and obedience exists. Her kids are extremely moral and very sweet. They live by the Golden Rule, never do anything to others you'd not have done to you. Wiccans live by the "rede" (A form of advice) Do as thou wilt, an it harm none." [More detail... This question was from a much longer letter from a person who provided details about growing up in a Fundamentalist Protestant church, becoming quite disenchanted from it, and eventually becoming a Wiccan.]

Anser: Thanks for your thoughts.

I understand and recognize the perspective you are writing from here, but your questioning indicates you might not be considering some points I think are fundamental to this topic.

re: "I just wonder if values can only come from religious beliefs?"

The answer is "yes."

Values can only come from religious beliefs, because values are a subset of religion and religious beliefs.

If you are able to conceive of values as somehow distinct from religion, then you are thinking of "religion" in a far more narrow sense than I do, and in a more narrow sense than the operational definition used by

There is a difference between saying, "A person can have moral values if they aren't Catholic" (a true statement)

and saying "A person can have moral values without having religious beliefs" (a non-sensical statement if one identifies moral values as a subset of religion).

The Golden Rule and Wiccan rede that you mention are both religious beliefs. For some people (such as, perhaps, your atheist friend), these may be very simple yet also very significant central beliefs or operating principles. But there is nothing non-religious about such principles. These beliefs can not be explained purely by mathematically replicable phenomena. They are not universally or necessarily followed belief systems. You can no doubt think of many people who have NOT followed these beliefs, and many belief systems that have NOT taught these principles (whether Nazism, Nietzschism, North Korean Juche, slavery, Thugees, Al-Quaida, etc.).

If one encounters a belief, such as the Golden Rule, which is NOT universally followed or univerally taught or universally believed, and not even (for the most part) a principle observed in nature among non-humans... that's a pretty good indication that it is a religious phenomenon, an optional belief that a person may choose to believe in or follow. It isn't an aspect of natural "human nature" or scientific law.

I have found that often people use the word "religion" to mean "the church or religious tradition I was raised in but which I am no longer pleased with or satisfied by."

People will criticize "religion" and say how they can't stand religion because it does this and represents that and teaches this one thing.

Really? There are six billion people in the world, all part of literally thousands and thousands of countless religions, and all these religions are the same? They ALL do the same thing and teach the same thing? I find it amazing that people think this way.

For example, an adult raised as a Catholic who criticizes "religion" usually makes reference only to their limited perspective of Catholicism. They speak not of the Catholicism of people in another city or country or time, nor do they speak of other religions, whether it be Wicca, Ethical Culture, Humanism, Buddhism, Baha'i, Quakers, Baptists, etc. They make generalizations based on their own perspective and they adopt a set of values different from their parents, without realizing that what they have adopted is also a religion.

Some people speak of "religion" when they really mean "the concept of God as it was taught to me, or as I understand it from my limited exposure to the subject."

But "God" is not religion. It is one religious concept, a concept about which there is a great deal of disagreement. No one concept of God is representative of all religion. There are religions that are strongly monotheistic, polytheistic, tritheistic, duotheistic, anatheistic, and so on. There are religions which say nothing much about God, and religions which strongly believe there is no god. People in the Church of Freethought are proud of their religion, as are Ethical Culturists, Zen Buddhists, Secular Humanists, etc., but they mostly do NOT believe in God. They are also rightfully adamant that their religion is as valid (or moreso, from their perspective) as anybody else's.

Another way that people sometimes use "religion" in an overly narrow sense is to confine it to beliefs and values taught by a recognized religious denomination. This makes no sense to me. By this reasoning, modesty in dress and abstaining from eating meat are a "religious principles" because Latter-day Saints dress modestly and Seventh-day Adventists abstain from eating meat. But does that mean that nobody else has the same beliefs or principles? What of the Chinese atheist woman who believes strongly in dressing modestly or the Vegan who abstains from eating meat but says he has no religion? Where is the purely non-religious scientific rationale for the Chinese woman to dress modestly? She lives in a climate-controlled environment relatively free from predators and disease, yet she not only wears clothes, but abundent clothes despite the fact that no animals wear clothes and her neighbor wears a miniskirt with a top that shows ample cleavage. The Vegan can proclaim the "scientific" benefits of not eating meat all he wants, but the reason he's a Vegan (and not simply a vegetarian) is his beliefs about the value of the lives of animals. Certainly this is a value that no non-human animals on Earth share. There are no animals known that can make meat a part of their diet but choose not to for moral reasons.

I believe people criticize "religion" as a way of belittling people whose religion is different from their own, without understanding that their beliefs, values and practices also constitute a religion, albeit perhaps a religion without the same level of organization as the ones (or, usually, the ONE) they criticize.

The only definition of "religion" that one finds in the Bible is when Jesus described it this way: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." (KJV version)

If that's what "pure religion" is, it is difficult for me to understand why so many people rail against the word.

For a small sampling of other letters, click here


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Webpage created circa April 2000. Last updated 9 June 2006.