sucking out the spirit

Do the numbers lie?
Right now, I’m wrecked tired. Last night I stupidly stayed up until 2am… and the fatigue really hit me around 4pm today. Before I do this, I wanted to tell you guys that I really hesitated about posting another rant on religion. I wanted to write something funny again… like some of the old entries I’m so proud of. I’ve always said though, that whatever ends up getting written is whatever was meant to be written. Forced stuff just doesn’t work… funny just happens. So with that, here’s some super-unfunny crap for ya.

Current estimates* put the world’s population at 6,396,000,000, which, after some zero counting, I decided is near 6.4 billion. When I said yesterday that I find statistics interesting, it got me thinking. Some of the most interesting, and telling, statistics are those about world religion. For instance, out of those 6.4 billion people I mentioned above, an estimated 5.3 to 5.8 billion purport to believe in “… God or a similarly understood higher power(s). “* That’s somewhere between 80%-90% of ALL people, an overwhelming majority that’s hovering close to unanimity; simply amazing. Doing a little statistical analysis with these numbers can yield some interesting thoughts.

I need to make two assumptions before I get into the numbers:

  1. I’m assuming that the probability that any person will be born in a certain geographical area is directly proportional to the population of that area. I.e., The more people on a continent, the more babies of the world born on that continent. For this exercise I’m going to equate a baby’s percentage chance of being born in country X to country X’s percentage of world population.
  2. I’m assuming that if you’re born in a certain area, it’s reasonable to think your religious ideas will fit the statistical data for that area’s religious beliefs. I.e., if you’re born in Thailand, and the population of Thailand is statistically 95% Buddhist, I’m assuming there’s a 95% chance you’ll end up Buddhist.

I realize this 2nd assumption could be argued on the point that people don’t always stay where they’re born, as well as many other points. But as a generality – I think it’s a relatively safe assumption to say that most people stay in the country they are born in, and will align with the statistical trends.

Before we go any further – I also realize that statistics can change over time, and you can’t eliminate the possibility of dramatic change. Whereas Thailand is 95% Buddhist today, who’s to say there couldn’t be a wildly successful Hare Krishna campaign in Thailand, converting 50% of the people in a year’s time? While I readily acknowledge it’s a possibility, and would wreck all this thinking… the fact is that the breakdown of world religion by area has remained largely unchanged for decades. Another factor that I’ve not taken into account is the “growth rates” for different countries. If some countries are humpin’ and reproducin’ at a faster pace than others, it stands to reason that they may have an edge on less rabitty nations. That stuff is all too complicated though, so let’s forget it OK? Good.

With the two above assumptions, we can make some interesting inferences. I’m going to approach this through Christianity, because where I live it’s by far the theology of choice”*, and is easiest for me to hold up to the statistics. Now to the meat.

Christianity is grounded in the fact that you must believe in the God of the Bible to have “salvation” (ignoring a multitude of doctrinal differences over how salvation is truly attained). Earning salvation is the goal of Christianity; to be saved, to ultimately live forever in Heaven once you’ve died on Earth. If you don’t believe in God, you’re not just not going to Heaven for a life of eternal joy, you’re instead going to Hell… which is a “lake of fire” where there is only eternal pain and suffering. This black and white property of Christianity works well when applied to world religion statistics, because you can immediately see approximately how much of the world is going to spend an eternity in the anguish of Hell’s furnace after they die (or, conversely, how many will walk streets paved with gold and have palaces of their own – but the Hell stat is more “in yo face”).

So let’s do it then. Current estimates show that out of the world’s 6.4 billion souls, an estimated 2 billion fit a generalized definition of “Christian.”* Looking at those numbers and drawing the most basic of conclusions, it’s clear that a full 2/3 of humanity, 2/3 of God’s own creation, is damned.

Not only are only 1/3 going to Heaven, but if we go back to assumption #2 – you’ve got the odds of where you’ll be born to factor in as well. Out of the 193 countries in the world*, 120 of them have a population where Christianity is the religion of the majority (>50% population)*. That means if everyone were as likely to be born in Zambia as they were India, you’d stand about a 60% chance if being born into a country where (by assumption #2) you’d more than likely end up Christian. Not entirely bad odds, but a little “coin-tossy” for me. However, by assumption #1, we know that you’re more likely to be born into a more populous country. With that in mind, consider that 37% of the world’s total population is concentrated in two, non-Christian majority, countries. To make it a little more concrete, using the “only Christians go to Heaven” mindset: If you do manage to be one of the lucky 63% of babies not born into either of the world’s predominantly non-Christian heaviest populated countries, you still have to “overcome” your birth-country’s belief-breakdown.

Yes, I realize you have to be careful about assuming that the statistical breakdown of a population’s beliefs will determine the tendancy for someone born in that country to ally with any certain belief. There is, of course, the element of human “choice” to deal with. And sure, anyone, anywhere, at any time can choose something different than they the statistics “say” they will. But with numbers like 99.5% of the people in Yemen being Muslim*, I think it’s a safe bet that the 1st kid born in Yemen in the next 30sec will end up being a faithful Muslim.

I also realize that Christians might scoff at all of this, because of course every person in the entire world has an equal shot at knowing God. It’s as simple as believe or don’t, and that’s 50/50 odds. I gets rather silly, because from a believer’s perspective – statistics have nothing to do with the determination of a person’s beliefs. Belief is a choice, and every choice is yes or no, 50% chance. I mean, from an evangelical Christian’s point of view – being born into a country in which 99.5% of the population is Muslim makes no difference on your ability to be Christian.

Whew… I’m tired.

All that said, I haven’t even mentioned the real figures I wanted to get at with this discussion. See, we’ve broken down odds based solely on Christian vs. non-Christian lines. Thing is, the term “Christian” I’m using encompasses a lot of different faiths, or denominations. There are several of these denominations who believe that they are the only ones doing it right, and therefore the only ones who will escape Hell. For instance, most denominations which sprang from the “Restoration Movement” of the 1800s firmly believe that they are the one and only church through which one can get to God*. There are estimated to be 5,400,000 members of these denominations worldwide*. If you hold to that thinking, the percentage of people in the world who are actually going to live forever with God plummets to .00084%. Think that’s bad? Well guess what, there are even subsets within the “Restoration Movement” umbrella who think that they are the only true church…

I don’t mean to pick on any particular denomination or “movement,” the principle is the same no matter where you start dissecting. When you break down Christianity into branches and denominations, adherents to a particular set of dogma number fewer and fewer. When certain denominations or branches believe they are the only “true” way to God – they are essentially telling an overwhelming majority of people they are damned. Oh sure, they’d tell you that “everyone has a shot,” but I suspect the effect of religious conversion on statistics this large is completely in the noise.

Ooouuch… my head hurts, and I’m not making any sense anymore. I’m sorry.

This thing turned into such a mess of math and statistics that for a while I just started writing down sentences as they came to me. Afterward, I combined them all into (what I hope is) a rational flow. At one point, I was reading through my stream-of-consciousness looking for what “point” I wanted to make next, and I found the sentence “You have a 37% chance of being born.” That cracked me up for some reason. Anyway, hope it ended up being an interesting enough read to justify the time I put into it.

Goodnight goodnight goodnight.

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2 Replies to “sucking out the spirit”

  1. I used these exact same arguements against the senior born-agains who lived down the hall in our freshman dorm for the express purpose of saving us. Their self righteousness was infinitely amusing to me, and I worked to trap them in absurd assertions. I forced them to claim that everyone ever born on an isolated “heathen” aborignal island in the S. Pacific had a chance to accept Jesus but choose not to. They stopped talking to me when I told them they didn’t know the actual “truth” anyway since none of them could read Greek or Aramaic.

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