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How Many Religions Are There?

by Peter Ditzel

Map of the Prevailing World Religions

Click Map for Larger View*

According to the World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World, 19 major religions share the earth (not always peacefully, of course). A closer look shows these further subdivided into 270 large religious groups with many smaller ones. This source identifies 34,000 separate Christian groups. Other experts might differ on the exact numbers, but the point is that most people would say that this planet sports a great many religions. But is that really true? I mean, if you were to distill these religions down to their basic essence, how many would you really wind up with? Or, to put it another way, if you can sift 19 religions into 270 by examining their finer points, can you go in the reverse direction and aggregate them into a smaller number? What if I were to tell you that, when it comes right down to it, the people of this world can be divided into only two religions? That’s right, I’m making the claim that when we use the most basic component of a belief system as our criteria, we will find that only two religions exist on the earth and that all of the other divisions arise merely because of details. Sound crazy? Let’s see.

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