Editorial: Religious differences

WITHIN the next 30 or so years, a young population and high fertility rates are likely to make Muslims the fastest-growing religious group in the world.

The Pew Research Center, in its “The Future of World Religions” report, projected that in 2050, Muslims will represent about 29.7 percent of the world’s population, while Christians will make up 31.4 percent. The Christians’ share of the global population will be unchanged from where it was in 2010, but that of Muslims will rise by some six percentage points.

If the think tank’s projections are correct, the Philippines would buck global trends. More Filipinos will choose not to practice any religion, and the share of “unaffiliated Filipinos” is likely to go up from 0.1 percent in 2010 to 3.3 percent in 2050. But the ranks of Christians are also projected to grow from 92.6 percent to 95.2 percent. By 2050, there are likely to be 8.31 million more Christians in the Philippines than there were in 2010. Yet there will only be 700,000 more Muslims, and fewer than 10,000 additional Buddhists and unaffiliated citizens.

Being predominantly Christian does offer some advantages. It’s the reason we have time off from work today and tomorrow, when the State gives us the opportunity to work, at least in theory, on our souls. But a lack of religious diversity also comes at a price. It is diversity that creates the opportunities for us to learn to coexist with others whose beliefs differ from ours.

We are like Thailand, in that when it comes to religion, we are only slightly more diverse than the Vatican. Thailand is 93 percent Buddhist, according to the Pew Center. We are 93 percent Christian. On paper, government’s position on religion is supposed to be “benevolent neutrality.” In practice and because of sheer numbers, religion shapes how well or how badly we are governed; it is one of the factors why the reproductive health bill took nearly two decades to become a law or why divorce is not likely to become legal anytime soon.

To keep the dominant faith’s influence on government in check, Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen voted last month to grant a request to prohibit masses in courthouses. “To reward the dominant,” he wrote, “would be to further ensure divisiveness, distrust, and intolerance.”

His was the minority voice. Majority of the justices said they saw no need to prohibit masses and other religious rituals in halls of justice, as long as these do not interrupt court proceedings or public service. But we won’t really see “benevolent neutrality” at work, until Buddhists or Muslims or other religious groups feel accepted enough to perform a religious ritual in some courthouse.
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