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Austin Cline

Religion in Europe

By October 17, 2003

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For Europeans, religion just isn't as important as it once was. Even for those who do consider themselves religious, they often aren't Christian. And, for those who are still Christian, they often disagree with many traditional and orthodox doctrines. This has lead to all sorts of internal and international problems because no other region has experienced this level of secularization.

Frank Bruni writes for the New York Times:

Christianity has boomed in the developing world, competing successfully with Islam, deepening its influence and possibly finding its future there. But Europe already seems more and more like a series of tourist-trod monuments to Christianity's past. Hardly a month goes by when the pope does not publicly bemoan that fact, beseeching Europeans to rediscover the faith. Their estrangement has deep implications, including the prospect of schisms in intercontinental churches and political frictions within and between countries. The secularization of Europe, according to some political analysts, is one of the forces pushing it apart from the United States, where religion plays a potent role in politics and society, shaping many Americans' views of the world.
Christianity's greatest hope in Europe may in fact be immigrants from the developing world, who in many cases learned the religion from European missionaries, adapted it to their own needs and tastes, then toted it back to the Continent. ... A recent report by Christian Research, a British group, determined that blacks and, to a lesser extent, Asians represent more than half the churchgoers in central London on a given Sunday, though they represent less than a quarter of the area's population. ... Even in Italy, where 33 percent of respondents described religion as "very important," the percentage of Italians who go to church every week is as low as 15 and no higher than 33, according to various polls.

An important factor in why this is happening in Europe but not America seems likely to be the separation of church and state that exists in the United States. Here, no one church or religion has been able to use the power of the government to maintain a monopoly over the people. In Europe, however, that's just what happened - and disillusionment over established political institutions has translated into disillusionment over religious institutions as well. You can find religiosity thriving in Europe, but not in the old churches - you find it in new churches created by immigrants. It makes one wonder why so many Christians in America want to eliminate the separation of church and state. Are they really enemies of Christianity who hope to undermine its influence over time?

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September 8, 2008 at 10:42 pm
(1) B. Dayre says:

Separation of church and state does exist in Europe, esp. in France — which is at least as secular as most of the rest of Europe. So the claim that said separation helps explain religion’s prevalence in America does not stand.

To Europeans the religiousness of America is a total quandary and, yes, much of why Europe and America are drifting apart culturally has to do with their differing views on religion.

September 9, 2008 at 6:41 am
(2) Austin Cline says:

Separation of church and state does exist in Europe, esp. in France — which is at least as secular as most of the rest of Europe. So the claim that said separation helps explain religion’s prevalence in America does not stand.

1. It does not exist “through most of Europe.” Britain has an official, established church. The German government collects taxes for churches.

2. The more secular situation today should not be assumed to be what the situation was even a century ago.

3. France’s secularism is radically different from America’s. In France, the government can and has actively suppressed churches and religious expression.

May 29, 2011 at 7:04 am
(3) Paul says:

“Britain has an official, established church” – no it doesn’t.
In England, the Church of England is established as you describe.
No such arrangement exists in Scotland. I don’t know what applies in NI or Wales.
Constitutionally the Church of Scotland is wholly separate from the state. This is enshrined in the constitution of the church, not just the state!

September 14, 2008 at 9:03 pm
(4) Tom Edgart says:

There are other countries in Europe/Scandinavia where the State collects taxes to pay for the “Official” Church. It is automatic and can only be avoided by taking steps to have yourself registered as objecting.

Sweden was, and I believe still is, one.
Peculiarly the British “Established Church”, the Church of England, does not receive payment.
Being the largest landowner in the country it is sufficiently wealthy that it can manage without robbing the public purse.


September 15, 2008 at 5:35 pm
(5) Drew says:

Many or most atheists are not internet activists – they are indifferent. For that reason, it is tougher to organise them to oppose national churches than it is for the religious to unite to protect such priveleges. Only when a substantial majority are openly atheist can ideas like disestablishment be contemplated by politicians. Many countries – Norway, Sweden, the UK – are going through this process, but the cultural deference to religion cannot be overcome in such a short period of time.

March 19, 2011 at 11:08 am
(6) juie says:


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