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The statistics on the slow evaporation of European Christianity

The statistics on the slow evaporation of European Christianity

by Andrea Tornielli
https://www.mercatornet.com/
May 30, 2018

Western Europe, cradle of Protestantism and historical seat of Catholicism, has become one of the most secular regions in the world. This was confirmed by a survey study promoted by the US Pew Research Center on religious faith and practice in Western European countries. The percentage of lapsed Christians is increasing and a look at the answers of the sample interviewed on abortion and same-sex marriage shows how much the culture in Europe has changed -- and how unsurprising is the result of the recent Irish referendum on abortion.

The survey, conducted between April and August 2017 in 15 Western European countries, shows that 91% of the population is composed of baptized people, 81% of people who grew up as Christians, 71% of people who say they are currently Christians, with a 22% who attend religious services at least once a month.

In most cases, the adults interviewed consider themselves Christians, even if they rarely attend church. The survey shows that non-practicing Christians (people who identify themselves as Christians, but participate in religious services only a few times a year) represent the largest share of the population in the region concerned.

In all countries except Italy, non-practicing Christians are more numerous than practicing Christians (i.e. those who participate in religious services at least once a month). In the UK, for example, there are about three times as many lapsed, or non-practicing Christians (55%) as practicing Christians (18%), according to the definitions used in the survey.

In Italy, 40% of the population declares themselves to be practicing, another 40% declares themselves to be non-practicing Christians, 15% have no creed, while 5% follow other religions. In France, 18% are practicing Christians, 46% are non-practicing, 28% have no creed, and 8% are of other religions. In Spain, 21% are practicing Christians, 44% are non-practicing, 30% have no creed, 4% are of other religions.

According to the survey:

Pew Research Center's study, during which more than 24,000 telephone interviews were conducted with randomly selected adults, including about 12,000 non-practicing Christians, reveals that Christian identity remains a significant marker in Western Europe, even among those who rarely attend the church. It is not simply a "nominal" identity with no practical relevance...

While claiming not to believe in God "as described in the Bible," many non-practicing Christians tend to believe in some other higher power or spiritual strength. In contrast, most practicing Christians claim to believe in the Biblical description of God. And a clear majority of adults who do not recognize themselves in any religion do not believe in any kind of higher power or spiritual strength in the universe.

According to the study, Christian identity in Western Europe is associated with more negative opinions towards immigrants and religious minorities. Overall, those who profess to be Christians, whether they attend the Church or not, are more likely than those who do not recognize themselves in any religion to express negative opinions towards immigrants, as well as towards Muslims and Jews.

The clear majority of non-practicing Christians, such as those who do not recognize themselves in any religion in Western Europe, are in favor of legal abortion and same-sex marriage. Practicing Christians are more conservative on these issues, although within this segment there is substantial support (majoritarian in some countries) for legal abortion and same-sex marriage.

These are the statistics of those in favor of legal abortion:

In Italy, 47% of practicing Christians, 79% of non-practicing Christians, 85% of those who do not profess any religion (65% of the general population of the country is in favor).

In Ireland 42% of practicing Christians, 81% of non-practicing Christians, 80% of those who do not profess any religion (66% of the general population of the country are in favor).

In Spain

In Germany, 54% of practicing Christians, 84% of non-practicing Christians, 86% of those who do not profess any religion (76% of the general population of the country are in favor).

In Sweden, 79% of practicing Christians, 96% of Christians who do not practice, 98% of those who do not profess any religion (94% of the general population of the country is in favor).

In the United Kingdom, 65% of practicing Christians, 86% of Christians who do not practice, 83% of those who do not profess any religion (81% of the general population of the country is in favor).

These are the figures with regard to those in favor of same-sex marriage,

In Italy 43% of practicing Christians, 70% of non-practicing Christians and 83% of those who do not profess any religion are in favor (59% of the general population of the country is in favor).

In Ireland, 43% of practicing Christians, 80% of non-practicing Christians, 87% of those who do not profess any religion (66% of the general population of the country are in favor).

In Spain, 59% of practicing Christians, 79% of non-practicing Christians and 90% of those who do not profess any religion are in favor (77% of the general population of the country is in favor).

In Germany, 53% of practicing Christians, 82% of non-practicing Christians, 86% of those who do not profess any religion (75% of the general population of the country is in favor).

In the United Kingdom, 63% of practicing Christians, 83% of non-practicing Christians and 82% of those who do not profess any religion are in favor (77% of the general population of the country are in favor).

Abortion, same-sex marriage, and the role of religion in government activities are three areas in which the attitudes of non-practicing Christians are very close to those of people who do not recognize themselves in any religion. A vast majority of non-Christians and people with "no religion" believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases and that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

As far as the relationship with politics is concerned, in general terms, Western Europeans are not in favor of the link between their governments and religion. In all 15 countries included in the survey, in fact, the idea prevails that religion should remain separate from government policies (median of 60%), while the concept that government policies should support faith and religious values stands at 36%.

Non-practicing Christians tend to argue that religion should remain separate from government policies. Yet, a large minority (median of 35%) of non-practicing Christians believes that the government should support the faith and religious values in their country and is much more inclined to take this position than adults who do not recognize themselves in any religion.

In the UK, for example, 40% of non-practicing Christians say that the government should uphold religious faith and values, compared to 18% of people with "no religion".

In all the countries included in the survey, practicing Christians are much more likely than non-practicing Christians to believe that the government should uphold religious values. In Austria, for example, this position is shared by the majority (64%) of practicing Christians, compared to 38% of non-practicing Christians.

The survey concludes by asking why Western Europeans are shedding their Christian identity. It found that:

In every country surveyed, most "nones" who were raised in a religious group say they "gradually drifted away from religion," suggesting that no one particular event or single specific reason prompted this change. Many also say that they disagreed with church positions on social issues like homosexuality and abortion, or that they stopped believing in religious teachings. Majorities in several countries, such as Spain (74%) and Italy (60%), also cite "scandals involving religious institutions and leaders" as an important reason they stopped identifying as Christian (or with another religious group).

Andrea Tornielli is the editor of Vatican Insider at La Stampa. Republished under a Creative Commons licence.

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