A new poll by Pew Research Center indicates European Christians, once the driving force behind the faith’s expansion worldwide, no longer are.
At least in terms of what they believe.
They may call themselves Christian, but Pew describes them as “non-practicing” and found that they “drifted away,” “were alienated” or just “stopped believing.” They only rarely walk in the doors of a church.
The survey found for example, that while 83 percent of Belgians say they were “raised Christian,” only 55 percent now identify as such.
Norway’s figures plunged from 79 percent “raised Christian” to only 51 percent now. In the Netherlands, from 67 percent to 41 percent, Spain, 92 percent to 66 percent, Sweden, 74 percent to 52 percent. In the United Kingdom, 79 percent to 73 percent.
The survey comes as millions of Muslims migrate from the Middle East and Africa to Europe.
“Western Europe, where Protestant Christianity originated and Catholicism has been based for most of its history, has become one of the world’s most secular regions,” the survey said. “Although the vast majority of adults say they were baptized, today many do not describe themselves as Christians.
“Some say they gradually drifted away from religion, stopped believing in religious teachings, or were alienated by scandals or church positions on social issues.”
Moreover, most of those who call themselves “Christian” don’t align with Christian faith or teaching.
“While the religious, political and cultural views of non-practicing Christians in Western Europe are frequently distinct from those of church-attending Christians and religiously unaffiliated adults (‘nones’), on some issues non-practicing Christians resemble churchgoing Christians, and on others they largely align with ‘nones.’
“Religious beliefs and attitudes toward religious institutions are two areas of broad similarity between non-practicing Christians and church-attending Christians. Most non-practicing Christians say they believe in God or some higher power, and many think that churches and other religious organizations make positive contributions to society. In these respects, their perspective is similar to that of churchgoing Christians,” the survey said.
“On the other hand, abortion, gay marriage and the role of religion in government are three areas where the attitudes of non-practicing Christians broadly resemble those of religiously unaffiliated people (‘nones’). Solid majorities of both non-practicing Christians and ‘nones’ say they think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases and that gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry legally. In addition, most non-practicing Christians, along with the vast majority of ‘nones,’ say religion should be kept out of government policies.”
The report said: “Many in all three groups reject negative statements about immigrants and religious minorities. But non-practicing Christians and church-attending Christians are generally more likely than ‘nones’ to favor lower levels of immigration, to express negative views toward immigrants from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, and to agree with negative statements about Muslims and Jews such as, ‘In their hearts, Muslims want to impose their religious law on everyone else’ in their country or ‘Jews always pursue their own interests and not the interest of the country they live in.'”
Pew Research said: “Overall, the study shows a strong association between Christian identity and nationalist attitudes, as well as views of religious minorities and immigration, and a weaker association between religious commitment and these views. This finding holds regardless of whether religious commitment among Christians is measured through church attendance alone, or using a scale that combines attendance with three other measures: belief in God, frequency of prayer and importance of religion in a person’s life.”
The survey found 91 percent were baptized and 81 percent raised Christian. But only 71 percent even call themselves Christian, and only 22 percent, not even a third of those who call themselves Christian, attend services even monthly.
The “non-practicing” Christians are the largest faith block across the continent.
In Austria, 52 percent are “non-practicing” but call themselves Christian, and only 28 percent call themselves Christian and actually go to church monthly or more.
In Finland, it’s 68 percent who are “non-practicing” and 9 percent who actually attend church.
For Denmark, it’s 55 and 10, for Italy 40 and 40, for Portugal 48 and 35, for the U.K. 55 and 18.
“Non-practicing Christians also outnumber the religiously unaffiliated population (people who identify as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular,’ sometimes called the ‘nones’) in most of the countries surveyed. And, even after a recent surge in immigration from the Middle East and North Africa, there are many more non-practicing Christians in Western Europe than people of all other religions combined (Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc.),” the survey said.
“Many non-practicing Christians say they do not believe in God ‘as described in the Bible,'” the poll said. Instead, they believe “in some other higher power or spiritual force.”
Pew reported education levels also played a role in the differences, as “highly educated Europeans are generally more accepting of immigrants and religious minorities, and religiously unaffiliated adults tend to have more years of schooling than non-practicing Christians. But even after statistical techniques are used to control for differences in education, age, gender and political ideology, the survey shows that churchgoing Christians, non-practicing Christians and unaffiliated Europeans express different religious, cultural and social attitudes.”
The poll, conducted on mobile and landline telephones with 24,000 adults from April to August 2017 in 12 languages, looked at a wide range of perspectives on faith.
Across 15 nations surveyed, Pew said, 27 percent believe in God as the Bible describes Him, 38 percent just say there’s a “higher power,” and 26 refuse to believe at all. Even among “church-attending Christians,” only 64 percent say the Bible has described God. One in three is there’s that unknown “higher power.”
Large numbers, led by “nones” and assisted by the non-practicing Christians, suggest there are no spiritual forces in the universe at all.
“If the Christian identity of Europe has become an issue, it is precisely because Christianity as faith and practices faded away in favor of a cultural marker which is more and more turning into a neo-ethnic marker,” Pew quotes Olivier Roy, a French political scientist, commenting.
In fact, across the continent, many contend science makes religion unnecessary.
The survey also takes a poke at America.
“The vast majority of adults in the United States, like the majority of Western Europeans, continue to identify as Christian (71 percent). But on both sides of the Atlantic, growing numbers of people say they are religiously unaffiliated (i.e., atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular’). About a quarter of Americans (23 percent, as of 2014) fit this description, comparable to the shares of ‘nones’ in the UK (23 percent) and Germany (24 percent),” Pew said.
“Yet Americans, overall, are considerably more religious than Western Europeans. Half of Americans (53 percent) say religion is ‘very important’ in their lives, compared with a median of just 11 percent of adults across Western Europe. Among Christians, the gap is even bigger – two-thirds of U.S. Christians (68 percent) say religion is very important to them, compared with a median of 14 percent of Christians in the 15 countries surveyed across Western Europe. But even American ‘nones’ are more religious than their European counterparts. While one-in-eight unaffiliated U.S. adults (13 percent) say religion is very important in their lives, hardly any Western European ‘nones’ (median of 1 percent) share that sentiment.”
Pew reported, “Similar patterns are seen on belief in God, attendance at religious services and prayer.”