The distinguished sociologist of religion Peter Berger once promoted “the secularization thesis,” arguing that as societies become more modern, they become less religious. But he has since said that thesis has been falsified, that the world is getting more religious than ever (and that modernity actually has contributed to the growth of religion). The more interesting question, he says now, is why Europe has resisted that trend.
I am wondering now, though, after my speaking tour of Scandinavia, if Europe is as secular as it appears.
Nearly 80% of the population of Denmark belongs to the state church. This requires paying a church tax of from .4% to 1.5% of one’s income, on top of an already crushing tax burden. These members have been baptized and confirmed and they will be married and buried in the church, but only 3% of them go to church on any given Sunday.
Here are further statistics about the religious climate in Denmark: According to a 2010 poll, 24% are atheists; 47% believe more vaguely in “some sort of spirit or life force”; and 28% believe in God. Another poll found that 25% of Danes believe Jesus is the son of God and 18% believe He is the savior of the world.
So, yes, Denmark is a very secular country, with lots of non-believers (about a fourth) and liberal believers (about a half), but another fourth appears to confess Christ. Perhaps a fifth are Gospel-believing Christians. That’s actually not bad for a supposedly secular country.
But let’s put the statistics together. If 80% of the country belong to the Church of Denmark, that must include lots of people who do not particularly believe in Christ, or even God. And if only 3% of the population attends church regularly, that means that lots of Christians are not attending church either. [Read more…]