How Europe could get religion again

Take a look at Polly Toynbee’s column in The Guardian (major British newpaper) last week. She has many interesting things to say about the official religiosity emanating from Britain lately.

It also gets me thinking about how irreversible European secularization really is. I’ve generally been impressed with the work of sociologists such as Steve Bruce, who argue that since the institutional structures that help reproduce organized religion in Europe have been severely disrupted, the population has been losing interest in religion and the decay of religion is now quite irreversible. But that still leaves open the possibility of revival if religious institutions manage to adapt to their new circumstances (something they seem to be doing better in the United States). If I can speculate (and what are blogs for, after all), I can see two (non-independent) mechanisms that may turn the tide of secularity in Europe:

  1. Top-down political efforts such as those of the Blair government: The political climate affects institutions. If the trends Toynbee denounces continues—more faith-based education, more government deference to religious communities, clergy being recognized as the moral experts in society—we may yet see the day when talk of Britain’s de-secularization is in the news.
  2. Reaction against Muslim immigrants: Muslims are not just directly bringing religion back to Europe with their overwhelming levels of belief, they could provoke a religiously-colored reaction among the native population. They could embrace their own ancestral varieties of religion as a means of cultural defense.

As I said, sheer speculation; I wouldn’t make any predictions. And living in a religion-mad country like the United States, I wish I had the problems secular Europeans face. Still, I have to wonder if European secularity will turn out, in the long run, to be a lull between episodes of religious fervor.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10401694529715890825 Joe Otten

    I can’t speak for all of Europe of course, each country is different. Germany has churches funded out of tax revenue. France is quite agressively secular, except not so much towards catholicism. Spain introduces or abolishes religious indoctrination in schools at each general election.

    But here in the UK there is little doubt that Blair is trying his utmost to use the power of the state to spread Christianity. It is worrying, but it would be more worrying if it werent for the odd fact that we have always had some promotion of christianity in almost every school, and yet we are vastly more secular than the US.

    The reaction to Islam is another interesting phenomenon. The right-wing press frequently rant at any consideration shown to Muslims, that Christians are not treated like this. If somebody offends Christianity, they bemoan that nobody would dare offend Islam. They have the germ of a point, I suppose, but the envious tone is disconcerting. Do they really wish Christians would riot in response to blasphemy or criticism?

    Unfortunately for them there is little if any objection to traditional british culture coming from the muslim communities. The only complaints we hear are the socially conservative ones that the same press would endorse.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07946704567937485351 discepolo

    Italy is somewhat of a paradox. I grew up in Spain where Zapatero has succeeded in “secularizing” Spain while still trying to maintiain some sort of Catholic veneer. Spain was the right arm of the Church for centuries, but secularization has changed the centuries deep loyalties.
    Italy is becoming more secular. Schools still teach “religion” but few Italians live with any integrity of matching their so called “beliefs” with their actions. In fact most Italians I run into are relativists. It will be interesting to see how Rome attempts to stem the tide here.
    Secularization isn’t something to be too worried about anyway. All State encouraged religion does is create a hollow religiosity that looks nothing like the life of the band of disciples that Jesus formed into a community in the 1st century. Should the goal be to make Europe religious again? What good does it do to encourage a state backed religion? Christianity is a matter of the heart, not of the state.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01194234762628826158 Phil Smith

    I would guess that your second suggested influencing factor is the most likely catalyst for changing the tide in Europe from a largely secular continent to a more religious (i.e., Christian) one. Indeed, a combination of Christian influence in Republican politics combined with an evolving demonization of Islam seems to be taking hold in th U.S.

    On the other hand, I agree that such a reversal is unlikely. Parts of Europe in particular and the EU in general appear better poised to invent the future. Meanwhile, the U.S. has what it takes, but is thrashing about in the thickets and underbrush of a bygone era in an effort to sustain its overall influence in the world.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10651953796015900955 Jipitea Moonbean

    I think it is only a matter of time before atheism reaches its peak in Europe. Fertility is MUCH higher among theists than atheists. The Catholic Church forbids non-procreative sex and declares it “sinful”. Catholics are renowned for breeding like rabbits and have a fertility advantage over atheists. Atheists in Europe are usually former Catholics who fell into apostasy. The fertility advantage in Europe of the Christians has traditially been counterbalanced by secularisation but secularisation now appears to be in decline(see this months article in Prospect Magazine). I live in Ireland, and although the Catholic Church’s influence here has been in decline for the last 2 decades, it now appears to be regaining some of its former strength. Add to that the rapid growth of evangelical Christianity here. The evangelicals are everywhere now. Just yesterday, I was handed out about 5 different leaflets urging me to ‘accept Jesus as my personal saviour’. I see the re-christianization of Europe everywhere I go. At my catholic high school I know many students who bring bibles into school to read during recreation. Such a thing would have unthinkable 10 years ago. About half of my friends, even nondevout ones, are choosing to abstain from sex until marriage(mainly under church pressure); a very noble decision IMHO. Immigration is also having a huge impact. The large influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe, most of them devout conservative Catholics, is very good news for the church. The march of “intelligent design” is also helping to cool the warfare between science and theology . I’d say that the growth of atheism in Europe will peak in this century.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17968231767150788726 Boss

    The best-selling book this Xmas in the UK looks likely to be Dawkin’s “The God Delusion”. Don’t worry, we’re not getting apathetic just yet.

    http://fight-the-faith.blogspot.com/


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