According to a major new Pew Research Center study of 24,000 adults from 15 countries, 71% of Western Europeans still identify as Christians in what is described more and more as one of the world’s most “secular” regions, even though just 22% attend Church at least on a monthly basis. “Christian identity remains a meaningful marker in Western Europe”, concludes Pew, warning at the same time that “it is not just a ‘nominal’ identity devoid of practical importance”.
What, then, are the political implications of this ascendancy of non-practising Christians across the continent? Other commentators have analyzed the theological details of this ever-changing European religious identity, and how people on the continent juggle their beliefs about God or their attitudes toward spirituality and religion while only going to religious services every once in a while. All this week on European Communion, however, we’ll look at eight findings of the Pew survey that are important from a public policy perspective, and analyze the views of European Christians on everything from abortion to civic participation.
1. Three-quarters of European Christians favor legal abortion
81% of all the European adults surveyed by Pew favor legal abortion “in all or most cases”, compared to just 19% who are opposed. Even in the European country least amenable to legalizing interruptions to pregnancy – Portugal, at 60% of people – the number is higher than in the United States, where 57% of adults are in favor.
Breaking down the percentages on credal lines, Pew found that 87% of both the religiously unaffiliated and Christians with low levels of commitment are in favor of legal abortion, compared to 79% of moderately-committed and 47% of highly-committed Christians, for a total of 75% of all people claiming a Christian identity.
2. 58% of Church-going Christians favor gay marriageThe overall percentage of Western Europeans in favor of allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, at 75%, is again greater than that of their American counterparts, at 62%. The trends for and against same-sex marriage along religious lines are similar to those found around the abortion question, with 87% of “nones”, 84% of marginally-committed Christians, 74% of moderately-committed Christians and just 41% of highly-committed Christians in favor of marriage equality.
In the only two countries in which same-sex marriage has not been legalized – Italy and Switzerland – 38% and 24% respectively of all adults showed themselves opposed to the measure.
3. 87% of non-practising Christians raising their children Christian
If the levels of parents and caregivers in Europe who say they are raising their children as Christians is anything to go by, the trends discovered by Pew look set to continue into the future. Among the general population, 70% of respondents say they are educating their children in the Christian faith, compared to 97% of Church-attending Christians, 87% of non-practising Christians and 9% of adult “nones”.
To be continued…