Christianity in Europe…

I was trying to find some studies on where the state of Christianity is Germany and found an interesting article about it…

Is Europe losing its faith? Third World Christians are increasingly devout, but many Western churches have fallen victim to secularization – Religion – Statistical Data Included
by John O’Sullivan

Christian conversions from other religions, mainly Islam, are proceeding rapidly in Africa and Southeast Asia. In Latin America evangelical conversions within Christianity are transforming bad Catholics into good Protestants. As a result Christian missionary traffic has gone into reverse gear.

Catholic churches in Europe rely on priests from the Philippines and India, and African bishops attend Anglican convocations to reprove their Western counterparts for liberal theology and sexual libertinism. It was a sign of this new world that the traditionalist candidate for the Archbishopric of Canterbury, defeated recently by a saintly but liberal academic theologian, hailed from Pakistan.

Missionaries are certainly needed in Western Europe. Regular church attendance there has sunk to single digits–7 percent for most Christian denominations in Britain, even lower in France and Germany.

By comparison with this gloomy picture, North America still looks moderately devout. About 40 percent of Americans and 20 percent of Canadians say they go to church regularly–and probably at least half of them are telling the truth.

If Europe is a post-Christian society, then North America still is a moderately observant one. But both exist in a world where Asia, Africa and Latin America are passionately devout.

Things may not be what they seem, however. Europe simply may be further along the road of modernist “disenchantment” with religion than either the United States or Canada. From the 1930s to the 1950s, European church-going imperceptibly became a matter of social respectability rather than a desire to worship God. From the 1960s, when everyone suddenly realized that his neighbor would prefer to sleep in on Sunday as well, church attendance progressively collapsed. Over time society became increasingly secular in law, custom, social atmosphere–and eventually in religion, too.

This is producing a religious paradox worthy of G.K. Chesterton. Paul M. Zulehner, dean of the theology department at Vienna Catholic University, sees what is happening in Europe not as irreligion but as a frustrated religious impulse: “We are observing a boom in religious yearning and at the same time a shrinking process of the churches.” Why so? Because, Zulehner says, “The churches have secularized themselves.”

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Is Europe losing its faith? Third World Christians are increasingly devout, but many Western churches have fallen victim to secularization – Religion – Statistical Data Included
by John O’Sullivan

When Pope John Paul II came to Toronto for the World Youth Day Congress, he was arriving on a continent that still is significantly religious and leaving a continent that seems to have abandoned religion for agnosticism and material affluence.

It has been almost 100 years since Hilaire Belloc pronounced of Catholicism: “Europe is the faith and the faith is Europe.” It seems a great deal longer. In Belloc’s day, Europe was the center of the Christian world from which in the previous 300 years missionaries had ventured forth to convert the heathen. Today the Christian world increasingly is the Third World, where new Christians tilt dramatically toward evangelical and traditional forms of belief.

Christian conversions from other religions, mainly Islam, are proceeding rapidly in Africa and Southeast Asia. In Latin America evangelical conversions within Christianity are transforming bad Catholics into good Protestants. As a result Christian missionary traffic has gone into reverse gear.

Catholic churches in Europe rely on priests from the Philippines and India, and African bishops attend Anglican convocations to reprove their Western counterparts for liberal theology and sexual libertinism. It was a sign of this new world that the traditionalist candidate for the Archbishopric of Canterbury, defeated recently by a saintly but liberal academic theologian, hailed from Pakistan.

Missionaries are certainly needed in Western Europe. Regular church attendance there has sunk to single digits–7 percent for most Christian denominations in Britain, even lower in France and Germany.

By comparison with this gloomy picture, North America still looks moderately devout. About 40 percent of Americans and 20 percent of Canadians say they go to church regularly–and probably at least half of them are telling the truth.

If Europe is a post-Christian society, then North America still is a moderately observant one. But both exist in a world where Asia, Africa and Latin America are passionately devout.

Things may not be what they seem, however. Europe simply may be further along the road of modernist “disenchantment” with religion than either the United States or Canada. From the 1930s to the 1950s, European church-going imperceptibly became a matter of social respectability rather than a desire to worship God. From the 1960s, when everyone suddenly realized that his neighbor would prefer to sleep in on Sunday as well, church attendance progressively collapsed. Over time society became increasingly secular in law, custom, social atmosphere–and eventually in religion, too.

This is producing a religious paradox worthy of G.K. Chesterton. Paul M. Zulehner, dean of the theology department at Vienna Catholic University, sees what is happening in Europe not as irreligion but as a frustrated religious impulse: “We are observing a boom in religious yearning and at the same time a shrinking process of the churches.” Why so? Because, Zulehner says, “The churches have secularized themselves.”

How true is this? The shrinking of the secularized churches is obvious enough. In Western Europe it often is hard to distinguish the local church from a social-service agency; bishops reserve their prophetic fire to denounce cuts in public spending rather than private sins.

But where is the boom in religious yearning? UPI religion editor Uwe Siemon-Netto–a rare former foreign correspondent with two theology degrees–points to such events as the sale in France of more than 100,000 copies of a new translation of the Bible within a month of publication, the packed theaters for performances by the Comedie Francaise of a new translation of the Psalms, the crowds in Germany attending consolatory religious services after Sept. 11, the rising numbers in opinion polls (since the 1960s) who describe themselves as religious believers and the large congregations at non-mainstream evangelical services in churches often established by Third World immigrants.

What may save North America from this looming agnosticism is the decentralized character of its religious institutions. The United States in particular has always had a free market in religion. So, as older mainstream churches fall to the secularizing temptation, the result may not be the anomie and despair of post-Christian Europe but the rise of charismatic, Pentecostal, evangelical and other “spiritual” movements, even inside the Catholic Church.

Here the pope may exert a vital personal influence. Even to many who dislike his theological conservatism, he appears above all else a man of deep and radiating spiritual goodness. That spiritual appeal has penetrated the hearts of the Third World poor in earlier tours. It has won over countless young people, such as those in Toronto. Will it now enlighten and uplift the dehydrated souls of post-Christian intellectuals and exhausted consumers in the post-Christian West? If so, it will be his strangest and perhaps deepest triumph.

JOHN O’SULLIVAN IS EDITOR IN CHIEF OF UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL.

COPYRIGHT 2002 News World Communications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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