Religion in Europe has influenced the art, culture, law, and philosophical approaches to a large extent. This is attributed to its existence for a long period of time. Other religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Muslim and Judaism are found in large groups in Britain and France. The growth of Christianity in Europe was basically a result of the official adoption of Christianity by the Roman Empire in AD 380.Most of Europe underwent Christianity in the early Middle Ages with the process reaching its climax in the High Middle Ages characterized by the Christianization of Scandinavia.
European countries have recently experienced a sharp decline in attendance and membership. In Sweden, for example, the church of Sweden, a previously state-church until the year 2000, claimed to have slightly above 80% of its Swedish population in 2000. A survey carried out in 2005 however revealed that only close to 23% believed in a personal God. Recent trends further show that a large disparity exists between church claims and the number of people who believe in God in many other European countries especially in France and Northern Europe.
To attest to this, a Gallup poll conducted in European countries between 2007 and 2008 aimed to find if religion occupied an important place in people’s lives. A larger percentage answered no except in countries such as Turkey, Romania and Macedonia whose percentages were below twenty. In addition, a recent study conducted in 2003 found out that approximately forty seven percent of Frenchmen declared themselves agnostic. A substantial decrease in religiousness and church attendance in Western Europe especially Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, France and Germany has been noted. In Ireland, a country whose churchattendance is still ranked amongst the highest, had its population fall from 85% to 60% between 1975and 2004.This trend is however different from that taking place in Eastern Europe.1
To start with, secularization is one aspect that has gained popularity in European nations especially with respect to marriage.2 Christianity advocates for opposite sex marriage as an only acceptable kind of marriage and refrains from cohabitation or same sex marriage. A greater majority of the European population tends to disagree with this more and more. The highest number of births outside marriage was recorded in 2008 in Europe a rise of approximately 13% from the 1995 base year results. Cohabitation figures were even higher as compared to those of birth rates. Austria recently approved same sex civil unions and Portugal legalized it in May 2010 has led to an ever increasing number of European countries allowing for such to take place.3
The Catholic Church has maintained a higher level of participation in reversing secularization, but still faces considerable challenges. The social and cultural factors have influenced the population to a situation where family size in Catholic nations has dropped to the lowest levels in Europe. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life have fallen considerably, with little sign of any turnaround.4
Secondly, Europe’s turbulent history where people have been on the borderline of survival has changed dramatically.5 Survival is presently certain for most people in the West. The search for survival in creased people’s connection with God and due to its increased certainty, religion has eroded. As for the case of Western Europe, a half-century of peace led to economic and political stability. This resulted in a triple increase in per capita gross domestic product since 1980 according to World Bank’s report. The story in Eastern Europe is however different as economies in these regions are weaker and citizens less secure. This partly explains the reasons why Christianity is much stronger in countries such as Russia, Poland and Ukraine.
Thirdly, most churches are losing the ability to dictate to people how to live their lives. Most of the churches, despite preaching and drinking ‘wine’ are found drinking ‘water.’ According to Ed Vitagliano, the failure of ministers to defend the faith and responsibly carry out what parishioners expected the clergy is one item that widely characterizes the sharp decline. The Roman Catholic Church however still wields some power. In May 2005, the Vatican helped to defeat a referendum in Italy which would have made fertility treatments more accessible. Not far from the Vatican, a church mass at the Sant’Anastasia church was found to have about thirty worshippers as opposed to four hundred which is the holding capacity of the church.6
A growing population of Muslim immigrants to Europe is one other reason attributed to the decline of Christianity. A decline in fertility rate couples with an increase in the number of immigrants from Islamic countries to most European nations would suffice as a reason for the decline in Christianity in Europe. According to projections details by the United States National Intelligence Council, it is estimated that the current Muslim population in Europe which stands at about fifteen million could rise to twenty eight million by 2025. With this data, it is worth noting that an increase in the Muslim population in these nations would impact largely on the decline of christitanity in Europe. Where religious identity is attached to economic and social grievances as was the case of Lebanon, a much grimmer future for Christianity would therefore not be assumed.7
Several links between the church and the state can be noted in Germany and Scandinavia where a church tax system is existent. In Belgium, the state ta kes care of the salaries of the clergy. A detachment of church from the state would in one way or another impact in the general decline of Christianity. When Gen. Francisco Franco seized control of Spain during the civil war in the 1930s, he worked closely with the clergy to spread a “National Catholicism” which enforced his social and political codes. Since his death in the ‘70s, Spain has become more secular. Its former socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez, eliminated the one year separation period before divorce, authorized stem cell research and passed a bill to make religious education in public schools an elective.8 The Lutheran Church in Sweden has not escaped from this either. Since its separation from the state as part of the secularization trend, people have withdrawn from it and opted not to pay taxes which range between 2 and 3% of their income. Furthermore, European leaders rejected any mention of the role of Christianity in a new constitution for the European Union countries.
According to a survey carried out by the Interdenominational Ecumenical Research Committee to determine reasons for a decline in Christianity, it was noted that despite a spiritual hunger existing amongst the congregants in terms of understanding a wide range of relevant topics, this hunger as some of the churchgoers felt, was not being quenched during sermons instead political and social sermons were the order of the day which made little spiritual significance.
From the above, it can be widely illustrated that a decline in Christianity in Europe exists and is on the rise. On the contrary however, several illustrations support that Christianity is still present and in fact, growing in Europe. In Slovenia, Poland and Slovakia, for example, religious participation is still very high. In Britain, Polish and Croatian immigrants have equally brought about a religious insurgence in some areas. Pilgrims are also on the rise with a high level of popular appeal enjoyed by Pope Benedict XVI, attracting large numbers of public appearances. Increased popularity of religious pilgrimages is a sign of life in European Christianity. The Polish shrine of Czestochowa draws several millions of people every ear most of whom are young. In addition, the numbers of pilgrims who visit the Santiago de la Compostela in Spain have risen to half a million a year, with up to a million in holy years.
To sum up, the aforementioned reasons adequately provide for the decline of Christianity in Europe. Aspects such as secularization, the separation of the state from the church, the latency of church personnel, as well as the demographic evidence based on poll results and other surveys, to name just but a few, have been the main focal points of this document. Information supporting a reverse of this trend has also been provided with reasons such as pilgrimage and Christian immigration strengthening this basis. However, looking at the bigger picture, it is fundamental to recognize that Christianity plays various vital roles in shaping a society, leading to a recognition that it certainly is declining in Europe basing on the reasons provided.
Bruce Steve, “Christianity in Britain,” in Sociology of Religion, (UK: Association for the
Sociology of Religion Inc., 2001), 191-203.
Flynn John, “ The Future of Religion in Europe,” Catholic Magazine, 17 July 2007, 1-3.
Hans- Gunter Heimbrock et. al., Towards Religious Competence: diversity as a challenge for
Education in Europe (London: LIT Verlag Munster, 2002), 11-22.
Knox Noelle, “Religion takes a Back Seat in Western Europe,” USA Today, 8 Oct 2005, 7-16.
Vitagliano Ed, “Christianity Vanuished in Britain?” Agape Press, 19 July 2005, 6-9.
Knox Noelle, “Religion takes a Back Seat in Western Europe,” USA Today, 8 Oct 2005, 7-16
2. Bruce Steve, “Christianity in Britain,” in Sociology of Religion, (UK: Association for the
Sociology of Religion Inc., 2001), 191-203.
3. Flynn John, “ The Future of Religion in Europe,” Catholic Magazine, 17 July 2007, 1.
4. Ibid, 2.
5. Knox, 7.
8. Hans- Gunter Heimbrock et. al., “ Towasrds Religious Competence: diversity as a challenge for education in Europe (London: LIT Verlag Munster,2002), 11-22.
9. Vitagliano, 8.
 Flynn, 3.