Vanishing Sea of Faith
European Islam & the Doubtful Future of Christian Europe
by William Murchison
I know we know all this. We used to at least. I do confess to hearing in church these days fewer rousing renditions of “Onward Christian Soldiers” than during my 1950s adolescence. Well, you know, all that military stuff: soldiers, mighty armies, not to mention “brothers” advertised as “treading” out in front, certainly, of their sisters. Scandalous! Outmoded! In the minds of the modern Christian establishment, anyway.
Which may be just the problem as the mighty army that once constituted Christianity pulls up short before the awful sight of . . . indifference and apathy, or perhaps cultivated hostility. The banners droop. Looks of puzzlement cross earnest faces. No one . . . cares anymore?
What could that mean? Nothing good, that’s for sure.
The plight of Christianity in Europe, if not yet in America, has become the topic of the moment in religious as well as secular circles, and the modern Christian establishment professes bewilderment. What goes on? No one wants the product the churches profess to be selling? In statistical, as well as anecdotal terms, that would appear to be the case. Consider:
• Just 21 percent of Europeans (according to a recent European Values Study) call religion of any kind “very important.” Only 15 percent worship even once a week.
• On average, only 41 percent of Europeans claim belief in a personal God. In Britain the percentage of believers has fallen from 77 percent in 1968 to 44 percent today. That’s “believers,” as opposed to the distinctly smaller class of believer-practitioners who on Sundays put their posteriors where their minds are. The number of Muslims at Friday prayers in Britain reportedly exceeds the number of Anglicans at Sunday worship. A recent Wall Street Journal article referred to Tony Blair as “the Christian leader of a pagan country.”
• In Ireland—Ireland!—just half the population reportedly goes to Mass now, compared with 84 percent in the early 1990s. To quote one bored boyo, a web designer by trade, “It’s the repetition. After you’ve heard it enough, you feel like you already know what they’re going to say, so why do you have to go there?” Yes, why, Brendan, Brigid, Patrick?—the whole lot of you who saw participation in Christ’s sacrifice as the holiest of privileges.
• The European Union in 2004 notoriously declined entreaties from religious leaders to include in its 70,000-word constitution some acknowledgement of the continent’s Christian heritage.
William Murchison a syndicated columnist, is author of Mortal Follies: Episcopalians and the Crisis of Mainline Christianity (Encounter Books).
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