Research over the past couple of years reveals that Christianity in Europe is the strongest where it was banned.
“The Iron Curtain that once divided Europe may be long gone, but the continent today is split by stark differences in public attitudes toward religion, minorities and social issues – such as gay marriage and legal abortion,” Pew Research reported from its two-year study. “Compared with Western Europeans, fewer Central and Eastern Europeans would welcome Muslims or Jews into their families or neighborhoods, extend the right of marriage to gay or lesbian couples or broaden the definition of national identity to include people born outside their country.”
Inter-continental divide …
After tallying the results from its two-year survey administered to 56,000 adults from 34 Eastern, Central and Western European nations, Pew divulged that the continental religious divide has greatly impacted social and political views in those regions.
“Christianity has long been the prevailing religion in Europe, and it remains the majority religious affiliation in 27 of the 34 countries surveyed,” the report from Pew Research reads. “But historical schisms underlie this common religious identity: Each of the three major Christian traditions – Catholicism, Protestantism and Orthodoxy – predominates in a certain part of the continent.”
Different forms of Christian faith predominate in specific geographic regions on the continent.
“While Orthodoxy is the dominant faith in Eastern Europe, Catholic-majority countries are common in the central and southeastern Europe and Protestantism is dominant in parts of Northern Europe and Scandinavia, [but] Western Europe also has growing populations of religious unaffiliated citizens,” The Christian Post (CP) noted from the research. “In looking at the divide on religion, the data shows that people in Eastern Europe were much more likely to say that being Christian is ‘important’ to their national identity. This is true for some states that were once part of the Soviet bloc – where religion was once officially kept out of public life.”
The further west one gets in Europe – where the persecution and suppression of Christians has historically been less prevalent – the less important Christianity and nationalism is in their lives today.
“In Western Europe … most people don’t feel that religion is a major part of their national identity,” Pew researchers explained. “In France and the United Kingdom – for example – most say it is not important to be Christian to be truly French or truly British.”
Accordingly, other European nations in the west display less devotion to the Christian faith.
“[A]ll the Western European countries surveyed have sizable populations of religiously unaffiliated people – those who identify as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular,’ collectively sometimes called ‘nones,’ [as] ‘nones’ make up at least 15 percent of the population in every Western European country surveyed, and they are particularly numerous in the Netherlands (48 percent), Norway (43 percent) and Sweden (42 percent),” Pew divulged. “On balance, there are smaller shares of ‘nones’ – and larger shares of Christians – in Central and Eastern Europe – though a plurality of Estonians (45 percent) are unaffiliated, and the Czech Republic is the only country surveyed on the entire continent where ‘nones’ form a majority (72 percent).”
Those living in western Europe are also more uncertain about their belief in God.
“Among the Western European countries surveyed, only in Portugal (44 percent) do more than three-in-10 say they are absolutely certain that God exists,” the Pew report added. “But majorities in several of the Central and Eastern European countries surveyed express such certainty about God’s existence – including in Romania (64 percent), Greece (59 percent) and Croatia (57 percent).”
When comparing Western Europeans with Eastern Europeans, a distinct difference in beliefs was noted from the surveys.
“While 82 percent of Armenians and 81 percent of respondents from Georgia said Christianity was very or somewhat important to their national identity, more than eight in 10 people from Sweden, Denmark and Belgium said that being a Christian was not very or not at all important to their national identity,” CP’s Samuel Smith pointed out from the Pew Report. “More than seven in 10 people from Romania, Greece and Serbia said being Christian was important to their national identity, while 65 percent of people from France and the United Kingdom, 64 percent of Germans and 59 percent of Spaniards said being Christian wasn’t important to their national identity.”
In European nations where Catholicism is the reigning religion, roughly half see their faith as defining who they are as a nation.
“In predominantly Catholic Italy, 53 percent said being a Christian is important to their national identity,” Smith noted. “Predominantly Catholic Ireland was practically split down the middle with 48 percent saying religion was important to their national identity and 49 percent saying it is not.”
However, there were some exceptions found in the research.
“The Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia were different than other Eastern European states in the fact that 82 and 84 percent of respondents from those countries respectively said that religion wasn’t important to their national identity,” Smith explained. “However, the survey still found that people from Estonia and Latvia largely held many of the same views as people from other Eastern European countries.”
Reflecting biblical worldviews …
Regarding social issues – such as abortion and same-sex marriage – those living in Eastern Europe reflected biblical teachings in their worldviews.
“More than nine out of 10 people from Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Moldova say that they oppose allowing gay couples to marry,” Smith revealed from the surveys. “At least eight out of 10 people from Ukraine, Serbia, Lithuania, Belarus and Bosnia – and at least seven out of 10 people from Latvia, Estonia, Romania and Greece – also said they oppose legal gay marriage, but [o]n the other end, at least eight out of 10 people from Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands and Belgium said they favor allowing gays to legally marry. At least seven out of 10 people from Spain, U.K., Germany, Switzerland, France, Austria, and Norway said the same. The Czech Republic was the only Eastern or Central European nation with a majority of voters saying they favor legal gay marriage.”
Unsurprisingly, those reflecting the biblical teachings regarding the sanctity of human life are more predominantly found in the eastern half of the European continent.
“When it comes to whether abortion should be illegal or legal in ‘all or most cases,’ there were only seven countries where a majority of voters said that abortion should be illegal – all Eastern and Central European countries,” Smith noted. “Those include Georgia (85 percent), Moldova (79 percent), Ukraine (55 percent), Russia (56 percent), Belarus (54 percent), Poland (52 percent) and Greece (52 percent). Over nine out of 10 respondents from Sweden and Denmark said that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while at least eight out of 10 respondents from Finland, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Norway, and the U.K. said the same.”
There were some exceptions to the rule, however, as a number of countries to the east of Western Europe embrace legalized infanticide.
“Eastern and Central European countries were a bit more divided on the issue of abortion, with 11 Eastern and Central European countries having a majority of respondents saying that they think abortion should be legal in all or most cases,” Smith explained. “The Czech Republic (84 percent), Estonia (81 percent), Bulgaria (80 percent), Hungary (70 percent), and Slovakia (70 percent) are the Eastern and Central European countries where abortion is most supported.”
Mixing opposing faiths
Those living in Eastern and Central Europe were found to be the least likely to invite a Muslim into their family.
“Only 7 percent of Armenians, 16 percent of people from the Czech Republic, 17 percent of Georgians, and 19 percent of people from Belarus said they would accept a Muslim into their families,” Smith gleaned from the research. “Less than three in 10 people from Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Hungary, and less than four in 10 people from Estonia, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Bulgaria and Poland said the same thing.”
It was a completely different story with those living out west, however, when it comes to blending their family’s Christian faith with those adhering to Islam.
“Nine out of 10 respondents from Netherlands, Denmark and Norway said they would accept a Muslim into their families, and majorities from all other Western European countries said the same thing,” Smith noted. “The only two Eastern/Central European countries with a majority that would accept a Muslim into their families are Slovakia and Croatia.”
Losing their religion
In Western Europe, a trend of the younger generation losing their faith was discovered.
“The survey also indicates a ‘significant decline’ in Christian affiliation throughout Western Europe – especially in nation’s like Belgium, Norway, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden,” Smith stressed. “In each of those countries, there is at least a 20-percent gap in the people who say there were raised Christian and those who say they are ‘currently Christian.’”
Pew Research said that most Europeans who no longer identify as Christians either say they “gradually drifted away from religion” or that they fell away because they do not agree with the teachings of the traditional church regarding abortion and homosexuality.
This is less likely the case the further one travels to the east, however.
“By contrast, this trend has not been seen in Central and Eastern Europe, where Christian shares of the population have mostly been stable or even increasing,” Pew researchers revealed. “Indeed, in a part of the region where communist regimes once repressed religious worship, Christian affiliation has shown a resurgence in some countries since the fall of the USSR in 1991. In Ukraine, for example, more people say they are Christian now (93 percent) than say they were raised Christian (81 percent); the same is true in Russia, Belarus and Armenia. In most other parts of Central and Eastern Europe, Christian shares of the population have been relatively stable by this measure.”
Losing it out west, keeping it in the east …
As opposed to those living in Western Europe, those living in Central and Eastern Europe say that Christianity is a very important dimension of their lives.
“Central and Eastern Europeans are more likely than Western Europeans to say that religion is very important in their lives, that they attended religious services monthly and that the pray daily,” Smith shared from the surveys. “By comparison, at least half of respondents from Greece, Bosnia, Armenia, Georgia and Romania say that religion is important in their lives, while only about one out of 10 respondents from France, Germany and the United Kingdom said the same thing.”
The further one travels toward the Atlantic on the continent, the less likely one is to find devoted and practicing Christians.
“Western Europeans also are more likely than Eastern or Central Europeans to say they never pray, the data shows,” Smith shared.
A similar trend was found when it comes to one’s belief in God.
“Western Europeans are more likely to not believe in God than Central or Eastern Europeans,” Smith continued.
“Hungary, Czech Republic and Estonia are the only three Eastern and Central European countries where less than two-thirds of respondents say they believe in God, [while] fewer than two-thirds of respondents from most Western European countries said they believed in God. In countries like Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden – where there are large populations of religiously unaffiliated – less than half of adults said they believed in God.”
‘Lone Ranger’ Christians out West?
A large number of Western Europeans considering themselves Christians profess that they seldom practice or live out their Christian faith by fellowshipping with a local congregation.
“[M]ost adults surveyed still do consider themselves Christians – even if they seldom go to church,” a separate Pew Report published last spring noted. “Indeed, the survey shows that non-practicing Christians – defined, for the purposes of this report, as people who identify as Christians, but attend church services no more than a few times per year – make up the biggest share of the population across the region.”
The home of the Catholic Church is the only nation in Western Europe where one will find more churchgoing Christians than those who seldom attend services.
“In every country except Italy, they are more numerous than church-attending Christians – those who go to religious services at least once a month,” the March 2018 Pew report stressed. “In the United Kingdom, for example, there are roughly three times as many non-practicing Christians (55 percent) as there are church-attending Christians (18 percent) defined this way.”