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'Christianity as default is gone': the rise of a non-Christian Europe

Author: Harriet Sherwood
Publication: The Guardian
Date: March 21, 2018
URL:      https://amp.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/21/christianity-non-christian-europe-young-people-survey-religion?__twitter_impression=true

Europe’s march towards a post-Christian society has been starkly illustrated by research showing a majority of young people in a dozen countries do not follow a religion.

The survey of 16- to 29-year-olds found the Czech Republic is the least religious country in Europe, with 91% of that age group saying they have no religious affiliation. Between 70% and 80% of young adults in Estonia, Sweden and the Netherlands also categorise themselves as non-religious.

The most religious country is Poland, where 17% of young adults define themselves as non-religious, followed by Lithuania with 25%.

70% of young people in the UK identify with no religion

How 16- to 29-year-olds self-identify, %

 

No religion %

Christian %

Non-Christian religion %

Czech Rep.

91

9

-

Estonia

81

19

-

Sweden

75

18

7

Netherlands

72

19

9

UK

70

22

8

Hungary

67

33

-

Belgium

65

25

10

France

64

25

11

Finland

59

37

4

Denmark

60

34

6

Norway

59

36

5

Spain

55

40

5

Russia

49

41

10

Switzerland

46

44

10

Germany

45

47

8

Portugal

42

57

1

Ireland

39

59

2

Slovenia

38

59

3

Austria

37

52

11

Lithuania

25

75

-

Poland

17

83

-

In the UK, only 7% of young adults identify as Anglican, fewer than the 10% who categorise themselves as Catholic. Young Muslims, at 6%, are on the brink of overtaking those who consider themselves part of the country’s established church.

The figures are published in a report, Europe’s Young Adults and Religion, by Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University in London. They are based on data from the European social survey 2014-16.

Religion was “moribund”, he said. “With some notable exceptions, young adults increasingly are not identifying with or practising religion.”

The trajectory was likely to become more marked. “Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good – or at least for the next 100 years,” Bullivant said.

But there were significant variations, he said. “Countries that are next door to one another, with similar cultural backgrounds and histories, have wildly different religious profiles.”

59% of young people in the UK never attend religious services

Frequency of attendance, outside of special occasions, 16- to 29-year-olds

 

Never %

Less than once a week %

Weekly or more %

Czech Rep.

70

27

3

Netherlands

60

31

9

Spain

60

32

9

UK

59

34

7

Belgium

58

37

5

France

56

38

6

Hungary

51

46

3

Norway

47

47

6

Sweden

45

51

4

Denmark

44

52

4

Germany

42

52

6

Finland

41

54

5

Estonia

41

57

2

Switzerland

39

54

7

Russia

37

59

4

Portugal

35

45

20

Austria

33

63

4

Slovenia

29

64

7

Ireland

26

59

15

Lithuania

22

74

4

Poland

12

49

39

The two most religious countries, Poland and Lithuania, and the two least religious, the Czech Republic and Estonia, are post-communist states.

The trend of religious affiliation was repeated when young people were asked about religious practice. Only in Poland, Portugal and Ireland did more than 10% of young people say they attend services at least once a week.

In the Czech Republic, 70% said they never went to church or any other place of worship, and 80% said they never pray. In the UK, France, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands, between 56% and 60% said they never go to church, and between 63% and 66% said they never pray.

Among those identifying as Catholic, there was wide variation in levels of commitment. More than 80% of young Poles say they are Catholic, with about half going to mass at least once a week. In Lithuania, where 70% of young adults say they are Catholic, only 5% go to mass weekly.

Nearly two-thirds of young people in the UK never pray

Frequency of prayer, outside of religious services, 16- to 29-year-olds

 

Never %

Less than once a week %

Weekly or more %

Czech Rep.

80

14

6

Sweden

70

20

10

Denmark

67

24

9

Estonia

67

26

7

Netherlands

66

12

22

Norway

65

23

12

France

65

21

14

Spain

64

21

15

UK

63

19

18

Belgium

63

23

14

Hungary

59

25

16

Finland

51

36

13

Slovenia

48

34

18

Russia

46

40

14

Germany

43

32

25

Switzerland

43

36

21

Lithuania

43

47

10

Portugal

41

36

23

Austria

34

46

20

Ireland

31

38

31

Poland

17

33

50

According to Bullivant, many young Europeans “will have been baptised and then never darken the door of a church again. Cultural religious identities just aren’t being passed on from parents to children. It just washes straight off them.”

The figures for the UK were partly explained by high immigration, he added. “One in five Catholics in the UK were not born in the UK.

“And we know the Muslim birthrate is higher than the general population, and they have much higher [religious] retention rates.”

In Ireland, there has been a significant decline in religiosity over the past 30 years, “but compared to anywhere else in western Europe, it still looks pretty religious”, Bullivant said.

“The new default setting is ‘no religion’, and the few who are religious see themselves as swimming against the tide,” he said.

“In 20 or 30 years’ time, mainstream churches will be smaller, but the few people left will be highly committed.”
 
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