Relfecting on the thousands of young people that came out to greet Pope John Paul II in Toronto recently, John O'Sullivan concludes that much of Christianity's failure to engage secularized culture is because many Christian churches have themselves become secularized.
It is 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 three hundred years missionaries had ventured forth to convert the heathen. Today the Christian world is increasingly the Third World where the new Christians tilt dramatically towards evangelical and traditional forms of belief.
...If Europe is a post-Christian society, then North America is still a moderately observant one. But both exist in a world where Asia, Africa and Latin America are passionately devout.
And 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, says Zulehner, "the churches have secularized themselves."
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