Vanishing Sea of Faith
European Islam & the Doubtful Future of Christian Europe
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.
- Spain's socialist government...Spain's!...legitimized same-sex "marriages."
- The papal biographer George Weigel, who has lately written a deft little book on the subject, The Cube and the Cathedral, sees a continent gripped by "metaphysical boredom," its high culture actually "Christophobic" in content. "European man," Weigel asserts, "has convinced himself that in order to be modern and free, he must be radically secular."
- The new pope, Benedict XVI, previously Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who inherits the job of addressing all this confusion of purpose, would surely agree with Weigel's analysis. Benedict views as "total profanity" the "ideological secularism" that is seemingly now Europe's overarching creed.
Milton, thou shouldst be living at this hour! And maybe, for good measure, Luther, Calvin, Augustine, Aquinas, and C. S. Lewis. Not excluding Hilaire Belloc, who at the end of World War I saw all this coming: the "dissolution of standards," the "melting of the spiritual framework."
In Europe and the Faith, Belloc wrote glumly of how "authority, the very principle of life, loses its meaning, and this awful edifice of civilization which we have inherited . . . trembles and threatens to crash down." Then the closing, well-remembered grace note: "Europe will return to the Faith, or she will perish. The Faith is Europe. And Europe is the Faith."
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