When thinking of Europe, most people envision a secular society that has cast off the Christianity undergirding the continent’s history. A new Pew survey pushes back on the image of a secularized Europe, though. The majority of Europeans still identify as Christians.
According to the poll, the only European country where the religiously unaffiliated and undecideds (58 percent) outnumber Christians is the Netherlands. Norway and Sweden are the only other European countries where the religiously unaffiliated and undecideds are close to 50 percent. As a whole, 71 percent of Western Europeans identify as Christians.
However, before American Christians become too excited about the poll, there is a glaring contradiction within the Pew Research Center’s findings.
Although the vast majority of adults say they were baptized, today many do not describe themselves as Christians. Some say they gradually drifted away from religion, stopped believing in religious teachings, or were alienated by scandals or church positions on social issues, according to a major new Pew Research Center survey of religious beliefs and practices in Western Europe.
Yet most adults surveyed still do consider themselves Christians, even if they seldom go to church. 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. In every country except Italy, they are more numerous than church-attending Christians (those who go to religious services at least once a month). In the United Kingdom, for example, there are roughly three times as many non-practicing Christians (55%) as there are church-attending Christians (18%) defined this way.
The survey raises the question, “Do the majority of Europeans understand what it means to be a Christian?” Thankfully, the researchers behind the survey must have asked themselves a similar question because they posed some thoughtful questions to the respondents.
The Pew Research Center study – which involved more than 24,000 telephone interviews with randomly selected adults, including nearly 12,000 non-practicing Christians – finds that Christian identity remains a meaningful marker in Western Europe, even among those who seldom go to church. It is not just a “nominal” identity devoid of practical importance. On the contrary, the religious, political and cultural views of non-practicing Christians often differ from those of church-attending Christians and religiously unaffiliated adults.
One glaring difference between church-attending Christians and non-practicing Christians is found in their differing views of who God is.
Although many non-practicing Christians say they do not believe in God “as described in the Bible,” they do tend to believe in some other higher power or spiritual force. By contrast, most church-attending Christians say they believe in the biblical depiction of God. And a clear majority of religiously unaffiliated adults do not believe in any type of higher power or spiritual force in the universe.
In other words, the non-practicing Christians in Europe are mostly (if not completely) made up of non-Christians. Rejecting the God of the Bible is a rejection of Christianity. Attempting to cling to an identity while simultaneously rejecting what gives that identity its actual meaning is an attempt to circumvent the law of non-contradiction. Just like a circle cannot be a square, someone who doesn’t believe in the God of the Bible cannot be a Christian.
In conclusion, it appears that Europe is as secular as we all thought. However, this new poll does prove that Europeans are confused as to what the term “Christian” means.