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The Future of Religion in Europe

Measured Optimism in New Study

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JULY 19, 2007 (Zenit) - Many predict a bleak future for Christianity in Europe, but in his latest book Philip Jenkins argues that the situation is not all bad. "God's Continent: Christianity, Islam and Europe's Religious Crisis," published by Oxford University Press, is the concluding volume in a trilogy on the future of Christianity.

The first two volumes -- "The Next Christendom" and "The New Faces of Christianity" -- concentrated mainly on the rise of religion in the global South of the world. The third volume takes a look at Europe, affected by a marked decline in practicing Christians, combined with a growing presence of Muslim immigrants.

Could Europe go the same way as North Africa, with Christianity supplanted by Islam? This is what some prognosticate, notes Jenkins. In reply he admits that the current situation is far from ideal in terms of Christian religious practice, but the situation is not as grim as some would have us believe.

In spite of a declining fertility rate and immigration from Islamic countries, Jenkins points out that in most West European nations, Muslims constitute only around 4-5% of the population. By comparison, in the United States, there is a minority presence of Latinos, Asians and other groups of around 30%.

There are varying projections for the future. Jenkins cites data from the U.S, National Intelligence Council that calculates the current Muslim population of around 15 million in Europe could rise to 28 million by 2025. The numbers, however, will not be evenly distributed. France, Germany and the Netherlands could have a Muslim minority of 10-15% by 2025.

Jenkins points out that if we take a wider definition of Europe, as being everything west of the former Soviet Union, then the Continent will have around 40 million Muslims by 2025. This is, however, only about 8% of the population.

Moreover, he argues that both Christianity and Islam face difficulties in surviving the secular cultural ambience in Europe and that is a mistake to suppose Islam will be immune to this pressure, which could well moderate the more strident elements.

Jenkins also advises against an overly alarmist view of the Muslim presence. It would be a mistake to lump the entire Muslim population in Europe in the category of radicals or religious extremists. Certainly, he admits, there are a number of extremist Muslim leaders and communities that are alienated from mainstream society. Yet alongside the radicals there are also moderate Muslims whose presence should not be forgotten.

When it comes to problems stemming from the Muslim presence in Europe Jenkins asserts that we need to distinguish their origins. In addition to tensions deriving from Islam itself we need to allow for economic, racial and social factors, as well as cultural traditions in the countries of origin of immigrants that are not an integral part of Islam.

Two paths

Jenkins contends that Europe could well take the path of the United States, which has managed to integrate large numbers of immigrants with varying religious and ethnic backgrounds. He does admit, however, that another path exists, that typified by Lebanon where religious identity becomes linked with economic and social grievances, leading to a far grimmer future.

In this challenge of deciding which path the Continent will take Jenkins notes that one factor handicapping European governments is a pervasive secularism that impedes authorities from treating seriously religious concerns and motivations.

In fact, Jenkins chronicles the impact of secularism on the Christian churches in one of the book's chapters. The decline in Christianity has been particularly marked in Protestant areas and in the countries that were under the dominion of the now defunct Soviet Union.

The Catholic Church has maintained a higher level of participation, but Jenkins adds, faces considerable challenges. The social and cultural forces have influenced the population to the point where family size in Catholic countries has dropped to the lowest levels in Europe. In addition, Church attendance in countries such as Italy and Spain has declined sharply in the last decade or so. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life have fallen notably, with little sign of any turnaround.

Nevertheless, Jenkins continues, along with this negative trend we need to consider other, more positive, elements. Despite the decline Europe is still home to a considerable Christian population. In Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, religious participation is still very high. In Britain Polish and Croatian immigrants have brought about a religious resurgence in some areas.

Pilgrims on the rise

Other encouraging trends include the high level of popular ...

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1 - 4 of 4 Comments

  1. Kevin
    5 years ago

    I am concerned about the quality of the Catholics though. Here in Canada we have many people claiming to be Catholic that truly have no clue what it means. They are pro abortion, pro gay marriage, don't think it is the real presence, want married or even gay priests to be allowed. They think that Catholic dogma is a cafeteria and they can pick and choose. Christianity may be not be in the sharp decline that popular media implies, but many that we have don't understand their own faith.

    5 years ago


  3. Ana
    6 years ago

    Gilbert - Christianity is not obsolete in Europe ... it's very much alive ... it's simply underground and mostly supported by foreign Christians ... the problem is how to make Christianity have a more public presence without labels and backlash ?

  4. Gilbert
    6 years ago

    It is true that muslims along the europe is spreading largely because christians are not doing well in their churches. Rather they engage in business.

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