A recent report of the Pew Foundation gives interesting insights into the continuing depth of the Christian identity in Europe, despite the impact of immigration and secular media and widely secular politics.
Most of the adults surveyed still do consider themselves Christians. Indeed, the survey shows that non-practicing Christians (defined 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. Nonetheless the Christian identity is still retained and in an age when so much is heard about the importance of how people self-identify it is surely surprising that the media is seemingly ignoring this constituency !
Even after very significant recent increases immigration from the Middle East and North Africa, there are many more non-practicing Christians in Western Europe than people of all other religions combined (Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc.).
Majorities of non-practicing Christians and church-attending Christians also believe in the possibility of life after death and that humans have souls apart from their physical bodies.. Most religiously unaffiliated adults, on the other hand, reject belief in an afterlife, and many do not believe they have a soul.
While majorities of religiously unaffiliated adults agree with the statements, “There are no spiritual forces in the universe, only the laws of nature” and “Science makes religion unnecessary in my life.”
The researchshows that the Christian identity 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. For example:
- Non-practicing Christians tend to believe in ‘some higher power or spiritual force’ but not in what they understand to be the “biblical depiction of God” (though this is never defined which is problematic) while most church-attending Christians did say they believe in the biblical depiction of God.
- The majority of religiously unaffiliated adults do not believe in any type of higher power or spiritual force in the universe, (which is perhaps surprising given the prevalence of rhetoric to the effect that people think themselves “spiritual but not religious” which may suggest that this is a category which may not connect anything metaphysically transcendent with their spirituality which surely merits further exploration).
- Nearly all churchgoing Christians who are parents or guardians of children under 18, say they are raising those children in the Christian faith. Among non-practicing Christians, the overwhelming majority also say they are bringing up their children as Christians. While religiously unaffiliated parents are mostly raising their children with no religion.
- Non-practicing Christians still tend to express more positive than negative views toward churches and religious organizations, saying they serve society by helping the poor and bringing communities together; while unsurprisingly, religiously unaffiliated Europeans are less likely to say this, and church-attending Christians are the most likely to hold positive views in this regard.
- On balance, self-identified Christians – whether they attend church or not – are more likely than religiously unaffiliated people to express negative views of immigrants, as well as of Muslims and Jews (but this diminished with the education level of those asked)
- Non-practicing Christians are less likely than church-attending Christians to express nationalist views but they are more likely than “nones” to say that their culture is superior to others and that family background is important to national identity (e.g., that one must have a Spanish family background to be truly Spanish).
- The vast majority of non-practicing Christians, like the vast majority of the unaffiliated in Western Europe, favor legal abortion and same-sex marriage. Church-attending Christians are more conservative on these issues, though even among churchgoing Christians, there is significant support – and in several countries even majority support – for legal abortion and same-sex marriage.
While majorities in all 15 countries surveyed felt that religion should be kept separate from government policies (median of 60%), substantial minorities (median of 35%) of non-practicing Christians think the government should support religious values and beliefs in their country – and they are much more likely than religiously unaffiliated adults to take this position. (E.g in the United Kingdom, 40% of non-practicing Christians say the government should support religious values and beliefs.
In every country surveyed, church-attending Christians are much more likely than non-practicing Christians to favor government support for religious values. In Austria, for example, a majority (64%) of churchgoing Christians take this position.
The Report is very substantial and for a much fuller summary of its wide ranging and important findings the Pew Website page is highly recommended.
It is also possible to download there the Report in full as a PDF file