For Whom the Bell Tolls: Is it too Early to Sound the Death Knell for Religion in Europe?

March 1, 2008

Author: Neil Datta

Source: Conscience

In Denmark, Thorkild Grosboel, a Lutheran priest, declares, “There is no heavenly God, there is no eternal life and there is no resurrection.” His local bishop, Lise-Lotte Rebel, suspends but cannot dismiss him. Not surprising in a country where just over 3 percent of the population attends church on a regular basis. Throughout Europe, church attendance is falling precipitously. In the United Kingdom, just over 10 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds attend church at least once a month, and fully 63 percent describe themselves as “closed to the church.” The situation is not very different in Catholic Spain, where 14 percent of young Spaniards attend church regularly, down 50 percent in four years. According to the Vatican, Europe is home to 200,000 of the world’s 400,000 Catholic priests. Yet for a decade the number in Europe has seen a net decline. In 2002 the decline in European priests (3,010) was greater than the increased number of priests on all other continents combined.

Does this mean that the question of the separation of church and state, or religion and politics, is over and done with and that Europe is inexorably becoming secular and atheist? Far from it. In 2007 alone, the interplay of religion and politics brought down a government, led to numerous lawsuits to further refine personal religious freedom, led us to seek a new balance in several countries regarding religious teachings and a community’s values, and called into question the European Union’s global leadership on protecting (and funding) sexual and reproductive health and rights. The Godlessness of Europeans has in fact opened up new and unexpected frontiers in the debates over the separation of church and state.