A new report that has just been published by a researcher in London shows that Europe is on the brink of becoming “post-Christian.”
Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and sociology of religion at St. Mary’s University in London used data from the 2014-16 European social survey. With that data he discovered that young adults (ages 16 to 29 years-old) in several European countries lack faith. The report covered multiple aspects of faith from church attendance to daily prayer.
The least religious country of all among that age range was the Czech Republic, with 91 percent of respondents admitting they had no religious affiliation. Estonia, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the UK rounded out the top five with 80, 75, 72, and 70 percent, respectively.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Poland was the most religious country, with only 17 percent of 16 to 29 year-olds claiming no religious affiliation. Lithuania, Austria, Slovenia and Ireland rounded out the top five of the most religious countries with only 25, 37, 38, and 39 percent of young adults responding that they had no religious beliefs.
“Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably for good,” Bullivant admitted. One of the findings that took him by surprise, however, was that, “Countries that are next door to one another, with similar cultural backgrounds and histories, have wildly different religious profiles.”
Of this younger generation, Bullivant said that many of them “will have been baptized and then never darken the door of a church again. Cultural religious identities just aren’t being passed on from parents to children. It just washes right off them.” As far as what the near future holds, Bullivant said, “In 20 or 30 years’ time, mainstream churches will be smaller, but the few people left will be highly committed.”
I would add to Bullivant’s projection that the demographics will continue to skew older and older, too. As the religious will bring in fewer and fewer young people. Church congregations will look more and more like the community room at a senior living facility.
I cannot help but feel a small bit of joy at reading about this. It is refreshing to see religion decline by so much over just a couple of generations. Not all atheists welcome this news, however. World-famous evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins shared this tweet along with the same Guardian article detailing these results that I linked to above. Dawkins’ tweet was rather ominous as he shared a couple of lines from one of the tales in Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children:
“Always keep a-hold of nurse
For fear of finding something worse”
I am not quite as pessimistic as Dawkins in this case, although it is worth considering what could happen if Christianity were suddenly relegated to a tiny fraction of the population in a large geographical area like Europe. I am sure that a large part of Dawkins’ concern is the growth of Islam in the religious vacuum left by Christianity’s decline. And while Islamic ideology poses its own dangers to society, that is not the only ideology that could grow in Christianity’s absence.
I have personally met atheists who believe in astrology, who believe in ghosts, who believe in the healing power of crystals, and some who believe that intergalactic aliens are taking an active role in guiding world affairs. All of that, to be blunt, is nonsense.
An atheist is simply someone who does not believe in the existence of God or gods. This is generally considered to be a rational conclusion as opposed to the faith-based conclusion that believers reach. But believers are faithful in large part due to the very long list of cognitive biases and logical fallacies that are inherent to all humans. Atheists are just as prone to those same biases and fallacies. Things like empiricism, science, and reason are tools that humans have developed over the last 2,500 years of intellectual history to overcome our biases, and to avoid fallacies. The progress of scientific and technological development over just the last 500 years is a testament to how effective these tools of empiricism and reason are, but we should never take them for granted.
Humans are far from perfect. The most brilliant and logical scientist will still have his or her own biases that they must consider whenever evaluating truth claims about reality. Whenever we believe something simply because we want it to be true or because we find it consoling in some way that is a huge red flag. We should immediately stop and reconsider. Scientists do this by trying to prove their own hypothesis false, instead of true. It is a great corrective mechanism.
To tie this back to a post-Christian Europe, just because religion is on the decline does not mean we should be complacent. Critical thinking and logical reasoning still need to be promoted as much as possible. Giving up on one type of magical idea and embracing another one does no one any good.