Sunday, June 8, 2003

From Time magazine's European edition

A lengthy look at the state of Christianity in Europe.

It's an interesting, if scattershot look at the situation. Main points: the hot spots in the Christian landscape are among immigrants and youth:

Across the Continent, immigrant congregations are thriving. Europe's newest residents are among its most faithful, a trend not exclusive to Christianity. Many Muslim immigrants arrive with little more than a suitcase and their religious devotion, which often clashes with the mores and even the laws of their new homes. And when Christians from the Caribbean and Africa move to Europe, they "bring with them habits of the heart," says Joel Edwards, the Jamaica-born general director of Britain's Evangelical Alliance. He notes that African churches are some of the U.K.'s biggest and fastest-growing, and that so many immigrants have joined that more than half of London's practicing Christians are now nonwhite.

.....As Europe has grown less religious, you'd expect that its youth would too, and in several countries — Britain, Spain and the Netherlands — they have. But overall, "an increase in religion among youth is very clear," says French sociologist Yves Lambert. Among Danes, the number of 18-to-29-year-olds who professed belief in God leapt from 30% of youth in 1981 to 49% in 1999. In Italy, the jump was from 75% to 87%. Even in France, which has Europe's highest proportion of atheists, the figure crept from 44% to 47%.

The rise seems remarkably public. "It's an openness we haven't had for years," says Bishop Martin Lind of Linköping, Sweden. Last month, he took a five-day pilgrimage in honor of the 700th anniversary of the birth of St. Birgitta and was shocked that "500 young people walked with me." One million Catholics descended on Paris for World Youth Day 1997 celebrations. In 2000, 2 million flocked to Rome for the event's Jubilee edition. And at least 40% of those at Ecumenical Church Day in Berlin were under 30. "At home, not many young people go to church anymore," said Andrea Barbi, 17, who traveled from Neu-Ulm in Bavaria for the festivities. "But when I look around here, it's not much of a problem."

What comes through loud and clear is the crisis in authority - and not just institutional authority, but authority, period. Subjective experience has won the current battle, and if anyone here is serious about evangelization, we should understand that this is the issue at hand. Holy Writ has been historically-critically methodized out of any transcendent signifigance and religious leaders' pedestals have crashed to the ground. But the yearning for truth still remains. How do we present the Good News in this context to all people - young and old, intellectually-bent or not, rich and poor, of every culture and race?

Oh yes...happy Pentecost.

One point that this article omits, as do many discussions of this issue, is the long historical view, namely that the state of Christianity in contemporary Europe is not solely the fruit of modernity and relativism. Depending on where in Europe you live, it is the fruit of decades of brutal state-enforced atheism, centuries of government hostility toward Christianity, particularly Catholicism, and, ironically enough, the questionable effects of established religions on those supposedly practicing them.

By the way, this is also the topic of Andrew Greeley's latest book, Religion in Europe at the End of the Second Millenium: A Sociological Profile

Other articles in the same section:

Missionaries coming to Europe

Examining the Holy Lance relic.