The decline of religion in Europe: a profound societal change!

Published on 28/12/2022

The latest surveys carried out on the European continent show a sharp decline in religious practice. Religions, which until a few decades ago were regarded as historical pillars of European culture, are now seeing their numbers fall to a minority in many countries. What lessons can we draw from this at national and European level?

Secularisation: a societal shift

The democratic system, linguistic and cultural diversity, the ban on capital punishment, the protection of minorities, the universal system of education and social protection, the protection of human rights and the status of women are the main hallmarks of the European way of life.

We continue to live as if nothing had happened. And yet, one of the pillars of our European society is undergoing a profound change, even a tipping point due to a reversal of the majority from confessional to non-confessional. This societal shift is due to the phenomenon of secularisation, which is advancing apace to the detriment of churches and religious communities.

The immense power of the Catholic, Protestant and Church of England churches has largely evaporated. There are many reasons for this, including the growing disinterest of younger generations in all things religious. It should also be pointed out that the new generations are increasingly studying at a high level and, among them, women have become particularly emancipated. Yet the churches in question have not seen the change coming, entangled as they are in a tradition from another era.

"De-Christianisation of the continent

EAFT has carried out a series of research studies based in particular on surveys and polls conducted by the PEW Research Center. The Center "is a non-partisan think tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world." It conducts opinion polls, demographic research, content analysis and other data-driven social science research. It does not take political positions.

Numerous surveys conducted by the PEW Research Center and other polling companies show that secularisation in Europe is spreading rapidly. As Europe used to be largely Christian, secularisation is now taking on the meaning of "de-Christianisation".

A few examples :

France The number of people today who do not identify with any religion is almost 70%. In 1950, a PEW survey found that 90% of French people identified themselves as Catholics. In 2021, a new Pew survey estimated the number of Catholics at around 32%.

Belgium As in many European countries, churches are empty. Only 5% of Belgians say they still go to church every week.

Germany When people stop paying their church tax, it means they have left their church. Hundreds of thousands of Germans have taken this step in recent years. In fact, the heads of the Catholic and Protestant Churches in Germany themselves report, and we quote them, "a deep crisis" in the case of the former and "a frightening number of departures" in the case of the latter.

Around 360,000 Catholics left in 2021 alone. Catholics now account for 26% of the German population. Protestants: the number of believers has fallen below 20 million today, representing less than 24% of the population.

-according to the Spanish statistical institute, just 22 % of couples who married in the first half of the year walked down the aisle. That's unprecedented.

- And we could go on with the Netherlands, Scandinavia and other European countries.

The British case

-Let's end with the latest figures from the ten-yearly census carried out in England and Wales in 2021 and whose results were published on Tuesday 29 November 2022: for the first time, less than half of the population of England and Wales - 27.5 million people - described themselves as 'Christian', 5.5 million fewer than in 2011.

There were even calls to question the role of the Church of England in the governance of the country (there is no written constitution). King Charles III is the supreme head of the Church of England, while two archbishops and 24 bishops of the Church of England, named Lords Spiritual, sit as of right in the upper house, known as the House of Lords


The above leads us to conclude that non-believers are now in the majority in Western Europe. Having said that, we European freethinkers should draw a number of consequences at national and European level. In this way, the legitimacy of our presence and our demands vis-à-vis the European institutions should be strengthened.

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