While fewer Europeans are going to church than ever before, a large majority still consider themselves religious, recent research by the Bertelsmann Stiftung, Germany’s largest privately-operating foundation, shows.
"Although everyone has been talking about religion, there has been no reliable information about what people actually believe and its consequences for everyday life," said Martin Jaeger, a project manager with the Gütersloh-based foundation. "This survey looked for the first time at religiosity, rather than just institutional affiliations and self-perceptions. It shows the situation is highly complex; Europeans are much more religious than is often assumed."
A total of 21 000 respondents from 21 countries took part in the "religion monitor" survey that included 100 detailed questions about belief in a divine being, faith experiences and interest in religion. From the answers received, 74 percent of people described themselves as religious, and a quarter as "very religious", with the highest levels recorded in Italy and Poland, and the lowest in France.
Roman Catholics were more likely to be devout than Protestants, with 42 percent of Catholics stating that they attended church, compared to 15 percent of Protestants, although a large proportion of all ages also saw their beliefs as individualistic, and embracing only certain aspects of tradition.
The survey suggests religiousness is much more extensive in Europe than in Russia, but lower than in the United States and other parts of the world.
"The findings suggest Europe still draws on Christian values," Jaeger told Ecumenical News International on 2 October. "Religiousness still clearly exerts a significant influence on the social and cultural life of Europe. Its role in linking the nations of the European Union should not be underestimated."
EU politicians have faced accusations of ignoring the role of churches and faiths, which were not mentioned in any EU documents until the late 1990s. Although a new Europe treaty acknowledges the continent’s "cultural, religious and humanist inheritance", some church leaders have warned that the EU’s narrowly secular emphasis fails to reflect social and cultural attitudes.
In the survey, presented at a Brussels press conference in September, 27 percent of Europeans said they did not belong to any church, while 92 percent said they thought all religions contained "some seed of truth".
Forty-two percent accepted, or were open to pantheistic conceptions that identify God with nature, while well over half of all respondents said their faith had no bearing on their political views and sexual behaviour.
Still, weekly or irregular church attendance remained part of normal life for 90 percent of Poles and 75 percent of Italians, with attendance figures of 45 percent for the French and 44 percent for Germans.
Jaeger said, "Traditional churches clearly have a communication problem because people are more open to religious messages and practices than we thought."
(c) Ecumenical News International
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