The Truth About Religion in Europe
Secular thought prevails in Europe. Why would anyone doubt that? It seems you can easily prove it.
First, consider the debate among European Union leaders about the EU draft constitution. One of the biggest issues? Whether religion should be mentioned in the text. On one end, the consensus was absolutely not. Others opposed this, saying the Continent’s “Christian heritage” had to be cited. Some, taking the middle ground, said the treaty should at least mention God.
Secularists prevailed. The final text of the constitution, signed by EU leaders this past October, makes no mention of Christianity or God.
Then, in the fall of 2004, shortly after the European Commission president selected his top aides, EU legislators questioned the proposed Italian commissioner, Rocco Buttiglione. Why? He was too religious. A friend of the pope, Buttiglione holds Catholic views on homosexuality, marriage and the role of women that were considered too extreme for the Union’s government.
Secularists prevailed. Buttiglione was forced to step down.
Third, legislators in Europe said religious symbols (like headscarves) should be banned in public schools to keep church and state separate.
Secularists prevailed. In France and Germany, religious apparel is banned for both students and teachers—mostly affecting Muslim women, and even some Catholic nuns who work in public schools.
Even the most historically Catholic countries seem to be secularizing. Spain is trying to pass legislation legalizing homosexual marriage, hastening divorces, facilitating abortions and even ending the obligatory religious instruction in public schools. One of Italy’s courts barred the display of the crucifix in public school classrooms.
Are secularists prevailing in Europe? Are Europeans truly shedding their religious history? Is Europe “post-Christian,” as one analyst declared?
The answer: not exactly. Though the instances stated above make secularism worth noting, most of the assumptions about religion’s decline in Europe are based on false premises. As the cliché goes, things are not always what they seem. But the world is buying into these falsehoods—and it could lull us into dangerous thinking about Europe, especially if we consider its bloody history.
Do not be duped! It’s time to debunk the myths concerning religion and secularism in Europe!
Myth #1: Europe is not as religious as America.
Statistics seem to show plainly that Europe is quite secular when compared with America.
In Europe’s “Bible belt”—heavily Catholic countries like Italy and Poland—only a third of citizens say that religion is very important to them. In Germany, it’s 21 percent. In Western Europe, only half the population even goes to church. Fewer than 10 percent of citizens in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark attend church services at least once a month.
By contrast, 82 percent of Americans say God is important to them; 48 percent believe the U.S. has special protection from God. Nearly half of Americans say they go to church every week.
And then there’s the president—voted for by about three quarters of conservative Christians—who ends his speeches with “God bless America.” As the undoubtedly embittered Buttiglione said about this, “It’s likely that in the European Parliament, the U.S. president would be considered unfit for his job on account of his religious beliefs. Even worse, for Europe’s legislators, would be that he’s not ashamed to express those beliefs so clearly and so publicly” (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 10, 2004).
But taking stats at face value is faulty, as any statistician or poll analyst would tell you. This is especially true when it comes to comparing religion on these two continents. These studies do not show the depth of such religious behavior. At the Trumpet, we have always taken exception to statistics about religion in America, pointing out that the Bible pegs America as a “hypocritical nation” (Isaiah 10:6). America is not as “religious” as it says it is! (see article, page 22). As we demonstrated in last month’s issue, the majority of Americans are not morally conservative, as the media’s coverage of the presidential election would lead us to assume.
Therefore, to say Europe is not as religious as America is a fallacy. To say Europe is not as religious as America says America is—that would be far more accurate.
Let’s put statistics aside for a moment and consider these facts about Europe—comparing them with American culture.
Though America’s South can boast a church building on about every street corner, it’s in Europe where the cathedrals shape the skyline: These eerie, centuries-old buildings are the skyscrapers. Even Poland’s atheist president said, “The most significant feature of every town and city in Europe is either a cathedral or a church” (Frontline, Jan. 17-30, 2004).
Spain’s public schools have mandatory religious instruction up to three hours a week. In Germany, citizens pay a “church tax” on their wages, which funds its churches—a sort of government-imposed tithing system. Can you fathom that happening in the U.S.? Or imagine an American political party with a religious persuasion as part of its name. In Germany, you have the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union.
Consider: The very points used to prove how non-religious Europe is actually attest to its religiousness. That there even were so many voices in Europe pushing for the inclusion of God or Christianity in the constitution shows a sentiment among Europeans that would never enter American politics to the same degree. Imagine Congressmen bickering about whether Christianity should be mentioned by name in the U.S. Constitution? And truth is, the constitution—though already signed by EU leaders—must be ratified by each nation of the 25-member union in order to come into effect. With Christianity missing from the preamble, this is highly unlikely. Last month, for example, over a million Europeans, claiming to represent most states in the Union, delivered a petition to their EU leaders demanding that the constitution be changed to recognize Christianity. Members of the European Parliament voted to back the request.
Likening European religion to American is like the old apples-and-oranges comparison. As Asia Times observed, “Americans leave a church when it suits them, build a new one when the whim strikes them ….” This, as the writer pointed out, “confounds the Europeans, whose clerics are conversant with centuries of doctrine” (Nov. 30, 2004; emphasis mine throughout). Later, it stated, “Within the European frame of reference, there is no such thing as American Christendom—no centuries-old schools of theology, no tithes, no livings, no church taxes, no establishment—there is only Christianity …. It does not resemble what Europeans refer to by the word religion.”
Myth #2: Democratic governments always represent the majority opinion of their peoples.
Europe’s secularism is most prevalent among its governments—its politicians. It’s easy to assume—given the democratic nature of these governments—that this is a fair representation of the population’s sentiments about religion. This is a false assumption.
Governments, in fact, do not always represent the popular position. Take the Iraq war for example: Polls showed that several of the democratic governments that supported the U.S.-led coalition represented populations with majorities opposed to the war.
Of the democratic nations, European governments are most blamed for being out of touch with the populace. This is especially true when it comes to the supranational European Union. Dig a little into EU politics, and it won’t take long to find that EU legislators are largely unaccountable to their constituents (see “Europe’s True Nature Exposed” in our August 2004 issue). United Press International stated that France’s “current leadership has … arm-twisted the rest of Europe to accept a constitution that does not include any reference to God or Christianity” (Dec. 7, 2004).
So, to what extent the secularist approach of some European governments actually represents the religious sentiment of its citizens cannot simply be assumed. It is fallacious to link the two directly.
There is, in fact, a deep religious undercurrent rising among Europeans.
The scene of a May 2003 religious rally in Germany is not an uncommon sight. Ecumenical Church Day in Berlin that year actually lasted five days, with more than 200,000 attendants gathering in front of the Reichstag (Germany’s government building) for the largest ecumenical service ever. The celebration included passing bowls of water from the Reichstag’s fountain to symbolize baptism, and hymn singing, along with readings in Polish, Arabic and Swahili.
After Buttiglione’s resignation, “Almost overnight, the old Continent’s disenfranchised Christians—both Catholic and Protestant—rallied around Buttiglione. Instantly, he became the head of a dynamic new all-Christian mass movement in Europe” (ibid.).
In Germany, “the new Christian right is in the midst of forming,” according to Richard Ziegert, an expert monitoring religious sects there (Deutsche Welle, Nov. 11, 2004). Ziegert estimates that there are about 250,000 radical Christians in Germany. He even suspected that Christians might get more involved in politics based on their perspective of how religion factored into the U.S. presidential race.
A June 16, 2003, Time International article contended that religion in Europe was not in decline, but rather just under the surface—and that it was rising. “Faith is more private, more personal, which means it may be harder to find and often more at odds with traditional Christianity. But in some places—among immigrants and youth—it is thriving and even growing.”
Some Europeans attribute the decrease in church attendance and closing of churches to “God going private”—showing a rise in individual or independent Christians in Europe. One French Orthodox theologian said, “People are choosing to fend for themselves” (ibid.).
The truth is, Christianity is inextricable from Europe! Samuel P. Huntington, in The Clash of Civilizations, asked where Europe’s eastern boundary was (as the other three sides are delineated by huge bodies of water). “The most compelling and pervasive answer to these questions is provided by the great historical line that has existed for centuries separating Western Christian peoples from Muslim and Orthodox peoples. This line dates back to the division of the Roman Empire in the fourth century and to the creation of the Holy Roman Empire in the 10th century. … Europe ends where Western Christianity ends and Islam and Orthodoxy begin.”
Myth #3: Religion has little influence on European politics.
Though we’ve established that the governments are largely more secular than their populations, we must also consider the amount of influence the Vatican exercises over Europe—whether on governments directly or through its influence over the citizens that hold the power to change those governments.
Have we forgotten the history of Europe as a Catholic-dominated empire? European leaders go so far as to say they are recreating the Roman Empire, but what we see building is a resurrection of the age-old Holy Roman Empire (holy denoting a church-led state, not denoting moral worth or purity), which goes all the way back to Charlemagne.
And now, as leaders toil to unify so diverse a continent, the only common thread is its religiousheritage. As the pope has said, Europe was “born from a meeting of diverse cultures bearing the Christian message” (www.ewtn.com, Oct. 31, 2003).
Former European Commissioner Romano Prodi noted back in 2003, “As we build the new, enlarged Europe, we cannot marginalize religions and the movements that have played a part in European integration and Europe’s cultural development and that are showing renewed interest and desire for dialogue with the Union’s institutions.”
David N. Samuel, author of European Union and the Roman Catholic Influence in Britain, wrote, “There is a natural affinity between the powerful state and the Roman Catholic theocratic ideal. The Church of Rome makes no bones about calling on its members to vote in a particular way, as it did in the Italian elections of 1992.”
Even in January 2003, the Vatican released a document containing guidelines on Catholicism’s position on key political issues (i.e. abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage) as a prod on Catholic politicians to vote for legislation in line with certain “non-negotiable ethical principles.” According to the Associated Press release, “The Vatican stressed that it wasn’t trying to dictate policy or interfere in matters of state, but to ‘instruct and illuminate’ Catholic political leaders” (Jan. 16, 2003). Yes—but in some cases, some Catholic leaders have threatened to deny communion to politicians who don’t vote in line with Catholic teaching.
Myth #4: Europe has matured out of its religious past and into a permanently secular future.
European history and culture is a pendulum—swaying back and forth between two great extremes: the spiritual-mystical-religious side, and the rational-scientific-academic side. During the Medieval period, Europe was dominated by the Holy Roman Empire. In the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation weakened Catholicism’s stranglehold on Europe, and the Continent saw a period of secular achievement—an age of rationalism. Then came the Baroque era, which featured absolute monarchies with divine mandates. After this, the pendulum swung back to generate the ideals of the Enlightenment. Europe turned away from these philosophies in the 19th century, until it returned to rational thought at the turn of the 20th century following the impact of Darwin, Freud and Nietzsche—individuals who introduced the theory of evolution and German rationalism.
The 20th century was largely a secular period. Modernization was considered contradictory to spiritualism. But, as Dr. Huntington pointed out, that notion was challenged in the latter part of the 20th century. Islam is not being modernized, he argued—rather, modernity is being Islamicized. The same is happening in Judaism and Christianity—on every continent, in every country.
Even if Europe’s secularism is as pronounced as the media would have us believe, know this: As is the case in Europe’s history, the pendulum will not stay on that side for long.
What will send Europe swinging back to spiritualism? What will unite Europeans under the Vatican? Could it be the threat from another fundamentalist religious movement?
Has this not already begun to happen? Since the brutal murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamic extremist, Europeans have been up in arms about their relationship with Muslims. “Clashes between a traditionally white, Christian Europe and the increasing tide of Arabs and Muslims are heating up, with several countries becoming veritable powder kegs” (Stratfor, Dec. 2, 2004).
It should therefore be no surprise that Turkey’s proposed EU membership has been so hotly contested. Turkey is willing to compromise on seemingly anything in order to get in—but Europe’s movers and shakers have been saying no since 1963! Why? As several key EU and Vatican leaders have said in not so many words, a Muslim nation doesn’t belong in a Christian union. As Huntington states, “The identification of Europe with Western Christendom provides a clear criterion for the admission of new members to Western organizations.”
Would a secular, non-spiritual society—as we are told Europe is—be so concerned about the presence of non-Christian elements in its midst?
And the headscarf ban that affects Muslim women, does that not reveal more a phobia against non-Christian religion than against religion in general?
Watch for Islam’s aggravation of Europe to lead to a furious revival of Catholicism on the Continent!
Prophesied Future of Religion in Europe Europeans will soon realize that the only way to find security from the radically religious elements to their southeast—and to unify their Continent—is under the mighty hand of the Vatican.
Plain Truth magazine founder Herbert W. Armstrong said, “The nations of Europe are hungry for full political union. But they do not know how to bring it about. Bible prophecy says it will happen. … Only a strong authority, one all European nations could look to, can achieve it. The pope could be that authority. It would become a Roman Catholic union of nations, combining church and state” (coworker letter, Oct. 25, 1973).
A bold prophecy! How could Mr. Armstrong be so sure? History is one guide, but even more sure than that is God’s Word—foretelling thousands of years ago the fate of Europe and what part religion would play.
In Revelation 13:1-10, the Apostle John relates a vision of a treacherous beast emerging from the sea. We have proven that this beast is a united Europe, a union of 10 nations or 10 groups of nations under one dictator. Herbert Armstrong’s eye-opening booklet Who or What Is the Prophetic Beast? will explain this to you (it is free of charge).
In verses 11-18, John writes of another beast, which had “two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon” (verse 11).
Mr. Armstrong proved, using this and other scriptures, that Revelation 13 shows the two sides of a formidable global power—one, the political side; the other, the religious side. The second beast is a powerful religion that will be at the helm of the first beast! (verses 12, 15). Other scriptures note a woman (biblical imagery for a church) riding—or steering—this beast (as our literature explains).
Notice the power and charisma of this coming religious leader: “And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast …” (verses 13-14). People will worship this man for the supernatural wonders he will perform.
Europe will experience a dramatic religious revival very soon! Religion is Europe’s future! And sadly, like the Holy Roman Empire before it, when religion radically grips Europe, it will bring unprecedented destruction—this time upon the entire Earth!
The religious undercurrent in Europe, being aggravated by radical Islam, will ultimately affect your life in a direct way! It will be a time of religious persecution unlike any other (Revelation 13:15-18; 17:6). But God promises to protect those who obey Him—who practice true religion.
With reporting by Sarah Leap