Thursday, November 29, 2007


One of the folks commenting on my blog post about the current discontent in France said something that I'd like to address in a separate post. He claimed that Europeans were de-Christianized.

In reality, that's about the opposite of the true situation. You see, Europe is overwhelmingly Christian, at least on paper. Most European countries have something the US lacks (and that many evangelicals would love to see), namely an establishment of Christianity as the official state religion, codified into law.

Take Germany as an example. In Germany, you're sorted into Catholic or Protestant (Lutheran), depending on the professed faith of your parents (who are either Catholic or Lutheran depending on the faith of their parents, and so on.) The state takes "church tax" out of your paycheck, which goes to the church of your denomination directly. You can opt out of church tax by leaving the church altogether, but that requires some paperwork and an official declaration, so it's a bit of a hassle.

Most Germans are what I call "socially religious". Church membership is impressed upon you from birth, church taxes are withheld automatically, and most Germans don't think church to be a big deal. They merely congregate there whenever there's an official family occasion, like a christening, marriage, or funeral, but on the whole, Germans (and most Europeans) stay out of church for the rest of the year. Church is more a tradition and social convention than something into which you invest active participation and thought.

As a result, Christianity is not only the dominant faith in Europe , but also a stagnating faith. Almost everyone belongs to one of the Big Two denominations on paper, but the whole thing is just something to enjoy some tradition and ritual when the family gets a new addition. You see, the clergy get paid through the church tax, and they get the same monthly check whether they hold a good sermon, a bad sermon, or no sermon at all. This stagnation of religion is despite the official status of it, and probably because of the financial support of the state for it.

Contrast this with the United States, which has no form of direct state support for religion whatsoever, and the picture is a little different. In the US, churches are competing for congregations in a free market situation, and as a result, American Christians have far more choice, and far more active religious lives, than their European "paper Christian" counterparts.

It seems like the best way to have a faith stagnate is to intertwine it with government, rely on the state as a revenue intermediary, and then have the clergy get complacent because they no longer need to attract and hold a congregation. Looks like having an officially declared "Christian nation" isn't all it's cracked up to be.

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