Religion in Europe

Description of Religion

The Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union describes religion in the following terms: [1] Of the EU’s most populous nations, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Portugalare Catholic, as is Poland, which is due to join the Union early in the next century. Greece is Orthodox and The Netherlands is somewhat more Catholic than Protestant. South Germany and Austria are Catholic, but North Germanyis Protestant. The UK is predominantly Protestant, though with a significant Catholic minority (as well as a sizeable Muslim minority), and Scandinavia as a bloc is Lutheran Protestant. Europe is thus divided into a Nordic, Germanic, Anglo-Saxon Protestant vein, accounting for approximately one-third of the population, and a Latin and Central European Catholic vein, accounting for approximately twice as many. Some detect a deeper cultural significance in these historical divisions, going beyond theological beliefs to reflect ethical, social and even political attitudes, such as the independent-mindedness of the UK, Norway and Denmark. There is perhaps, for example, less resistance in Southern Europe to the collectivism of the EU, and less tolerance in Northern Europe for wayward attitudes towards compliance (see more in this European encyclopedia). On a minor scale, support for this type of analysis is to be found also in the mutual hostility and incomprehension of Catholic republicans and Protestant loyalists in Northern Ireland. There are, however, too many exceptions for any generalisation along these lines to yield reliable inferences.

Christian Democracy, the largest centre-right political movement in Europe, is a relic of a more religious age, owing its origins – at least in Germany – to the late 19th century Kulturkampf, or struggle between beliefs, when Prussia’s Bismarck tried to drive the Catholic Church out of politics. After World War II the descendants of the old Church party found a unifying cause in moderate Christian conservatism, in opposition to the more secular social democracy of the centre left and the atheistic Marxism of the extreme left. In Bavaria the movement remained Catholic and is embodied in the Christian Social Union party; elsewhere in Germany it is represented by the CDU, or Christian Democratic Union. In Italy, until the party’s demise in corruption scandals in the early 1990s, Democrazia Cristiana was its personification. The other major affiliated parties in Europe are the Christian Democrats in The Netherlands and the two Christian parties in Belgium.

With the passing of time, increasing secularisation, together with the inevitable compromises and shifting alliances of politics, have substantially drained Christian Democracy of its religious content, and when Turkey, stung by the blocking of its accession to the EU, accused Europe in 1997 of being an exclusive Christian society, it was anachronistically wide of the mark. There is indeed bias against Muslims (including Turkish, Pakistani and North African immigrants) in several European countries, but this is as much racial, or inspired by fear of competition for scarce jobs, as religious; and although the defining EU Treaties ban such discrimination, they cannot prevent it.


Notas y References

  1. Based on the book “A Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union from Aachen to Zollverein”, by Rodney Leach (Profile Books; London)

See Also

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