A recent survey contains one of the most disheartening statistics I’ve ever read: In eastern Germany the survey was unable to find a single person under the age of 28 who claimed they were “certain God exists.”
The survey was taken in 2008, which means that not a single person born after the fall of the Berlin Wall could be found who expressed no doubt about the reality of their Creator. In contrast, 17.8 of young people in western Germany are certain about God (which is still low compared to the U.S. (53.8 percent) or even Russia (28.2 percent).
In the Guardian, Peter Thompson says that some observers believe East German atheism is a form of continuing political and regional identification:
For example, in 2000 the Catholic theologian Eberhard Tiefensee identified what he called an “East German folk atheism” which could be argued to constitute a substantial part of a regional identity against West German Catholic domination.
Secularisation processes are under way throughout the continent and the role of religion and the church in modernity are being questioned everywhere, from gay marriage to women priests to abortion and on to whether the EU should identify itself as a Christian entity. The question should perhaps be whether it is actually folk atheism that represents the future of Europe.
There is no question that Europe is growing more secular. As the survey reveals, in seven of the European countries—Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Norway, Sweden—fewer than 10 percent of those under the age of 28 are certain about God. This is why many missionaries claim that evangelism in Europe is like “plowing in concrete.” The once fertile soil of Christian Europe has turned into the barren dirt of disbelief.
What should Christians be doing to prevent folk atheism from dominating Europe?