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?


  • Rober

    Disheartening? Not at all. It’s good news that so many lack imaginary friends.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mannasustains Denise Anderson

      So is your consciousness some such
      imaginary friend just because it is immaterial?

    • Jump

      Well, it’s disheartening if you think that there is such person as God. It’s all the more saddening to think that such people are missing out on the purpose for which they exist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=625429396 Andrew Kilian

    It’s probably Christianities actions that have produced “folk atheism” in the first place.

  • Roger McKinney

    They’re not atheists. They just don’t believe in the Christian God. Look for stories on how common astrology is, or the occult and pagan religions or spiritism.

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  • fctorino

    India has 100,00 gods it is true. Yet the hearts of those gods’ followers sufficiently believes in a power larger than themselves. So should God deign to move in India, he would not be battling a willing suspension of belief as is the case in most of Europe, especially the Northern block which is typically prosperous. What is arguably true of India is also true of the Middle East, Indonesia and North Africa. That is, most of the inhabitants of those places have engaged in the willing suspension of disbelief in practicing their Islamic faith. Then again, the grass withers, the flowers fade, but the Word of God reigns supreme. The Word of the Lord reigns supreme even if the flowers fade and the grass withers. So is it not necessary for European Christianity to survive let alone thrive.

  • Lynx Pardinus

    What Eastern religions? According to wikipedia based on state dept. estimates, Hindus are about 0.2% of Europe and Buddhists 3%. Even combined, that’s a tiny minority of the population.

    • D.

      so you’re not aware of all the new forms of religion (not institutionalized though) made of mixed Eastern beliefs… You only know the basic, old ones.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=810714650 Joe Cogan

    “What should Christians be doing to prevent folk atheism from dominating Europe?”. Is that a rhetorical question? Unless you can demonstrate that your deity actually exists, the likely answer is “nothing”.

    • Roger McKinney

      Christians have presented evidence for over a millenium, and each time atheists ingore it then dismiss it as no evidence. You disqualify most evidence and then demand to know why we have no evidence to offer.
      So tell me, what evidence would you accept as reasonable evidence for the existence of God?

      • Micha Elyi

        Atheism is learnt from Monty Python sketches; Joe Cogan might as well be a first century Judean asking “What have the Romans ever done for us?”

        • Roger McKinney

          Good point. I have asked many atheists the question I asked Cogan and have only received one response: the guy told me that God had to appear to him personally. Of course, there are many problems with that response, not the least of which is how will he know it is God?
          But the main reason I ask that question is to demonstrate to atheists that there is no evidence at all which they would accept. Their problem is not intellectual, it’s moral.

          • Carl

            Most of them innocently and honestly do not believe in the Christian God. It is literally inconceivable for them that the Bible is anything more than boring mythology.

            As for what evidence they would require to believe in God, the question pretty much answers itself. They would like some evidence. If it is too rich to request a visit from the Lord or one of his many representatives, a simple display of omnipotence would suffice. For example, make a teacup move across a table and show the supernatural event on every televison and internet screen simultaneously. Millions and millions of conversions would ensue!

            But the Lord will not do anything of the sort, because belief in Him is not about evidence! You say “Christians have presented evidence for over a millenium” but this dishonours the Lord. There is no need of evidence.

          • ddc

            faith is just an excuse not to think

          • Marc Vander Maas

            …said the shallowest person ever.

    • Jump

      @facebook-810714650:disqus I think you’re right. Surely the key element of the antidote is doing some intellectual weeding–presenting reasons to think the God of Christianity exists, and refuting reasons to think he does not exist, and then making these known to the culture at large. Thankfully, we are not without resources for this.

    • Xaing

      I think the biggest problem with atheists is that they believe that God needs to be “proven” as if God was no more than a logical argument. God is so much more than that – it is felt in communion, with one another, with ourselves, in Church ritual. If God was just a word or even a few words drawn from the Bible, God would be dead. But anyone who looks for empirical proof of God is themselves already dead to the possibility. Atheists: religion is not logical: it is imaginative and emotional. And before you make logic your god think about this: at its base most ‘logical’ arguments are drawn from an assumption. Everything, even statistical evidence, is prone to subjectivity. I have been atheist at times in my life but I have finally come to the conclusion that I would rather trust my instincts, my feelings and my imagination than a series of questionable “logical’ points

  • Miguel Picanco

    There is no such thing as “folk” atheism.. atheism is simply the null hypothesis. If you want to convert people to your beliefs, figure out a way to prove that they truly reflect our reality.

    First step, actually understand and respect science and why it works so well.. Stop mucking up kids minds and legislation with magical and wishful thinking. Realize that you could be wrong… I could go on and on.

    • http://www.facebook.com/greg.miller.7311 Greg Miller

      How much “science” can actually be lived, and what type of science are you actually talking about? If you’re equating science with empiricism, then not even the scientists are “understanding and respecting” it, because most of what any human knows they know from trusting an authority. All science ultimately depends on faith for its most basic existence.

      Not one of us has experienced a single atom directly with our senses. We don’t even have the capability to do so naturally. Yet we all take it on faith, on the authority of others, that such things as atoms actually exist.

      What we “know” from personal experience is likely less than 10% of our human knowledge, and yet even that is something science cannot “prove”. Can science “prove” that your mother loves you? Can science “prove” or explain something as fundamental as thought? If so, then show me where science has demonstrated and explained the difference between a thought and a memory. It hasn’t. It can only go so far as to say each is the result of an electrical signal between neurons, yet nothing observable distinguishes the two to science.

      In summation, to truly live by the dictates of science (falsifiability, replicability, etc.) is simply not possible, and none of us fully does such a thing.

    • Jump

      @e2ff36ea04be0f0efd52e0b3b49868b0:disqus Atheism is the view that there is no such person as God. It is a view that stands in need of justification if one is to reasonably believe it, no less than theism is. Theism happens to fare much better than atheism on the question of what’s true; you just don’t seem that familiar with the reasons for thinking it true.

      “Folk” atheism is just an uncritical acceptance of atheism; a casual perusal of any religious discussion on the Internet reveals that this phenomenon exists.

  • Nicola

    The reality of their Creator? Those who say they cannot possibly know for certain about any god, are far more intellectually superior than those who say there IS definately a god. There is no proof either way. Christianity is a modern religion, hundreds of religions have come and gone. Every humanistic culture has worshipped something. Its a shame most people are niave to believe the religion they just happened to be born into. If it is a comfort in your life then great, but don’t judge others from your restricted perspective.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mannasustains Denise Anderson

      Your claims make me think that you have neither studied Christianity nor history so really it is your judgement that is “restricted.”

    • Jump

      @disqus_vhev57KuOh:disqus No proof either way is a pretty strong claim. I’d listen to an argument for that…

  • saywhaaaa

    I was always under the impression that the term “new atheists” was referring to the fact that up until ~150 years ago or so, publicly proclaiming atheism was an easy way to become a crispy critter, and up until ~40-50 years or so ago it was a good way to fast track yourself to becoming a social pariah.
    Thus, I thought that the term “New Atheist” just represented someone unafraid to be vocal about their philosophical position, mainly due to the fact that now you are able to do so without having to worry about being stuck in between 2 planks and having large rocks piled on you until your insides evacuate your body like a tube of toothpaste.

  • martykayzee

    Atheism is to religion as abstinence is to promiscuity.

    • Micha Elyi

      Atheism is to religion as promiscuity is to chastity. FIFY.
      Atheism is the anything goes belief, not religion.

  • http://john-shuey.blogspot.com/ John Shuey

    Just under 4,000 individual deities have been identified that have been created by humankind since the beginning of written history. Think on that for a moment and then maybe you’ll realize how silly your lament about the lack of belief in just one of them sounds. Or, as Tim Minchin so succinctly put it: “…what are the odds, that of history’s long parade of gods, that the god you just happened to be taught to believe in, is the actual one…?”

    • http://www.facebook.com/mannasustains Denise Anderson

      What evidence is brought forth for any of these 4,000 deities or
      the flying spaghetti monster or what have you, as opposed to the robust
      arguments for a transcendent, Creator God?

    • http://twitter.com/OrthodoxGraceB Grace Brooks

      But the atheist would have to pose a different question. Given that human beings have believed in a god or gods, universally and from the beginnings of our recorded history, and that there are still many millions of believers around the world at present … what are the odds that they/we are wrong and you are right?

      I’m guessing that question would do nothing to convince you. But it may show you the problem with thinking that these huge questions can be reduced to goofy numbers games.

      • Jump

        You got it! That knife cuts both directions. That’s why it’s neither here nor there whether there exists disagreement. Odds would call into question one’s confidence only if we were pulling our beliefs out of a hat. But we base our beliefs on reasons and on our experience of the world.

      • Jamie Semrany

        I don’t think boasting statistics that their are millions of believers is helping the religious case. There are also millions of smokers in the world, are they being appropriate in their behaviour to their bodies? until recently the world was considered flat, were the men of the dark ages right? facts are not contingent on belief in them, in fact, facts don’t actually exist, just models which help explain fallibilistic “truths”, there may be some absolute reality in which facts exist absolutely, but we are unable to access such a reality thus far. When it comes to the speculation about metaphysical properties or even hard to verify facts of reality, it’s open game. You can postulate anything if it’s non falsifiable. For all we know, there may be a moon of cheese somewhere in the far reaches of the universe that can only be seen once every 6 billion years if you’re wearing green shades and ride a unicorn. Prove me wrong.

        • Jamie Semrany

          when I said their, I should have said there. My apologies.

    • Jump

      You could raise that question about anything you believe, John Shuey (e.g. what one believes the oldest city in Paraguay is; what one believes the center of the Earth is made of; what one believes will be the features included in the next iPhone). It’s not a question of odds…that’s uninteresting. The money question is what *reasons* one has for believing the things one in fact believes. As it turns out, when it comes to theism, we have very good reasons for thinking it true, and no good reasons for thinking it false.

  • Roger McKinney

    I thik we’re lamenting a false past. The British Christian historian Butterfield wrote in “Christianity and History” that we have no idea how Christian Europe was in the past because no one was free to express their unbelief. Even after Europe quit burning heretics, social pressure kept unbelief underground. Today, atheists are free to demonstrate their unbelief and we see how little impact Christianity has had on the continent.
    There is not much Christians can do about unbelief on such a massive scale, other than continue to preach the truth. God usually takes care of such massive rebellion through judgments like war and financial troubles. If people won’t repent after those judgments, there is nothing left to do but wait for greater judgment.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I’m 40. I was raised Catholic. I have argued against atheists many times.

    And I am not certain God exists.

    • Jump

      Not sure if I’m picking up what you’re laying down, Theodore. However, certainty isn’t necessary for knowledge, so it’s ok to not be certain. Of course, if you think God exists, but would like to grow in your confidence of it, then I would recommend reading up on fair treatments for thinking it true versus false. How about The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology? Or William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith?

  • http://www.facebook.com/mannasustains Denise Anderson

    Consider
    how dehumanizing your words are. It is true
    that nihilism is a logical conclusion
    of atheism.

  • http://twitter.com/OrthodoxGraceB Grace Brooks

    I find similar results among my “Christian-challenged” acquaintances — they are more inclined to superstitious and wildly implausible beliefs. Reminds me of what G. K. Chesterton said, “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.” And let us not forget the survey from 2008 finding atheists more gullible than believers — http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122178219865054585.html

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-OBrien/100001338658769 John O’Brien

      Hey Grace you said ” they are more inclined to superstitious and wildly implausible beliefs.” Well that pretty much sums up christianity right there.

  • http://twitter.com/OrthodoxGraceB Grace Brooks

    I disagree. And I think that atheists show a certain mean-spirited crassness in responding that way to people of faith. If you’re tone deaf, that doesn’t give you the right to stop others from singing and dancing.

  • http://twitter.com/OrthodoxGraceB Grace Brooks

    I’m interested in the expression ‘folk atheism.’ In my experience, most of the belief-challenged people I encounter aren’t quite comfortable saying they’re atheists. They do believe in “something,” but leaving it all undefined allows them to cherry-pick from any and all beliefs. If God ever descended in fiery clouds and wrote, “Here I am,” in 90-foot letters, they would believe in him, but otherwise, no. I wonder if that’s what ‘folk atheists’ are?

  • http://www.facebook.com/greg.miller.7311 Greg Miller

    And to think, atheists accuse Christians of being judgmental! No surprise that it’s been atheism that’s so dismissive of the dignity and worth of other human beings that it led to more deaths in one century than any ideology before it (see the slaughters of Fascism and Communism; Hitler, Mao, Stalin, etc.).

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-OBrien/100001338658769 John O’Brien

      Hitler was catholic and the others didn’t kill in the name of atheism. Nice try Greg.

      • Greg Miller

        Wow, you really don’t know much about Hitler, do you. I’ll respond with a landslide of evidence showing Hitler wasn’t Catholic after I’m done teaching.

        As for your other statement, of course they didn’t kill “in the name of atheism”, but they certainly killed because of their atheistic beliefs, for the same reason Christians do charity because they are Christians. One logically follows from another.

        If you don’t believe there is a God to hold you accountable for your actions–a God who commanded, “Thou shalt not murder.”–then you have little motive to truly respect human life.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-OBrien/100001338658769 John O’Brien

          After I saw “If you don’t believe there is a God to hold you accountable for your actions–a God who commanded, “Thou shalt not murder.”–then you have little motive to truly respect human life.” I realized what I’m dealing with here. The god of the bible is a r ap e happy, genocidal, i n c e s t loving god. I don’t need that to help me respect human life thank you very much.

          • Greg Miller

            And when we read “The god of the bible is a r ap e happy, genocidal, i n c e s t loving god,” we realize very quickly that we’re dealing with a person that has never truly read the Bible. Each of those things is condemned by the Christian God, and there is voluminous scriptural evidence to prove it, from Genesis alone (the incest committed by Lot’s daughters is condemned, the Rape of Dinah is condemned, the genocide committed by Levi and Simeon after Dinah’s rape is condemned [and never actually happened]).

            And we also see that when you can’t defend your previous argument, you try and resort to inflammatory and false insults. Which, you know, is not exactly helping your argument that you don’t need God to respect your fellow human beings :).

      • Greg Miller

        On Hitler’s alleged “Catholicism”, one might first thoroughly read the article on wikipedia:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Adolf_Hitler#Scholarly_Opinion

        I think the preponderance of evidence here refutes the claims he was Catholic. Even if Hitler did claim to be Catholic, we might ask a number of questions which quickly prove the veracity of his character:
        1. How often have politicians less dastardly claimed to be or believe something just to get elected? Why then would we trust Hitler’s words more than other politicians?
        2. Where do you see Hitler acting as a Christian/Catholic? I don’t see any evidence he put into practice the Two Great Commandments.
        3. If he was Catholic, why would he try to promulgate his own twisted version of the Bible?
        4. If he was Catholic, why’d he essentially lay siege to Vatican City?
        5. If he was Catholic, why’d he arrest and kill hundreds of thousands of Catholics, especially those Catholic nuns and priests who publicly denounced his unChristian behavior? (See Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, Sr. Edith Stein, Bl. Titus Brandsma, Bl. Franz Jagerstatter, etc.).
        6. If he was Catholic, why was he so involved in the Occult, which is condemned by Catholicism and the Bible.

        No, Hitler wasn’t Catholic, though he tried to use and twist some of the symbols to his ends. Remember this was a period when the unconscious mind was held in esteem by psychologists, hence Hitler replacing the Cross with the Swastika (originally a Hindu symbol–but we don’t see people claiming he was a Hindu), and replacing pastors with his own Nazi puppets.

        Read Hitler’s writings. The “Jesus” he claimed to believe in was an Aryan fighter, a Norse creation of fantasy, with no basis in the Christian Jesus other than name. Compare the two side-by-side, and there is no similarity. In other words, his “Jesus” was an idol of his own making, and most Christians saw it for what it was, and still do. It would be like me saying John O’Brien is a kilt-wearing dockworker who believes all Asians should be killed.

        My “John O’Brien” has no basis in fact (for I don’t know you) and would roundly be mocked as false by those who do. Just like Hitler’s “Jesus”.

    • Roger McKinney

      Historians have declared the 20th century to be the bloodiest in human history. Nationalism started WWI and the atheist Hitler started WWII in Europe.
      No Hitler didn’t find directly in the name of atheism, but he fought it for what he considered the benefits of his atheist dream.
      Stalin and Mao were atheists and murdered around 30 million people each. Not to mention the horrors that atheistic communism has brought upon the people of Cambodia, N Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Ethiopia etc.
      Of course, atheists perform some fancy verbal gymnastics to distance atheism from its greatest champions, but that only shows their dishonesty.

  • Jump

    Since so much rides on your claim, Hans, I would hope you can give a good reason for thinking as you do. Can you?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/joel.hess.7 Joel Hess

    Roger, Christians may have been presenting evidence for Christianity for a millennium (and by the way, that has two Ns), but all of it is easily demonstrable as untrue, or at least spurious. Until you come up with some evidence that is irrefutable, and not based on mere assertion and speculation, or reference to a book that is itself of unknown origin and authorship, we atheists will continue to require something valid and provable,

  • RogerMcKinney

    Look again. Most atheists decided to be atheists around the age of 15, long before they had the knowledge, wisdom or intelligence to make such a decision. Then they read only material that supports atheism and pretend that no evidence for God exists.

    • Charlie

      That’s only true for American atheists. European atheists are basically atheists from the moment they are born because nobody teaches them to be christians. As they grow up, they only learn the reasons to justify their lack of belief.

      • Davis Goodman

        Even fifteen year old children are capable of rationally evaluating Christian doctrine and dismissing it as absurd. They don’t need to justify their “lack of belief”. Someone has to come to them and give them a convincing reason to believe in something supernatural. The more rationally they think the less likely someone with an absurd agenda on the supernatural being of a man in the sky united with his zombie son who can telepathically communicate with everyone and interfere with the natural rules of physics…will pull such a stunt off. Good on these kids.

        • Roger McKinney

          So by the age of 15 all European kids have studied the works
          of Aquinas, C.S. Lewis, Alvin Platinga and the many other great philosophers
          who defended the truth of Christianity and can show the weaknesses in their
          arguments? Don’t be ridiculous! Like atheists in the US, they can do nothing but take pride in defeating the straw men they create.

          And its simply not true that Europeans don’t believe in the supernatural. Europeans are far more religious than Americans, they just prefer the superstitions of paganism, the horoscope and new age beliefs. What Europeans believe is far more irrational that anything in the US.

          Those few who aren’t superstitious have an even more irrational faith in government and bureaucrats.

          BTW, it won’t be long before all of Europe is Muslim anyway. Muslims make up close to 40% of major European cities.

          • Davis Goodman

            If you’re just going to spout random facts you’ve made up and make claims that throw intellectual integrity out the window…then there’s no point continuing this conversation. The conversation has simply gone bananas.

          • Marc Vander Maas

            So, two comments ago, Davis Goodman launches this intellectually vacant nugget of nonsense:

            Even fifteen year old children are capable of rationally evaluating Christian doctrine and dismissing it as absurd.

            But the moment someone has the gall to contest his (obviously false) blather, he accuses them of “Throw[ing] intellectual integrity out the window” and says that there’s no point in continuing the conversation. Please join me as I enjoy the deep, rich irony.

          • Davis Goodman

            Totally bananas.

          • Marc Vander Maas

            Bananas indeed!