Acton Institute Powerblog

‘No Religion, Please. We’re European.’

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It is no secret that Europe is becoming less and less religious. A 2010 survey stated that only about half of Europe’s citizens believed in God, with some places (such as Sweden and the Czech Republic) registering belief in only about 20 percent of the population. And it’s not just that less people believe; it’s that there is growing hostility to religion in the EU.

Take for example Slovakia. The National Bank of Slovakia has ordered the removal of religious symbolism for a coin minted specifically for that nation’s celebration of the arrival of Christianity in that nation.

The coins, designed by a local artist, were intended to celebrate the 1,150th anniversary of Christianity’s arrival in Slovak lands but have instead become tokens of the faith’s retreat from contemporary Europe. They featured two evangelizing Byzantine monks, Cyril and Methodius, their heads crowned by halos and one’s robe decorated with crosses, which fell foul of European diversity rules that ban any tilt toward a single faith.

Stanislav Zvolensky, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Bratislava, that nation’s capital, is distressed by this move, saying that it shows hostility towards Christianity, which is a significant part of Slovakia’s history. Not only that, the archbishop says that Christianity has been a uniting force in Slovakia, and that should be celebrated.

In a continent divided by many languages, vast differences of culture and economic gaps, the archbishop said that centuries of Christianity provide a rare element shared by all of the soon-to-be 28 members of the fractious union. Croatia, a mostly Catholic nation like Slovakia, joins next month.

Yet at a time when Europe needs solidarity and a unified sense of purpose to grapple with its seemingly endless economic crisis, religion has instead become yet another a source of discord. It divides mostly secular Western Europe from profoundly religious nations in the east like Poland and those in between both in geography and in faith like Slovakia.

Samuel Gregg points out in his book, Becoming Europe, “however much some Europeans may dislike it”, Christianity has left its indelible mark on Europe’s history, development and culture. As Gregg states, there are significant differences in the way Christianity has been practiced in Europe over the centuries, it remains “by far the majority faith to which most Europeans…nominally adhere.”

Despite some discomfort with religion in the EU, there are those who understand and wish to maintain Europe’s religious identity. On the other hand, many wish to distance Europe from any one religion, including Christianity, despite the faith’s tremendous influence.

“There is a general suspicion of anything religious, a view that faith should be kept out of the public sphere,” said Gudrun Kugler, director of the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians, a Vienna-based research and lobbying group. “There is a very strong current of radical secularism,” she said, adding that this affects all religions but is particularly strong against Christianity because of a view that “Christianity dominated unfairly for centuries” and needs to be put in its place.

Archbishop Zvolensky clearly sees things differently, “Religion should be the inner strength of the union.” Unfortunately, that is not the direction that the EU seems to be heading in.

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.


  • Piobairean

    Given the religious wars, crusades, pogroms, forced conversions etc. that have plagued Europe for the last couple of thousand years, I can’t see religion being ‘the inner strength’ of Europe or any state in Europe. Certainly the majority of Europeans identify themselves as culturally Christian, but, wisely they prefer it (and other religions) to be kept out of the political arena.

    • RogerMcKinney

      Religion should have very little influence in politics, I agree, but the 20th century was the bloodiest in the history of mankind according to leading historians. None of the wars, mass starvation or other oppression happened because of any religion. Except for WWI, socialism caused most of the suffering. So why haven’t Europeans turned against socialism?

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  • Mo86

    And yet Europe embraces Islam.

    Funny, that.

    • Pollito

      In what universe has Europe embraced Islam??

  • RogerMcKinney

    The USSR starved 30 million to death in the 1930’s and China starved about 30 million to death in the 1960’s. A socialist nation, Germany, started WWII in Europe. The socialists in Cambodia murdered another million plus. That’s the suffering I referred to.

    Pick up any textbook on macroeconomics and you’ll find that the poor in the US are much wealthier than those in Europe. The US is only slightly less socialist than the most socialist nation in Europe, but that small difference in government makes a huge difference in the lives of the poor.

    Also, you obviously haven’t kept up with the rioting going on in the blessed socialist nations of Europe for the past three years and unemployment reaching 25% in some areas. It’s easy to be a socialist if you don’t know anything.

    • Pollito

      USSR/China – That’s not socialism. That’s communism. Democratic socialism in Europe has been successful. And I disagree with most of your data. But I am just a European who has also lived in the US for close to 15 years. I grew up in a European blue collar family. Most of my family members have a much higher standard of living than most blue collar workers I have met in the Mid-West and the Pacific Northwest. I am also a first generation college graduate. Students in Europe often hold two or three MAs without the huge student debt. Education in Continental Europe is so affordable that a blue collar kid like me could get an MA without incurring one cent of debt. My American spouse got ovarian cancer while we were living in Europe. Surgery and three months of chemo were practically bill free and now she has been cancer free for 10 years. How many American families would have been bankrupted if something like that happened to them? Or worse, how many American cancer patients have died because they could not afford the medical treatments or their insurance dropped them?