EUROPE: THE EXCEPTIONAL CASE: Parameters of Faith in the Modern World by Grace Davie
(Darton, Longman & Todd, 2002, 180pp, $29.95. Available from AD Books)
The present book is the latest from the hand of Grace Davie, Reader in Sociology at the University of Exeter. Her previous title, Religion in Britain in 1945, explored the post-war religious practices of Britain.
In that volume, the picture of Britain and its religious practices was grim and in this volume religious practice is further declining.
In the present volume, Davie looks at religion from a global perspective, and reaches the conclusion that outside Europe, religious practice world-wide is on the increase.
While the tendency with such a conclusion is to ring alarm-bells and blame secularisation as the culprit, a more enlightened interpretation is that Europeans, particularly Catholics, are still in the main believers.
The exceptions are the predominantly non-Catholic countries such as England, Germany and Scandinavia.
France, on the other hand, is at odds with all of Europe.
The data contained in this volume testifies to this.
In the case of frequency of church attendance in Catholic countries, we find that in Ireland 56% attend weekly, in Italy 41%, Portugal 36% and Spain 25%. In non-Catholic nations the figure for Great Britain is 14%, Sweden 3.8% and Denmark 2.7%: while in France only 7.6% attend weekly. The European average is 20%.
What of basic questions such as belief in God? In Ireland, Italy and Portugal the figure for believers is around 90%; in Great Britain it is 71%, while Sweden rates 53.4%.
The overall European average of belief in Heaven is 46.3%, while 33.9% believe in Hell. The Italians and the Irish are the strongest Catholic believers and the Swedes and French are the least likely to believe.
So what conclusions are to be drawn?
With belief in God still relatively high, there is a hope and a challenge. The challenge is to engage in the new evangelisation, proclaimed by Pope John Paul II.
Davie's book clearly sets out the task facing the Christian Churches, particularly in Europe.
Anthony Cappello is National Secretary of the Thomas More Centre.