Christianity in Western Europe

On 1 April the Paris-based Roman Catholic daily newspaper La Croix published the headline findings of a poll which it had commissioned into Western European attitudes to Christianity.

The survey was undertaken online by the Institut Français d’Opinion Publique (IFOP) between 11 and 19 March 2010. Representative samples of 3,030 adults aged 18 and over were interviewed in France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Spain, including 505 Britons.  

IFOP’s full 57-page report (in French), including breaks by gender, age, occupation, urban/rural residence, region and religion, appears at:

Asked about the visibility of Christians in society, 11% of Britons consider that Christians are too visible and 33% insufficiently visible (the highest figure for all five countries). The British proportion rises to 52% for those aged 65 and over (against 27% for the under-35s) and also exceeds one-half for Protestants (however, it is only 13% for those without any religion). 56% of all Britons think the visibility of Christians to be about right.

78% of Britons agree that Christians and the Churches are doing a poor job in reaching out to young people, much the same as in France, Germany and Spain, although significantly higher than the Italian figure of 37%. The range in Britain is from 65% of non-Christians and 69% in Greater London to 83% among men and 84% of those for whom Christians are too visible.

Only 34% of Britons believe that all religions are equally valid, the lowest percentage of the five countries (with a high of 62% in France). The figure is greatest among the under-35s (41%), Greater Londoners (40%), the irreligious (45%) and those who say Christians are too visible (69%).

69% of Britons feel that the message and values of Christianity remain relevant today, just 1% below Italy and far ahead of France, Germany and Spain. The British proportion rises inexorably with age, from 54% for those aged 18-24 to 85% among the over-65s. It stands at well over four-fifths for all groups of professing Christians but sinks to 48% for those without a religion.

Challenged to elaborate on the priorities for the Christian Churches today, 53% of Britons consider that the Churches should be available for life’s key moments, 21% more than the five-nation average. This stands at 60% for professing Anglicans, doubtless thinking of the Church of England’s traditional role as provider of the rites of passage.

38% of Britons want the Churches to agitate for world peace (a particular priority for Catholics and non-Christians), 28% to combat domestic poverty (especially important for the young), 27% to spread the message of Christ (advocated notably by Protestants and those for whom Christians are too invisible) and 14% to work for greater justice.

Beyond the Churches, in society as a whole, Britons feel that Christian values have the greatest positive role to play in respect of the family and education (44%), followed by interfaith and intercultural dialogue (40%), solidarity with the poor (25%), the moralisation of capitalism (20%), bioethics (16%), the protection of the environment (10%) and integration of immigrants (8%).

These are generally not dissimilar figures to the four other countries, although Britons assign a lower priority to poverty and a higher one to the moralisation of capitalism, the latter perhaps reflecting the fact that the economic recession has bitten deeper and lasted longer in Britain than in most other Western nations.

In Britain family and education are especially prized as a domain for Christian values by the over-65s (50%), Catholics (53%), non-Anglican Protestants (54%) and non-Christians (51%). Interfaith and intercultural dialogue are most important for the elderly and Protestants. Solidarity with the poor is a particular agenda item for the middle-aged, middle class and Catholics.

Summing up, La Croix concluded that the survey demonstrates the continuing recognition by Europeans of Christianity’s traditionally privileged position. The ‘Christian anchorage’ appears ‘too deep to be shifted by the waves stirred by current events’. However, the newspaper notes that the French have a tendency to be most critical of Christianity, while ‘for the English above all, religion is a private affair’.

Certainly, the poll reveals a fairly strong Christian undercurrent among the British people, albeit one which may be more rooted in historical and emotional legacy rather than a vibrant faith which translates into orthodox religious belief and practice.

British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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