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Philip Jenkins

Godless Europe?

Questioning Europe's devout past and secular present.

Technology is a wonderful thing. The spread of global travel, news media, and communications networks means not only that opportunities for international rancor and misunderstanding have never been greater, but that societies can much more rapidly discover how much they are disliked around the globe.

In recent years, North Americans and Europeans have increasingly discovered that the vast and frigid Atlantic Ocean is emblematic of the deep differences between them in values and outlook. Take attitudes toward the Middle East. Most Americans, whether liberal or conservative, have a strong and largely uncritical view of the state of Israel, in marked contrast to the general hostility to Israel that exists across much of Europe. Explanations for this intercontinental divide are not immediately obvious. Certainly, Europe has larger Muslim minorities than the United States, and is more dependent on Middle Eastern oil. While the U.S. media have accused Europeans (and especially the French) of a continuing anti-Semitism, we might equally point to the strong American tradition of philo-Semitism, which grows so naturally from the nation's roots in the Old Testament and in apocalyptic. At least on this side of the water, it seems only natural that an overwhelmingly Christian country should see its fate intimately bound up with that of the Jewish state. Some recent surveys confirm this notion of religious America confronting godless Europe, to the extent that in terms of religious worldviews, U.S. Christians have more in common with Africans or Latin Americans than with the British or the Dutch.

Indeed, Europe seems prima facie to offer a classic model of the secularization thesis, the idea that religion inevitably declines as post-industrial society matures. Somewhere along the line, extensive remodeling seems to have removed the Sacred Canopy that had given Christian Europe its raison d'être. So familiar, in fact, is the notion of secular Europe that it is refreshing, and a little ...

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