I have been in this country for quite a long time, and have noticed the slow extinction of Christianity in France, especially in the countryside. Going by the mainstream newspaper Le Figaro (centre-right politically) the writing is on the wall. Predictably, the religious future of France belongs to Islam. French law forbids the gathering of statistics of people according to their religion, but the article goes by the demographic mechanisms.
The growth of Islam is resisted by the official secularism of the State, according to which we all have freedom of conscience and choice of our religion, though it is understood that the French ideology considers man to be more free if he has no religion of faith. External and public manifestations of religion are discouraged. A priest can wear his cassock, but is liable to get mocked. Muslim women may not wear the burka, the garment that hides their entire body and face. But, sooner of later, things will tip over. We can expect Islam to be the majority religion in two to three decades, by something like the 2040’s.
The Figaro article gives a very sobering statistic:
- 65 % of practising Catholics are over 50.
- 73 % of practising Muslims are less than 54.
Even though the official gathering of statistics is illegal, but survey institutes can collect and publish data to allow a rigorous and scientific approach to this subject. Among people under 34 who practice their religion (church on Sundays or the Mosque on Fridays), there are only 16% of Catholics nationally and 48% of Muslims. For one young practising Catholic, there are three practising Muslims.
Will France be taken over by fanatics and put under the jackboot of Sharia Law? There seems still to be serious secularist competition. One thing this article does not tell us is whether the numbers of young practising Muslims is increasing or declining. If the latter, Islam will go the same way as Christianity as young people from wherever discover affluence and consumerism.
The future does not belong to us. All western countries, especially in Europe, are showing similar trends. Secularism would be dealt a severe blow by the economic crash some predict. The vital energy of Islam and Christianity are sapped by the consumer culture and affluence. The deprived “classes” are breeding grounds for fanaticism and violence.
Sociologists are not all agreed about the future of European religion. Our society is secular, but each of us has existential questions and a desire for transcendence in one form or another. Surely the meaning of life is not limited to I-pods, film and sports stars and Facebook! Different “political” views look for different causes, and some are quite cogent even if they bring great discomfort to priests and others who represent traditional institutional churches.
Here in Europe, we remain strongly influenced by events of the Christian calendar and the Saints, which are marked in most diaries one can find. Many public holidays are based on religious feasts like the Assumption and the Ascension, two examples of feasts occurring during the week. Most churches and Christian monuments, even when redundant, are left to stand. Most families still go to church for baptisms, first communions for children, weddings and funerals, but the Church has lost its moral grip on most people, particularly in regard to sexual ethics. Cultural Catholicism is still strong – its adepts believe in little but they are still “hooked”. When things go wrong in life or when in grief, people turn to prayer.
Another aspect is our freedom of choice and rejection of authoritarianism and obligation. Increasing numbers of churchgoers, especially in the cities, are guided by conviction and choice rather than upbringing. The Church has an increasing “convert” content over “cradle Catholics”. That has its advantages and disadvantages as I have written elsewhere.
Yet another aspect in city religion is the ethnical content of people from other parts of the world, especially eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. They come to Europe in search of jobs and relief from poverty. Southern hemisphere people certainly challenge the deeply held European assumption that religion is a private matter that should have no influence on public life.
There is an extremely interesting observation that Europe is secular insofar as it is European. It is not so much that Europe is modern, as is the USA that escapes the secularising dynamics to some extent, but that it is European. European religion has come to the end of its tether and is past its sell-by date.
In terms of popular religion, the Christianity of the future will be popular, charismatic and extroverted. There is an exception – monasticism. Inevitably, monasteries concern only an infinitesimal proportion of the population, one of radical converts and men and women of total commitment. It is in those communities where a liturgical expression of Christianity can still survive. This is also found in communities of lay people like l’Emmanuel and the Chemin Neuf, charismatic communities with a soignée (cared for) liturgy and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Communities for lay people with more traditional liturgical expressions have yet to be founded. There are of course the traditionalists with a strong sense of spiritual and political identity.
The future is closed communities and ethnic minorities in cities. Interesting…
Is there something I have missed?