Christianity Strongest in Europe Where It Was Banned, New Pew Report Finds

The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St Nicholas in Nice in this undated photo. | (Photo: REUTERS)

Central and Eastern Europeans are less likely than Western Europeans to approve of same-sex marriage and abortion or welcome Muslims and Jews into their families, new data suggests.

Pew Research has unveiled a new two-year survey of over 56,000 adults from 34 Western, Central and European countries that shines a light on how the continental religious divide impacts social and political views.

"Christianity has long been the prevailing religion in Europe, and it remains the majority religious affiliation in 27 of the 34 countries surveyed," the Pew report states. "But historical schisms underlie this common religious identity: Each of the three major Christian traditions – Catholicism, Protestantism and Orthodoxy — predominates in a certain part of the continent."

While Orthodoxy is the dominant faith in Eastern Europe, Catholic-majority countries are common in the central and southeastern Europe and Protestantism is dominant in parts of Northern Europe and Scandinavia, Pew notes. Western Europe also has growing populations of religious unaffiliated citizens.

In looking at the divide on religion, the data shows that people in Eastern Europe were much more likely to say that being Christian is "important" to their national identity. This is true for some states that were once part of the Soviet bloc, where religion was once officially kept religion out of public life.

While 82 percent of Armenians and 81 percent of respondents from Georgia said Christianity was very or somewhat important to their national identity, more than eight in 10 people from Sweden, Denmark and Belgium said that being a Christian was not very or not at all important to their national identity.

More than seven in 10 people from Romania, Greece and Serbia said being Christian was important to their national identity, while 65 percent of people from France and the United Kingdom, 64 percent of Germans and 59 percent of Spaniards said being Christian wasn't important to their national identity.

In predominantly Catholic Italy, 53 percent said being a Christian is important to their national identity. Predominantly Catholic Ireland was practically split down the middle with 48 percent saying religion was important to their national identity and 49 percent saying it is not.

The baltic states of Estonia and Latvia were different than other Eastern European states in the fact that 82 and 84 percent of respondents from those countries respectively said that religion wasn't important to their national identity.

However, the survey still found that people from Estonia and Latvia largely held many of the same views as people from other Eastern European countries.

More than nine out of 10 people from Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Moldova say that they oppose allowing gay couples to marry.

At least eight out of 10 people from Ukraine, Serbia, Lithuania, Belarus and Bosnia, and at least seven out of 10 people from Latvia, Estonia, Romania and Greece also said they oppose legal gay marriage.

On the other end, at least eight out of 10 people from Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands and Belgium said they favor allowing gays to legally marry. At least seven out of 10 people from Spain, U.K., Germany, Switzerland, France, Austria, and Norway said the same.

The Czech Republic was the only Eastern or Central European nation with a majority of voters saying they favor legal gay marriage.

When it comes to whether abortion should be illegal or legal in "all or most cases," there were only seven countries where a majority of voters said that abortion should be illegal — all Eastern and Central European countries. Those include Georgia (85 percent), Moldova (79 percent), Ukraine (55 percent), Russia (56 percent), Belarus (54 percent), Poland (52 percent) and Greece (52 percent).

Over nine out of 10 respondents from Sweden and Denmark said that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while at least eight out of 10 respondents from Finland, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Norway, and the U.K. said the same.

Eastern and Central European countries were a bit more divided on the issue of abortion, with 11 Eastern and Central European countries having a majority of respondents saying that they think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. The Czech Republic (84 percent), Estonia (81 percent), Bulgaria (80 percent), Hungary (70 percent), and Slovakia (70 percent) are the Eastern and Central European countries where abortion is most supported.

Respondents from Eastern and Central European countries were most likely to say they would not welcome a Muslim into their family.

Only 7 percent of Armenians, 16 percent of people from the Czech Republic, 17 percent of Georgians, and 19 percent of people from Belarus said they would accept a Muslim into their families. Less than three in 10 people from Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Hungary and less than four in 10 people from Estonia, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Bulgaria and Poland said the same thing.

Nine out of 10 respondents from Netherlands, Denmark and Norway said they would accept a Muslim into their families and majorities from all other Western European countries said the same thing. The only two Eastern/Central European countries with a majority that would accept a Muslim into their families are Slovakia and Croatia.

While respondents from Western European countries were still more likely to say they would accept Jews into their families, the data shows that most countries (except Bosnia where half the population is Muslim) are more willing to accept Jews into their families than Muslims.

The survey also indicates a "significant decline" in Christian affiliation throughout Western Europe — especially in nation's like Belgium, Norway, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. In each of those countries there is a at least a 20 percent gap in the people who say there were raised Christian and those who say they are "currently Christian."

According to Pew, there are a number of different reasons why so many Western Europeans raised as Christians no longer consider themselves Christian. Chief among those reasons is that they "gradually drifted away from religion." However, others noted that they disagree with traditional church teachings on issues like homosexuality and abortion.

"By contrast, this trend has not been seen in Central and Eastern Europe, where Christian shares of the population have mostly been stable or even increasing," the Pew report reads. "Indeed, in a part of the region where communist regimes once repressed religious worship, Christian affiliation has shown a resurgence in some countries since the fall of the USSR in 1991. In Ukraine, for example, more people say they are Christian now (93%) than say they were raised Christian (81%); the same is true in Russia, Belarus and Armenia. In most other parts of Central and Eastern Europe, Christian shares of the population have been relatively stable by this measure."

The Pew survey also found that Central and Eastern Europeans are more likely than Western Europeans to say that religion is very important in their lives, that they attended religious services monthly and that the pray daily.

By comparison, at least half of respondents from Greece, Bosnia, Armenia, Georgia and Romania say that religion is important in their lives, while only about one out of 10 respondents from France, Germany and the United Kingdom said the same thing.

Western Europeans also are more likely than Eastern or Central Europeans to say they never pray, the data shows.

Western Europeans are more likely to not believe in God than Central or Eastern Europeans. Hungary, Czech Republic and Estonia are the only three Eastern and Central European Countries where less than two-thirds of respondents say they believe in God.

Pew found that fewer than two-thirds of respondents from most Western European countries said they believed in God. In countries like Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden where there are large populations of religiously unaffiliated, less than half of adults said they believed in God.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith Follow Samuel Smith on Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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