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Why Are Americans More Religious than Europeans?

Updated on September 17, 2014

Atheism on the Rise in the USA or Rather Theism Declining

A new poll suggests that Americans claiming to be religious has dropped from 73% to 60% since 2005.

Religion plays an important part in American Presidential Elections this mystifies many Europeans who regard politics and religion as being totally separate. Americans are also very open about their beliefs whereas Europeans are usually discrete.

This lens is not actually meant to be about whether religion is a good or bad thing but rather why these differences between the continents exist.

Some of the things I learned while developing this lens surprised me and perhaps will surprise you.

My Religious or Spiritual Background

My father was Protestant and mother Catholic which at the time was a big deal. My strongest religious influence was a teacher who with hindsight must have been an evangelical.

I was astonished when I recently did our family history to find that we had been for hundreds of years strict baptists. However in the early 1900s they were on the losing side of a doctrinal dispute (on free will) and were forcibly evicted from the chapel which they had helped to build.

My Aunt told me that as girl she dreaded passing Sundays with her relations as no hot food could be eaten on Sunday and nothing read but the Bible.

What I am trying to say is that the UK has been very religious in the past.

Religious Statistics for Different Countries

Various odd statistics to illustrate the differences between Europe and the USA

  • The latest round of surveys completed last year found that 44 percent of all Americans attended church once a week
  • Only 27 percent of people interviewed in Great Britain said they attended church once a week, as did 21 percent of those surveyed in France. Churches were virtually deserted in Sweden: Just 4 percent of those interviewed said they went to church weekly. And despite the fall of communism in Russia, only 2 percent of all Russians interviewed said they went to church once a week
  • Americans also were far more likely to say that religion was important to their lives. More than half - 53 percent - said religion was "very important" to them, a view expressed by 16 percent of all British respondents, 13 percent of those interviewed in France and 13 percent of the Germans questioned.
  • In fact, we don't have to look too far for an answer. America is religious precisely because it is so modern and Europe is secular precisely because it was so religious. America was the first country in the world to formally separate church and state, one of the founding pillars of modernity.
  • The Czech Republic is the most secular country in the world because of the wars of religion that tore it apart in centuries past as the state sought to impose one religion and crush others.
  • In most wealthy countries religion is a state or near-state function, i.e., something like the post office, a near-monopoly not open to competition. In the United States religion is kept private and open to competition and churches are constantly finding ways to increase their membership. Successful churches find ways to market themselves to the public, and religion is therefore much more popular.

State Religion in the UK

The UK has a state religion called the Church of England. In former centuries Roman Catholics were forbidden to own property, inherit land, and join the army. Later on attempts were made to suppress Baptists who were also seen as a threat to public order.

The Church of England was integrated into all forms of public life schools, military, youth organisations, television etc. So much so that somebody has said they were a kind of muzak that few noticed. Vicars would be quiet retiring studious types.

European Catholic Countries Maintain High Faith Numbers - European Religious Belief Statistics

I have been asked to mention that Ireland is still very religious with some of the highest attendances in the world. Poland and many southern European countries also remains very religious. It would seen that the protestant countries have seen the greatest decline in religious belief.

(Chart image fom Wiki Commons)

The American Pioneers and Their Churches

When Americans build their first towns they also needed a church for christening, marriages and funerals. They built and identified with these churches. In Europe the Church was already ancient and was often seen as part of the establishment.

Photo of wooden pioneers church by ~Darin~ on Flickr

Americans are Changing their Religion - Religious Churn

Americans are changing their religious affiliations at unprecedented rates, but Catholics are much more likely to cite concerns about their religion as a reason for leaving than are Protestants, who more often cite changing life circumstances.

Among the most striking findings are that most people who change their religious affiliation leave the denomination in which they were raised by age 24, and many change religious affiliation more than once. And the study found that the growing population of unaffiliated Americans are more disenchanted with institutionalized religion than with the idea of God.

More Catholics are becoming Protestant than the other way round

Americian Religions Losing Ground in 2008 ARIS Survey - Non-Believers now Third Grouping

The percentage of people who call themselves in some way Christian has dropped more than 11% in a generation. The faithful have scattered out of their traditional bases: The Bible Belt is less Baptist. The Rust Belt is less Catholic.

These dramatic shifts in just 18 years are detailed in the new American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), to be released today. It finds that, despite growth and immigration that has added nearly 50 million adults to the U.S. population, almost all religious denominations have lost ground since the first ARIS survey in 1990.

So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category is now third behind the Catholics and Baptists.

There are some bright spots for believers especially in the south where there are many Mexican immigrants. Other believers point to the shift away from organized religion towards personal faith.

Why Are Americans So Religious?

From http://revolutionaryspirits.blogspot.com/

America is not only the most spiritually diverse nation on earth; it is also one of the most intensely religious, with a high percentage of the population claiming membership in churches, synagogues and other places of worship. Why is this so?

In an interview leading up to Pope Benedict's visit last week, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, said that "religion is deeply rooted in American life despite the separation of church and state."

But in fact, the exact opposite is true. Religion is so rooted in American life because of the separation of church and state. That's the way the Founders planned it. Keep government out of church affairs, they reasoned, and faith would flourish. An official hands-off policy toward religion would unleash people's latent spiritual energies, just as a laissez-faire policy toward the economy would unlock the engine of private enterprise.

Ben Franklin made the connection explicit. If businesses thrive in a climate of competition, he wondered, why wouldn't churches do the same?

Perhaps Cardinal Bertone should have read Alexis de Tocqueville. Coming to America in the 1830's from France (officially Catholic in faith), the author of Democracy in America noticed immediately the vibrant religious atmosphere of the United States and inquired why people in the New World were so pious. "To find this out, I questioned the faithful of all communions," he recorded.

"I particularly sought the society of clergymen, who are the depositories of the various creeds and have a personal interest in their survival. As a practicing Catholic I was particularly close to the Catholic priests, with some of whom I soon established a certain intimacy. I expressed my astonishment and revealed my doubts to each of them; I found that they all agreed with each other except about details; all thought that the main reason for the quiet sway of religion over their country was the complete separation of church and state."

Maintaining the separation of church and state is key to preserving the Founder's legacy and insuring that America remains a nation whose faith is powerful, varied and free.

Conclusions

I've learned a few surprising things writing this lens. I'd still say that most Americans are more religious than most Protestant Europeans. However I think the main conclusion is that Americans are much more vocal about their religion, introducing God and Jesus into general conversation and assigning quite ordinary events to God's plan. I think the statistics are confused by people who are "weak" Theists or "weak" Atheists who might reply differently depending on the question or from week to week. It is also suggested that the outspokenness or prominent Atheists such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins has encouraged many Atheists to be less timid.

Agree or Disagree? Why not create your own Hub ?

Map of Religious Denominations of the US State by State

Your Views

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    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @anonymous: I am atheist as well but azeusist doesn't relate to atheisim like you thought. Your comment might have made sense if it was called Agodist or Ajesusist

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: "in places like Britain no one cares as long as there good"

      As it should be...

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I feel though America has religion and state separate. Americans fail to separate there religious views when making choices for government. As in America politics and religion go hand in hand but in places like Britain no one cares as long as there good

    • fugeecat lm profile image

      fugeecat lm 5 years ago

      I think our religious freedom does make American's more religious. We have more choices so we thinking about it more. Great lens on an interesting topic.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I am an atheist for the same reason I am an Azeusist (someone who does not believe in Zeus)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      "The Kingdom of God is WITHIN you..... " Americans are loud about everything - not just religion. Though I've been 'loud' about quoting this from the bible.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      A thought-provoking lens. I think religious freedom in America is one of the reasons that America is more religious than Europe.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I think you shouldn't group everyone in Europe together, there's too many different countries with different cultures in Europe.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      @mrkidd85: Indeed, but was it really the religion, or the religious few that caused all of that destruction due to their misinterpretation of their "holy" scriptures? then again, if it wasn't for the scripture, there wouldn't be anything to misinterpret, but despite their obvious lack of logic and reasoning, there are also very peaceful belief systems as well, which do not seem to cause too much trouble (if any), such as Buddhism.

    • profile image

      mrkidd85 6 years ago

      I'm from the UK and do not have faith. Religion has caused all the great wars in the past hundred years, including the Twin Towers. If it wasn't for religion, London wouldn't have been bombed.

      I just don't believe people can live their life based on a bunch of rules that the author of these rules has no proof of ever existing.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      @calendarsblog: I completely agree with "calendarsblog". Well said. I am from Europe, but I live in the US for more than 10 years. The big deal is social security that almost doesn't exist in the US. Government helps people, church is optional. And the only place where church can be for sale is in the US. A bit ironic for someone so religious to sell something so sacred.

    • garyrh1 profile image

      garyrh1 7 years ago

      I'm an agnostic.

      I wanted to comment more about the page though. A lot of the reason why Americans are more religious is because many of the original immigrants were extremely religious. They left their homelands because it wasn't religious enough for them. That was mainly the pilgrims, but many others have done the same. As well, God was pushed upon the nonbelievers, Native Americans, forcing them to either believe, move or die (sometimes all three). Then you have those in the 1800s who went to the west who would almost be forced to pray for water, food, and good times.

    • MTLwordsmith profile image

      MTLwordsmith 6 years ago

      Very interesting and well researched! Thank you.

    • Philippians468 profile image

      Philippians468 6 years ago

      such an informative lens! great job! cheers

    • calendarsblog profile image

      calendarsblog 6 years ago

      I think the US is more religious because for them democracy and religion are natural allies, whereas in Europe they're not. Also, the difference between rich and poor is larger in the US than in most of Europe. We have better social security, so we don't need the church for child care and things like that.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      @theinquirer2: You said, "forcing them to either believe, move or die (sometimes all three)."

      So, the first settlers caused the "real" Native Americans to perish for their own cause?

      How do you think the Native Americans would know of Jesus Christ? Did any Apostle or Evangelist reach them before 15th century?

      The real Americans were killed by the Europeans mainly out of commercial interests. That's history!

    • theinquirer2 profile image
      Author

      theinquirer2 7 years ago

      @garyrh1: Some interesting points.Those first settlers must have felt pretty alone and vulnerable, is it true to say that conflict with native Americans only occurred later?

    • jbauer0318 profile image

      jbauer0318 7 years ago

      As an American atheist, I am not sure why many Americans are so religious. It seems to me that it is much easier to believe in religion when it comes to looking for the bigger answers than it does to really research and understand science. This is just my opinion. Another opinion is the lobbying power that religions have gained in the U.S. government. In the most recent presidential election, religion should have had nothing to do with the race. It only clouded the real issues.

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 8 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      Many interesting points. As an American and an atheist, I have often wondered why Americans in general are so very religious and so opposed to those who are not. Great lens!

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 8 years ago from Southampton, UK

      I find it really interesting that the USA is so religious, predominantly Christian with a large Catholic population too, and yet most people do not get Good Friday off work. Seems a bit contradictory to me, when a much less religious country like England gets a 4-day weekend at Easter. 5***** for a good lens.

    • profile image

      Zion 8 years ago

      Wow! Your lens is fantastic! I really like it so I gave you 5*. Keep up the god work!..

      Please try to stop by my lens. I would really much appreciate if you could rate mine too!

      Thank you so much!

      Zion

      http://www.squidoo.com/legitimatehome-basedbusines...

    • Seth1492 profile image

      Seth1492 8 years ago

      Interesting subject on religion with a nice comparison. I would say that America has had some religious problems though. Looking at persecution of Catholics, irish protestants, or even mormonism (which at one time had an extermination order in Missouri state law). Another interesting addition to your lens might be religions that started in America in comparison to europe. Time is definitely a factor, but might be an interesting comparison.