Thinking Out Loud

August 3, 2018

Secularism: Coming Soon to a Continent Near You

Tourists appreciate the stained glass in general, but often breeze by without looking at the details. “The Poor Man’s Bible” offered the Biblical narrative to those too illiterate to read the story for themselves, and too poor to ever afford a Bible. Cathedral in this picture was in Strasbourg, France.

If you Google the phrase, “The secularization of Europe;” you’ll get over 50,000 results. I am quite sure that many of those can say better what I’m about to say here.

As some of you know, we just returned from 14 days. Last year it was Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Germany and the Czech Republic. This year it was Holland, Germany, France (for 5 hours anyway), and Switzerland. During both trips, I interviewed tour guides, bookstore staff, hotel workers, and anyone else who didn’t sprint away when I brought the subjects of faith, church, religion or Christianity.

“We tried religion and it didn’t work;” one of the tour guides in Prague said to me last year. This time, when I asked about church attendance it was, “Why would they go?”

My usual question was, “Out of the people in your immediate social circle, how many would attend church?” One person made a point of telling me the answer was 2-3%, but that strangely the brother’s wife’s cousin of his husband was studying to be a priest (pausing to make sure the his husband part fully registered with me.)

The historic churches and cathedrals seem to survive on a blend of tourism and mid-week organ concerts. Because of the architecture, these buildings are museum-like in their connection to the past, but not the present. Their relevance or impact on day-to-day life for Europeans is minimal, except as a geographical point of reference, hence, “Meet me in front of the cathedral.” 

Most of the bookstores I visited either didn’t have a religion section at all, or if they did, the Christian section consisted of church history and related biographies. There were some stores which offered theology as a category, but it was mostly scholarly and academic texts; there was nothing that would attract a seeker investigating Christianity for the first time, and certainly nothing resembling apologetics. 

Holland does have a Christian bookstore chain, De Fakkel — I’m told it means ‘The Torch’ — but in a situation similar to Canada, it is the big cities which are taking the hit, and the Amsterdam store has closed. This led the sales associate in Scheltema, a five story bookstore, to point out that he really wouldn’t know where to begin picking up the slack. He was smart enough to recognize the various denominations each have their own particular interests, and that De Fakkel can do a better job of this as insiders, so he’s chosen not to expand the Christian books on offer.  

I can’t imagine living in a society where church is so strongly rooted in the past; not the present. As I reflect on this next week, I’ll share about our visits — 3 of them actually — to Amsterdam’s Red Light District, and the whole idea of taking vacations like this versus doing the Christian retreat center thing. 

To conclude: I haven’t fleshed this out as fully as I wanted (tomorrow I’ll discuss the two nodes of secularization) but as I wrote the title what I was thinking was that the secularization we saw in Europe is coming rapidly to Canada. About the U.S., I’m not sure. America is rooted in a nominal Christianity and a political Christianity which appears pervasive. Church attendance is dropping off, and the U.S. pales in comparison to the church growth taking place in some South American countries, but the country of “In God We Trust” is presently an exception to what we see in Canada, the UK, Europe and Australia. It will be interesting to see the religious face of America ten years from now.

This cathedral in Cologne (aka Köln) Germany is so intricate, so massive; and yet so irrelevant to the daily life of anyone under a certain age.

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May 10, 2014

Everybody’s Famous in a Small Town

Mr and Mrs Mugs

It probably started in California.
Most cultural things do.
People getting married and the woman keeps her maiden name.

It probably started with the film industry.
People who had careers.
Movie stars with name recognition wanting to keep their identity.

But then it spread to the broader society.
“I’m keeping my name;” she would say.
And we all got accustomed to that.

And then it came to church.
We have some friends who went on a one-year overseas mission.
The computer used to generate their support letters had to be reprogrammed.

The trend then moved away from urban centers to rural areas.
Because in the local village everybody has an identity.
Everybody’s famous in a small town.

The Bible talks about leaving and cleaving.
Nothing about changing your driver’s license after the wedding.
They had a different system of surnames back then.

So this shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.
It shouldn’t be a thing that creates walls and divides.
But people like an excuse to judge, don’t they?

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Image: Mr. and Mrs. Mugs from Dayspring

…and no, today’s post wasn’t triggered by anything in particular.

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