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Europemag • May 09 2004




Is Europe a Christian bastion?
European identity has been moulded by its deep roots in Christianity, is this still valid? Julian Manduca asks

As Maltese we have always been aware of being part of Europe, and Christian Europe at that. We Maltese would not like to be associated with countries to the south of us, and despite the obvious parallels with south Mediterranean nations we still look – and travel - northwards.
There is no doubt that the past 1700 years of European history is intertwined with that of Christianity – but Christian values have lost much of their importance in northern Europe and have been replaced with liberal values inspired by agnosticism and atheism.
It may come as a surprise to some, but Christianity was only widely known in southern Europe about 300 years after Christ’s death and was only accepted in northern Europe many hundreds of years after that. The last northern country to formally adopt Christianity was Iceland, around the year 1,000 AD, and the religion took a hold on parts of Eastern Europe three hundred years after that.
Over the last century Christianity’s appeal has moved south and east, and statistics show that by 1985 only twenty seven percent of Christians lived in Europe and in 2000 only 40 percent of Christians were white.
While Europe of the past has often been referred to as a bulwark of Christianity, religion has increasingly paid a lesser part in the life of Europeans and indeed fewer and fewer north Europeans would claim Christianity to be central to their lives.
Church’s are kept as historical monuments and in many instances have been de-sanctified and put to different community uses.
Increased economic prosperity combined with a better education and disillusion with much of the Church’s teaching has made Europeans less tied to religious beliefs and the majority of EU member citizens can only be described as being semi-religious.
There is no doubt, however, that Christian values and traditions have shaped contemporary Europe, but many of these, were in place before the advent of Christianity. Not harming others, is a well developed concept in many of the religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism, that preceded Christianity. The great Christian days and rites – including christmas, easter and the importance of ‘Sun’day - were practised in some form by pagans centuries before the emergence of Christianity.
Other tenants of Christianity have been accepted as part of the laws of nations, but most European countries, unlike Malta, have made a very clear distinction between church and state.
Of the public expressions of Christianity, the Pope in Rome and his travels and Sunday sermons remain a mainstay, and are regularly reported in the media. Otherwise we Maltese rarely come into contact with the other Christian religions. While we recognise that Protestantism in all its forms and Orthodox Christianity are the two other major religious movements Europe boasts: Mormons in Spain; Adventists in Iceland; Seventh day Adventists in Switzerland; Pentacostals in Iceland; Baptists in Malta, Switzerland, the UK; Lutherans in Germany, Finland and Estonia; Evangelists in Malta, the UK, Italy, Estonia, Sweden, Greece, Finland, and Spain, as part of its Christian family. Not to mention the Jehova Witnesses and the followers of the Rev Sun Myung Moon (who claim Moon is Christ returned to earth) who are spread out all over Europe.





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