Readers talk about the religious climates in their countries

September 19, 2012 | 18 comments

I’ve been looking for an excuse to re-run this post, since it took me a looooong time to put it together, and it generated a fascinating discussion. As I get everything back in order from filming week, I thought this would be the perfect time to run it again. It was originally published on February 14, 2011.

In February of 2011 I asked readers to tell me about the religious climate in their countries by answering a series of seven questions. Below is a distillation of the 100+ comments that I received from readers all over the world, sorted by question.

1. What is church attendance like in your area? Are there many churches? Do they seem to have active memberships?

  • Ciska in Belgium: The part where I live is probably the most Catholic part of the country…Most people consider themselves Catholic, but they don’t attend church…We also have an active beguinage and several convents. It’s not unusual to see a sister walking through town.
  • Cheryl in Western Alsace, France: My husband is a Lutheran pastor. I don’t think…traditional churches would have what we as Americans consider “active memberships.” Some practice (mostly women). Many more do not, but have been baptized, confirmed, married in the church. My husband typically leads two services on Sunday morning for a total of maybe 30 people (two different villages/church locations). Sometimes there’s only 3 or 4 people present.
  • B. in Southwestern Germany: There is both a protestant and a catholic Church in every village or suburb. Church attendance is almost nonexistant in both. Only people over 80 years of age attend church. If I go to my local parish, there is not one single person of my age (~30) attending.
  • Julie in Portugal: Church attendance is still mainly Catholic and is becoming less and less. The average age of attendees is very old.
  • Respectful Reader in Norway: On any given Sunday no more than 2% of Norwegians attend church services.
  • Rebekka in Copenhagen, Denmark: Around 80% of the population belongs to the Danish Folk Church (Lutheran) and pays church tax. There are churches all over the place, but only a very small fraction of members actually go to church and they are typically the elderly…The Catholic churches are typically filled up on Sundays. The one I go to is standing room only every Sunday.
  • Kmo in Western Norway: Not very good. There were many very old, small Lutheran churches, but no Norwegians I knew attended church…There are also Islamic mosques, as Norway has a large Muslim immigrant population. I have no idea about the attendance at those mosques.
  • Rosenkranz-Atelier in Luxembourg : Very low, about 5 to 10 Percent…Almost every village has its own catholic church. Do they seem to have active memberships? Most have only small attendances and mostly elderly people.
  • The Bookworm in Bedfordshire, UK (northwest of London): In our town (population 35, 000) there are [nine churches]…Most active are the Catholic, Church of England, larger Baptist and New Life churches. I’d guess church attendance is about 5%, but a larger number attend occasionally, and the role of the churches in the local community is greater than the numbers attending would suggest.b
  • Puffin Hen in Wales, UK: I personally know only 1 other person my age (38) or younger who goes to church. On average, the local church (Anglican) and the local chapels are attended by those over 60. And not many of them.
  • Lauren in Manchester, England: I would say maybe 2% most of the time. Very very few people. Sundays here are for shopping, not for church.
  • Emily in East London, UK: There are plenty of churches in our area, but they tend to be of the Pentecostal, Evangelical, one-off variety. There are also a couple of mosques and a Sikh temple. My family (me, husband and toddler) go to the local Catholic church around the corner. Most Masses are probably a third full…I would say about 150 on a good day. That said, I am a convert from the Church of England, and we would have been amazed to get that many people in the one service we had on a Sunday, let alone for four Masses.
  • Sarah in Lancashire, UK: Our church (non-denominational) is considered large at 150 members…My mother in law’s church (pentecostal) in a nearby town is mostly attended by immigrants from Africa and not a huge amount of English born people. Our local town’s Catholic church usually looks busy.
  • Andrei in New Zealand: Presbyterian Church at the bottom of my street recently demolished, unused in years. In our town many Churches have been converted to profane use, restaurants etc, one a once thriving Baptist congregation is now a Night Club.
  • Tami in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: We are members of the church of Christ. There are many Christian denominations near where we live, but we have not found a church of Christ. So, we travel a little over an hour away to Dubia to worship with the church there…The Sunday worship service has about 100 people, mostly an expat population of men from India.
  • RI in East Africa: About 80% people attend church of some sort though it is a predominantly catholic society. there are many churches with active membership – think people filling the church and spilling over onto the road.
  • Ana Paula in Minas Gerais, Brazil: I live in the biggest Catholic Country in the world. So the religiousness is strong, is in the blood of the Brazilians. We pray a lot and we go to the church a lot. Each neighborhood here has a church and people attend.
  • Maria in Manila, Philippines: Churches are virtually everywhere in my country, especially in the city. They’re always packed during Sundays and certain feast days. The best part is that the age-range of mass-goers is pretty broad. This is because it’s traditional for all members of the family to go to Mass together–from newborn infants to aging grandparents.
  • Marl in the Philippines: There are churches everywhere and Masses are held pretty close to every hour. The church down the street from our house had mass every 1.5 hours from 8AM to 6PM. Sunday mass is usually packed with people cramming the parking lot (there are speakers out there) and sometimes the street. Membership is very active with entire families usually going. There are certainly no shortages of choir members, eucharistic ministers, etc. for every mass.
  • Eunice in Singapore: Church attendance is actually high in all churches here in Singapore. My parish is always full on Sundays, and this is more or less the same for the other 30 parishes in Singapore. There are also a few dominant megachurches (charismatic protestant churches) which attract a lot of the young people, accounting close to 100, 000 church attendees each Sunday.
  • Elisa in Egypt (from 2006-2008): Egypt is predominantly Muslim, but Coptic Christians make up 9% of the population. Copts are treated very poorly (many around Cairo are garbage collectors and live in “garbage city” which is what it sounds like). Converting religions is very dangerous, particularly converting from Islam. Religion is by birth and is recorded on government documents. Conversion is dangerous both for the person leaving Islam and for anyone who encourages/enables such a move. Egyptian jails are deeply unpleasant. There are a few protestant expatriate churches, with 50 or so nations represented at any given service, though Egyptians were noticeably absent. There was also a small Catholic church in our suburb, catering to expatriates.
  • Nzie in Moscow, Russia: I think church attendance is quite low, but there are many restored Orthodox churches. They don’t seem to have active memberships in Moscow, but there are still several monasteries, and any tourist coming to Russia would see basically see church after church after church…My friend who is Presbyterian, however, can’t go to a Presbyterian church here – they’re banned I think. So she goes to a Baptist church, and to be Baptist in Russia is hard…She said she was Baptist when a student asked, and the student was shocked, and asked her why she didn’t believe in God.
  • Erin in New South Wales, Australia: Attendance varies from church to Church. The charismatic churches tend to have lots of young people. Some Evangelicals have a mixture of age groups, some are simply dying out. The Catholic Church we attend is predominately the over 60 set…The other Catholic Church does have more younger people.
  • Judy in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: Many churches, very active, lots of young families. Archdiocese is building secondary schools, rebuilding old ones. Decades of immigration mean we have a very multicultural church here. People say if it was just the previous white Anglo-Saxon population, we’d be dying, but fortunately for those who are devout, that is not the case. I volunteer in RCIA [The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults] and most of our recent inquirers have been Chinese.
  • Anne in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: I live in Kanata (west suburb of Ottawa), and there are ~23 churches here. The ones I know of have active memberships.

2. At a typical social event, how appropriate would it be if a person were to explicitly acknowledge in casual conversation that he or she is a believing Christian?

  • Respectful Reader in Norway: If you want to see and hear any secular social gathering (or just lunch in the teachers’ lounge where I work) come to a screeching halt casually mention that you are a Christian, read the Bible or prayed last night. If you want a gathering of Christians to choke on their coffee cake, mention the Virgin Mary or the Pope.
  • Ciska in Belgium: That would be odd and slightly inappropriate. Church and religion are considered to be personal. It’s like suddenly starting to talk about your last bowel movement…You can say “I’ll light a candle for you” or “I’ll think about you” when someone has a hard time, but you can’t say “I’ll pray for you”, even though that’s what you mean.
  • Rosenkranz-Atelier in Luxembourg: It would be most inappropriate, people would label you immediately as sectarian, intolerant, unmodern and seriously weird.
  • Julie in Portugal: It would definitely seem odd. There are typical opinions that are socially acceptable but those are not some of them. Some socially acceptable opinions would be: “you can be spiritual without going to church”…”I like catholic values but I’m into buddhism right now”…”the church has always been against knowledge” (I heard this statement, word for word, at a birthday party last week)…”I believe in science” (therefore, I don’t have faith)…”I’m probably more christian than people that go to church” (meaning: I’m a good person, people that go to church sometimes aren’t).
  • Cheryl in Western Alsace, France : Here in France that would seem very odd. Just read about a new survey that’s been published: only 1 in 3 French people believes in God.
  • B. in Southwestern Germany: It would be considered odd. People who are a bit more knowledgeable would possibly consider the person to be an american-style evangelical.
  • Puffin Hen in Wales, UK: Mention prayer, the Bible or God at a social event? Wouldn’t happen. If it did, it certainly wouldn’t happen again. God is only mentioned in Church on Sunday, and then only by the priest or vicar. And then only during the accepted parameters of the sermon. You can mention that you attend church in a, “When I was on the way to church the other day…” kind of way, so long as you don’t say anything more about it than that.
  • Lizzie in London, UK: In London, it’s fine to mention it – it’s so diverse – but the attitude is very much ‘each to his own’.
  • Sarah in Lancashire, UK: It would seem very odd. I would make people uncomfortable. I do mention church and my beliefs, but very often people don’t really want to talk about it. I usually get comments like, “I hate church”, “Religion causes wars”, “Religious people are bigots”. My daughter was called ‘weird’ by the father of one of her friends when my daughter invited that friend to church.
  • Lauren in Manchester, England: It would be very, very odd and the majority of people would either move away from you very quickly or respond aggressively – when casually mentioning that my weekend plans include Mass, I have been told I am ‘disgusting’ for ‘opposing womens rights and gay rights’, and told that ‘they thought I was more intelligent than that, obviously not!’. Some people in my family have asked me not to mention my faith and have been annoyed when I’ve said something as innocuous as ‘I’ll keep you in my prayers’ to an ill relative.
  • Tami in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: The UAE is a Muslim country and Muslim women cover their heads (some with only their face showing, some with only their eyes showing). So if you don’t cover your head, it’s obvious you’re not Muslim and people just assume you’re Christian. I believe if you are a citizen you have to be Muslim, but if you are an expat, you can freely practice your religion.
  • Helen in Trinidad and Tobago: We have a saying in our country that God is a “Trini” so speaking about religion would not be inappropriate. Saying that you are Catholic however will raise eyebrows. Other Christian denominations are normally more accepted.
  • RI in East Africa: Very normal , no one would bat an eyelid.
  • Nzie in Moscow, Russia: I don’t think anyone would be offended, but it’d be unusual. Most people identify with Orthodoxy but don’t practice.
  • Maria in Manila, Philippines: It’s perfectly normal to make statements like the ones you mentioned in social gatherings. Religious expression is not just tolerated here, it’s very much part of our cultural identity. You should see the way we celebrate our major feast days!
  • Marl in the Philippines: This is very common. Discussing problems amongst friends or family or even acquaintances may end with some reference to prayer (e.g. “Let’s continue to pray about it.”) or God’s power and God’s will and it’s not awkward to talk about that at all.
  • An American living in China: With foreigners, it is common for the Evangelical Protestants to talk this way. Among Chinese it is becoming more and more acceptable.
  • Maiki from Peru: I don’t think it is all that odd to mention something from the bible or mention prayer — it is pretty common. Being someone with many regular devotions can be a bit odd, or if you mention it all the time.
  • Paula H. in British Columbia, Canada: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!! Ooooooh, that’s funny. Okay, I have to stop laughing now. Holy mackeral, we live in a new age paradise and people DO NOT like Jesus very much at all. However, I have a big mouth (and so do some of my friends) and I feel that we HAVE to let people know that we are practising Catholics/Christians and that we are not the demons they think we are.

3. What belief system do the politicians in your area claim to practice? For example, here in Texas almost all politicians at least claim to have some kind of belief in God. Is this the case in your area?

  • Julie in Portugal: Being a “close-minded” strong believer would almost be political suicide in Portugal… maybe in Europe in general. Politicians don’t have to talk about their religious beliefs. Our prime minister is openly gay and that is absolutely not a problem for anyone, even practicing Catholics.
  • Respectful Reader in Norway: There is one political party, The Christian People’s Party (which incidentally just changed its bylaws to allow non-Christians to belong), that speaks openly about religion. Other than this party – which gets about 5.5% of the national votes – religion is a non-subject. NO ONE mentions their private beliefs; and there is a tacit understanding that most intelligent people have distanced themselves from religious myths.
  • Puffin Hen in Wales, UK: To openly admit to having any active faith…would be political suicide. Weird, bigoted, out of date and unable to represent a multicultural community, apparently.
  • Towanda in East Spain: No reference to any belief or practice at all. Politicians avoid to be identified with any religious belief. No approaches to pro-life movements or similar either unless you want to ruin your political career (or you’ve already ruined).
  • B. in Southwestern Germany: Most politicians claim to be Christians. It is normally used as an argument on why they can define what Christianity is. E.g. a few days ago the gay mayor of Berlin said “I’m a Catholic and as such I will tell the pope that the Church has to accept gay marriage when he visits Berlin.”
  • Sarah in Lancashire, UK: God is never mentioned in campaigns in my area. Politicians like to say they are ‘multi-cultural’ or ‘tolerant to all belief systems’.
  • Marija J. in Croatia: The right-center party members usually claim to be Catholic (no evidence of that in any of their decisions). The left-center party members don’t usually claim anything and are perceived as mostly atheist. The current president announced he is agnostic.
  • Maiki from Peru: Most politicians are Catholic or lapsed/non-practicing Catholic. Occasional Evangelicals and Jews also run, I think there is the odd Muslim, too. An atheist candidate would be weird, but not unheard of. I think there are a couple. Religious items are used in swearing in ceremonies (as appropriate), and candidates sometimes attend religious services on important state occasion days. I don’t think being an atheist is political suicide, unless your proposed measures were largely contrary to Catholic values.
  • Andrei in New Zealand: Current Prime Minister is agnostic, his predecessor was Atheist.
  • Sue in Saitama, Japan (near Tokyo): Generally, religion is a non-issue, unless you are Sokka Gakkai, which is a Buddhist sect that has a fair amount of political influence. I think most Japanese are wary of outspoken or passionate religion, though, so they are kept in check – so far. I don’t think there are many Christians involved in politics over here, really.
  • RI in East Africa: Politicians are quite open about their beliefs , catholic , muslim etc.
  • Nzie in Moscow, Russia: I don’t think people care or are that aware…I don’t think atheism is very common, just apathy. I think being atheist could be viewed negatively.
  • Anne in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Anyone who acknowledges an active belief in God, as the practicing Christian sort, gets the snarky treatment, or the “well, we know THAT is an outdated and odd belief system.” Politicians in Canada don’t trot out their Bibles and beliefs in God and have it received as a good thing, put it that way.
  • Amy in New Brunswick, Canada: I would say that most of them are Christian. I know for a fact that our mayor is Catholic and helps at church functions, and many of the bigger names in town attend church.
  • Barbara in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: The more a politician discusses his religious affiliations in public the more suspect he is. He may be considered too “American” (Stockwell Day comes to mind) Catholic politicians –there have been many– are criticized for listening to the pope at all (Chretien for example) and must keep their religion to themselves. It’s fine to have a burial mass in Notre Dame Cathedral, but don’t question the sacredness of abortion, gay marriage or contraception.

4. How many families do you know who have more than two children? If a family with four children moved to your area, would their family size seem unusual? What about a family with six children?

  • Catrin in South Wales, UK: Many, But I move in homeschooling/Catholic circles. Most people seem to have two, but 3 or 4 is not uncommon. Larger families of 5 or 6 are usually “blended” families.
  • Kmo in Western Norway: Not many large families. Norway is an extremely expensive place to live, although many social services are provided by the government. However, most women work, in my experience. Norway has a very strong history of gender equality in the workforce.
  • Sarah in Oviedo, Spain: The young people are almost nonexistent here, both in the Church and in the country at large. Spain has one of the most problematic declining populations, and last week my host mother went out of her way to point out a woman walking down the street with three children. This is the most I have seen in any one family since my arrival; even two children is rare. Many locals that I have met have expressed shock at my “large” family (I have three siblings).
  • Julie in Portugal: I know very few families with more than two!…Marriage is generally viewed as a limit on freedom, people get married very late (around the age of 30), careers are a priority and the job situations is difficult so it is hard for people to get a steady income. In general people have two, one or no kids so families with more than four are very unusual.
  • Lauren in Manchester, England: When I have talked positively about being open to life/using NFP, I have had Catholic women respond negatively or tell me that ‘you’re not in the real world’…I truly think that there is no culture of life in the Catholic churches here at all – I feel very alone.
  • Larissa in London, UK: There are a lot of large families but they’re Muslim families. A typical “Christian” family here has 2-3 children.
  • Rebekka in Copenhagen, Denmark: Two kids is normal. Four kids is unusual but not unheard of. If you have six kids, you’re probably a Muslim.
  • Respectful Reader in Norway: Although the fertility rate in Norway is less than the US’s 2.06 children per woman, Norway does have one of the higher fertility rates in Europe (1.77), so families with more than two children are not that uncommon. We have friends who have seven children (extremely unusual) and this often causes negative reactions, with strangers asking if it’s this family’s responsibility to single-handedly populate the world.
  • The Bookworm in Bedfordshire, UK (northwest of London): Many families with three – two or three is the norm. Four is less common but not at all unusual. More than four is unusually large. One of the other mothers commented in the school playground last week that more families seem to be having third and fourth children, whereas a few years ago most stopped at two.
  • Marija J. in Croatia: Two children is common, four very rare, six considered way too much.
  • Pat in Rome, Italy: Babies in general were rare in Rome. Near my apartment was a baby supply store, and I never once saw anyone in it. It would be amazing to see a family of 4 or 6 walk down the street.
  • Tami in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: Larger families are very common here, but mainly among the non-western Muslims. Western expat families still typically have only about two children. However, because the country is predominately Muslim, that means that stores, restaurants, etc. are very used to seeing larger families and are very welcoming to them. No one freaks out when you walk your four kids (all 6 and younger) into a sit down restaurant. The staff is always very helpful and accommodating. It’s a very family oriented culture.
  • Sue in Saitama, Japan (near Tokyo): We definitely stick out with our four, but we stick out in general as well. We have one family at our church with six kids, and I have known a few others with five or six kids – even one with eight – but they are a rarity. Most families in our area, including at church, have one or two. We get lots of positive comments about our family at church, but outside of church the most common comment I hear is, “wow, that’s tough!”
  • Erin in New South Wales, Australia: Lots, this is the country so many families have 3-4 children. And I know a number of families with an average of 6. Just depends on what circles you move in though. With no. 9 on the way we would be one of the biggest families in town now, I know of 3 other larger families than us.
  • Cath in Sydney, Australia: In Canberra and here in Sydney, people cannot BELIEVE that we have 4 kids – and that is just 4!
  • Eunice in Singapore: A family of 4 won’t be too unusual and would be very welcomed by the government as we’re facing an ageing population also. There are now more families with more than 6 children and they’re usually Catholic so while it may get some stares, many would actually applaud their effort and respect these parents!
  • Bears2Cross in Beer Sheva, Israel: Four children wouldn’t be unheard of; with six, it would be assumed that you were an Orthodox Jew (or a Bedouin!). To me it seems that people like big families, but it’s normal for people to wait until after two years of army and four or more years of University to even think of getting married and starting a family, so infertility is a big problem. My husband’s colleagues in his Ph.D. program were always shocked to learn that he’d already been married for over a decade and had three kids at age 34! Ethnicity also plays a big role in what number of children is “normal” for a family.
  • RI in East Africa: Almost all. The national average is 6.5. Though in the capital the trend is growing towards only two. A family of four would fit right in and no one would bat an eyelid if they continued to have children.
  • Helen in Trinidad and Tobago: We are a family with six children, which is unusual. We are few and far between. We get all the customary comments. Are you Catholic? How are you going to send your children to university? How do you manage? etc. etc. etc. Very few people now have more than two children.
  • Elisa in Egypt (from 2006-2008): Large families are very normal – often Egyptian Muslims will keep having children until they finally have a boy. Egyptians love children.
  • Maria in Manila, Philippines: I think the better question to ask is, “How many families do you know have LESS than two children?” Because believe it or not, there’s not a lot of those at all. I’d say the average number of children per Filipino family is 3-4. Two generations ago, it was probably twice that. I guess you could call us blessed, and I would agree! But recently, the government’s been weary of these numbers, calling it “overpopulation”.
  • Ana Paula in Minas Gerais, Brazil: It is rare a family with more than two children. The new families who have more than two, usually is a poorest one, who live in the borderline of the society. Families are going to be smallest over here. The thought is: “If I have only one child, I will be able to give him or her My Best: I will be able to pay a good school, I will be able to send my child to the United States, to see Disneyland, etc.”
  • Margaret, whose husband is from Ethiopia: Ethiopians I have met are very positive about large families, but the trend is towards smaller families, and people have found me somewhat odd. A white American woman who *wants* to have a large family?? Unheard of.
  • Barbara in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: In spite of CBC trying to promote Childfreeness as the new black, having lots of kids doesn’t usually get much negative attention. I grew up in what might be considered a large family by today’s standards and never heard a peep about it. Mind you, Canadians hold politeness as such a value that most would refrain from commenting, even if they had something to comment on. This of course excludes Quebec. Quebeckers went from having 10 kid families to having no kids at all, now the government in that province is trying to pay women to have them, while the quebecoise feminists are freaking out at the merest suggestion that women have babies.
  • Emily in Alberta, Canada: As my husband found out at work, recent immigrants (particularly from Africa) are much more likely to see a large family as a positive good (a wealth of children). He says that it’s not that those born and bred in Canada have made negative comments but rather that they tend to be completely bewildered at the very idea wanting a large family.

6. What seems to be the dominant belief system of the people in your area?

  • Cheryl in Western Alsace, France: Christianity as a tradition. Sort of a fading, historic protestant faith.
  • B. in Southwestern Germany: Agnosticism for people of christian origin, Islam for the rest.
  • Carolyn in Graz, Austria: None.
  • Ciska in Belgium: Officialy, Catholicism is the dominant belief system (in Belgium, 70% is baptised in the Catholic Church, in the area where I live about 85 %). Most of the Catholics aren’t practising. Most people believe in something higher and that they’ll go to heaven or at least that there is something like heaven after life. They try to live a good life and largely endorse christian morals and values.
  • Rosenkranz-Atelier in Luxembourg: Agnosticism and a critical distance to the catholic church.
  • Rebekka in Copenhagen, Denmark: I live in an “immigrant quarter” – there are lots of Muslims, women in hijab, and so on. Other than that it’s probably atheism/could-care-less.
  • Cathleen in the Netherlands: I would describe this area as culturally Catholic; with beautiful churches the center of every town. Crucifixes and statues and small shrines are everywhere, but are little more than parts of the decor. There is a beautiful crucifix not too far from where we live, but Jesus’ arm has been shattered for some time and there seems to be no one interested in repairing it. It saddens me every time I see it.
  • Kmo in Western Norway: I’m not sure, but I think many people consider themselves Agnostic or Humanist. Norway is a very secular country, despite there being a state-run religion of which most are officially members. Wikipedia describes a poll that found that only 20% of Norwegians considered religion important to their lives and only 5% attended church on a weekly basis. That sounds about right based on my experience. Among teens and young adults, there is also a percentage that consider themselves Pagans or Satanists, which is closely tied to a particular musical scene (black metal). The black metal scene was linked to a number of church burnings in Norway in the 90’s, mostly of very old wooden churches that were historical landmarks (so sad!).
  • Emily in East London, UK: Muslim. Although that may well be because their practice is more noticable as many women wear hijab or burkas. There are lots of Eastern European immigrants in this area, but I have seen little evidence of them in our church. As for the ‘indiginous’ population, I would say agnostic. Most British people that I know would call themselves Church of England in the same way that I tick the ‘white-British’ box on forms.
  • Larissa in London, UK: Islam or atheism. As in, I live in an area with a high Muslim population but outside of that most people are atheists with some cultural Christianity whacked in for good measure.
  • Catrin in South Wales, UK: Secularism mixed with general Christian secularism. Living in the Welsh Valleys people are more traditionally Christian than in other areas of the UK.
  • Puffin Hen in Wales, UK: Life boils down to making and spending money, having stuff, and – at all costs – not letting anyone know you cannot afford something.
  • Lauren in Manchester, England: Shopping. For devout people: Muslim, smattering of Catholics/Jehovah’s witnesses/independent Evangelicals.
  • Sarah in Lancashire, UK: Apathy.
  • Andrei in New Zealand: Indifference.
  • Marija J. in Croatia: Cultural/lapsed Catholicism. Most people would say they believe in God, but anyone who takes the Church seriously is considered weird. The actual belief system would probably be materialism.
  • Sue in Saitama, Japan (near Tokyo): Most Japanese say they don’t really have a religion, but they practice various Shinto/Buddhist customs to cover the bases. Mostly consumerism and education rule, but the high suicide rate betrays the desperation many people feel.
  • RI in East Africa: A lot of people are catholic – though many are attracted by the pentecostal churches still christianity dominates.
  • Erin in New South Wales, Australia: This is the country so demographically mostly Anglo-Saxon background. Many might say Christian or Catholic, but many would not practice. Also a growing number of atheists, some New Age. Shops still do close though for Good Friday and Christmas Day.
  • Ana Paula in Minas Gerais, Brazil: We have faith in our blood. The atheism is rare or it is too hidden.
  • An American living in China: A mixture of Buddhism/Taoism/Ancestorism. Particularly in my part of Beijing, ancestor homes and tombs (sometimes both barely amounting to a pile of dirt) are hallowed ground. Tombs are swept, cleaned off, and retamped every year on a special holiday for that occassion. Beijing Homes often bear lucky images, at a minumum the word for blessings (fu), as well as images of Buddha or Guanyin or heroic near deities from Chinese mythologized history, like Cao Cao.
  • Bears2Cross in Beer Sheva, Israel: Most are Jewish in the cultural sense. They believe in God in pretty vague terms, but don’t do much to practice their faith. Sadly, they are also open to any kind of “spirituality” and don’t see any conflict between Judaism and the New Age. Interest in Eastern religions is rampant among the younger people especially.
  • Maiki from Peru: Catholicism by in large. Evangelicalism is becoming more common among upper-class people, but for a long time it was seen as a populist phenomenon. Jews are also sort of common. Non-practicing Catholics are also very common.
  • Sarah in Ottawa, Canada: I’d say agnostic, or culturally Christian. Secularism is all over the place.
  • Anne in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: My area of Kanata, is very multicultural. There are a lot of immigrants here, and the dominant belief system seems to be shifting to probably a split between Christianity (professed and practiced) and Islam. There is a large Muslim community here in Kanata North.
  • Barbara in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: West Coasters are still all about the new-age. Even Christian churches are infusing their messages and practices with “new earth consciousness” hippie BS that dilutes faith to nothing except you can pray, do yoga and have all the sex you want. However this is seen more in Vancouver and in some ways Victoria.
  • Amy in New Brunswick, Canada: Oh, Christian for sure.
  • Catherine in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: Atheism. And Vancouverites are known to be very cynical in general, so it doesn’t help.
  • Paula H. in British Columbia, Canada: Nothingism. With a little bit of new age and a lot of pot smoking thrown in. Oh, and lots of little Buddha statues in people’s gardens.

7. Do you notice any trends? Do people seem to be becoming more or less religious?

  • Julie in Portugal: Statistics show that 97% of Portuguese people are Catholic. Anyone that lives here knows that isn’t true. Although most people will nominally call themselves Catholic and get married through the Church, a very reduced percentage will go to Catholic mass every Sunday. Of those that go to Catholic mass every Sunday, a very low percentage will have a basic understanding of the Bible or even believe in Jesus and the Church’s mission in carrying on his work…I think indifference is slowly fading, as people are taking stands on both sides. Non-christians are becoming more hostile toward christian views, crucifixes are being taken off public walls, people are not marrying through the Church as much. Christians are forced to understand what they believe if they want to believe it, seeing as they have to defend it more. I think this is good!
  • Rebekka in Copenhagen, Denmark: Occasionally there is a media freak-out about young people of Danish ethnicity converting to Islam. There are lots of atheists or members of the Danish church who don’t care and just want a church wedding. Happily, though, people keep joining the Catholic church in a small but steady stream.
  • Elizabeth in St. Andrews, Scotland: Generally, religious apathy is on the rise. The Catholic Church is definitely growing well – St Andrews typically provides something like 1/4 of Scotland’s priestly vocations…This is is a bit specific to Scotland, but I think there is a bit more integration and less sectarianism between Catholics and Protestants, at least where I was. When I first met my boyfriend’s family, they had never met a Catholic before, and they still ask me loads of questions (including, courtesy of his younger brother, what would happen if the Pope got nuclear weapons?) but they are very welcoming, and I think his mum is so pleased he is dating a Christian that it doesn’t seem to be a problem.
  • John in Edinburgh, Scotland: I see fewer people sitting on the fence, and among young people they either are firmly atheist or firmly whatever religion they adhere to. Fewer people nowadays seem “unsure” or “undecided” than what I remember previously.
  • Respectful Reader in Norway: There seems to be such gaping need over here – troubled kids are breaking the backs of the school system, more and more children and teenagers are getting ADHD diagnoses and being medicated, there are long waiting lines to see psychologists…Norwegians seem to be looking for their answers in the fields of medicine and psychology, and of late, New Age. The state-paid bishops and priests have been coerced into some kind of toothless submission, no matter how sincere their personal beliefs may be.
  • B. in Southwestern Germany: Compared to twenty years ago, I can make two observations: The people who go to Church are still the same. Twenty years ago, only people over 60 went to Church, today, it’s only people over 80. The muslims are becoming more religious. When I was in school, only old muslim women wore veils. Today, it is common for muslim women of all age to veil.
  • Rosenkranz-Atelier in Luxembourg: Less religious.
  • Sarah in Oviedo, Spain: Overall, the faith of the country definitely seems rooted in its aging population, and I worry for the future of the Church here in the decades to come if there are no youth to carry it forward.
  • Carolyn in Graz, Austria: Less. Young people move in together surprisingly soon and that is the norm. Marriage to most is ‘just a piece of paper’. I had a girl on the train say to me once, “Americans are obsessed with marriage”. I think she meant more the wedding craziness too (which I agree with her), but also that we still believe in marriage as a whole.
  • Lizzie in London, UK: The climate in the UK (as a Catholic) has definitely changed since the Pope’s visit last September – I know many Catholics who now feel we have a legitimate place in society and we aren’t seen as crazy people with strange beliefs. The Pope was such an incredible example of dignity, respect, kindness when he was here and the national press moved from outrage over his visit to respect by the end of his time here. Among some quarters there was almost an awe over how holy, intelligent and dignified he is. There is an extremely strong and vocal humanist/atheist voice here (Richard Dawkins et al) but there seems to be a rising discomfort with their intolerance among people of faith and also of no faith. They are rapidly being seen as fundamentalists themselves – becoming the very people they are trying to denounce.
  • Emily in East London, UK: There seem to be more openly religious people and some churches, for example Holy Trinity Brompton, which appeals to young, wealthy London professionals, are very popular. However, British society as a whole moves more and more towards secularism. A lot of comedians and media commentators are strongly atheist and this is seen as an intellectual achievement. It also seems to be fine to mock Christianity whereas other religions are considered to be off-limits.
  • The Bookworm in Bedfordshire, UK (northwest of London): I’d say Christianity is pretty much holding its own. Numbers attending church may have declined a bit in the 18 years I have lived here, but not dramatically. The churches I know best seem to have a good cross-section of ages, including younger people and families with children.
  • Puffin Hen in Wales, UK: Religion is rapidly progressing towards being treated with utmost suspicion and contempt, the source of all conflict, etc. In the large urban areas of England there is a growth in large, evangelical, event type churches but this is not typical of the general population and certainly not in the provinces.
  • Sarah in Lancashire, UK: A lot less. I don’t know anyone outside my friends from my own church who go to church, except my husband’s parents and people from my husband’s work (a Christian charity).
  • Lauren in Manchester, England: In my lifetime (almost 30), I have never known more than a handful of people be religious. I’d say the trend is now of growing active agression against the few Christians left.
  • Pat in Rome, Italy: As time goes on, it seems the religiousness is becoming more and more ancient history!
  • Andrei in New Zealand: Falling away from the faith…The Catholic Church is holding its own though with more functioning Parishes in our town than any other denomination despite being nominally a minority Faith – in our town Presbyterianism is supposedly the major denomination and certainly was fifty years ago. The Catholic Church probably has more people in Church on a given Sunday than the others combined but in actual numbers they are probably in the same place as they were fifty years ago.
  • Nzie in Moscow, Russia: I think people are more openly identifying with religion. Also, there is state support for Orthodoxy. On Orthodox holidays, the metro system here stays open later to accomodate people coming home from services that go late into the night. Also, nowadays, many restaurants and grocery stores feature menus and foods that are approved for Lent, for example. Some traditions are coming to the fore, such as a cold dip last month for the Baptism of the Lord, and some are very popular such as Maslenitsa (butter week – before Lent begins). Overall I think there is an increasing association with it, and more children are being baptised, people wear crosses sincerely, but don’t practice much.
  • Erin in New South Wales, Australia: Less religious.
  • An American living in China: The government has been loosening up and even encouraging traditional Chinese beliefs. When I moved here, Qing Ming (tomb sweeping day) was not a legal holiday. Now it is, and most people get three days in a row vacation for this holiday. Same with Mid-Autumn (Dragon Boat) Festival. There are also many educated people getting more interested in understanding the nature of belief. One friend of mine has been growing in her Buddhist devotion. She and her daughter even attended a Buddhist Camp over the New Year Holiday. She asks me questions about Christianity, even reads my Chinese-English Bible when she comes to my house, but she is getting more strongly attached to Buddhism. Christianity is definitely also growing here as well.
  • Sue in Saitama, Japan (near Tokyo): Unfortunately, things are pretty stagnate, or worse. Many churches are filled with elderly people. Not a few Protestant churches are without a pastor, and some Catholic parishes even are without a regular priest. I was talking to a Franciscan brother not long ago about young men choosing a religious vocation. He said that the low birthrate has made it so hard. Especially if someone comes from a non-Christian home, and is an only son, he is going to face an awful lot of opposition if he decides on a religious vocation. He said that a lot of young men end up leaving due to the pressure from their families. We need lots of prayer over here!
  • Cath in Sydney and Canberra, Australia: We can definitely say that atheism is on the rise [in Canberra], which is a definite change from the agnosticism of previous years. As this is the seat of the decision making and law making, this is concerning.
  • Elisa in Egypt (from 2006-2008): More and more Muslim women began covering their heads while we lived there – making it all the harder for Coptic Christian women to avoid notice/harassment. I’m concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood taking over from a moderate President Mubarak. Things will be much worse for Christian missionaries (already illegal) and Coptic Christians if that happens. The entire power structure and stability of the Middle East will be affected as well. Pray for Egypt!
  • Helen in Trinidad and Tobago: We tend to follow the trends in the developed countries in the world, especially the United States and we are therefore becoming more and more materialistic and secular. While less people may not be practicing their faith, the majority do believe in God. We have a church, mosque or temple at nearly every street corner and we are one of the few countries in the world where abortion is still illegal.
  • Bears2Cross in Beer Sheva, Israel: Definitely towards less religious. From the Jewish perspective, in our nine years one very noticeable change was in how much traffic there was on the Sabbath. Our Christian friends from the North would tell us about how much more religious their villages had been in the past as well. Their churches are still well-attended, but the cultural observance of many Christian traditions has gone by the wayside.
  • Maiki from Peru: I think there is a rise in Catholics that are not practicing admitting they are atheist/agnostic, when before I think that was unheard of. Also a rise in Evangelicalism and Mormonism. I think as a result, those who *are* Catholic are becoming more informed and solidified in their faith — there seems to be more theological discussion in Church.
  • Marl in the Philippines: The trend that I do notice is that when Filipinos come to the States they tend to be less religious and Mass is all of a sudden boring, probably because it doesn’t have the same hoopla that it does back home where mass is truly a celebration. Unless a friend’s baby is getting baptized, church is an option. Another trend I notice is that Protestantism has been making an active push to convert Catholics and have been very aggressive in their preaching. Many have been vocal enough to say that they are anti-Catholic as opposed to just pro-Protestantism. Atheism and Agnosticism has been creeping up as well mostly because of lack of education or just poor or lack of Catechism.
  • Eunice in Singapore: People are definitely seem to become more religious as I see in my friends especially.
  • Sarah in Ottawa, Canada: Less and less religious, unfortunately. I see so many people searching for “authenticity” or “striving to be one with nature”, or SOMETHING to find meaning. It makes me so sad for them, as they have such a God-shaped hole in their lives.
  • Barbara in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: Actually its moving in both directions at once. Orthodoxy is finding new blood out here, the Catholic community in Vancouver is vibrant and active, the Evangelical community as well. Both denominations seem to have quite a lot of young members. The Anglican church is graying at an alarming rate, but secularism and new-atheism is also building among 20 and 30 somethings. It´s going to be an interesting country in a decade or so.
  • C. in Southern Ontario, Canada: Among those I know, definitely more religious (most of my friends are between 20 and 30).
  • Christian H. in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: Increasingly secular and increasingly anti-religious (these are different things). Again, caveats for my academic context.
  • Alison T. in Southwestern Ontario, Canada: I think the evangelical church is growing. People say this is at the expense of the Catholic and Anglican churches, but I’m not so sure about that. I’m a university student, and there seem to be a lot of young people involved in their religion. Also, I’m a convert to Christianity from agnosticism, and I know several other people my age (early 20s) like this.

Fascinating stuff. I know that reading these comments has given me a lot of food for thought. What was your reaction to these comments? What was there anything particularly surprising? If you’ve lived in any of these countries, do these comments resonate with your experience?


  1. Paulina

    Well I remember that I read your post and I had the intention on answering then I forgot 🙁
    I think I got right guessing the answers to some of the answers in different countries. I was surprised to not see any comments from Mexico or more latinamerican countries.

  2. Emma

    I’m very interested to know what responses you had from Scottish residents on the first two questions, as I think there is markedly less hostility to being Christian here than I have heard about in other parts of the UK. Certianly in Edinburgh most of the responses I have had to saying I went to church, or am a Christian, are positive with the most common being ‘oh, my grandad/auntie/mother/great-aunt’s cousin three times removed is a Christian’ or ‘I used to go to church when I was little’.

    Same thing goes with politicians – to be atheist is as much political suidide as to be actively Chrisitian. There’s a sort of divorce between faith and morality. Most people want to know their politicians have a moral framework, but are suspicious of organised religion as it’s perceived as limiting one’s ability to think for oneself and would give a politician a loyalty something other than to his or her constituants. (In reality, I suspect people with genuine life-changing faith simply struggle to make it in our political system. The one Christian MP I am aware of regularly voted against his party when it clashed with his beliefs. I suspect this is the real reason why genuine Christians (and probably genuine believers of other faiths too) do not often get as far as even getting on the ballot sheet unless they are part of ‘Christian parties’ which are ususally far too right-wing for the UK.) Politicians who declare themselves atheists are genuinely mistrusted too, though, as that can be seen as being amoral. Vague Theism with a sense of ethical compass is what most politicians portray to the public.

    Re church attendance, in Edinburgh, many churches of all denominations have healthy congregations, even though that is not something which is valued above all else in judging a church’s success. I go to a Church of Scotland church and we have around 200 members, I think, and around half are under retirement age (60).

    Wow, that was longer than intended, but the more I thought about this, the more I had to say.

  3. Seth

    This seems to confirm the general global trend: apostasy in Europe and the economic North (or Western countries) with greater Muslim infiltration– vs. religious flourishing in the economic South (the Philippines, Africa, etc.)Latin America is holding steady, albeit a cultural Catholicism, and Russia has allowed state Orthodoxy. I read all of this and it seemed to confirm what I have read in other articles, especially the demographics regarding the population winter in Europe, Japan (the global North) vs. the flourishing in the South (Africa, SEAsia).

    • Seth

      I was surprised at what similarities we have with Great Britain, where a strong religious minority are up against an increasingly hostile secular government. I think we can see the influence of Pope Benedict at work there in London.

  4. Kris

    So interesting. Not surprised about the anit-religion, anti-family, anti-church, secular climate in Europe. So interesting to see the responses to the different questions mirrored by country.

  5. Potamiaena

    So sad.

  6. Ally

    I’m going to print this! I don’t want to go into skim mode for this post, its so great to be globally aware as we pay for the Church… thanks for sharing/re-posting!

    • Ally


  7. Rosie Brandon

    What stood out to me is that your Brazilian reader is expressing as Brazil being a super catholic country, yet most people have 1 or 2 children to give them the “best” (i.e. best schools, trips, etc). That’s the same feeling I get in Latin America – super catholic countries but ok(and accepted) to have small families.

    • Anne

      A lot of what her Brazilian reader said surprised me. My husband is from southern Brazil (Porto Alegre) and I believe his responses might have been a lot different. The south and the north in Brazil are very different.

  8. William Jessup

    Five years ago, I would have found survey exciting, encouraging, and promising, but today, as my views and beliefs have evolved, this information hit me initially as depressing. It makes me realize the world needs a lot of healing and grace.

  9. KelleyAnnie

    Hey Jen…It’s funny that I ran into this post when I did because I had literally just finished having a chat with a friend in the States about how religion is not so popular over here (Germany and Europe in general). I sent it to her straightaway. I would agree with most of what is said about Germany and other European commentators (I live near Frankfurt).

  10. Kathy

    I live in Spain very near Oviedo the city from where the commentator from Spain was writting, and agree with her…Spain is a cultural catholic country with churches and shrines everywhere, but only old people attending mass, in general there is no religious conciousness, so if you go to mass on sunady that is enough and nothing more to be expected of, I also agree that things in Europe are going in the same direction, less catholicism, and more muslims, more materialism, more new age vague tipe of believes… I found the comments about Portugal to resemble Spain pretty well too. If you have 3 or 4 children they certainly stare at you on the street, I normally feel i am performing some kind of show when i walk down the street,as I feel the odd looks of the people on me, and i am normally told that i am very brave, and how can i manage but that they would do it too, if they “could”! (not fertility problems involved thoug).But on the other hand, i move on a catholic enviroment and therefore i know lots of large families and we support one another. I wish it could be possible to homeschool in this country (Its illegal at present!) .

  11. Cecilia

    I come from a family of eleven. The reaction my mom usually gets is “Are they all yours?”

    • Annabel

      Pretty the same response my mum get Cecilia. We are ten in my family.

  12. Jess @ MakingHome


    I’m so glad you reposted it, as I’d missed it the first go-round. 🙂 Very interesting responses!

  13. Robert H

    Gosh! Jen, I must confess that I don’t read all of your blogs, but this one got me hooked despite it’s length! Well, I see a lot of hope for the future because on the one hand the media and perceptions fueled by said media reflect a steep declining morality everywhere, that the world is close to Armaggedon, blah, blah, blah, and of course that is not the case. There appears to be a good mix of trends in the world, but your article made me think that secularism and atheism wil be in eventually in full retreat by reason of their utter emptiness. Slowly, but surely.

  14. Nikki C

    I am also from Trinidad and Tobago like Helen and I have one problem with her statements, 3+ is not that uncommon. I have multiple neighbours with 6, 8, 11, 9, etc children. Sure there are families that stop at 2 but I see big families all the time, people tend to just call you by the name they remember at the time (I get called by my sister’s name all the time) and the occasional bad jokes but most people don’t really care how many children you have unless you are complaining about not being able to take care of them.

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