The Washington-based Pew Research Centre has released a report on the current impact on the Reformation on today’s Europeans. And, in keeping with the general secularism of the age, it has been found that for most people the Reformation doesn’t seem so important. As reported in the Guardian, although the north of the continent is still largely Protestant and the south is still largely Catholic, that division is less searing and abrupt than it perhaps once was. There are five predominantly Protestant countries and nine predominantly Catholic ones in Europe (including Germany). The most Protestant country is Finland (73 per cent Protestant, 0 per cent Catholic) while the most Catholic country is Italy (78 per cent Catholic and one per cent Protestant). The only country where the number of unaffiliated are the largest group is the Netherlands, once the leading European light for Protestantism, albeit 450 years ago…
But quite frankly, there does not seem to be much of a difference between calling oneself unaffiliated or affiliated. The report found that in all European countries, only small proportions of Catholic and Protestants pray daily, attend services weekly or say that religion is very important in their lives. And perhaps that fact explains the lessening importance that both sides place upon the differences between their religion and the other.
“Across the board, 58% of Protestants and 50% of Catholics in western Europe say the two traditions are religiously more similar than different. But 26% and 34% respectively say the differences outweigh the similarities.
Roughly nine out of 10 or more Protestants and Catholics say they are willing to accept members of the other tradition as neighbours. Large majorities of both groups say they would be willing to accept each other into their families.”
On one of the key difference between the two traditions, and one of the theological drivers of the early reformers, the role of works in the justification of individuals, it seems as if faith alone, is becoming less popular: In every country (except Norway) majorities or pluralities of Catholics and Protestants say both faith and good works are needed for salvation. In Norway, 51 per cent of Protestants say salvation comes through faith alone. Luther might not be so pleased about that particular reconciliation.
However, I cannot help thinking that the reason for this reconciliation and the laissez faire attitude towards those of other religions is probably not a theological awakening and rapprochement, but more of a decline in religious observance. After all, if your religion is not very important in your life, if you don’t practice much at all, then it is probably no surprise that you see fewer differences between yourself and your (equally non-practicing) neighbour, no matter their religious “affiliation”. If you aren’t so concerned about your own religion, why would you be concerned about another’s differences to your own?