The cities of Europe are littered with cathedrals. They are impressive, imposing, centuries old and most days, close to empty.
These stone-carved buildings, with their ornately carved gargoyles and striking stone towers and buttresses, are a monument to Europe’s deeply religious history. It is a history filled with inquisitions, reformations, revolutions and centuries of religious leaders closely aligned with those in power. While it would seem religion’s prominent role in government helps religion to thrive, history tells a different story.
There are religious references everywhere in Europe. Besides the many cathedrals that line the streets, there are countless references to religion in daily life. The streets themselves are reminders of Europe’s religious roots. There are hundreds, if not thousands of roads in Western Europe that begin with Saint or have some religious affiliation.
Despite all this exposure to religious symbols and street names, religious affiliation in Europe is starkly low compared to religious affiliation in America. According to a study by Vexen Crabtree, only 6 percent of Britons attend church on a weekly basis. Only 12 percent of the population in France – a country the history of which involves more than a few grievances against the power-hungry Church – attends church more than once per month, according to the U.S. Department of State. Even in Italy, the home of the Vatican and numerous religious monuments, weekly attendance at religious services hovers around 15 percent, according to the Telegraph.
America’s founding fathers, in response to the abuses of power by the monarchies and religious leaders in Europe, sought to place a clear division between church and state. Freedom of religion, not the injection of religion into every level of government and daily life, has allowed Christianity to flourish here in the states.
The problem in America is not that those who identify themselves as nonbelievers have never been exposed to Christianity. It is, perhaps, the fact some have been overexposed to a cheap, commercialized version that is not appealing. The solution to this problem is not more prayer in schools or more nativity scenes in front of city hall.
The presence of the Ten Commandments in a courthouse is a comforting idea, but the removal of these commandments from the premises does not mean all morality leaves with them. The moral and ethical principles of the people we elect are the concern, not the religious symbols and monuments that surround them.
Christianity, if we believe it to be true, should be able to flourish without government intervention. Government protection, yes, but the freedom rather than the endorsement of religion that has allowed American religiosity to become what it is. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, ’tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”