At the recent meeting of the World Evangelical Alliance’s Mission Commission I presented a 25 minutes overview of several of the main features of Europe that we have been researching and which impact the mission of the Churches. One of those concerns work on the generational impact of the 20-29 year olds on trends relating to secularisation.
Six questions from the European Values Study (1980 and repeated in 1989, 1999 and 2008, the latter including 47 countries) form the basis for our ‘Nova Index of European Secularity’:
- Do you believe in God?
- How important is religion in your life?
- Are you religious, non-religious or atheist?
- How often do you attend religious services?
- How much confidence do you have in the church?
- 6. How often do you pray?
From these measures we believe that the 2008 data points to a ‘developing post-Christendom identity’, characteristic of people who have previously been, or who remain, ‘Christian’ but who presently have no institutional affiliation (or a very diluted form of it). The data represents a shift from ‘Christendom’ religiosity to ‘post-Christendom’ spirituality, rather than from ‘Christendom’ non–religiosity towards ‘post-Christendom’ spirituality. The newly ‘spiritual’ are not on a journey towards faith but instead are on a journey away from church affiliation. Whether this data represents a deepening of secularity or a mutation of religiosity deserves closer and more rigorous attention and debate.
The EVS data indicates a markedly irreligious generation of 50-69 year olds, best characterised as ‘ideologically hostile’ to religiosity. This generation is now beginning to retire from influential roles in the media, politics, education, and the arts. The havoc that these ‘lost generations’ have wreaked – in constructing a narrative of hard secularism – may finally be waning.
Our initial analysis supports the findings of other social scientists who suggest that the current generation of 20-29 year olds is reportedly less hostile to religion and religiosity but that this may be little more than a generation best characterised as ‘benignly indifferent’ to religiosity. This more ‘open generation’ may prove to be more amenable to creating the space necessary for a discussion of religion and religiosity within the media, politics, education, and the arts.
Where post-ideological commitments like this are held relatively lightly there may yet be scope for a considered exploration of the public value of religious belief and practice.