Why has church attendance declined so drastically in Western Europe? British writer Kingsley Martin famously boasted that “rationalism has argued the Church out of existence.” However, the stats stubbornly demonstrate the very opposite thing.
Meanwhile, Mary Eberstadt, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C, offers a different explanation:
- Social science has roundly established that vibrant families and vibrant religion go hand in hand. Conversely, not living in a family means that a given individual is less likely to be found in church. As Wilcox has summarized the data, “The recent history of American religion illuminates what amounts to a sociological law: The fortunes of American religion rise with the fortunes of the intact, married family.” Similarly, the late sociologist Steven L. Nock observed in his 1998 book, Marriage in Men’s Lives, that “changes in the number of children in the married couple’s household have large consequences for men’s church attendance…With each additional child, men increase their attendance at services by 2.5 times per year.”
- More families and more children, in short, means more God. Similarly, to summarize other statistics, marriage increases the likelihood of belonging to a religious organization—whereas cohabitation, by contrast, has what three researchers have called a “strong, negative effect on the probability of religious activity.” Unmarried people without children are less likely to go to church than are married people, or married people with children. A married man with children, for example, is over twice as likely to go to church as an unmarried man with no children. Once again, where there is more marriage, there is more religion; where there is less.
While children draw families to church, deviant sex also drives many away. The more Westerners have practiced a sexuality that is not accepted by the church, the more they have distanced themselves from the church and affiliate with those who accept their lifestyle.
I have seen this close-up. Several gay friends have distanced themselves from me once they embraced the gay lifestyle, understandably surrounding themselves with those who affirm them. When I had reconnected with one friend after some years, he was astonished with my views. “I didn’t know that people still believed like you!” He had immersed himself into a community where there were no dissenting opinions.
This same phenomenon pertains to other forms of deviant sexuality. The more indulgence in pornography or adultery, the more we seek a value system or community that will affirm our behavior.
We seek to assuage our conscience. Therefore, we seek to avoid any influence that will make us feel guilty. Consequently, the more that Western values and sexual practice depart from Christian values, the less attractive the church!