The decline of Christianity in Europe did not happen spontaneously. It was a process which took place over many years. Further, it would be impossible to identify any one trigger for the decline. Numerous factors have combined to erode Christianity in Europe. Changing political parties, with varying tolerance towards Christianity, have been a major factor in the decline. In addition, new ideas about the ability and goodness of man to create a good society, without the need for God, served to undermine Christianity. Finally, the failure of the church to respond firmly to the crises of the modern world significantly accelerated its decline. While many of these factors have roots going back as far as the seventeenth century, many came to a head in the twentieth century.
In the nineteen hundreds, many European countries were being swept by changing political tides. This era saw the rise of socialism for many European countries. Some of these new governments discriminated against Christianity. Education and even some professions were closed to Christians. Some countries were harsher in their anti-Christian policies, and others merely neglected the church.1 The church was in a dangerous position; it was expected to comment on the political situation of Europe, but in grave danger if it did so.2
Furthermore, Christianity was generally seen as contrary to the ideology of these governments. At worse, Christianity was seen as a threat to Marxist ideals. At best, it was seen as silly superstition, an unnecessary crutch.3 While some Marxists respected Christianity and perhaps even learned from it, many felt that religion was primarily a tool of oppression which should be banished in the name of social justice.4 Christianity had certainly been misused in the past, which gave credence to some of the socialist arguments. Bloody wars had been waged in the name of Christ, and unfortunate examples of intolerance were plentiful. Thus it is no surprise that many Europeans turned to new ideals, such as socialism, which promised a better society without the injustice of the past.5 These ideas, as well as the discrimination against Christians, led to the gradual erosion of the church in the twentieth century.
Closely related to the changing political ideals of the twentieth century was the rise of secularism, and the lingering philosophies of the enlightenment. Christian doctrines were seen as irrational and unbelievable, whereas secular science offered a rational and systematic world view. In addition there was a growing confidence that humanity could solve its own problems and create a better society than God had managed to. Many believed humanity could create a perfect society, free of injustice and inequality, without Christ.6
Secularism is essentially a nonreligious worldview, still popular today.7 It interprets the world in terms of the natural, rather than the divine. It has also been...