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Last November I spent a week in Germany courtesy of the Konrad Adenauer Institute, a foundation named after the first chancellor of West Germany. Adenauer had the unenviable job of restoring government to a demoralized land in which every large city had been bombed to rubble. He founded the Christian Democratic Union political party and, with the help of U.S. largesse in the Marshall Plan, led Germany into a new era.

This party's very name shows a major difference in European and American approaches to religion and politics. Whereas the U.S. insists on a strict separation of church and state, the monarch of Britain holds the title "Supreme Governor of the Church of England," Polish priests openly campaign for like-minded politicians, and many European governments subsidize church activities, including the teaching of religion in public schools. On the day Nicolae Ceausescu was executed in Romania, ending 45 years of Communist rule, the state television station led with the pronouncement, "Today the Antichrist died and Jesus Christ was reborn in Romania!" To European eyes, our controversies over Christmas crèches and the Ten Commandments in public places seem strange indeed.

Yet in the last 50 years, almost all European countries have seen a precipitous decline in church attendance and religious belief. When Harris pollsters asked, "Do you believe in any form of God or supreme being?" only 27 percent of French and 35 percent of British respondents said yes; the others counted themselves atheist, agnostic, or unsure.

Germany offers an interesting case study. Although only 41 percent of adults claim to believe in God, a majority of Germans still formally belong to a church, though few attend. Church affiliation in Germany ...

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March 2008

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