Interview with Rodney Stark, Part II

II.  Religion in Europe 

 

You talk a lot about toleration and conformism and how monopolies work. Do you see any overall trends in Europe right now? 

 

Yeah, I think Europe is coming apart at the state church level, and we see finally, despite all the resistance, the breaking out of some competition.

 

In Western Europe?

 

I’m think about Scandinavia, and France, and Belgium and Germany and what-not. It looks like the tide is shifting, that religion’s picking up – I know that there’s been a considerable rise in religiousness in Italy, for example.

 

Is that within the Catholic Church, or within Protestant denominations? 

 

It’s a lot of things. There's been quite a bit of competition for the tax-withholding. And it's led to a heck of a lot of advertising every spring – you know, "Mark us down for your tax withholding." See you have to pay a church tax, and you can pay it to anybody you want. And it’s like some big campaigns seem to have stimulated religious interest more generally. Church attendance is up a lot, especially among young people – and so is belief. 

 

I’m also connected with an institution that I never go to, the University of Wales. I’m doing a doctorate at the Oxford Centre for Missions Studies right now, so I have the privilege of spending a lot of time in Oxford. And I’ve been very impressed by how alive the church is there. They’re all Anglican, but there’s evangelical Anglican, there’s charismatic Anglican, there’s high church …

 

Yeah, well, they’re starting to break up. They’re starting to work at attracting followers. That’s the thing that’s missing! You’ve got state churches – the check comes, and I don’t care. But I have to care – suddenly I have an empty church and no check! 

 

That’s sounds, I don’t know  …

 

Oh, it sounds terrible! 

 

It sounds cynical, worldly …   

 

No, but it’s just human nature! My word! "I'm not motivated, I'm really pretty lazy." – "You ought to be motivated for God!"  Yeah, right, (but) maybe you’re not even attracting people like that into the clergy! In Germany, the union contract for clergy says that if fewer than eight people show up, you don’t have to hold church! If I were over there, I’d make my services so dreadful I’d never get eight people! (Laughter.) 

 

But if you’re sitting out there, some little Baptist preacher says, "If I don’t increase attendance I’m not going to get a check!" It makes a difference! And I see nothing wrong – hell, the key to success, at least in (America) and I would suggest anywhere, is having a really vibrant religion!

 

The reason that the liberal churches have been slumping in this country for a hundred years is because when you get there, they don’t hold church! I don’t need to go to some Episcopal church to hear how terrible it is that there are people who don’t like homosexuals, or that there are starving children in the world – you get plenty of that. The High Churches have an advantage in that, at all levels across the spectrum, they do somewhat better than their somewhat similar Low Church neighbors. Because the liturgy takes out of the priest’s hands the ability to trash the service, if you will. I have a Catholic friend who put it really well. He said, "We just despise our parish pastor. We just don't listen to the homily. The rest of the time, he's got to say Mass." (Laughter)