Blog #388: Encouraging Signs of a Christian Uptick in Western Europe

The recent decision by the Muslim mayor of London, England to not put up any Easter decorations, but instead have Muslim Ramadan celebration banners and signs posted throughout his city, struck a nerve with British people and caused much outcry as well as moving people to reflect on the entire question of God and religion.

Richard Dawkins, one of the most influential atheist thinkers in that country and the author of The God Delusion has spoken out against that move by Mayor Sadiq Khan, saying that if he had to choose between adopting Islam or Christianity in his country that he would choose Christianity 100 out of 100 times, going on to say that he is a “cultural Christian”. “I’m not one of those who wants to stop Christian traditions,” said Dawkins. “This is historically a Christian country.” This was a shocking statement from the influential atheist. But the “New Atheists” of the early 2000’s – led by Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett – predicted a utopia founded upon science and reason once society had abandoned religion but Dawkins, at least, has come to realize that their claims in their bestselling books proved to be full of empty promises. All that a post-Christian society has delivered so far is confusion, a mental health crisis in the young and the culture wars.

Fellow Brit, Tom Holland, the co-host of the popular “The Rest is History” podcast, has similarly had a change of heart about Christianity, going from a secular liberal westerner who had lost any vestige of faith by his teenage years, to now attending church regularly. It was his realization that in his beliefs about human rights, equality, and freedom were essentially Christian that started to change him. This happened while filming a documentary in northern Iraq, where he was horrified at the carnage wrought by Islamic State in a town where men were literally crucified. Seeing crucifixion used for its original purpose opened up for him an “existential abyss”. This was followed by a profound experience in an abandoned church systematically desecrated by Islamic State. Holland says he experienced a “thin place” between heaven and earth as, amongst the rubble, he discovered a smashed picture of the Annunciation – the Virgin Mary being visited by the angel Gabriel. That soul-moving trip was followed by a cancer diagnosis Holland received in December 2021, which would have necessitated the removal of part of his digestive system. The news came at a time when hospitals were being overwhelmed by a Covid spike, and a clear picture of the diagnosis was hard to come by. Reeling from the news, Holland attended midnight mass at St Bartholomew the Great Church in London, where he prayed a desperate prayer. Within a couple of weeks, it appeared his prayer had been answered. A set of unusual circumstances led to the diagnosis being reversed. No surgery was needed after all. Holland gave in to God after that.

God is indeed something significant in the lives of those who have been very critical, in the past, of His church. Influencers such as Joe Rogan and Douglas Murray are increasingly talking about the value of Christian faith and the dangers of casting it off. Russell Brand is now calling himself a Christian and says he plans to get baptised. The women’s rights campaigner Louise Perry has been advocating for a return to traditional Christian morality since writing her book The Case Against The Sexual Revolution.

God is moving in mysterious ways in entire Western European countries, as well. In England, church attendance seems to be on the increase. In Finland, church attendance among 18- to 29-year-old men more than doubled between 2011 and 2019. The same uptick applies to their prayer habits and belief in God. More than 12,000 people – a record number for this country – were baptized in France on Easter Sunday (5% were from Muslim families). Bishop Olivier Leborgne of Arras, is quoted as saying that what is taking place is happening on a “bewildering scale.” Church leaders in the country attest that “the Lord has decided to take the lead,” because the increase in baptisms cannot be explained otherwise. And, finally, in the very secular Belgium, the number of adult baptisms has also continued, almost doubling in a decade. But all this should not take us by surprise entirely for as writer G.K. Chesterton noted in the early 20th century, “Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.” There is much to be done to stem the secularization of the West, but at least these are positive signs that God is at work.

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