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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Number Of Atheists In France Rises At An Unprecedented Rate

A poll published this week by the French newspaper Le Monde shows that the number of people describing themselves as atheists has risen to 31 per cent – from 23 per cent in 1994. The poll also shows that only half the population of France now considers itself to be Catholic. In the early 1980s it was 80 per cent. The paper declared that France “is no longer a Catholic country”.

“In its institutions, but also in its mentalities, France is no longer a Catholic country,” wrote Frederic Lenoir, editor in chief of Le Monde des Religions.

The poll showed that only 10 per cent go to church regularly — mainly to Sunday mass or christenings. Extraordinarily, of the 51 per cent who still call themselves Catholics, only half said they believed in God. Many said they described themselves as Catholics because it was a family tradition. Le Monde des Religions cited varied reasons for the decline, including the rural exodus, changing values and the rise of individualism.

One devout Catholic said the biggest problem was that younger generations were no longer interested. “When you go to Sunday mass, it’s just old people, except for special occasions like midnight mass,” said Marie-France Guillon, a retired school teacher from the fishing village of Crac in Brittany. “When I tried to get my grandson, who took communion in March, to go to Sunday school, he said ‘no thanks, I'd rather stay and play monopoly.’”

Despite the drop, however, Catholicism remains by far the country’s biggest religion. The poll found Muslims accounted for four per cent of the population (up from two per cent), Protestants three per cent and Jews one per cent.

Meanwhile, if anyone needs convincing that secularism is an essential element of democracy, they should consider what is happening in Italy as Catholicism fights to preserve its traditional dominance and privileges, while minority faiths begin to demand their own place at the table. Full story here.

Published Fri, 12 Jan 2007