On first glance, one arriving in Southern Germany and Austria would assume this is a very Christian, and specifically Catholic part of the world.   There are the traditional roadside shrines with the crucifix or images of Our Lady at every turn.   Houses are beautifully painted with favorite saints.   Everybody greets you with Grüss Gott (God’s greeting be upon you);  there are statues in niches on houses and public buildings, and churches protected because of their age are almost as numerous as the Golden Arches of McDonalds.    And except for a few grocery stores, there were no stores open on Sunday.    It is very comforting and one is tempted to feel very much at home with all of this, particularly if he laments the secularism of the United States and mourns the loss of religiosity there.

But that would be a mistake.   For Europe, even Catholic Europe, is totally secularized.    All of these religious icons and gestures are cultural rather than religious.    The churches are on what is equivalent to our Registry of Historical Buildings, and as such are preserved by the government.    The statues and painting on the buildings add to their charm.    The churches are mostly empty on Sundays, being frequented mostly by older people.    We went to Mass and immediately noticed that there were NO CHILDREN and there were only about 6 young people under 40.    After Mass started, a family with numerous children came in.    What a surprise to us that they were Americans and people we actually had met in Colorado!    So without these foreigners, there were no children in the Church.    The handwriting is on the wall for the future when there are no young people to fill the void left by the deaths of the older people.

What’s it all about?    Why are there few children around?    Is there a lack of hope for the future?    Is socialism killing the spirit of the people so that they only live for the here and now?    Europeans laugh at Americans because we are “so religious.”    But are we any more so than Europeans?    They have the facade of religiosity which we, on the whole, do not.    Yet it isn’t unusual to see Americans pray before a meal, and church parking lots are still full on Sundays.    We are still  the biggest donors to charity in the world, motivated in large part  by the teachings of religion.

I am sure studies have been done as to who attends church in the United States, but I haven’t done any research on this.  I do know, however, that homeschooling is widespread in the United States and still affords parents the best shot at instilling religious faith in their children, while homeschooling in Germany violates the law.     I am sure that is a part of the picture, but certainly not all of it.

There are many people in America who are working overtime to insure that we become totally secularized.   We can only pray that they will not be successful, for secularism ultimately breeds the death of culture and society.  The icons of religion which are so common in Europe are under constant attack in this country.  That is because there are still enough people of faith here and they pose an obstacle to the total secularization of the country.  In Europe, there is no need to censure the icons, because people have already lost their faith and don’t put any religious importance on them.  What a sadness this must be for the older generation who tried and failed to impart the faith to their children.

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