France: Religious Knowledge in Dizzying Decline

October 02, 2020

A survey by the Ifop polling institute, published in Le Monde on the eve of the feast of the Assumption 2020, shows a dizzying decline in Christian culture in France, especially among those under 35.

This poll takes up the same questions as that carried out in 1988, on the occasion of John Paul II’s visit to Strasbourg, a gap of 32 years which shows how much Christian culture has fallen in France. Thus, for example, if 67% of French people in 1988 claimed to know the Our Father prayer “by heart and in full,” now there are only 56%; the difference is even more marked if we look at the segment of young people under 35: only 42% of them know the Our Father, and 29% the Hail Mary.

According to Ifop, “The most visible demonstration of the loss of religious culture is that the French - even practicing Christians - are less and less aware of the meaning of Christian holidays.” Thus, of those under 35 only 34% know the meaning of Easter. Only 7% of those under 35 can say that Pentecost celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles, as opposed to 13% for all French people (18% in 1988). Twenty-six percent of those under 35 know the meaning of the Ascension, compared to 44% of those over 50. Among the youngest, only 5% have a missal, versus 30% among the oldest.

It emerges from this survey that religion is also disappearing in the domestic world, if we consider the significant decrease in those who have religious objects at home, such as a crucifix (17%, -22 pts compared to 1988), a rosary (25%, -13 points), a statue of the Virgin (23%, -14 points) or a Bible (31%, -4 points).

On the Vatican News website, on September 1, 2020, sociologist Yann Raison du Cleuziou, a lecturer in political science at the University of Bordeaux, analyzes the results of this survey. The sharp decline in religious knowledge, he said, can be measured “also through the figures for religious practice: only around 2% of people in France are weekly churchgoers.”

And to advance an explanation: “I believe that we can also question catechesis and pastoral care. When we look at the number of young French people under 25 who say they are Catholic, it is around 20% - this is very low - and yet, a great many French people go through Catholic education [under contract. Editor's note]. This clearly shows that the pastoral care which is proposed within this teaching does not manage to engage them. Perhaps because it relies too much on a somewhat humanist discourse, accentuating the values ​​of sharing, welcoming, generosity ... Values ​​which are not specifically religious and which, consequently, can give the impression to young people that they already know Christianity, that they can live its values ​​without having faith, and do not see what the Christian faith can bring them more than the already prevailing values.”

We could not better denounce the poverty of the catechetical courses for last 50 years. Les Pierres vivantes (Living Stones) - the title of the progressive catechism of the bishops of France, published in 1981 - tragically reveals what they really are: the tombstones of faith and religious practice.