Comparing U.S. and European-style religion

Robin Lovin, SMU's Cary Maguire University Professor of Ethics, talks about the difference between how religion is viewed in the U.S. and in Europe.

By Clayton McCleskey

WASHINGTON – The soaring gothic spires could make you think you're in Europe. Except the worship services aren't snoozers, and the seats are packed on Sundays.

Perched on a hill overlooking the nation's capital, Washington National Cathedral has been a spiritual gathering place for Americans from all walks of life for nearly a century. And with its superb choral music, robust congregational singing, inspiring sermons and active congregation, the National Cathedral is a symbol of what's right with how we do religion in America.

It's a stark contrast to worship at most churches in Europe, where you often find few folks in the pews, a dinky choir – if any at all – and a sermon that could have been given in 1540. . .

European society changed drastically after World War II, but religious institutions didn't. They seemed stuffy and out-of-touch with the new, modern Europe. As a result, religion is no longer a dynamic force in most Europeans' lives.

A 2009 Gallup poll asked, "Is religion an important part of your life?" In Britain only 27 percent said yes, in France 30 percent and in Germany 40 percent.

In the U.S., it was 65 percent. . .

The saving grace of religion in the U.S. may well be the American take-charge, hands-on approach to faith.

 "What Americans have is the strength of a religious life that's close to where people live their daily lives and really built into the fabric of local communities," said Robin Lovin, a professor at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.

That's certainly true in Dallas, where it feels like there's a growing church on every corner.

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