Its ancient cities are cradles of Christian art and learning, and Catholicism is in many ways the country’s raison d’etre. When it was created in 1830, the kingdom offered a political home to Catholic Dutch-speakers who preferred to unite with French-speaking co-religionists than with Protestants with whom they had a common tongue. Faith had trumped language.
But Belgium’s devout heritage has been traded for secularism and Islam has stepped into the void.
… as Christianity’s role has waned, so too has Belgium’s ability to hold together the two linguistic camps. And a new creed, Islam, is gaining importance all the while.
This is especially true in the capital Brussels
… some parts of which host large communities of Moroccan and Turkish immigrants, mostly from religiously conservative regions of those countries. Among respondents in the city, practising Catholics amounted to 12% and non-practising ones to 28%. Some 19% were active Muslims and another 4% were of Muslim identity without practising the faith. The atheist/agnostic camp came to 30%.
Demographics is destiny:
Among all respondents, levels of active adherence to Catholicism seemed to diminish dramatically with age, while the practice of Islam increased correspondingly. Thus among respondents aged 55 and over, practising Catholics amounted to 30% and practising Muslims to less than 1%; but among those aged between 18 and 34, active adherence to Islam (14%) exceeded the practice of Catholicism (12%). Admittedly the sample (600 people in all) is small. But if this trend continues, practitioners of Islam may soon comfortably exceed devout Catholics not just in cosmopolitan Brussels, as is the case already, but across the whole of Belgium’s southern half.
Belgians may be cultural Catholics, but the evidence is they are not practicing Catholics.
The percentage of avowedly “practising Catholics” far exceeds the numbers who actually turn up at mass, as any cleric will confirm. But one thing is pretty clear. If anything holds Belgium together through its third century of existence, Catholicism will not be the glue.