Studies, surveys and censuses reveal that Belgium is no longer a Christian nation. This article will offer a brief history of the country, and then evidence supporting that Belgians have lost their Christian majority. Their population in 2019 was 11.5 million.
According to Caesar’s ‘Commentaries on the War in Gaul (Gallic War),’ in the winter of 54/53 BC, the tribes of Gaul revolted. The Belgians, then Eburones, defeated the 14th Roman Legion. By 50 BC, Julius Caesar had conquered much of Gaul, including Tres Galliae. In 22 BC, Belgica became a province of the Roman Empire and was held by the Romans for about 500 years until the Empire collapsed and the Franks conquered Belgium.
In 313 AD, Emperor Constantine of the Roman Empire issued the Edict of Milan, which protected Christian worship. By 380, Christianity became the religion of the Empire. Around c.510, King Clovis had untied the Franks and declared Catholicism to be the religion of the land. Under, Charlemagne (King 768-814; Holy Roman Empire 800-814) Catholicism flourished in Belgium. The Catholic Church dominated until the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s.
By the 11th century, the Flanders gained power in the land between France and Germany (Bruges became their capital). After many conflicts with France, the Flanders received independence in 1302. In 1377, the Duke of Burgundy married Margaret of Flanders and united the land under Burgundian for 100 years until 1477 with Maximilian of Austria married Mary of Burgundy and the land came under Austrian rule.
In 1566, it came under the Spanish rule of Philip, grandson of Maximilian. After wars in Europe, the Austrians (1714), then the French (1795) annexed the land. The it became part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which was liberated from the French in 1813. In 1815, Napoleon was defeated near Waterloo, Belgium. And in 1830, Belgium declared independence from the Netherlands. King Leopold of Belgium surrendered to the Germans in 1940, until their liberation in 1944.
According to ‘Le Protestantisme en Belgique,’ in 1566, about 300,000 or 20% of the population were Protestants. Nevertheless, the Habsburg rulers kept Belgium Catholic; and even more so its leaders after their independence in 1830. In 1834, the 400-year-old (1425) Catholic University of Louvain was reopened in 1834 (abolished 1797 by France).
Facts from Censuses, Studies and Surveys
According to ARDA, Belgium is 64.6% Catholic, 5.8% Sunni Muslim and 25.8% not religious. The CIA World Factbook, based on 2009 census’ and estimates has it: Roman Catholic 50%, 2.5% other Christians, Muslim 5%, atheist 9.2% and none 32.6%. Pew-Templeton, Global Religious Futures, puts it at 2010: 64.2% Christians, 5.9% Muslims and 29% unaffiliated; and 2020: 60.5% Christians, 7.5% Muslims and 31% unaffiliated.
According to OperationWorld.org, ‘Catholicism is in rapid decline. Atheists and the non-religious now number 31%. Only 48% saw themselves as Catholic in 2010. Nominalism is pervasive; nationally, only 7% attend mass, and as low as 1% in some parts of Flanders… The church faces five major crises – declining commitment, waning influence, a severe lack of students in seminaries, mass defections and most of all, the pedophilia (sexual abuse) scandals that have destroyed Catholicism’s reputation. The number of priests today is less than half that of 1960; their average age is over 65. The charismatic movement brought some new life but remains quite small… rapid secularization has allowed the introduction of several very liberal laws that are an affront to a biblical understanding of the sanctity of life, sexuality and marriage. …coinciding with widespread recreational drug use, sexual immorality and new age activites…”
NationMaster.com using UN Stats, Wikipedia and Pew Research has Belgian Religion Stats for 2004, 3.5% Muslim; 2014, 6% Muslim (638,000 people); 2014, 33% secular and atheists, 57.5% considering religion unimportant.
The Dutch article, ‘Facts & Figures: Religion among Flemish youngsters,’ (Google translated to English) reports “Belgium is a country with a long Catholic tradition, although …erosion (in) church going has been going on for some time. Since the start of registration in the 60s it fell the number of people who attend church every week is strong (Dobbelaere & Billiet, 2010): from 54% in 1960 to 9% in 2010 (SVR, 2010). That tendency is being driven by a replacement for generations involving fewer believers young people are relieving more believing parents. Yet such apostasy is not equivalent to disappearing of the Catholic tradition. Church baptism, solemn communion and services such as funerals are still used extensively … It is not easy to find out how many people in Belgium regard themselves as religious; the Belgian government may not collect information about it… We asked the young people how they describe themselves in the religious or philosophical field. In the year 2013, approximately 46% of Flemish young people indicate that they identify with Christianity. This is a decrease of 10.1% compared to 2006. On the other hand, 7.2% of the Flemish youth committed to Islam in 2013. This is an increase of 5% compared to 2006. This means that’s… 53.2% consider themselves Christian or Muslim…’
‘…In 2006, 2.6% of young people indicated that they were religious Catholics and attend church regularly; 28.1% indicated that they are… Catholic but not often going to church. About 1% of Flemish young people consider themselves a religious Protestant who goes to church regularly or irregularly. In addition, 24.4% of Flemish young people indicate that they doubt but consider themselves Christians.’
‘…2013, among 2nd and 3rd grade students in Flanders and Brussels 34.2% consider themselves to be unbelievers or indifferent… 46.4% considered themselves as Christian… 47% that stated they were Muslim – doubted and 41% of Christians had doubts but considered themselves more or less Christians.”
St. Mary’s University Twickenham London, reported in their ‘Europe’s Young Adults and Religion: Findings from the European Social Survey (2014-2016) to inform the 2018 Synod of Bishops’ that “only 2% of Catholic young adults in Belgium attend Mass weekly… (while) 58% responded that they ‘Never’ attend.” Only 22% of those 16-29-year-olds identified themselves as ‘Catholic.’
Dutch website, Kerknet.be, 2017 article (Google translated): ‘Belgian has little faith in religion,’ reported that “Of the European countries, Belgium is the country with the least confidence in the influence of religion on the world and society. This is evident from the results of an online survey of the Ipsos study bureau about the relationship of people under 65 with religion in 23 countries… 17,401 people were interviewed… a third of the Belgium population (33%) considers the practice of faith, including the rituals at important moments of life, to be important for personal life… 62% …feel comfortable with people around them with a different belief …69% of Belgians think that religion does more harm than good… attempts are increasingly being made to ban religion from public life…
Furthermore, after another sexual abuse finding (from 2010) of the bishop of Bruges abusing his nephew and the late Cardinal G. Danneels – ‘the face of Catholic Belgium… even in the race to succeed Pope John Paul II (Trouw.nl; 2019)’ – knowing but remaining silent, even more will turn from the Church.
In addition, Iona Institute reported that only 5 five priests were ordained in Belgium this year (article August 2019). In the once predominantly Catholic country, the number of newly ordained priests has ranged between three and eight over the last few years. A new study out of by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) found that Belgium has the worst ratio of newly-ordained priests per Catholic head of the population, ranking it 108th in the world. CARA based the rankings on the most recent figures for priestly ordinations (for 2015, 2016 and 2017) and Catholic population data for 2017 from the Vatican’s Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae. In order to avoid skewed results, researchers only included countries that had at least 100,000 Catholics. It found that Belgium had just 19 ordinations from 2015 – 2017, giving a ratio of one ordination for every 431,158 people in its population of 8,192,000 Catholics.
January 2019, the Universiteit Leiden’s article Relatioship between church and state in Belgium has reached an expiry date stated, “In Belgium, officially recognized religions receive financial support from the state. Party as a result of this, there is no question of a far-reaching secularism, separation of church and state… (one PhD student proposes) the current Belgium system has reached its expiry date, if not exceeded…”
April 2019, reported by NWS (Vrt.be/vrtnws), “Theologian and KU Leuven professor H. Geybels in open letter, ‘Religious freedom in our country is in danger… the concept of laicity puts democracy at risk… (there are) legislative proposals aimed at abolishing the financing of worship services and to ban religious education outside class hours…”
UNIA.be (2016) reported that sociologist J. Hertogen (UCL) estimated the number of Muslims in Belgium to be 781,887 or 7%.
TheTruthSource.org, based on these sources, other research and trends, puts Belgium’s population at 49% professing Christians and 6% Muslim; and the country’s Non-Religious at > 60%. Based on practices and beliefs places their actual estimate of Non-Christians at > 67% (or roughly 2 in every 3 Belgians).