And even those who attend are not necessarily very religious. Or at least this is what we learn from a survey of the current state of religion in Central Europe. The study concentrates on fourteen former Soviet satellite countries. A similar survey was taken in 1997. The new study concludes that the number of people who call themselves religious or claim that they go to church on a regular basis has fallen since the earlier survey. The drop is most pronounced in Hungary and Lithuania.
In 1997 20% of Hungary's sampled adult population considered themselves "very religious." Today this number is only 15%. In 1997 there was a considerable difference between city dwellers and people from the countryside. The religious people lived mostly in the country. Today there is practically no difference between the two. In 1997 26.5% of the people surveyed claimed that they go to church regularly. Today it is only 19%. Then 30% of adults never attended church. Today it is 35%. Those who said that they are not religious is still 30%, but within that group the number of those who are "very much not religious" has grown significantly.
To my great surprise the most religious country among the fourteen analyzed is Romania. Poland is second, and Moldavia third. The least religious are the Czech Republic, the former East Germany, and Slovenia. However, Hungary is right there, in tenth place, just ahead of these three.
Religiosity has decreased in all fourteen former socialist countries with the exception of Slovakia where there is actually a notable increase. It's not at all clear why Slovakia is bucking the trend. One of the sociologists involved with the survey mentioned the rural character of Slovakia, but that's not a logical answer. Slovakia couldn't have become more rural in the last ten years. Most likely the opposite is true. Another explanation is that this newly found religiosity is somehow connected to the growing Slovak nationalism. That explanation sounds more plausible to me.
In Hungary the reputation of the Catholic Church has suffered a bit, but not considerably. Over 50% of the population expects the church to speak up on social and moral issues: family planning, sexuality, unemployment, and the growing disparities between groups. However, only 34% wants the church to express an opinion about political matters.
In the whole of Europe religion is playing less and less of a role in people's lives. Priests and ministers in Hungary blamed Hungarian irreligiosity on the communist regime and its atheistic teachings. I always doubted the validity of this explanation. Hungary, just like other European countries, has been moving toward secularization, and the communist interlude was, in my opinion, neither a critical nor a distinguishing factor.
The study was done by a Viennese pollster, Fessel Institute, led by Paul M. Zulehner (University of Vienna) and Miklós Tomka (Hungarian Catholic University).