The many Americans who think atheistic, socialistic Europe is the greatest place in the world and the United States is a putrid backwater populated overwhelmingly by hicks and weirdos will be awfully dismayed by the latest news from Europe. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Continent has increasingly been getting religion, especially of the Christian variety:

After decades of secularization, religion in Europe has slowed its slide toward what had seemed inevitable oblivion. There are even nascent signs of a modest comeback. Most church pews are still empty. But belief in heaven, hell and concepts such as the soul has risen in parts of Europe, especially among the young, according to surveys. Religion, once a dead issue, now figures prominently in public discourse.

God’s tentative return to Europe has scholars and theologians debating a hot question: Why? Part of the reason, pretty much everyone agrees, is an influx of devout immigrants. Christian and Muslim newcomers have revived questions relating to faith that Europe thought it had banished with the 18th-century Enlightenment. . . .

Some scholars and Christian activists, however, are pushing a more controversial explanation: the laws of economics. As centuries-old churches long favored by the state lose their monopoly grip, Europe’s highly regulated market for religion is opening up to leaner, more-aggressive religious "firms." The result, they say, is a supply-side stimulus to faith.

This explanation is supported by a wide variety of evidence, including the fact that the rise of religious belief is manifesting in rapid growth of churches not supported by the government in countries where almost nobody attends the state-supported churches  and most of those who do so are elderly:

Consider the scene on a recent Sunday at Stockholm’s Hedvig Eleonara Church, a parish of the Church of Sweden, a Lutheran institution that until 2000 was an official organ of the Swedish state. Fewer than 40 people, nearly all elderly, gathered in pews beneath a magnificent 18th-century dome. Seven were church employees. The church seats over 1,000.

The big reason there are so few people in the pews is that many of the people leading the state-supported churches are not Christians, they are government bureaucrats enjoying a cushy, easy sinecure:

Hedvig Eleonara has three full-time salaried priests and gets over $2 million each year though a state levy. Annika Sandström, head of its governing board, says she doesn’t believe in God and took the post "on the one condition that no one expects me to go each Sunday." The church scrapped Sunday school last fall because only five children attended.

Just a few blocks away, however, an American-style evangelical church is thriving, the story notes.

As in the United States, a lot of these new European churches are rather eccentric and hold some doctrines of dubious theological merit, but the presence of more sensible and grounded churches means that Europeans who want the real thing are increasingly able to find it. And increasing numbers of people there want to do so.

[Thanks to David Theroux of the C. S. Lewis Society for calling our attention to this article.]