Religion in Belgium
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Christianity, in particular Roman Catholicism, is the largest religion in Belgium, with about 58% of the population adhering to the Roman Catholic Church. Other Christian denominations with significant followings in the country include various branches of Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy, whose adherents collectively constitute 7% of the population.
The second-largest religion in Belgium is Islam, which accounts for 5% of the population. (If all immigrants with Islamic backgrounds are included, Muslims' share of the population rises to 8.1% as of 2011.) Muslims are concentrated in certain regions of the country, constituting 15% to 17% of the population in Brussels, but just 4% in Wallonia and 3.9% in Flanders.
Beliefs and practices
- 37% of Belgian citizens believe there is a God.
- 31% believe there is some sort of spirit or life force.
- 27% do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force.
- 5% declined to answer.
Some religious people dispute the precise figures, as it is unclear how many Belgians who say they believe in God are actually Christians and how many who call themselves Christians, but refuse the label "Catholic," have severed all links to the Roman Catholic Church. Also in dispute are how many Catholic Belgians have become deists or have joined small Protestant churches.
Government and religion
The Belgian constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects this right in practice. However, government officials have the authority to research and monitor religious groups that are not officially recognized. There are a few reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice, and some reports of discrimination against minority religious groups.
Belgian law officially recognizes many religions, including Catholicism, Protestantism, Anglicanism, Islam, Judaism, and Eastern Orthodoxy, as well as non-religious philosophical organizations (Dutch: vrijzinnige levensbeschouwelijke organisaties; French: organisations laïques). Buddhism is in the process of being recognized under the secular organization standard. Official recognition means that priests (called "counsellors" within the secular organizations) receive a state stipend. Also, parents can choose any recognized denomination to provide religious education to their children if they attend a state school. Adherents to religions that are not officially recognized are not denied the right to practice their religion, but do not receive state stipends.
After attaining autonomy from the federal government in religious matters, the Flemish Parliament passed a regional decree installing democratically elected church councils for all recognized religious denominations and making them subject to the same administrative rules as local government bodies, with important repercussions for financial accounting and open government. In 2006, however, Catholic bishops still appointed candidates to the Catholic Church councils because they had not decided on the criteria for eligibility; they were afraid that candidates might be merely baptized Catholics. By 2008, however, the bishops decided that candidates for the church councils had only to prove that they were over 18, a member of the parish church serving the town or village in which they lived, and baptized Catholic.
Roman Catholicism has traditionally been Belgium's majority religion, with particular strength in Flanders. However, by 2009, Sunday church attendance was 5.4% in Flanders, down from 12.7% in 1998. Nationwide, Sunday church attendance was 5% in 2009, down from 11.2% in 1998. Nevertheless, Catholicism remains an important force in Belgian society. The Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and Primate of Belgium, Jozef De Kesel, is well-liked, with the Brussels daily Le Soir calling him a "spiritual son" of the popular Cardinal Godfried Danneels.
Until 1998, the Roman Catholic Church annually published key figures such as Sunday Mass attendance and the number of baptized children. In 2006, it announced that Mass attendance for the Christmas period was 11.5%, and weekly Mass attendance (not only on Sundays) 7%, for the Flanders region. Since 2000, Sunday church attendance in Flanders has dropped by 0.5% each year, on average. The rate of decrease was previously 1%.
The Administrative Council of Protestant and Evangelical Religion in Belgium is a coordinating group that mediates between many Protestant groups and the government. The largest Protestant denomination is the United Protestant Church in Belgium, with some 138 affiliated churches.
The second-largest religion practiced in Belgium is Islam. There are also small minorities of Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and Jews.
After the Roman period, Christianity was brought back to the southern Low Countries by missionary saints like Willibrord and Amandus. In the 7th century, abbeys were founded in remote places, and it was mainly from these abbeys that the Christianization process was started. This process was expanded under the auspices of the Merovingian dynasty, and later by Charlemagne, who even waged war to impose the new religion.
The Reformation Era was particularly influential in the confluence of currents that formed modern Belgium. In 1523, Belgium became the site of the first martyrdom of Lutherans by the Roman Catholic Church, as two Augustinian monks, Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes, were burned at the stake in Brussels for their conversion to Lutheran doctrine. Before the end of the century, however, Belgium was part of the Spanish empire, which showed as little tolerance for complacent or liberal Catholics as for Protestants. One of the effects was that Catholics—fearing the Inquisition and preferring to live with Protestants who would, at least, tolerate them—migrated in large numbers to the Dutch Republic. From the Spanish military conquest of 1592 until the re-establishment of religious freedom in 1781 by the Patent of Toleration under Joseph II of Austria, Roman Catholicism was the only religion allowed, on penalty of death, in the territories now forming Belgium. However, a small number of Protestant groups managed to survive at Maria-Horebeke, Dour, Tournai, Eupen, and Hodimont.
Religion was one of the differences between the almost solidly Roman Catholic south and the predominantly Protestant north of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, formed in 1815. The union broke up in 1830 when the south seceded to form the Kingdom of Belgium. In Belgium's first century, Roman Catholicism was such a binding factor socially that it prevailed over the language divide (Dutch versus French). The decline in religion's importance as a social marker across late-20th-century Western Europe explains to a large extent the current centrifugal forces in Belgium, with language differences (increasingly reinforced by a positive feedback effect in the media) no longer being kept in check by a religious binding factor. If anything, the Catholic Church has acquiesced to these changes by having a Dutch-speaking university (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) and a French-speaking university (Universite Catholique de Louvain).
Until the late 20th century, Roman Catholicism played an important role in Belgian politics. One significant example was the so-called Schools' Wars (Dutch: schoolstrijd; French: guerres scolaires) between the country's philosophically left-wing parties (Liberals at first, joined by Socialists later) and the Catholic party (later the Christian Democrats), which took place from 1879–1884 and from 1954–1958. Another important controversy happened in 1990, when the Catholic monarch, King Baudouin I, refused to ratify an abortion bill that had been approved by Parliament. The king asked Prime Minister Wilfried Martens and his government to find a solution, which proved novel. The government declared King Baudouin unfit to fulfill his constitutional duties as monarch for one day. Government ministers signed the bill in his place and then proceeded to reinstate the king after the abortion law had come into effect.
In 2002, the officially recognized Protestant denomination at the time, the United Protestant Church of Belgium (consisting of around 100 member churches, usually with a Calvinist or Methodist past) and the unsubsidized Federal Synod of Protestant and Evangelical Churches (which had 600 member churches in 2008 but did not include all evangelical and charismatic groups outside the Catholic tradition) together formed the Administrative Council of the Protestant and Evangelical Religion (ARPEE in Dutch, CACPE in French). The council is now the accepted mouthpiece of Protestantism in all three linguistic communities of Belgium: Dutch, French, and German. Based on a 2001 survey conducted by evangelical sources, charismatic and evangelical associations claim a membership of 4% of the Belgian population.
- Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Koekelberg
- Buddhism in Belgium
- Hinduism in Belgium
- History of Dutch religion
- History of the Jews in Belgium
- Holy Corner, a small ecumenical neighborhood of Ghent with four officially recognized churches
- Islam in Belgium
- Irreligion in Belgium
- Jainism in Belgium
- Roman Catholicism in Belgium
- Scientology in Belgium
- Sikhism in Belgium
- Conference of Protestant Churches in Latin Countries of Europe
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Religion in Belgium.|
- Searchportal "Catholicism in Belgium"
- Eurel: sociological and legal data on religions in Europe
- Kerknet.be : Website of the Roman Catholic Church in Flanders (in Dutch)
- Catho.be : Website of the Roman Catholic Church in French-speaking Belgium (in French)
- Website of one of the German-speaking Roman Catholic parishes
- Website of ARPEE/CACPE, which unites UPCB and the Federal Synod (French and Dutch Protestant/Evangelical)
- Orthodox Church in Belgium (Dutch, French and Greek)
- Web page with the addresses of the Anglican church in Belgium
- Website of the Muslim Executive Council in Belgium (in French and Dutch, some English)
- Website of the Central Jewish Consistoire in Belgium (in French, no English as of 2008-04-10)
- Buddhist union of Belgium website (in Dutch and French)
- Namaskar - Hindu Association of Brussels, Belgium