BERLIN – Christians in Western Europe are less accepting of immigrants and non-Christians than people without religious affiliations, a study published Tuesday found.
The Pew Research Center report, based on a 15-country survey, revealed that Christians – whether or not they are churchgoers – are more likely than western Europeans who don’t identify with a religion to express negative views of Muslims, Jews and migrants. They also are more inclined to think their country’s culture and values are superior.
“On balance, more respondents say immigrants are honest and hardworking than say the opposite,” the study’s authors wrote. “But a clear pattern emerges: Both church-attending and non-practicing Christians are more likely than religiously unaffiliated adults in Western Europe to voice anti-immigrant and anti-minority views.”
The study was based on a telephone survey of 24,599 randomly selected adults in the 15 countries. Pew researchers compared the attitudes of respondents who described themselves as practicing Christians, non-practicing Christians and religiously unaffiliated, including atheists and agnostics.
One of their findings was that ethnic Europeans as a whole hold “mixed views on whether Islam is compatible with their country’s values and culture.”
In Britain, 45 percent of churchgoing Christians and 47 percent of non-practicing Christians agreed with the statement that “Islam is fundamentally incompatible with our values and culture,” the survey showed. Among non-religious Britons, 30 percent shared that view.
In France, nearly three-quarters of Christians who attend church, or 72 percent, agreed it was important to have French ancestry to be “truly French.” Among non-practicing Christians, 52 percent took this position, compared with 43 percent of those without religious affiliations.
The survey was conducted during April-August 2017, after more than 2.3 million migrants and refugees had entered Europe during the previous two years, according to the European border control agency Frontex. Some European countries, including Germany and Italy, have seen an anti-immigration backlash and nationalist political parties gaining support.
The survey found that Swedes were the least likely to express anti-migrant and anti-minority views, while Italians were the most likely.
“Undercurrents of discomfort with multiculturalism are evident in Western European societies,” the researchers wrote in the report.
Although Muslim newcomers have been the focus of far-right candidates appealing for votes and activist campaigns to seal Europe’s borders, the survey also asked about attitudes toward Jews in western Europe.
For example, 36 percent of Italians, more than in any other country, agreed with the statement that, “Jews always overstate how much they have suffered,” compared with the 11 percent of Swedes who did.
One-quarter of all the respondents in Italy – Christian and non-religious combined – said they would not be willing to accept a Jew as a family member. The comparable figure in Britain was 23 percent, in Austria 21 percent and 29 percent in Germany.
However, anti-Muslim sentiment exceeded anti-Semitism in every country.
By comparison, 43 percent in Italy, 36 percent in Britain, 34 percent in Austria and 33 percent in Germany said they would be unwilling to accept a Muslim as a family member.
A hotly debated question in some parts of Europe is whether Muslim women should be prohibited from wearing concealing garments such as burkas. Most of the adults Pew surveyed supported at least some restrictions on religious dress.
About 30 percent of those surveyed in Italy, 28 percent in Belgium and 24 percent in both Germany and Austria agreed that Muslim women “should not be allowed to wear any religious clothing.”
Across the 15 countries where people were surveyed, the median was 22 percent, while half agreed Muslim women should be able to wear religious clothing as long as it does not cover their faces.
Pew said the survey had a margin of error of 2.7 to 3.3 percentage points depending on the number of people questioned in each country.