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Old 19.04.2009, 20:39
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Whats the story with Religion and Churches in Switzerland?

Been here a few months - and am curious about something in Switzerland? How religious is this country? Would love a perspective from a Swiss person?

I was expecting to find a very secular country like the rest of Western Europe- with low rates of church attendance. But there seem to be neat and well-maintained churches everywhere. Also, it seems like 70-80%+ of people area still prepared to pay 1% of their income to the churches in church taxes? It certainly feels more religious than, say, the UK or France or Scandanavia?

Also, how does the protestant/catholic thing work here now? Do Swiss marry accross confessional lines? Are there differences in social and political views? (For example, I've read that the rural catholic cantons are more conservative). Are there stereotypes associated with each group . Is religion an important part of their identity - even is attendance is low?

I'm particularly curious about the protestant "official" canton churches (Evangelical Reformed) ? In Germany and Scandanavia, they're very liberal and have very modernistic theology - and protestants tend to attend church much less than catholics. Calvinist Switzerland might be different? Is there a big evangelical movement within or outside these state churches?

Purely curious - and don't want to start a "church is bad/good" argument?

My point of comparison is the UK and the North-East USA. (The latter is much more religious than almost anywhere in Europe :-) )

The only piece of data I have is the following posted on another thread - which seems to put Swizterland among the less secular countries in Europe?



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Old 20.04.2009, 09:32
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Re: Whats the story with Religion and Churches in Switzerland?

I think US evangelicalism is quite different from that in the UK or in Europe.

Some of the protestant churches are evangelical, more are liberal, theologically. Most of the protestant churches are traditional (both liberal and evangelical), some are modern. The churches that are growing are evangelical modern.

Politically, there seems to be a broad spectrum regardless of religious flavour - I think this contrasts with the US where many evangelicals regard republicanism as part and parcel of their beliefs.

My Swiss boss is from Basel, and he married a Catholic Solothurnerin fifteen years ago. He said it caused quite a fuss with her extended family, especially whether their kid would be raised Catholic or Protestant. Neither of them are religious.

I think the situation between Catholics and Protestants is good compared with, e.g. NI.

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Old 20.04.2009, 09:43
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Re: Whats the story with Religion and Churches in Switzerland?

Some cantons are traditionally protestant others are catholic with varying intensities and seem to exist harmoniously together.

The older generation seem to be more churchgoers (or at least that what it seems looking out of our apartment window on a Sunday morning).

You can get out of paying church tax; you just need a letter from whatever church they've got you down for saying you are not a member. I did and I save a bundle every year.

Occasionally you get God botherers knocking at the door but they always ask if we speak English first so I am guessing they are not home grown. It helps living in an apartment with a door intercom because you don't even have to go downstairs to get rid of them.
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Old 20.04.2009, 10:12
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Re: Whats the story with Religion and Churches in Switzerland?

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Been here a few months - and am curious about something in Switzerland? How religious is this country? Would love a perspective from a Swiss person?
As with most things, the Swiss are quite private about their religions.


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Also, it seems like 70-80%+ of people area still prepared to pay 1% of their income to the churches in church taxes?
1% is just the state sponsored tax. Many donate up to 10% of their income beyond the 1%. The recipients of the donations are often in foreign countries.


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I'm particularly curious about the protestant "official" canton churches (Evangelical Reformed) ? In Germany and Scandanavia, they're very liberal and have very modernistic theology - and protestants tend to attend church much less than catholics. Calvinist Switzerland might be different?

Calvinism comes from the southern French area. The Germans are more likely to be Lutheran. Around Zurich, Zwingli is the predominant theologian. You can see the impact of these theologians on local cultures by comparing and contrasting their theologies. There are also a large number of Catholics in Switzerland. Collectively, they have pretty good political representation.

Religions are taught in school curriculums by default, up to Confirmation or First Communion. In schools, they typically provide for 2 denominations; Catholic or Reformed. More and more are starting to declare non-denominational, or non-religious and opt out of the 1% tax. I heard one estimate that up to 66% of the Swiss youth attend some religious function beyond school curriculums.



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Is there a big evangelical movement within or outside these state churches?
Yes, there is. But evangelism here is not quite the same as evangelism in the US. It is more popular with young people than the old. The "Church" experience has gone through some transformation. It is not so much about sitting in cathedrals on Sundays as it is about small group communities that meet on a more personal and intimate basis.

There are also a large number of sects (cults in English) that flourish in Switzerland. There is a high level of religious tolerance here.

There is also a high level of superstition in this country. Two examples, there is a guy on TV by the name of Mike Shiva, some sort of tarot psychic, who seem to be doing well, from what I can tell with his TV timeslots. Another example is the high number of people who stay home and call in sick on Friday, 13th in avoidance of accidents.
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Old 20.04.2009, 11:10
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Re: Whats the story with Religion and Churches in Switzerland?

There are churches and church bells all over the place and it is a very comfortable place to be a Christian, but it's not a Christian country by any means - not as Americans would understand the term. I would say it's a secular country with strong cultural ties to Christianity. As the church tax numbers suggest, a whole lot of people support the church as an institution and are willing to fund it - whether they attend or not, whether they believe in any of it or not (they mostly seem to, but only in a weddings-and-funerals kind of way.)

The non-official Protestant churches tend to be a bit livelier, but if you're used to New England Protestantism, all Swiss denominations are going to feel a bit squishy to you. Detailed theological certainty is valued less than the ability to get along and not offend anyone else. (Of course, if you look at what various strains of theological certainty have done to Europe over the last thousand years, you can sort of understand where they're coming from with that one.)
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Old 21.04.2009, 11:21
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Re: Whats the story with Religion and Churches in Switzerland?

Thanks to everyone for their insights on this.....

I found a pretty interesting article on religion in Switzerland

http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/specials...siteSect=22080

Couple of observations-

* Sat outside a evangelical methodist church last Sunday, and the congregation appeared to be _very_ elderly indeed. Lots of crutches and walking frames, etc. Youngsters appeared to be 60

* Churches seem to provide a _lot_ of social services. There's a Kirchgemeindehaus Neumünster in my area which seems to lots of things.

* Among the cantonal protestant churches in Zurich haven't seen a big outreach effort beyond their core (Swiss?) members. There's no non-Swiss German links on their websites, no ministries to English speakers or other language groups. The Lutheran church near my home in the US had Korean, Spanish and English language services every Sunday (plus did stuff in Haitian Creole :-)).

* The comments here on swiss privacy and on valuing "getting along" ring very very true.

I wish I knew more German so that I could understand the nuances of what appears to be a very interesting and "different" European society :-)
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Old 21.04.2009, 11:30
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Re: Whats the story with Religion and Churches in Switzerland?

This is quite a good article which I think reflects "average man on the street" in Switzerland.

http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/specials...99466000&ty=st

Kind of rings true with the nationals with whom I work, socialise and are in my family.
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Old 21.04.2009, 11:47
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Re: Whats the story with Religion and Churches in Switzerland?

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Thanks to everyone for their insights on this.....

I found a pretty interesting article on religion in Switzerland

http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/specials...siteSect=22080

Couple of observations-

* Sat outside a evangelical methodist church last Sunday, and the congregation appeared to be _very_ elderly indeed. Lots of crutches and walking frames, etc. Youngsters appeared to be 60

* Churches seem to provide a _lot_ of social services. There's a Kirchgemeindehaus Neumünster in my area which seems to lots of things.

* Among the cantonal protestant churches in Zurich haven't seen a big outreach effort beyond their core (Swiss?) members. There's no non-Swiss German links on their websites, no ministries to English speakers or other language groups. The Lutheran church near my home in the US had Korean, Spanish and English language services every Sunday (plus did stuff in Haitian Creole :-)).

* The comments here on swiss privacy and on valuing "getting along" ring very very true.

I wish I knew more German so that I could understand the nuances of what appears to be a very interesting and "different" European society :-)


That's just one sample of a particular service. A lot of churches seem to segregate along the lines of music. The older generation only want to hear hymns that are a century old, while the younger generation prefer services that are relevant to their own tastes. So a lot of churches might offer two or more services.

The younger ministries are often not held in old churches and cathedrals, but in auditoriums and stadiums. They invest a lot in production in terms of sound, lighting and the use of visual media. The look and feel of the younger ministries are more like pop concerts. For reference, see: http://www.icf.ch/. And no, I don't believe they use church bells.

In the rural areas, it is a similar situation. The younger generation is defining the look and feel of their church experience. Its a pretty big market. Here's an example of a youth oriented evangelical christian ministry that grown quite large with its publishing arm. http://www.adonia.ch/. This organization is one of many and has a presence in german part of Switzerland, as well as Southern Germany.

Many churches speak English. I believe ICF sometimes provide headsets with English translation. But there are International churches that are mainly made up of English speaking expats. Some of them are quite cool, as you meet people from all over the world. There are a few that are quite cutting edge, and some even border on being elitist.

One online portal I know of for the Christian community is http://livenet.ch/

If you are seriously investigating, search and you will find!
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Old 21.04.2009, 12:13
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Re: Whats the story with Religion and Churches in Switzerland?

Sorry, a bit off topic (once again) - I would not rate ICF quite the same as traditional churches, I certainly do not like their approach on how to get members or how to keep them in line... never been "part" of them, but know a few former members and seen a few meetings... never heard of Adonia before..

These young churches certainly know better how to play the game and get customers in... we'll see how they fare when their attendees get older. They may just fall in with the established religions....
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Old 21.04.2009, 12:15
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Re: Whats the story with Religion and Churches in Switzerland?

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but it's not a Christian country by any means - not as Americans would understand the term.
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The non-official Protestant churches tend to be a bit livelier, but if you're used to New England Protestantism, all Swiss denominations are going to feel a bit squishy to you.
These two statements are over generalized, as you don't know how Americans understand the term, and you haven't seen all Swiss denominations. While are entitled to an opinion, I'd have to say these statements are false.
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Old 21.04.2009, 12:21
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Re: Whats the story with Religion and Churches in Switzerland?

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Sorry, a bit off topic (once again) - I would not rate ICF quite the same as traditional churches, I certainly do not like their approach on how to get members or how to keep them in line... never been "part" of them, but know a few former members and seen a few meetings... never heard of Adonia before..

These young churches certainly know better how to play the game and get customers in... we'll see how they fare when their attendees get older. They may just fall in with the established religions....

I agree that ICF is not a traditional church, in that they actually eschew the idea of being a traditional church. They strike me more of a media production company with a genuine message to communicate. They are actually somewhat non-religious in their approach.

This is inline with the trend in the virtualization of Christianity. With mass media, it is possible for churches to now operate internationally through the Internet. There are a number of new christian ministries that have taken on this attribute. They are sometimes referred to as post-modern or emerging churches.

The thing about the emerging churches is that it is not necessarily a numbers game. It's about a community of relationships.
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Old 21.04.2009, 12:35
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Re: Whats the story with Religion and Churches in Switzerland?

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* Among the cantonal protestant churches in Zurich haven't seen a big outreach effort beyond their core (Swiss?) members. There's no non-Swiss German links on their websites, no ministries to English speakers or other language groups. The Lutheran church near my home in the US had Korean, Spanish and English language services every Sunday (plus did stuff in Haitian Creole :-)).
This probably depends very much on the individual church and where they see their priorities and also what means they have. My local Church has ministries in English, Spanish and Hungarian. The English one is so full that people have to stand at the back.
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Old 21.04.2009, 12:38
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Re: Whats the story with Religion and Churches in Switzerland?

While Catholics are Catholics no matter where you are in the world (more or less), the protestant differ substantially depending on where you are from. So although I am protestant, I do not necessarily feel comfortable in the protestant churches of Switzerland. Therefore you will see that most of the foreign language protestant services are tied to a specific "country" church. You have the Anglican church, the German Lutheran, the Scandinavian Lutheran etc. etc.

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* Among the cantonal protestant churches in Zurich haven't seen a big outreach effort beyond their core (Swiss?) members. There's no non-Swiss German links on their websites, no ministries to English speakers or other language groups. The Lutheran church near my home in the US had Korean, Spanish and English language services every Sunday (plus did stuff in Haitian Creole :-)).
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Old 21.04.2009, 12:40
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Re: Whats the story with Religion and Churches in Switzerland?

I would definitely agree that in Switzerland religion and politics don't really corellate. So you find religious and non religious people alike the support base of all parties. This is probably different from the US where Christian communities tend to be biased towards the Republican camp.

Many Churches here are quite liberal, ie, they don't go for Bible bashing much, at least in my experience. Of course there are exceptions.

There are also some ultra orthodox Churches. It's not a coincidence for example that the Society of Pius X have their headquarters in Switzerland and something like 5000 members across the country. In terms of percentage I guess this makes them much stronger than say in Germany or the UK, but still fairly insignificant overall.
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Old 21.04.2009, 12:45
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Re: Whats the story with Religion and Churches in Switzerland?

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* Among the cantonal protestant churches in Zurich haven't seen a big outreach effort beyond their core (Swiss?) members. There's no non-Swiss German links on their websites, no ministries to English speakers or other language groups. The Lutheran church near my home in the US had Korean, Spanish and English language services every Sunday (plus did stuff in Haitian Creole :-)).

The problem with outreach in Switzerland is that outreach is suppose to help the homeless, hungry and poor. There just aren't many people here who fit that description.... yet.

And then given that pupils get bible study in public schools, many have the attitude that they've heard it all before. The classes are taught from a Catholic or the state-sponsored religious perspective. And so they miss the part of the gospel that speak against religion and teaches about saving grace.

There are churches that are centered among particular groups. I've seen African, Sri Lankan, Filipino, Korean and Latino churches here.
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Old 21.04.2009, 12:48
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Re: Whats the story with Religion and Churches in Switzerland?

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These two statements are over generalized...
Guilty as charged!
I'd say any attempt to sum up "the situation with Religion and Churches in Switzerland" in six sentences is going to be either overgeneralized or qualified within an inch of its life.

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...as you don't know how Americans understand the term, and you haven't seen all Swiss denominations.
Betcha nickel I do.

And you're right that I haven't sampled all Swiss denominations - just the ones my Swiss friends told me were most likely to be up my alley as a God-fearin' devil-chasin' sin-hatin' grape-juice-drinkin' Baptist. I found those ones theologically vague, compared to what I'm used to back home. (Again, not a criticism! Different cultures grow different kinds of Christianity.)
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Old 21.04.2009, 12:51
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Re: Whats the story with Religion and Churches in Switzerland?

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Betcha nickel I do.
You're on!

This is the statement:

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There are churches and church bells all over the place and it is a very comfortable place to be a Christian, but it's not a Christian country by any means - not as Americans would understand the term.
Explain how "Americans" understand the term.
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Old 21.04.2009, 13:06
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Re: Whats the story with Religion and Churches in Switzerland?

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The problem with outreach in Switzerland is that outreach is suppose to help the homeless, hungry and poor. There just aren't many people here who fit that description.... yet.
Well - there are needy people out there, just because you don't seem to see them doesn't mean they don't exist. Many a family or single parent are quite happy to have some help. Also, Pfarrer/Pastor Sieber (Wiki, German) is maybe the most prominent figure in the Zurich region - he established quite a few places to help the homeless, former and current drug addicts (think Platzspitz aka Needle Park).

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And then given that pupils get bible study in public schools, many have the attitude that they've heard it all before. The classes are taught from a Catholic or the state-sponsored religious perspective. And so they miss the part of the gospel that speak against religion and teaches about saving grace.
Also - I take it you know it only from hearsay. We used to have two hours a week where we discussed different faiths, cultures and general worldviews. Hardly bible-study. And since most faiths simply can't keep up with tough questions it is a no-brainer why so many people don't believe in god like in the 1950's - I know quite a few that simply have not stopped paying taxes but hardly ever attend church. It is nice to know though that there will be a space on the local cemetery just in case...

There is additional "study of the faith" before and if one gets the communion though.
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Old 21.04.2009, 13:19
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Well - there are needy people out there, just because you don't seem to see them doesn't mean they don't exist. Many a family or single parent are quite happy to have some help. Also, Pfarrer/Pastor Sieber (Wiki, German) is maybe the most prominent figure in the Zurich region - he established quite a few places to help the homeless, former and current drug addicts (think Platzspitz aka Needle Park).
You're quite right about needs that are out there. There are also a lot of people with depression and mental health problems. This is not an area foreigners are adept at reaching. I do know of some people who work in these areas. Most of the outreach activities I hear about deal with setting up orphanages and missions in under-privileged parts of the world. Most of these come mainly from financial donations and mission trips. And then some outreach are focused on the elderly, where the church provide food and transportation for those who can't otherwise.



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Also - I take it you know it only from hearsay. We used to have two hours a week where we discussed different faiths, cultures and general worldviews. Hardly bible-study. And since most faiths simply can't keep up with tough questions it is a no-brainer why so many people don't believe in god like in the 1950's - I know quite a few that simply have not stopped paying taxes but hardly ever attend church. It is nice to know though that there will be a space on the local cemetery just in case...

There is additional "study of the faith" before and if one gets the communion though.
For a while, my children had Religionunterricht. The school based it on how their great-grandparents declared their religious affiliation, either catholic or reformed. Most of the teachings were about civility and taught somewhat like Aesop's fables. I pulled them out of it.

Apparently, Religion is also a career path for some people. Judging from what I heard some pastors were making with the state religion, I can see why someone would chose such a vocation. I imagine some of these career decisions may not be based on conviction. So there is an aspect of tradition and industry in religion here.
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Old 21.04.2009, 13:40
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Re: Whats the story with Religion and Churches in Switzerland?

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I would definitely agree that in Switzerland religion and politics don't really corellate.
This is false. On the contrary, Switzerland demonstrates how various religious and political issues are remarkable intertwined through cooperation and common interests. It's the same spririt of cooperation that brought about the magic formula.

Take the issue of shopping on Sundays as an example. It is a religious practice to keep the sabbath holy by refraining from work. Even until now, it is not very easy to find a store open on Sunday. From this perspective, Switzerland looks like a very religious country.

But on the other side of the issue, there are many stores that are privately owned and operated. If shopping on Sundays were to be allowed, these business would be at a great disadvantage to corporate run stores. They simply would not have the leverage to keep up and running 7 days a week, so they are a formidable resistance to changing the laws.

And then there is worker's politics. They simply would rather be at home with their families than work for a capitalistic boss on Sundays.


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There are also some ultra orthodox Churches. It's not a coincidence for example that the Society of Pius X have their headquarters in Switzerland and something like 5000 members across the country. In terms of percentage I guess this makes them much stronger than say in Germany or the UK, but still fairly insignificant overall.
Modern day Evangelism was actually kick-started in Switzerland. In the 60's or 70's (I forgot), the first World Evangelical Council was held in Lausanne (I think), were most of the denominations of the world met and signed a joint proclamation on evangelism.

By the way, Switzerland also spawned the Baptist faith. They were driven out by Zwingli. He ordered the drowning of a lot of those who insisted on being baptized.

Last edited by Phos; 21.04.2009 at 14:06.
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