The industrialist 19th-century Europeans frequently put this to the difference between private and state-sponsored religion. In 1837, an Austrian visitor to the United States observed:
In America, every clergyman may be said to do business on his own account, and under his own firm. He alone is responsible for any deficiency in the discharge of his office, as he is alone entitled to all the credit due to his exertions. He always acts as principal, and is therefore more anxious, and will make greater efforts to obtain popularity, than one who serves for wages (Powell 1967).
This should be no surprise to those who have seen populations stick to their religions despite sanctions from the state, such as in Poland. At the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Polish participation in Catholic ceremonies was quite high; after independence and the establishment of an official relationship with the state, participation went down considerably (Eberts 1998). A similar phenomenon occurred in Germany and Austria as continued state sponsorship. As demonstrated by the above traveler to America, the result was that the Church grew fat and lazy, and saw a steady decline in attendance at churches throughout the 19th century.
It is ironic that one of the causes of increasing secularization of European society during the 19th century were the churches themselves. As observed above, long state sponsorship reduces the participation of the populace. Once the rulers were separated from their religious authority, the importance of religious observance therefore declined.
Increasing Urbanization in Europe and its Effect on Secularization
Urbanization went hand-in-hand with industrialization in Europe of the 19th century. The influence of the village, where everyone knew everyone else's business and the parish priest or pastor was always nearby, led to a natural tendency to stick closer to religious observance. Cities were much less focused on individual behavior; it was therefore much easier to become 'lost' in the city.
Secularization was therefore a situation which did not take place uniformly throughout Europe in this period. Those who moved to the cities and engaged in the industrialization of society became more secular, while those who remained behind in the agricultural villages retained their religious beliefs (Lilla 2006). One way to view the increasing secularization of Europe, therefore, is to look at the change in the ratio of city- versus country-dwellers. In 1800, only 7% of the population of Europe lived in a city (Schrover 2007). By the end of the 1800's, the cities far outpaced the countryside. There were three primary reasons for this:
substantial out-migration from the countryside, as agricultural productivity required fewer laborers on the land, and the cities attracted more industrial workers.
A higher birth rate in the cities than in the countryside (Schrover 2007)
Out-migration from agricultural areas to other parts of Europe, the United States and Latin America due to labor surpluses in the countryside of Germany, England and (to a lesser extent) France.
Other Factors Increasing Secularization
Continued scientific progress continued to throw religious tenets into disarray. The influence of Darwin and his theories of evolution were particularly disruptive to those who believed in the biblical interpretation of the creation of the Earth. With his Voyage of the Beagle, then on the Origin of the Species (1859), pointed to some obvious conclusions based on his work in Latin America and especially the Galapagos. The revolutionary nature of Darwin's thoughts on evolution were clear to the author. He delayed the publication of his book on evolution over 20 years after taking his voyage to South America, realizing that the ideas would run counter to commonly-held religious beliefs.
Darwin questioned not only the God-centered idea of creation (placed at 4,400 BC by Bishop Wilberforce in Great Britain), but also the fundamental ideas of how societies were born and advanced. His ideas of "survival of the fittest" went on to influence political and military leaders well beyond the 19th century, reaching to totalitarians in Italy, Japan and Germany in the 20th century.
Darwin's ideas also helped to reform ideas about secular democracy. John Dewey formed his influential views on the foundations of a democratic society in the 1880's and 1890's, calling himself an ardent Darwinist. Although Dewey himself was a religious man, his foundations for democratic society were based on the notions of man as a naturally social, curious and learning individual who, given the freedom, could exercise influence over others and help societies to advance (Asen 2003).
One should not make too much of secularization in Europe in the 19th century. In comparison with the United States, Europe of that century was dominated by state-sponsored religion, including state economic support for churches. Most Europeans, despite their secular inclinations, were more likely to identify with a religion, although in a way different than the average American. Thus the German and Italian concepts of the CDU (Christian Democrats) found official sponsorship of religion to be in concert with political beliefs.
Perhaps, just as Communism was exciting in its first years, then became repressive and unchanging in later decades, state-sponsored religion created the seeds of its own destruction. With the exception of France, where the Jacobin Revolution wiped out the Church-State connection in a few years, those religions in Germany and the United Kingdom died the slow death of neglect.
Asen, R. "The Multiple Mr. Dewey: Multiple Publics and Permeable Borders in John Dewey's Theory of the Public Sphere." Argumentation and Advocacy, 2003: 174-182.