AROUND 1,100 people a day in England and Wales are abandoning their Christian identity, according to new census data revealed yesterday – and, according to a report in the Independent the established Church of England
Has never looked so out of touch with the rest of Britain.
Analysing the data for the newspaper, Jerome Taylor wrote:
If I were a Lords Spiritual right now, I’d be rather nervous about keeping my job.
It must come as no surprise that the same decade which has resulted in four million fewer people calling themselves Christian has also been a period in which Christianity has been paralysed by polemical debates about genitals – mainly what type of genitals you have and what you do with them.
True, secularism has been consistently on the rise since the Second World War. But at times over the last ten years it has felt like Christianity – and the Church of England in particular – has rarely talked about anything other than sex in the form of women bishops and gays.
It leaves the Church of England facing a genuine crisis. The historical goodwill traditionally shown by the British public and political classes towards Anglicanism is beginning to run dry. Why on earth, people are asking in greater number than perhaps ever before, do we let such an organisation continue to represent Britain when it is becoming so unrepresentative of the British people?
In its analysis of the data – which shows that the number of people declaring themselves Christian in Britain has fallen from 72 percent to 59 percent, and that those declaring they have no religion has risen from 15 percent to 25 percent – the National Secular Society asked:
So what has happened in this country in the decade since the last census? What has caused this huge flight from religion?
The answer, it suggested, was:
Complicated, but we have to take into account that in that intervening period we have had the trauma of 9/11 and the subsequent rise in Islamic militancy. We have seen a lurch towards conservatism within Christianity, with the Catholic Church becoming aggressively political and reactionary. But the Anglican Church, too, has been taken over by evangelicals with an agenda that repels people, even those who have been traditionally attached to the Church of England.
After the debacle over women bishops, we have seen another demonstration of the inhumane approach that the Church of England is taking to same-sex marriage. Some of the rhetoric coming from the bishops and their supporters in parliament is verging on the crackpot.
There is nothing wrong with them being out of step with the opinions of the rest of the nation, but they have to accept the consequences of their stance – and that is a wholesale defection of their supporters.
It also pointed out that:
We should also not underestimate the effect of the surge in New Atheism prompted by people like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens. The influence of their thinking, particularly on young people, has been tremendous. As the Catholic commentator Damian Thompson wrote in the Daily Telegraph: ‘It cannot be said too often: the default position of people born since 1980 is agnosticism or atheism’.
The flight from Christianity, particularly among the young, is not just a British trend. Back in 2009, according to data from Project Teen Canada, more teens now identify as Muslim than Anglican, United Church of Canada and Baptist combined.
The percentage of teens who identified as Roman Catholic had declined by one third, and the percentage who identified as Protestant was down by almost two-thirds.
Reginald Bibby, the University of Lethbridge sociologist who headed up Project Teen, says the grey zone of those who believe in God, but don’t regularly practise an established religion, is rapidly emptying out, leaving behind two distinct camps: teens who are very religious and actively practice their religion, and those who don’t believe in God at all.
For years I have been saying that, for all the problems of organised religion in Canada, God has continued to do well in the polls. That’s no longer the case.
Belief is learned, pretty much like the multiplication table. So is non-belief.
It’s a huge shift, and Bibby says it may be a worrying one. While it’s true that today’s teens seem to be more responsible and mature than previous generations, the surveys still find that teens who belong to an organised religion – including Christianity, Islam and other faiths – tend to put a higher value on trust, honesty and concern for others. Religion has long been a “source of stability,” he says, not to mention a moral compass of sorts.
For instance, 95 per cent of young people who “definitely” believe in God or a higher power also think this entity “expects us to be good to each other,” while just three per cent of atheists agree.
As the percentage of religious teens falls, Bibby wonders just how that will affect Canadians’ ethics and behaviour.
We may well find Canadian society doesn’t need belief in God to hold onto our values. But right now, it appears to be a source. The question is, do we have any functional alternatives in place?
Hat tip: Canada Dave (Canadian report)