Opinion

More – especially the young – discard Christianity in the UK

More – especially the young – discard Christianity in the UK

Britain is fast becoming one of the least religious countries in the world. Although vestiges of the religious establishments that formerly set the pace of British public life still manage to exert power, more and more British people are leaving the faith of their parents behind.

A recent study by the National Centre for Social Research found that more than half of the adult population does not have a religion, but more encouragingly 71 percent of 18-25-year olds report the same thing. Today’s figures show a marked difference from the first survey in 1983, when only 31 percent of the public was a-religious.

This becomes even more striking when the percentage of those who consider themselves religious are compared with those that frequent their various places of worship: of the 17 percent that are identified as members of the Church of England, only 1.4 percent of these people care enough to actually attend church. Whilst some attribute this shift more to a change in societal attitudes than to a dramatic drop in the number of sincere religious believers, one thing is absolutely clear: religion is losing its appeal and church leaders are noticing.

But some, of necessity, remain upbeat. In 2016, when staggeringly low attendance was revealed, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, above,  insisted that the C o E is:

Still a major part of the glue that holds society together.

In response to evidence that British people are increasingly non-religious, The Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, commented that “‘no religion’ is not the same as a considered atheism […] The Church remains relevant.” And although this statement does hold an important truth, it also, unsurprisingly, obscures another. It would, after all, be remiss for the Church to suddenly admit that sometimes absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

Whenever the declining presence of the church is discussed, the topic of the “relevance” of the church in the modern world arises, suggesting that if the church was to appeal to the issues on young people’s minds, they’d be back in business. However, the question of whether the church and its ideas are “relevant” is a red herring.

The church once had a monopoly on many things, from licensing sex between a couple to being the gatekeeper to the afterlife. It was sufficiently successful in manufacturing a need for itself that it was very difficult to lead a full life without religion. However, the core messages were very often superfluous, evil or simply incorrect, and had no more special relevance to the lives of medieval peasants or a pious First World War couple than they do to our lives today.

Declining religiosity is of course bad news for the church; in the information age, even people in the most isolated religious communities can read about other faiths, listen to all manner of apostates and discuss ideas that place the importance of religion in precarious position. Not only does the increasing amount of information we have access to seem to erode our willingness to accept the teachings of church leaders, but what we’re looking for in religion doesn’t seem to be quite the product that they are selling. Whilst Church leaders are presumably thrilled by having any attendance whatsoever, this fosters an increasing impotence of religious organisations in pursuing their political agendas.

Yet while the public seems to be rejecting religion in their private lives, religious institutions still have the power to exert undue influence on them. This power comes from religious leaders having reserved positions in the House of Lords to the prevalence of faith schools in our country.

In reality, the decline of religious belief in the UK rests on a foundation of indifference towards the church. This is not enough to break its power. What we need is a strong, united movement to divest religious leaders of their privileges and the disproportionate influence that their institutions have upon our lives.

In this regard, we have a long, uphill struggle ahead of us.

10 responses to “More – especially the young – discard Christianity in the UK”

  1. Dianne Leonard says:

    I and my siblings were brought up catholic. (Translation: we had catholicism shoved down our throats 24/7 from the time we were born.) When we went to church there were hundreds of people at each of 5 masses per Sunday. The last time my mom went to church–she died in 2009–there were 30-50 people, in one mass on Sundays, and *all* of them had grey/white hair. No young people. At the next parish over, some Latino and Filipino families had joined, but they still had only 2 masses of a Sunday rather than 5-6. So, though immigration has sort of boosted the numbers of catholics in the US, their numbers are way down compared to numbers back in the 50s-70s. Serves them right too. My 5 siblings and I all one stripe or another of atheist now.

  2. StephenJP says:

    I’m not quite as pessimistic as Dale Claridge (to whom thanks for this excellent article). I think we are approaching a tipping point. It will not take too long for some politicians to twig that there could be votes in curbing undeserved religious privilege. It wouldn’t even require the disestablishment of the CofE (which the CofE would try to make as expensive as possible for any Government that tried it). All we need is the Bishops out of the House of Lords; the repeal of the requirement for schools to hold a daily rite of worship; laws that no school in receipt of taxpayers’ funds may discriminate in favour of the children of churchgoers, or may evangelise in the classroom; and RE syllabi to be set by independent academic bodies (ie not by the churches) and assessed by Ofsted, like any other subject.

    Religion should be an activity for consenting adults in private. I am confident I may live to see it!

  3. Stephen Mynett says:

    I agree StephenJP, was talking with my folks earlier and said i can actually see disestablishment happening now, although it will be a bitter process as the CofE tries to hang on.

    The next few general elections will be interesting as we have to weed out the religionists, they are totally selfish and no amount of public opinion of statistical proof will stop them giving schools to churches. Chief ponce Welby knows this and he also knows that indoctrination of the youngest in our society is the only hope his church has.

    As secularists we have a lot to do, especially getting the point across. One argument I hear a lot is that people are frightened of Islam becoming a dominant religion and they are right to be worried but the church does its best to promote the fallacy that secularism will empower Islam, it will not.

    People have to be taught the difference between religious rights and religious privilege, something religionists deliberately blur. Once we have a situation where all religions have the right to exist but none have any privileges or special status we can control them more easily. We will always have the moaners but by ending special treatment we can at least point out they are all being treated equally. It will be a lot easier to ban objectionable religious practices, genital mutilation and stuff like that if all religions are treated the same and until disestablishment they will not be.

  4. Brian Jordan says:

    It would be interesting to see what results a Chexit referendum got. Assuming the vote was for leave, I imagine the Chexit remainers would be at least as tenuous as the Brexit remainers and the withdrawal even more protracted.
    Meanwhile, posters here are right to focus on the indoctrination of children – one thing chuches are good at. A particularly awful dying throe is the move to push schools – even supposedly non-religious schools – into having chaplains. I cringe at the prospect on behalf of the unfortunate children.

  5. StephenJP says:

    Brian, one side-effect of the squeeze on school budgets is that most schools can’t afford the luxury of their own chaplain! (And you can be sure that the churches aren’t going to dip into their own pockets). Indeed, there is now little or no Government money for forced academisation or for sectarian free schools – and again the churches will not spend a penny of their own money in pursuit of their own agenda. Who thought that austerity might have some upsides after all?

  6. T says:

    I was once a governor of a Middle England CoE village Primary school. The head was a devout christian and I as a governor of the school made no secret of my atheism. I refused to bow my head a the Governors Meetings which opened with prayers and soon others followed and we were able to convince the Chair of Governors that most of us didnt want prayers. There was bit of resentful pushback but we killed off the practice and got the school pretty much tamed and religion sidelined to its proper place. I even condemned the Heads little altar, jesus nailed to a wooden cross ostentaciously draped with glittery taffeta and lit candles. The local Fire Prevention Officer backed me up on that. The Diocesan employed Governor was an absolute drip, close to the end of his career as a professional godly administrator, was easily controlled. I gave up my tenure as a governor, my kids left the school and it seemed to me all was well. Imagine my horror during a school visit 5 years on when a new Head (not religious but totally career focussed) a new hard nosed Diocesan representative, new curriculum and new pressure from the CoE has transformed the interior of the school into a shrine of religious propaganda. The walls are littered with religious themes, projects, childrens work symbols etc. Outside there is a board on which every week a different Christian Value is chalked up. Honesty, Hard Work, Kindness ….. There is even a large wooden cross screwed to the school wall in full view of every passer by. Its a new hardline CoE effort to pollute the minds of children. And they are unchecked in their evangelism. They support the evangelistic charity that supplies christmas presents complete with evangelistic materials to third world kids. Yes its going to be a hard fight.

  7. T says:

    Get the kids and hammer in gods kindly loving message.
    “Give me the child and I will give you the man”
    The specious couple, recently in the news for dragging their poor kid out of a CoE school because of the dressing habits of another pupil, are the kind of useless wasters that are spawned by the CoE and every other sectarian school.

  8. T says:

    Oh yes and as well as an Offsted Inspection the school also gets an equivalent Diocesan Inspection which not only creates much extra work for the hardpressed staff but also causes about as much inspection Anxiety too. I dont know what hold the CoE has over school inspections but I heard that the Diocesan Result is included in the Offsted Report. Now I cannot coroborate that but I can’t think of much else that lends so much weight to the Diocesan Inspection.I suspect the Head, being recklessly ambitious (feckless spending) is in the pocket of the Diocesan representatives who will be required to provide references for promotions.

  9. StephenJP says:

    T, I too am a school governor, and I congratulate you on your past efforts and commiserate over the backsliding that has happened since.

    FWIW, in our neck of the woods Ofsted seem to take little notice of Diocesan inspections. We have just been Ofstedded and the Diocese were nowhere in sight. A few years ago we got an Ofsted “Outstanding”and only a “Satisfactory” (in Ofsted-speak, not at all satisfactory) from the Diocese, which the then Chair of Governors (a confirmed atheist) was very proud of!

  10. Stonyground says:

    T says, you should take heart. The CofE are fighting a rearguard action due to the fact that they have belatedly woken up to the fact that they are screwed.The trend in religious decline has been going on for decades and it has only been in one direction. Indoctrinating children was a winning formula back in the day when the Church could control the flow of information. Now things are very different. The vast majority of these children will grow up openly contemptuous of religion in general and of Christianity in particular.

    I have a book about the decline of the British motorcycle industry written by insider Bert Hopwood. Companies that had become hugely successful by the 1960s had also become unbelievably complacent and also lacking in any kind of direction. By the time that they had woken up to the fact that those crappy foreign bikes might actually be a threat it was too late to do anything about it. The panicky and totally inept response resulted in almost total collapse. The CofE seems to have behaved in a very similar way and they don’t even have a useful product to sell.

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