Tomorrow in the British House of Commons a study called “Contemporary Catholicism in England and Wales” will be presented to the members. In the study Stephen Bullivant, senior lecturer in theology and ethics at St Mary’s Catholic University in London, analyses data collected over three decades for a survey of “British Social Attitudes.”
According to the Guardian Dr. Bullivant’s study shows that
The proportion of the population who identify as having no religion – referred to as “nones” – reached 48.5% in 2014, almost double the figure of 25% in the 2011 census. Those who define themselves as Christian – Anglicans, Catholics and other denominations – made up 43.8% of the population.
In the period studied the Church of England lost four out of ten people who were raised as Anglicans. And for every adherent gained twelve left the Anglican church and ten left the Roman Catholic Church. The ratio for Rome is only slightly better than the Church of England, thanks in large part to immigration.
It is a gloomy picture.
In an opinion piece on Friday The Guardian asked bluntly,
Is the end of western Christianity in sight?
The problem according to the Guardian is not that people have lost their faith but that
Over the last 50 years “religion” has come to stand for the opposite of freedom and fairness.
This is a stinging indictment. The faith that is rooted in Jesus’ statement that the “truth will make you free” (John 8:32) and Paul’s contention that it is for “freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1), has “come to stand for the opposite of freedom and fairness.”
The reason for this sad state of affairs, according to “The Guardian” is in part the church’s sex problem:
This is partly an outcome of the sexual revolution and of the long and ultimately futile resistance to it mounted by mainstream denominations. “The religious” now appear to young people as obscurantist bigots whose main purpose is to police sexuality, especially female sexuality, in the service of incomprehensible doctrines. Institutional resistance to the rights of women and of gay people was an exceptionally stupid strategy for institutions that depend on the labour of both. But the Church of England was so much a part of the old imperial state that life in post-imperial Britain was never going to be easy.
This observation was painfully supported by a comment on this blog on May 27 when Paul T. wrote of Christian history and tradition saying,
From what I can tell that very history and tradition systematically excluded gays, women and and others from wearing the very robes you wear and fully participating in the church – and still does in most segments of the Christian church. Does your church marry gays? That’s a litmus test for me and for many in the ‘transient’ culture that you critique. Come on, there’s a reason why the culture has moved on from the church.
Christianity’s obsession with sex is reprehensible. Have we never heard of greed, gluttony, dishonesty, vanity, envy, injustice, and oppression of the poor? These behaviours and attitudes come in for greater censure in our sacred texts than the sexual mores about in which we have taken such prurient interest.
You might supposed the sophisticated “Guardian” would be happy to officiate at the funeral of the “obscurantist” Anglican Church. But surprisingly, the Guardian expresses alarm at the decline of religion in Britain.
A post-Christian Europe will of course have a morality but it won’t be Christian morality. It will likely be less universalist. The idea that people have some rights just because they are human, and entirely irrespective of merit, certainly isn’t derived from observation of the world. It arose out of Christianity, no matter how much Christians have in practice resisted it. Although human rights have become embedded in our institutions at the same time as religious observance has been in decline, they could become vulnerable in an entirely post-Christian environment where the collective memory slips from the old moorings inherited from Christian ethics.
Tennyson produced his famous line about “Nature red in tooth and claw” as a contrast notto human nature, but to human optimism, which “trusted God was love indeed and love Creation’s final law”. Some such trust in love and goodness underpins all belief in progress and all faith in the future. But, as Tennyson clearly also saw, Nature “shrieks against it”. This century will be one in which humanity faces gigantic challenges, brought about by our own success in colonising the planet. Global warming and the still present threat of nuclear destruction both need a sense of global solidarity to overcome, and a vision of humanity that transcends narrow self-interest. If Christianity no longer can supply that, what will?
Can the church return to the bold affirmation that all people are created “in the image and likeness” of God and therefore, as the Guardian points outs, share inherent human dignity and rights “irrespective of merit”? This may be the only way back from the brink of extinction for the Christian Church. If we cannot return to this core of our faith, we deserve our fate and have only ourselves to blame.