Sunday, July 31, 2005

From Open Book
The decline of Christianity in Britain
Or you know it’s bad when, as happened to me, the theological college you’re applying to jacks it all in before you’ve even started, in its brochure (!), by declaring British society ‘post-Christian’
Contrary to popular belief, it was not G K Chesterton who said: "When men stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing. They believe in anything." But he should have said it. Chesterton - who is nowadays best remembered, if at all, for his Father Brown stories - viewed atheism with the utmost suspicion. Those who disbelieve in God on supposedly rational grounds, he argued, merely become prey to pseudo-religions and superstitions. His neatest formulation was probably in The Miracle of Moon Crescent when he wrote: "You hard-shelled materialists [are] all balanced on the very edge of belief - of belief in almost anything."

Chesterton feared that, if Christianity declined, "superstition" would "drown all your old rationalism and scepticism". When educated friends tell me that they have invited a shaman to investigate their new house for bad ju-ju, I see what Chesterton meant.
Quite. People who look down on the Catholic faith as superstitious eventually go in for bad knockoffs of it (like secular humanism) or for obvious bogosity.

The descendents of the people who wrote the Articles of Religion against the faith now pray to goddesses and the four winds. Google ‘William Swing’ for example and you’ll see what I mean. Their Calvinist offshoot (the fun folks who banned Christmas as popish superstition) partly became Unitarians and most of what’s left of their Congregational church in the US (the United Church of Christ) now officially does gay weddings.
There was a time when Europe would justly refer to itself as "Christendom". Europeans built the continent's loveliest edifices to accommodate their acts of worship. They quarrelled bitterly over the distinction between transubstantiation and consubstantiation. As pilgrims, missionaries and conquistadors, they sailed to the four corners of the earth, intent on converting the heathen to the true faith. Now it is we who are the heathens.
Catholic Europe: sic transit gloria.
According to the Gallup Millennium Survey of Religious Attitudes, barely 20 per cent of West Europeans attend church services at least once a week, compared with 47 per cent of North Americans and 82 per cent of West Africans. Less than half of western Europeans say God is a "very important" part of their lives, as against 83 per cent of Americans and virtually all West Africans. And fully 15 per cent of western Europeans deny that there is any kind of "spirit, God or life force" - seven times the American figure and 15 times the West African.

The exceptionally low level of British religiosity was perhaps the most striking revelation of a recent ICM poll. One in five Britons claims to "attend an organised religious service regularly", less than half the American figure. Little more than a quarter of us say that we pray regularly, compared with two thirds of Americans and 95 per cent of Nigerians. And barely one in 10 of us would be willing to die for our God or our beliefs, compared with 71 per cent of Americans.
- Niall Ferguson

‘And did those feet in ancient time...’

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