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