Comments: Opinion - 30 January 2016

I think anyone who cares about the Church of England and its future should take the time to listen to Linda Woodhead's lecture on the the religious "Nones" becoming the majority in England. Yes, it's 45 minutes long but it is well worth the time. If you simply won't take the time, here are two articles that give some hint of what she says (at least one of which has been previously cited on Thinking Anglicans -- http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/20/no-religion-britons-atheism-christianity and http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/uk_news/Society/article1657457.ece .

Her basic points:

Half or more of English people now say they have no religion.

Most of the loss of people from identifying themselves as Christian came from white English people who would have previously identified themselves as members of the Church of England.

The number of young people identifying themselves at Christian is a bit more than a quarter. Once young people have left the church and no longer view themselves as Christian, virtually all of them will remain outside the church and outside Christianity.

The number of English people even participating in rites of passage in the church (baptisms, marriages, funerals) have fallen dramatically.

The situation in England differs from other countries where the vast majority of people do not go to church, for example, Denmark, where a big majority still identify themselves as Christian and still use the church for rites-of-passage services (baptisms, marriages, funerals).

English people do not view themselves as being particularly religious and this applies across all age groups.

The Church of England has adopted moral positions (and aggressively advocated them) that most English people simply do not accept -- remarriage after divorce, women in leadership roles, and now same-sex marriage. It has raised the bar of what it means to be "religious" in a way that most English people do not accept and feel alienated from.

Ultimately, the church will have to make a decision of how to deal with this situation -- whether to become more accommodating to the views of the majority of English people or remaining an institution that they feel alienated from.

Posted by dr.primrose at Saturday, 30 January 2016 at 6:38pm GMT

The Prof. Linda Woodhead's lecture is fascinating. Counter intuitively, I found it a breath of fresh air in the wake of the Primates' meeting and the follow up avalanche of spin and punditry.

Perhaps it is possible to live in church land without buying into the increasing sectarianism of one's denomination?

In some ways the British scene she analyzes would appear to share some traits with Quebec's Revolution Tranquille.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 31 January 2016 at 2:18am GMT

I would also urge TA readers to watch Prof. Woodhead’s lecture. It is most important, and I look forward to her new book (co-authored by Andrew Brown) with eager anticipation.

However, I disagree with her in two respects, which are of some significance. She argues that this country has “always” been unenthusiastic about religion. This is thoroughly bad history: the English were strikingly religious by European standards until relatively recently – this was remarked upon in the fourteenth century as in the nineteenth; we were ‘a people of one book’ from the sixteenth until the early twentieth centuries.

She also compares English and Scottish religious practices with those of Denmark. The higher levels of nominal participation by Danes in acts of Christian (Lutheran) observance, at least with respect to the rites of passage may be explained by: (i) the UK being the first western European country to move away from collectivist attitudes, from the late 1970s, whereas this phenomenon only really began in Scandinavia after about 1990; and (ii) the higher levels of non-white (i.e., new Commonwealth) immigration from the 1950s, which led to the rapid secularisation of the public sphere as a corollary of state-sponsored multiculturalism (it being understood that education and much public policy would need to be neutral in religious terms because of the special premium attached to the preservation of order), whereas non-European immigration into Denmark has been a much more recent phenomenon, and their shift in attitudes, whilst rapid, has been behind the UK curve. A more instructive parallel would have been that of France.

Nor do I think that her reassurances/predictions about the future of English Christianity are remotely satisfying to a Christian – as they portend extinction, pure and simple. I can see only one way out of the woods for the churches: that the development of modern British culture leads to a profound sense of anomie (the current disaggregation of mental processes and attitudes as a consequence of modern technologies may be subject to diminishing returns and satiety, which may lead to a reaction in favour of the numinous and a unified view of the world and Man’s place within it). Also economic changes – specifically, the dismal economic prospects of the younger generations may encourage a revival in forms of collective action – and the churches may be able to help when the crunch occurs in the next couple of decades (if they survive).

Posted by J Drever at Monday, 1 February 2016 at 1:21am GMT
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