We must emphasise a mutual belonging to our society, and toughen up religious teaching if we want to achieve spiritual harmony
Is Britain still a Christian country? According to the latest British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, the answer would appear to be a resounding no. The Church of England is shown to be in its sharpest decline yet; the numbers of people identifying themselves as belonging to it having fallen from 40 per cent of the population in 1983 to just 17 per cent today. In the meantime, other religions have increased from two per cent to eight per cent, with Islam doubling its official figures to nearly five per cent of the population.
The numbers conceal demographic time-bombs of various kinds. The Muslim population, for example, is set to keep on rising both because of larger families and immigration. In some parts of the country, children from Muslim backgrounds already form a large part of the school age population. But at the same time, the Black-led churches are also growing, for similar reasons: immigration and births. People of other faiths – Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism – are also increasing (only Judaism is on the decline), so it’s not just about the expansion of Islam. Immigration has affected, to a greater or lesser extent, the numbers of all religious communities. The figures of the Roman Catholic Church are holding up, largely because of Eastern European, Asian, African and Latin American immigration. Statistics for the Church of England would be much worse, especially with the low figure in London, without the fact of substantial immigration over the last 50 to 60 years.
Nevertheless, the proliferation of other faiths and backgrounds in Britain needs to be addressed, in order to avoid the dangers of isolated, segregated communities, which can be vulnerable to radicalisation in terms of religious ideology, as well as to the political manipulation which we have witnessed most recently in East London. While it is good that mistaken and misleading ideas such as “multiculturalism” are being recognised as part of the reason for the social isolation of these communities, it has to be admitted that part of the cause lies in the communities themselves, and must be addressed from within.
Multiculturalism saw every religion and ethnic group as a self-contained unit which ought to be allowed to get on with its own life and culture without much reference to wider society. Clearly, such an approach has failed in providing for a free, open and cohesive national life. Whilst respecting culture, language and belief, we must now emphasise mutual belonging expressed not only in terms of schooling, housing and community facilities but in ideas such as a sense of the nation’s history and of a common citizenship.
The other issue, of course, in a nominally Christian country, is what can be done about the falling Anglican figures? They reveal the demise of nominal belonging, where the default position was to be “C of E”. But more and more, the “No Religion” category will become the default position of those with no strong affiliation. This puts paid to the widespread notion in Anglican leadership that people would continue, indefinitely, to declare themselves “Anglican” without ever showing up in church.
But this is about more than just figures, this is about faith. The lack of religious affiliation among the young indicates the failure of Church of England schools to effectively teach the faith, as well as deliver the national curriculum. School is a good place to start. Overcoming squeamishness about meaningful RE, teaching understanding of the Gospel in schools and, perhaps, even the revival of school confirmations could well reverse the somewhat depressing figures for young people.
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SOURCE: The Telegraph
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali