The slow, whining death of British Christianity

Johann Hari, a columnist for GQ and the Independent thinks British Christianity is fading away:

And now congregation, put your hands together and give thanks, for I come bearing Good News. My country, Britain, is now the most irreligious country on earth. This island has shed superstition faster and more completely than anywhere else. Some 63 percent of us are non-believers, according to a 2006 Guardian/ICM poll, while 82 percent say religion is a cause of harmful division. Now, let us stand and sing our new national hymn: Jerusalem was dismantled here/ in England's green and pleasant land.

How did it happen? For centuries, religion was insulated from criticism in Britain. First its opponents were burned, then jailed, then shunned. But once there was a free marketplace of ideas, once people could finally hear both the religious arguments and the rationalist criticisms of them, the religious lost the British people. Their case was too weak, their opposition to divorce and abortion and gay people too cruel, their evidence for their claims non-existent. Once they had to rely on persuasion rather than intimidation, the story of British Christianity came to an end.

Now that only six percent of British people regularly attend a religious service, it's only natural that we should dismantle the massive amounts of tax money and state power that are automatically given to the religious to wield over the rest of us. It's a necessary process of building a secular state, where all citizens are free to make up their own minds. Yet the opposition to this sensible shift -- the separation of church and state Americans have known for centuries -- is becoming increasingly unhinged. The Church of England, bewildered by the British people choosing to leave their pews, has only one explanation: Christians are being "persecuted" and "bullied" by a movement motivated by "Christophobia." George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, says Christians are now "second class citizens" and it is only "a small step" to "a religious bar on any employment by Christians".

Comments (7)

My mind jumps to the near death of the established church in Virginia shortly after competition in the religious marketplace opened up after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. The Diocese of Virginia realized at the time that in order to have any chance of survival it had to get the state to end state support of the church.

And British like Anglicanism is also dying a slow tortured death in Canada.

"British like Anglicanism": could you unpack that, Rod G? [e.g., is there a "unlike British" Anglicanism that is doing OK? And "British like", how? Ethnically? Ethically? (esp. sexual ethics, which is to say, hypocrisy)]


JC Fisher

Oh, re Hari's piece: way too much fundamentalist-atheist triumphalism . . . but w/ a lot of truths therein, nevertheless. Once again, he made me glad I'm TEC, not CofE! (despite my inherited Anglophilia)

Christ has a way of coming back when you least expect him.

As one from the C of E (who is ashamed of Canterbury's recent actions in relation to the Episcopal Church) it strikes me that "whining" is a pretty good description of Johann Hari's article.

Maybe he just needs to sit down and listen to some British Christians, atheists and agnostics - to say nothing of people of other faiths. I know Christians and non-Christians from a wide variety of approaches and affiliations, and the article just doesn't reflect the reality of what most people in these parts think. Sure, there is a tiny and vocal minority of Christians and non-Christians who espouse the views Hari quotes. But - to take one example - the great majority I've ever spoken with on the topic reject the use of "phobia" language, as it prioritises hurt feelings over focussing on the hurtful actions we all of us - Christian and non-Christian - commit. Reality is - as usual - more complex than ranting.

The "massive amounts of tax money" Hari is upset about probably means the "Gift Aid" arrangements whereby any charity - religious, atheist or no particular view - can claim a percentage of donations back from the tax authority. Seems an odd thing to object to, but everyone here has freedom of speech!

Similarly, Hari's grasp of history is more than a little shaky. He just doesn't seem to realise that much of the pressure to establish religious freedom for any and all religious and non-religious people came from Christians - and for solid Christians reasons at that. John Coffey's brilliant book from 2000, "Persecution and Toleration in Protestant England 1558-1689", has the arguments.

One could go on, but it's sad that Hari demonstrates the attitude parodied in the 1980s British hit song "Star Trekkin'": "We come in peace; shoot to kill, shoot to kill."

It's a pity that Hari didn't take the time to listen to the majority of believers and non-believers in this society (who in my experience have a lot to say about how things could and should change), instead of repeating the well-publicised views of tiny but very vocal minorities.

However, as Josh Thomas put, it: "Christ has a way of coming back when you least expect him." And that "coming back" surely includes how we behave towards and write about each other. Maybe there's hope for Hari (and the rest of us) yet...

Re the query from "tgflux",whoever you are, There isn't a whole lot to unpack. Demographic surveys commissioned by the Church here show that Canadian Anglicanism is in steep decline. The structure of the Anglican Church of Canada remains to a significant degree in a state of colonial lag. The quasi-feudal hierarchical model of governance we have in the Canadian Church appears incapable of helping some "green shoots" to thrive and flourish. The one hopeful long shot is that pragmatism will propel the development of some sort organic ecumenical accord with the United church of Canada. As for hypocrisy, I don't know if you mean that as a question or an accusation, but in my opinion The Canadian Church, as a result of its most recent General Synod, leaves itself open to such an accusation.

OK, I see from reading another of your posts that "tgflux" IS JC Fisher. I misread, thought you were quoting JC Fisher. Thanks! -Rod

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