Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Losing Our Religion

Andrew Brown reflects on the decline of religious affiliation - and specifically the Church of England - and concludes that this is because the C of E has become less like the society it still serves, even if it it no longer half-controls it.
"But at the same time as people have been growing less religious, the Church of England has been growing more religious: more exclusive, more of a club for self-conscious believers, prouder of being out of step with the people it once served."

The trouble with the theory that if the C of E were only more liberal it would be more popular, is that we have a control experiment in the form of the Episcopal Church in the States. And the evidence from these seems to be that the more"progressive" the Church, the fewer people will go. In that respect, it might be worth looking at the Guardian - itself a bastion of liberal values and declining adherence. And like the C of E, as one can see in the  Comments section, increasingly populated by a small, devout, convinced minority that thinks that the rest of the world is out of step.

Well, let it be. The world was never meant to be run by the Church or by North London liberals - both far too out of touch to do a good job. The Guardian should stick to singing the praises of vegan juggling collectives performing at the Roundhouse. And the Church should worship Jesus. Neither is designed for popularity. But maybe one can cling onto something that will last forever.


  1. It's awkward if religions like the CofE (or even the Catholics) are going to be controlled largely by believers rather than liberal secularists.

  2. We also have the control experiment of the resolutely anti-cultural Catholic church in the USA during the same period. If Ex-Catholics made up a denomination they would be the third largest in the country. Equally, the countryside is absolutely littered with the empty shelf of chapels which once preached the pure countercultural gospel of Drayton Parslow.

    I don't think that it is as simple as "If the C of E were more liberal it would be more popular" -- as you know, archdruid, from the radio programme I made which you were on. The fundamental problem for the C of E was that it was the societal church of an imperial state which disintegrated. It was deeply embedded in a society which no longer exists, and largely failed to make the transition to modernity.

    Liberalism is relevant only in so far as it is used, in Linda's sense, to mean "people making their minds up for themselves" and with the collapse of all kinds of traditional authority that is the way that society has gone.

    The point missed by Eccles types is that this kind of liberalism is itself a moral movement. People don't just think "I no longer have to care what the Pope says, so I will do what I like": they think "The Pope is wrong, and immorally so about contraception" or "Archbishop Fisher is wrong to stop Princess Margaret marrying". If you read today a novel like Brideshead, which shows the traditional morality at work with very great artistic skill, it is very difficult indeed to imagine people behaving in that way. I'm sixty. I know they once did. But I doubt my children could.

    Also, I do think it is unfair to judge the Guardian by its comment section. There is quite enough wrong with us already without adding that in.

    1. Thanks Andrew. I think we can agree that the C of E has clung onto Christendom when Christendom has gone. There's no reason why anyone should listen to what the Church says unless the Church can capture the imagination. And if it ever does it again, it's not going to be by the monarch telling everyone to be baptised.

      I think your references to the Lutheran churches of Scandinavia in the article are the opposite kind of control experiment. The reason the ScandiLutherans haven't had such a shift is because they didn't actually have to turn up or believe anything to start with. We English - even the C of E - demand slightly more.

      I have worked to get the Beaker Folk to the Lutheran model, where everyone is assumed to belong. This is partly in the interest of everyone being part of the kingdom, of course. And partly in the hope of getting some tax income.

  3. That's not completely true of Swedish Christianity, which is the one I know, but there's no time to go into this. It is a bit worrying, though, when the answer to all the church's problems turns out to be the reintroduction of tithing.

    1. Who send that was an answer to the church's problems? This is an answer to my cash flow problems.

  4. And the Church should worship Jesus.

    It won't. It's too busy taking a prurient interest in what goes on in other people's bedrooms to give a damn about worshipping Jesus.

  5. It's the compulsory beard growing that worries me...


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