Living in a De-Christianized Society

Britain’s Leaders Warn of the Loss of Common Values

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By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, JULY 5, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The decline of Christianity and moral values in general is reaching new lows in Britain. While the number of faithful has been decreasing for some time now, warnings about the situation are starting to come from all quarters.

Britain is no longer a Christian nation, affirmed Anglican bishop, Paul Richardson, in an article published Jun. 27 in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

The Anglican prelate was also critical of his fellow bishops for not understanding just how serious the change is in contemporary culture, and for their lack of action in dealing with this serious crisis of faith.

Only around 1% of Anglicans attend Sunday services on average, according to Richardson. "At this rate it is hard to see the church surviving for more than 30 years though few of its leaders are prepared to face that possibility," he warned.

He also noted that out of every 1,000 live births in England and Wales in the period 2006-07 only 128 were baptized as Anglicans. This compares to 609 per thousand in 1900.

Just the day before, in the Times newspaper, Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, deplored the lack of a shared moral code in Britain.

Reflecting on the current financial crisis and the recent revelations of scandals over Parliamentarians' expenses, he commented that these and other problems have resulted in a loss of trust in society.

There is an underlying problem, however, that is much more serious, he said: the loss of the traditional sense of morality.

We are very moral in some things, such as world poverty and global warming, the rabbi contended, but these are remote and global. Sacks declared that when it comes to matters closer to our own lives we have lost our sense of right and wrong regarding our personal behavior.

"Instead, there are choices. The market facilitates those choices. The state handles the consequences, picking up the pieces when they go wrong," the Jewish leader observed.

It's no use just treating the symptoms with more laws and surveillance systems. "Without a shared moral code there can be no free society," Sacks argued.

Who's that?

While opinion polls have limitations, a couple recent surveys provided confirmation of the warnings by religious leaders. A study carried out by Penguin books, albeit in conjunction with a promotion of a recent book on the topic, said that nearly two-thirds of teenagers do not believe in God.

According to the Jun. 22 report in the Telegraph newspaper the study of 1,000 teens showed that 59% thought religion has a negative influence on the world.

The survey also revealed that half of those questioned have never prayed and 16% have never been to church.

A week later the Independent newspaper published the results of a survey about Bible knowledge. The Jun. 29 article reported that many are ignorant of the stories and the people who are fundamental to the history of Christianity.

According to preliminary results of the National Biblical Literacy Survey, carried out by St. John's College Durham, as few as 10% of people understood the main characters in the Bible and their relevance.

About 60% were unaware of the story of the Good Samaritan and figures such as Abraham and Joseph were also foreign to many.

According to the Independent's article, Anglican priest David Wilkinson from St John's, said the consequences of such ignorance go well beyond just being unaware of the Bible. Knowledge of these stories and persons in the Bible is essential in order to understand our history and culture, and not least art, music and literature, so much of which is bound up with religious themes, he observed.

This is an ignorance that the well-known proponent of atheism, Richard Dawkins, is trying to promote. A Jun. 28 article published in the Guardian newspaper reported that he is organizing an atheist summer camp this year in England.

Camp Quest UK, will be "free of religious dogma," the article added. Apparently the five-day camp, subsidized by a grant from the Richard Dawkins Foundation, is fully booked

Drifting

The recent warnings from religious leaders followed on the heels of similar expressions of concern. On April 5, Anglican bishop Michael Nazir-Ali published an article in the Telegraph newspaper on the occasion of his resignation as bishop of Rochester.

In his nearly 15 years there he said: "I have watched the nation drift further and further away from its Christian moorings."

This has led, he continued, to a loosening of the ties of law, customs and values, and also to a loss of identity and cohesiveness. Similar to Rabbi Sacks, he commented that society needs a "social capital of common values and the recognition of certain virtues which contribute to personal and social flourishing."

"Our ideas about the sacredness of the human person at every stage of life, of equality and natural rights and, therefore, of freedom, have demonstrably arisen from the tradition rooted in the Bible," he added.

Bishop Nazir-Ali observed that the Anglican church is growing rapidly in places such as Africa. Perhaps they have a lot to teach the Western churches, he concluded.

Selling its soul

The new Catholic leader of England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols addressed the same topic shortly before becoming the archbishop of Westminster.

In an article published by the Telegraph newspaper on Mar. 29 he affirmed that Britain has sold its soul by pursuing a purely secular reason over religion.

As a result, faith is now confined to a purely private pursuit and values are drawn from secular and material sources.

Not only do Britain's politicians live in a purely secular and material world, but they also do not allow for a mature consideration of the key role of religious belief in society, he contended.

The affirmations by Archbishop Nichols were published in a recent book of essays titled "The Nation That Forgot God."

In common with the other religious leaders Archbishop Nichols also pointed out the lack of social cohesion that results when there are no shared moral principles and values. The secular, liberal view of the human person is mistaken and simply won't work, he argued.

Unfriendly

His predecessor, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, was of similar views. In a report last Dec. 6 by the Telegraph newspaper he commented that Britain has become an "unfriendly" place for religious people to live in.

His comments also came from a contribution to a book of essays, "Faith in the Nation."

The rise of secularism has resulted in a society hostile to Christianity, and in general, religious belief is looked upon as "a private eccentricity."

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor also noted that atheism is now more aggressive and that there is now a vocal minority who argue that religion has no place in modern society.

Statistical evidence backs up his concerns. The number of marriages being celebrated in Catholic churches in England and Wales has fallen by a quarter over the last decade, the Telegraph reported, Jan. 8.

In the year 2000 there were 13,029 Catholic marriages, compared to 9,950 last year. Only one in three marriages in England and Wales are now in the form of a religious ceremony, according to the Telegraph.

Evidence abounds of the severe decline in religion in Britain, and the repeated declarations by church leaders point to a growing awareness of the urgency of the situation. What is more elusive is identifying how to turn the trend around.