Cranmer is now petitioning the Ministry of Defense so that Satanism can be a registered religion in the armed forces. According to the Telegraph, the Church of Satan was founded in San Francisco in 1966 by Anton Szandor LaVey, author of "The Satanic Bible."
The article quoted a Royal Navy spokesman as saying that Cranmer's unconventional beliefs would not cause problems on board ship. "We are an equal-opportunities employer and we don't stop anybody from having their own religious values," he said.
In an Oct. 26 commentary in the Scotsman newspaper, Bruce Anderson said that naval authorities gave the go-ahead to Cranmer because they feared a lengthy legal action that could have ended up before the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg, costing millions of pounds. The government, he said, is at fault for "nervously allowing a rights-based legal culture to intrude upon the armed forces."
Sophie Masson, in a commentary published Oct. 27 in the Sydney Morning Herald, considered the religious implications. The Church of Satan, she noted, says that "we are our own gods." Moreover, they hold that all traditional sins are virtues, that altruism is a myth and that the Christian virtues are just hypocrisy.
"The most frightening thing is that our society has seemingly become so disconnected from meaning that it no longer takes seriously the very building blocks of its culture," she added. "To worship the principle of evil itself is to invite it into your life and the lives of those around you, sometimes in unpredictable and horrifying ways."
Decline in faith
The navy's recognition of Satanism is just one in a series of news items detailing the decline in Christianity in Britain. On Aug. 18 the newspaper Independent published details of a report by the UK Home Office showing that while most white Britons still call themselves Christian, in practice religion plays little part in their lives.
The survey, based on 15,500 interviews, showed 74% called themselves Christian. But among those who professed their Christianity, when asked what they considered important to their identity, religion was cited by only 17% of white Christians, after other factors such as family, work, age, education, gender, income and social class. By contrast, among black people, 70% of whom say they are Christian, religion was third on the list, and Asians placed it second, behind family.
The survey also showed a weak Christianity among youth. Just 18% of Christians aged 16 to 24 considered their religion as important. Religion was more important for young people in other groups: 74% of Muslims; 63% of Sikhs; and 62% of Hindus.
Then, on Nov. 4, the Times published details of another study pointing to a severe decline in traditional religion, and a rise of mysticism. The study, carried out by two specialists in religion from Lancaster University, Linda Woodhead and Paul Heelas, looked at Kendal, a town of 28,000 in Cumbria.
In their book containing the results of the study, "The Spiritual Revolution," the academics observed that only 7.9% of the town's population now attends church, down from 11% two decades ago.
The practice of what the authors term "holistic activity," while still limited, is fast-growing. Currently, 1.6% of the population of the town and environs engage in some kind of holistic activity. During the 1990s, the growth of this number was rapid, and if current trends continue, within 30 years the holistic activities will be the dominant form of religious worship.
Some of the comments cited by the study revealed dissatisfaction with being "preached at" and a preference for describing their religious needs in psychological language. But the Times article also cited the Reverend Brian Maiden, of Parr Street Evangelical Church in Kendal, who declared that he believes that the liberalism of Christianity has turned people off it. "The people of Britain have been inoculated with a dead, mild form of Christianity, which has given them resistance to the real thing," he said. "It has been diluted with human philosophy. People want to be told what to do and how to do it."
The occult gains force
Britain is not alone in the trend toward the occult and alternative spiritualities. In the United States, for instance, Halloween continues to grow in popularity, the Los Angeles Times reported Oct. 11.
Although many celebrate Halloween on a merely superficial level, the article noted that sales of Halloween goods this year are projected to grow faster, at 5.4%, than those of Christmas, 4.5%. According to the Los Angeles Times the National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will have spent more than $3 billion this season on Halloween products.
On a more serious level, news of Druidic influence in the Episcopalian Church has drawn attention. According to the Washington Times of Nov. 1, a Druidic "women's eucharist" and a "divorce rite," posted on the Episcopal Church's official Web site, outraged a number of Episcopalians. The rites were removed from the Web site after church headquarters began receiving complaints.
Shortly afterward, the Philadelphia Inquirer, on Nov. 5, reported that two Episcopal priests, a married couple, the Reverend Glyn Ruppe-Melnyk and the Reverend William Melnyk, had resigned from the leadership of a local Druid society. They may face disciplinary action from the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. During almost four years, while they led parishes in Malvern and Downingtown, the couple were also spiritual guides to local Druids, according to the Inquirer.
Another sign of the growing influence of non-Christian groups is the spread of Wicca. The term can cover a multitude of practices, but it is part of a neo-paganism involving the worship of diverse gods and sometimes the practice of witchcraft. According to an article by Christine Wicker titled "Teen Pagans," posted on the Web site of Belief Net, Wicca is increasingly popular among adolescents.
Its spread is fostered by the contemporary interest in the occult, as well as the ease with which information about these groups can be disseminated via the Internet. Attempts to put a number on followers of Wicca have not met with much success, according to data posted on the Web site of the multi-faith Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. Estimates of their numbers in the United States range from a low 2,000 to a high of 5 million.
Death of morality
Leaving aside what the decline of Christianity means from a religious viewpoint, attention on the social consequences was the focus of a book published earlier this year, "The Strange Death of Moral Britain," by Christie Davies.
His book charts what he terms the decline of "respectable Britain" -- the increase in crime, drug use, illegitimacy, abortion, homosexuality, etc. -- and links it to the declining influence of Christian morality. Over the last few decades, notably since the 1950s, moral values once instilled by such institutions as Sunday schools have been replaced by a secularized attitude of minimizing harm, regardless of moral considerations.
Recognizing one person's right to practice Satanism may be dismissed as a trivial incident. But it can also be seen as symptomatic of a society that is rapidly becoming de-Christianized, a process that brings with it many unpleasant surprises.