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Theme: The De-Christianization of Britain

January 14, 2007

Niall Ferguson: Heaven knows how we’ll rekindle our religion, but I believe we must

I am not sure that British people are necessarily afraid of religion, but they are certainly not much interested in it these days. Indeed, the decline of Christianity – not just in Britain but right across Europe – stands out as one of the most remarkable phenomena of our times.

There was a time when Europe would justly refer to itself as “Christendom”. Europeans built the continent’s loveliest edifices to accommodate their acts of worship. They quarrelled bitterly over the distinction between transubstantiation and consubstantiation. As pilgrims, missionaries and conquistadors, they sailed to the four corners of the earth, intent on converting the heathen to the true faith. Now it is we who are the heathens.


Some of the greatest British writers of the 20th century anticipated this decline. Evelyn Waugh knew, once he had finished his wartime Sword of Honour trilogy, that he had written the epitaph of a particular ancient kind of English Catholicism. C S Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters in the hope that mocking the Devil might keep him at bay. Both sensed, understandably enough, that the war posed a grave threat to Christian faith. Yet it was not really until the 1960s that their premonitions of secularisation came true.

Why have the British lost their historic faith? Like so many difficult questions, this seems at first sight to have an easy answer. But before you blame it on “The Sixties” – the Beatles, the Pill and the mini-skirt – remember that the United States had all these earthly delights too, without ceasing to be a Christian country. To be frank, I have no idea what the answer is. But I do know that it matters.

Tom Bethell: Christian Fall, Muslim Rise

A RECENT STUDY SHOWED that the Catholic Church in Britain is facing its greatest threat since the Reformation. Its membership is in “terminal decline,” much of it recent. What Henry VIII persecuted the modern world simply ignores. The faith is withering away. Meanwhile, the Church of England has devolved into a museum. Those old cathedrals are still maintained-even admired as works of art. Increasingly, however, they are venues for music festivals. As for the Church of England’s Episcopalian equivalent in the U.S., it suggests nothing so much as a wounded animal beset by carnivores.

How to explain this decline? Nothing less than a book-length response would suffice. But here are a few thoughts. Enfeebled bishops, selected precisely for their feebleness, preside over dwindling flocks. Bishops have lost all authority and few listen to their public comments, which almost always deal with material (not spiritual) concerns. Rome slumbers on, imagining that English Catholics must above all repair the breach with Canterbury, and that the way to do so is to stand for as little as possible. Diplomacy triumphs over conviction. There is no sign that the old pope, John Paul II, paid attention to the problem. Benedict XVI understands that Catholicism is in trouble in Europe, but has not yet shown that he has the courage to do anything about it.

See also:
Catholic News: Study says British Catholicism facing “pastoral catastrophe”
The Guardian: Religion does more harm than good – poll
The Fullness of Faith: Guardian Scoop: Britain slightly secular!
BBC News: Challenges of heeding call of God
Piers Paul Read: The Present State of the Catholic Church in England
William Oddie: Who’s Watching the Watchers?

Related Posts:
Theme: The Hope of Christendom
Report: Welcome to the New Holy Land


From → Themes

  1. Could be the greatest piece of writing I have ever seen…

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