The Guardian newspaper published an article last month1, the topic of which was the rising number of people in the UK who identify as being of ‘no religion’. Geographical and demographic data pertaining to religious attitudes and affiliations had been collected by British Social Attitudes surveys over the course of roughly 30 years, and were analysed by Dr. Stephen Bullivant, senior lecturer in theology and ethics at St Mary’s University, Twickenham. (The report did not consider data from Scotland or Northern Ireland, although comparable statistics on the former were broadly in step with figures from England and Wales.)
The findings were reflective of the familiar trend of rising irreligiosity in a number of industrialised nations, a trend that, in England and Wales, has seen the proportion of the population identifying themselves as having no religion (so-called ‘nones’) for the first time outnumbering those who profess a religious affiliation, with the ‘religious’ emphasis being on Catholicism and the Church of England.
Responding to the report of dwindling congregations across the nation and beyond, the Reverend Giles Fraser, parish priest at St. Mary’s (Newington, London), journalist, and broadcaster, put pen to paper in a dazzling display of what must be construed as either profound delusion or rank obsequiousness, overflowing with confirmation bias and selective omission. In his sour-grapes article2, he assures us that we may be witnessing a ‘local atheist lull’, presumably due to being a society of superficial, money-grubbing, godless reprobates, but that religion, globally, is on the rise (cue raspberry), shifting south and east, because ‘the poor go for God’.
Of course, what he conveniently ignores is that the poor are not spiritually bereft savages, crying out for Western European or North American interpretations of Hellenised Semitic mythology to be imposed on them. If anything, Christianity is gaining traction in poorer regions because education and critical thinking aren’t top priorities if you’re starving or struggling to make ends meet.
To further balance his lopsided appraisal, although there is no doubt that Christian missionaries do good work in Africa (in Asia too, although it’s safe to say that Africa is generally the needier of the two ‘markets’), there is nonetheless ample evidence3,4 of a lot of toxic proselytism and hate indoctrination, all in the name of the twisted scriptural interpretations of some fairly twisted individuals.
Target the young, the uneducated, the hungry – those who are too disadvantaged to care or to realise that the hand of help is also the hand of bondage. It may well be that the acceptance of – or merely paying lip service to – some foreign imaginary concept is a small price to pay for a full belly or some education, but here’s a thought: perhaps, in addition to the irrationality and ongoing scandals, it’s the cynically ruthless opportunism, predation, and promotion of divisive teachings that is turning people closer to home off the Church. An ideology that cannot stand up to elementary critical scrutiny does not deserve the following it lays claim to.