Last week I went to Durham’s Religion and Society Seminar and heard Steve Bruce from a sociologist from Aberdeen speak about the ‘Future of Religion in Britain’. He showed a clear decline in british church attendance over the past 100+ years but no corresponding increase in other religions. There is some growth, and even a proliferation, of alternative religions, but no popular adoption of these. The only growth in the UK has typically been only through birthrates, though some new style churches in large urban areas are doing better, but these only represent a very small percentage. He then offered his analysis of the decline:
His primary thesis is that religion is not innate but rather a cultural construct. Thus when the cultural supports for Christianity were dismantled due to modernism and post-modernism, Christianity in western Europe began to decline. In particular, he argued that the egoism, or individual consumerism, that is the basis of the british mind is what is now the context. This mindset fights against the ‘universal truth’ and institutionalism basis of organised religion. This is evident from the growing hostility against religion, especially among those that are younger.
Being a cultural construct, Bruce offered the comparison to that of a people’s language. When the language is dominant–both parents speak it, the neighbors speak it, the children can easily marry others who speak it, etc.–the language will survive and prosper. He offered (Welch/Scottish) gaelic as the most dominant parallel. With English (secularism) as the dominant language, gaelic (Christianity) is increasingly spoken only by those who either 1) live in an isolated area or 2) who choose to. Eventually, those in group 1 will dwindle and so will those in group two. Group 2 is what will eventually be where Christianity ends up. He offered the fact that the US, even with its high egoism/individual consumerism, still has a strong subculture of relgious activity. He noted particularly, that in the US one can go to fundamentalist education from birth to PhD without any serious interaction with those outside one’s tradition. With the educational structure in the UK, this would be very difficult.
This is a difficult pill to swallow, and it comes from a decidedly secularist point of view. I don’t whole heartedly accept his thesis, but the evidence seems to strongly support it. It does give one a diffrent view of one’s religion when it isn’t the dominant perspective. His thesis depends on the egoism of postmodernism remaining dominant, but just as all dominant philosophical paradigms change so will this one. The question is how long this individualism can survive. But even beyond that point, I hold a supernatural faith that includes the work of God beyond philosophical worldviews.