Saturday, December 13, 2003


The Scottish writer, critic and historian William Dalrymple (whose latest book is White Mughals) has written pereceptively of the contradictions of religious life in modern Britain. Some of his data seems to have been drawn from Callum Brown's The Death of Christian Britain, but his judgements are more moderate. Not that they constitute grounds for complacency among firstline British church leaders, many of whom still seem not to have understood that the kind of faith that persists amidst the secularity of public life is not a likely antechamber for the return of their own verities. Dalrymple observes:

"It is usually assumed that Christianity in Britain was in decline from the mid-19th century on. In fact, church attendance figures reached an all-time high at the end of the 19th century, and dramatically revived again in the 1950s: this was the period, for example, when Billy Graham, the American evangelist, was able to draw crowds of more than 2 million to his open air services.

"The decline has taken place, at a quite startling rate, only since the mid-1960s. As late as the 1950s, nearly half the adult population went to church on a Sunday. By the 1990s the figure was down to 10%. During the 1960s, the decline was initially limited to the Anglican church, and both Roman Catholic and Jewish attendance figures held up well. But even there, decline set in towards the end of the 1970s and accelerated fast, so that by the late 1980s Catholicism and Judaism found themselves haemorrhaging faithful as Protestants had 20 years earlier.

"Today the decline is at its most severe in urban areas, and most severe of all in London: fewer than 3% of Londoners now attend church on Sundays. This is clearly a major change in the landscape, but it does not represent a universal decline. For while organised religion is ceasing to play a major role in the life of the white majority, there is no comparable decline in the religious life of Britain's ethnic minorities. Today in London, white Christians are already outnumbered by black ones. Black Pentecostal churches are flourishing and 51% of regular London churchgoers are now non-white.

"Likewise, the number of mosque-going Muslims is fast catching up with the number of church-going Christians, and Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras are also flourishing. Nor is there any obvious drop-off in the faith of second- or third-generation British Indians. The outlook remains uncertain, especially as regards mainstream white Christianity, but reports of the death of religion in these islands are premature."

See the full piece 'God in Peckham Rye' here.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

No comments: