Your editorial (If organised mainstream Christianity is on the way out, what will replace it?, 16 July) poses a question of profound importance concerning the kind of society and culture we hope our grandchildren’s children will live in. Perhaps a hint of the direction of travel is to be found on the letters page (13 July), where the Director of Cafod (Catholic Agency for Overseas Development) describes recent practical action and political campaigning by thousands of members of faith communities who, in face of the climate emergency and the threat of ecological collapse, “hear the cry of the earth, and of the poor who experience the injustice of climate change”. She cites the spiritual leader of the largest Christian community, Pope Francis, who in Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, his 2015 message to the peoples of the world made clear that the mission of the church now includes an urgent priority to support efforts to prevent further environmental deterioration and to achieve a sustainable lifestyle.
Developments in the academic fields of ecology and religion and “spiritual environmentalism”, especially in North America, give an advance glimpse of a future in which humankind rediscovers our capacity to wonder at the “sacred” mystery of the emergence and evolution of life in the universe, and reinstates our neglected relationship with the natural world on which our survival as a species ultimately depends. Perhaps an “eco-theology” is the future to which the last 2,000 years of history have been pointing?
• That organised religion continues to decline is tough news for the faithful few, but the bigger question is how do we evaluate such facts? Is life in Britain better for all because not so many go to church, synagogue or mosque? Or is that question also too simple when we can all see that there is good and bad in all faiths and in those who are not religious? Guardian readers will also know that more people read the tabloids and the rightwing press than the Guardian. Is the value of everything to be determined by a show of hands or would God still care about us even if more and more people are unaware of Him? And do we still believe in the Guardian because of its simple faith that facts are sacred and better than fake news if it is not popular to say so?
Rev Dr Donald Norwood
• Humanism certainly has the potential to fill the gap left by organised religion with a robust grounding in moral philosophies stretching back to the Greeks, via the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and modern British philosophy (something we should be proud of). Although only about 6% of UK adults identified as “humanist” in a 2014 YouGov poll, 36% said they shared humanist values. However, humanism faces an uphill struggle when the government insists on funding yet more single-religion faith schools.
I only discovered humanism in my 50s. Nobody ever told me about humanism at school – a situation I am trying to remedy through school volunteering for Humanists UK. As to whether irreligion should be “organised”, the established religions have amply demonstrated that such organisations are more concerned with their own survival than the welfare of their participants. It seems unlikely to me that young people will turn back to such outdated institutions when they have failed to provide global leadership on the pressing issues of inequality, human rights and climate destruction.
Hopefully, the next generation will learn to think for themselves and become capable of recognising that it is the responsibility of humans alone to make the world a better place.
Saffron Walden, Essex
• By far the biggest factor in the long-term decline of organised religion in western Europe has been the rise of moral autonomy. Attitudes to same-sex marriage, homosexuality, women’s rights, abortion and assisted suicide have shifted in a generation. There has been a groundswell of public opinion in favour of more liberal approaches towards the rights and freedoms of the individual. The result is religion-free morals. Three things only remain to be dealt with. The Church of England remains the established religion, automatic places are granted to 26 Anglican bishops in the House of Lords, and the state funds religious groups to run discriminatory schools that inculcate children with their beliefs.
• Your leader comments on the latest BSA survey and the continuing decline in organised religion, not least in the Church of England. On Sunday last, in most mainstream churches, the gospel story of the good Samaritan will have been read. Here is a story familiar and indeed loved by most of the population of non-churchgoers and believers alike. The outsider who shows love and compassion is exalted above the representatives of organised religion whose rules forbade them risking being in contact with the man lying in the gutter. Jesus preferred love in action to “good religion”, with its rules about who was (and was not) included in the household of God. Organised religion – “Church”– might still need to learn the lesson that its founder seems to have wanted people to be more compassionate, not more religious. Let’s strive for goodness in our present society and perhaps godliness will follow.
Rev Adrian Alker
Chair, Progressive Christianity Network Britain
• It is very surprising that your editorial makes no reference to agnosticism, the conviction that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God. Is its omission part of human arrogance?
• Your editorial notes that the latest British Social Attitudes survey records just 1% of under-24s now identifying as Anglican. This statistic alone shows what nonsense it is that the Church of England can still be regarded and treated as the “established” church, yet 26 seats in the House of Lords are reserved for its archbishops and senior bishops. I think Iran is the only other country whose legislature grants such privileges to the leaders of its state religion. We still like to present ourselves as a “modern democracy” – hoping others don’t notice this anomaly (or the 92 hereditary members of the House of Lords).
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