I DOUBT if you either need or want to be reminded of the shocking statistics from the census revealed last week, with the unsurprising but deeply depressing news that Christianity has become a minority faith for the first time since Britain was converted in the Middle Ages.
As quick as a flash, there were calls to scrap the public celebration of Christmas and to disestablish the waning, woke Church of England. As the percentages of both observant and cultural Christians decline ever further, the claim of Christianity to have a special place in our national life will seem more and more absurd. Cultural balkanisation, already a fact in many areas, will become established as a national rather than merely local difficulty.
If culture is upstream of politics, religion is upstream of culture. As many wise heads predicted, the cultural effects of the decline of Christianity are making themselves widely felt decades after the collapse of active religious belief. As Melanie Phillips points out in her latest email newsletter: ‘Values that secularists claim are universal are not universal at all but derive from the Hebrew Bible, the root of Christianity which was the basic building block of western civilisation.’
It’s true that Christianity is in decline all over the Western World, but the pathetic, utterly secularised Church of England has been a major contributory factor in our own religious and cultural malaise. The paradox is that as the already seriously weakened Church continues to decline, the need for a primarily theological response to many of the dangerous and destructive trends in our society becomes ever more apparent.
The first time I was personally aware of this was during the riots of August 2011, when widespread lawlessness started in London and rapidly spread to other cities. People were genuinely shaken: it was plain that something had gone very wrong at a basic societal level. It was the golden opportunity for the Church to strike back and take a militantly socially conservative stance. Instead, of course, we got the standard tepid, socialist waffle about benefit cuts being to blame rather than family breakdown and the decline of marriage.
Then came Covid and the outrageous overreaction of the secular state towards what was not a particularly deadly disease. Although weak politicians and disgracefully, irresponsibly sensationalist media bear much of the blame, the hysteria was at least in part a consequence of the modern terror of death that a religious belief is uniquely capable of countering. When people were looking for spiritual succour on a national scale, Archbishop Wokeby did what any good Church of England primate would do – he closed the churches, an act for which he should have been fired.
It isn’t only in the face of disasters and events that the Church has failed to act: as Christianity has declined, different, aggressive religions have filled the void. The most understood and feared of these is fundamentalist Islam, but it also applies to modern pseudo-religious political movements. At its most extreme, the environmental movement is a form of paganism, the worship of Gaia. It preaches an exceptionally dangerous creed that humanity is a plague on the Earth, and like any pagan faith, that constant sacrifices are required to placate its angry god.
Ultimately, however, plagues are meant not to be absolved through sacrifice, but to be eradicated, and we can see the darkness that such beliefs will ultimately lead to. Only a fundamentally Christian response is capable of countering it. As the book of Genesis says: ‘And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.’ (Genesis 1: 27-28)
It is very clear from this text that humanity is not to be regarded as a plague, made as we are in the image of God. We have dignity, dominion over the earth and may use its resources, but we must also safeguard and replenish them. A position perfectly in line with reasonable ecological conservation but rejecting of the green movement’s current malevolent, misanthropic fascism.
Then we have the other great pseudo-religion of our times – the divisive, collectivist, identity politics of Wokeism. Its Marxist emphasis of the collective over the individual is again directly against biblical teaching: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.’ (Galatians 3:28)
These are just two examples of new creeds. In the coming years, if Christianity continues its retreat, their number will multiply. At heart, there can be no cultural conservative fightback without a Christian theological one. Encouragingly some Christians, such as the creators of the Irreverend podcast, and GB News’s Calvin Robinson, understand this and are gaining increasing interest and support, but what a tragedy that the House and College of Bishops, that ship of fools, does not, instead genuflecting at every modish liberal cause and alienating its potential supporters.
As the collapse of both religious and cultural Christianity manifests itself in ever greater disasters and sinister manifestations, people desperately need a strong Christian revival. Do not despair: it has been done before and can be done again, even at this late hour – God is faithful, after all – but sadly the Church of England is very unlikely to lead it, a failure for which it is unlikely to be forgiven.