Andy Walton looks at whether there is a "Religious Right" emerging in Britain
Nick Spencer reviews Steve Jones' "The Serpent's Promise: The Bible Retold at Science"
Religion in the UK is changing, not disappearing
2nd May 2012
Tonight will be the sixth in the series of Westminster Faith Debates, the events co-hosted by the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme, Charles Clarke and Theos. They’ve consistently offered the chance for serious debate on some of the most pressing issues around religion in society; from faith in schools to extremism, welfare to religious freedom. Academics and public figures from all backgrounds and persuasions have discussed how we should deal with these knotty problems, taking rigorous research and seeking to apply it to our real lives.
This final debate is on Trends in Religion and Values in the UK (you may have heard Charles Clarke on the Today programme this morning speaking about the event). The research which will be profiled tonight indicates that religion in the UK is changing, not disappearing. The assumption that declining church attendance and membership means, in an uncomplicated way, that we are becoming ‘more secular’ is an ill conceived assumption which could lead to a range of policy errors.
So, while many people still think of the Church of England as emblematic of faith in Britain, Anglicanism has experience rapid numerical decline. ’'New’ – mainly evangelical – churches have grown. And though belief in a personal God has gone down, belief in an afterlife has gone up.
Previous dates are available in video or audio form if you’d like to catch up on the series. Highlights include findings that welfare supplied by faith organisations doesn’t come hand in hand with proselytism, and is often preferred by those who use the services. Incredibly, in a time when understanding our own faith and that of others in our superdiverse society has never been more important, RE is under resourced and under threat.
The most striking thing for me has been how oversubscribed the debates have been and how wide the interest. Religion deals with our most fundamental questions- what we are here for, where we came from, where we are going. In contrast to the hopeful, modernist narrative of religion’s melancholy long withdrawing roar in the face of all encompassing ‘reason’, these ultimate questions of truth and meaning remain central not just to our individual lives but to society as a whole.
I’ve also been encouraged by the tone of the series. Part of Theos’ purpose is to inform the debate, cutting through tribal rhetoric and heightened campaigning to have a proper conversation. Although all of us come from a particular viewpoint and no-one is really neutral, we all have a stake in working out how we live together well. These debates, though heated at times, have in the main avoided tribal attacks and instead dealt with important issues seriously and civilly. At a time when any discussion of religion quickly becomes impossibly polarised, they’ve been an oasis.
Discussions of this kind must continue. Watch this space.