lördag 15 december 2012

Religion on the way out?

Census results now being published show a sharp decline in the numbers claiming to be Christians. Norwich and Brighton top the list of atheist towns. Yet the decline of religion is primarily a first world phenomenon outside the US. However, we are only at the start of this phase of the journey. The existential issues with which religion deals do not go away.

The overall pattern is of conflicting trends. One of the factors that is sustaining religion is immigration. It is not going to decline. Religion provides a social focus and means of entry into the new community. Drawing immigrants into local networks is particularly a role of the Catholic church in Western Europe and has helped to sustain the numbers. Immigration has also spread the Orthodox church in Western Europe and then attracts a handful of local adherents - this is especially true of the Russian and Greek Orthodox churches which have maintained traditional liturgical practices abandoned by the Roman Catholics.

Whilst the wider trends have obviously had an influence, the decline of the Catholic church seems largely to be a self-inflicted injury, following the changes that followed the abandonment of the traditional liturgy after 1970, with the loss of Latin, Gregorian chant and the replacement of a largely silent Mass with the present noisy style with egregious music. Three times over I observed that the transition from old to new was accompanied by a immediate loss of around one-third of the congregation. For the same reason, Catholic schools have largely failed to replenish the numbers because the misguided use of children's liturgies which are seen as babyish by the over-12s.

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