Monday, August 8, 2016

Decline in religion plateauing?

"But I can’t imagine any factor that would lead this long-term trend to change."
Linda Woodhead

I am, as all readers here know, a very simple man with a small brain, so maybe it is that small brain once again living down to its small capacity, but I find this Telegraph article, headed "Decline of religion in Britain 'comes to a halt' - major study suggests" somewhat confusing.

The key finding seems to be a snapshot, a slight pause in statistics of decline of religious belief and adherence in Britain. Naturally some fasten on that as a sign of a longed for hope being fulfilled. Surely the decline must come to an end. Surely there must be a point where all those lively congregations up and down the land count for something statistically.

But then there are the likes of religion-sociologist Linda Woodhead whose conviction that a long decline is inexorable means the snapshot is interpreted as a blip along the way. Even a tobogganist might want to stop to admire the view on the way down for a few seconds. The quote cited above (from within the Telegraph article) is Woodhead immersed in data about baptisms and funerals. Those kinds of stats are damning; here in NZ too.

Yet that cited sentence above also belies a missing element in any such narrative about Christianity. In that sentence there is no gospel, there is no revival, no Holy Spirit, and, in fact, no signal that God might exist and might be a "factor" in arresting the long-term trend.

Back to the article which I find confusing. I suppose the sub-editor provided the headline because it is a clickbait headline. Everyone expects the story today about religion to be the decline of religion, the dog bites the man. The sub-editor finds one element in the story which has a slight man bites dog twist to it so provides the headline. The article is then confusing because, in the end, with Woodhead driving the interpretation of the statistics provided, the story is just the old, old story of decline. There isn't yet any steady statistical trend as a basis for the claim of a "halt."

Be great if there was :)

12 comments:

Ian Paul said...

Peter, thanks for this link. Where is the Linda Woodhead quotation from?

Peter Carrell said...

From within the article itself (which I will make clearer in the post).

Doug Chaplin said...

Thanks, Peter. My own reaction when I saw the headline this morning and looked at the blurb, was that this was well within the margin of error, and therefore more an excuse for a journalist to write something than an actual story (all credit to John Bingham for his ability to keep getting articles placed).

Shawn Herles said...

There is always hope.

'A Christian Renewal? What Brexit Means for Traditionalists'

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2016/06/christian-renewal-brexit-means-traditionalists.html

'Is there a Christian revival starting in France?'

http://theweek.com/articles/531469/there-christianrevival-starting-france

'Netherlands shows hopeful signs of faith revival'

https://www.osv.com/OSVNewsweekly/ByIssue/Article/TabId/735/ArtMID/13636/ArticleID/6746/Netherlands-shows-hopeful-signs-of-faith-revival.aspx

'Europe’s Christian Comeback'

http://foreignpolicy.com/2007/06/12/europes-christian-comeback/

'An Unexpected Wave: Eastern Europe's Catholic Charismatic Revival'

https://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2016/March-2016/An-Unexpected-Wave-Eastern-Europe-s-Catholic-Charismatic-Revival

Peter Carrell said...

Excellent, thanks Shawn!

Glen Young said...


Hi Peter,
Perhaps,if there is little difference what the state is legislating and what the Church is proclaiming,then the decline in church numbers may well have leveled out.Here,lies the basis of the Church of England as an "Establishment Church"every Englishman is ipso factor, a member of the Church.
What would the muslin immigrants say to that????
Regards Glen.

Father Ron said...

Glen, surely you will have realised by now that the Church of England does not register membership of the Church except by Baptism. However, because it IS a State Church, ity does welcome others to share in its worship - with the hope of converting some of them.
Unlike some New Zealand Churches that would decline admisasion to non-members, the C. of E., as the State Church, has a duty of 'welcome to all'.

Brian Kelly said...

"Here,lies the basis of the Church of England as an "Establishment Church"every Englishman is ipso factor, a member of the Church.
What would the muslin immigrants say to that????"

Probably that they are cut from a different cloth.
The notion of pastoral responsibility to everyone resident in a geographical parish is pretty much dead in England now and subsists in only peripheral ways (right of marriage in the parish church, funerals). The electoral roll of each parish is a surer guide to 'membership', although even here there is often a disparity between (unpurged) rolls and attendees who don't care to enrol. Particularly among evangelicals (but not exclusively so), the denominational backgrounds of churchgoers is often very diverse (as it is in NZ) in what is sometimes called a post-denominational age. Protestants seem to move easily among (Protestant) denominations but I wonder if this is the case among Roman Catholics as well: do church-hopping Protestants tarry with them for a while or is the cultural/liturgical wall a bit high for that? My anecdotal experience suggests that, apart from following a marriage partner, Protestants who 'pope' tend to be attracted by the greater intellectual and cultural depth they see in the Catholic tradition compared with a more activist evangelical world - and then they may be dismayed by the poor quality of singing and preaching in Catholic churches!

Glen Toung said...


Hi Ron,
Having read the Pilling Report,I would question as to whether anyone is any longer certain as to what they are being CONVERTED to.Bishop Keith of Birkenhead found it necessary to write a dissenting response to that Report.
His dissenting response is well worth reading.

Regards,Glen.

Father Ron said...

Perhaps in constrast with what Brian is saying here; this Sunday, which will generally be observed by Catholics around the world as a celebration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgn Mary into Heaven (not unlike that of Elijah in the Old Testament account) Diana and I will be attending the local Roman Catholic Cathedral in Cairns, to share with that congregation the joy we feel at God's choice of Mary as the human participant in the Incarnation of Christ, our Redeemer.

This does not mean that we have fallen out with the Evangelical Celebration of the Eucharist at the local Anglican Church (where we enjoyecd the lively charismatic worship common to the bi-cultural congregation last weekend). However, we both want to share our common love of Mary as the Mother of Christ, that is our normal setting at our own parish church of St.Michael & All Angels, at home in Christchurch, N.Z.

We already feel condfident enough in the hospitality of our sisters and brothers in Christ in the Roman Catholic Church to be able to share this celebration with them.
Even more than that, we believe that the Eucharist belongs to Christ, who is the Host, and who would want all of us to share in celebrating the honour accorded to his beloved mother ("All generations shall call me 'Blessed'). Now, that's what I call 'Catholic Practice', consistent with the great prayer of Jesus for unity amongst God's children.

Father Ron said...

Just to report on our visit to the R.C. Cathedral in Cairns for the principal Mass on Sunday: No mention of the Blessed Virgin here. No server at the Mass, presided over by Bishop James Foley, sans chasuble, brown trousers clearly seen under the hem of his alb. No sign of assisting clergyman no Gospel Procession. However, Christ was truly Present in the large congregation - mostly foreign visitors, one would think.

"Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus! Holy Mary, Mother of Christ, pray for us sinners, now, and in the hour of our death, Amen"

Anonymous said...

Fr Ron,

Strictly today (15 August) is the RC holy day of obligation, though in NZ it was transferred to yesterday. Cairns might not do a transfer.

Nick