An atheist's prayer for the churches that keep our soul | Simon Jenkins | Comment is free | The Guardian The flavour of it is an appreciation of what faithful, humble contributions are being made to the common good by churches and clergy -even if one didn't believe our message.
Local England has reverted to the middle ages, with the clergy as its most public face. The clergy are the ones who tend to know who is in trouble, who is a villain, who a saint. Their workplace is a church. They apparently mobilise 1.6 million parish volunteers for what amounts to social work, from caring for the elderly to hospital visiting. This output must be worth billions to the state. And all the state does in return is impose VAT and health and safety regulations on church repairs.It's just a shame that the stats hadn't been read a bit more carefully: Simon says,
This month, the census appeared to confirm a Religious Trends reportthat church attendance was falling so fast that by 2035 there would be more active Muslims than Christians in Britain, and by 2050 as many Hindus.Thing is, the report is from 4 years ago and the census is reporting a drop in nominal Christianity while the active Christian population seems to be more stable than the earlier report indicated -in some places and organisations it is growing. My own diocese seems to be seeing more churchgoing even while nominal Christians fall in number. I suspect that journalists will need to think a bit harder about the cliched categories they think in about religion in this country.
Much better from that point of view is another Guardian article by Zoe Williams (who is an atheist also) in Comment is Free, who asks properly what people might understand by the rather blunt Census Question (which I actually felt constrained to answer in a way that would have made it hard to interpret -as a Christian with a streak of Reformed in me, I don't react well to the label 'religious').
Overall, then, the structure of the question was deemed to have hoovered up a lot of people who were only Christians atmospherically, neither cleaving to its beliefs nor upholding its practices. Personally, I didn't mind that – one of the many joys of being an atheist is that you don't have to pretend to be inclusive. Organised religions have to take all comers. I am proudly exclusive in my belief system – I only want other people to be atheists if they're committed to not believing in God, and are prepared to say so. I don't want to scrabble madly among the "don't knows" for people who might be in my club on a particularly trenchant day. The Jedi Knights are welcome to them.That's a good point, and at my university when the possibility of entrance documentation asking for religious information, I felt that it was important to put down a marker that the way that the census asked the question was not very helpful and that we might want to catch some nuances that would be more useful for guiding thinking in an institutional context.
In fact Zoe picks up a thought that is pretty much my own (here);
self-described Christianity is disintegrating – not because anything's happened to make God's existence less likely, but because, as a badge of respectability and cultural identity, it no longer cuts it.