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Geography | Citizenship | RE | Relationships and health

‘Beginning of the end’ for Western religion

Should we care that organised religion is dying out in Western societies? A survey published earlier this week revealed that levels of religious belief in Britain are at an all-time-low. In the last 100 years Britain has changed beyond recognition. It has won two world wars, lost a global empire and constructed a vast welfare state. Yet according to a recent article in The Spectator, “perhaps the biggest single change in Britain over the past century” is something completely different: the decline in religion. A report published this week suggests that this decline is happening across the West. The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) revealed that 53% of Britons and 22% of Americans describe themselves as having no religion. In the UK, this is the first time that non-believers have outnumbered religious people. What could explain this? Studies have found that many people are reluctant to commit to organised religion. For example, a survey carried out in the USA in 2012 by the Pew Religion and Public Life Project found 37% of those polled said they were “spiritual but not religious”. It is clearly possible to keep society together without religious institutions: 72% of all marriages in England and Wales in 2013 were civil ceremonies. And yet many charities and primary schools in Britain still rely on the support of organised religion. Yesterday in The Times, Daniel Finkelstein suggested that the decline of religion could create a hole which is filled by anything from extreme nationalism to Bolshevism. Alternatively, Nick Spencer from the Christian think tank Theos has said that this hole may simply leave society “less unified and welcoming”. For young people especially, James O’Malley argues that technology could fill that void. “Isn’t Apple the real religion these days?” he wrote on the website Gizmodo. “By the time everyone’s grandparents have moved from the pews into the graves surrounding the church, the closest thing we might get to blessing the meek might be giving them a thumbs up on Facebook Messenger.” God is dead “This is great news!” cry some. There is no place for religion in modern society. Just look at all the harm that institutional faith can do. It has inspired countless wars throughout history, killing millions of people. Even today, radical groups like ISIS show us that religion can be twisted to justify unimaginable evil. It is obvious that we can live in a civil way without religion. The world is better off without it. “You’re wrong,” argue believers. Religion brings reassurance and comfort to millions of people suffering from illness and poverty. In addition, churches give people a place to make friends, and help them feel like they belong to a community. Religion was also a big motivation for some of our greatest heroes: Martin Luther KingWilliam Wilberforce and Harriet Tubman. It is a force for good. KeywordsWelfare state - A safety net put in place by the government to ensure that no-one falls into poverty.

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