Towards the end of last century it was thought that religion would die out. Secularisation was spreading across the developed world. ‘GOD is DEAD’ screamed some headlines.
Well, it hasn’t happened. Why not?
First, the view that secularisation would sweep the world, was based on a European perspective. It was never the same in America or in Asia, or Africa or Southern America. In those continents religion was and still is integral to everyday life. The revolution in Iran was one of the first events to challenge the view of sociologists of religion. The continuing growth of Christianity and Islam in many parts of the world was another sign.
Second, even in Europe, including Britain, religion has not disappeared, but it has changed. One way of describing the trend is to speak of ‘believing without belonging’. Census responses showed that many people still believed, even when church attendance was in steep decline.
Perhaps the most significant change has been the growth in spirituality. This is often referred to as the growth of the ‘body, mind and spirit’ industry. People express their belief in many different ways, for example in roadside tributes, echoing the great outpouring of grief after the death of Diana Princess of Wales. Whatever ‘spirit’ means, and it probably means different things to different people, it leads to a huge variety of expressions. Some believe in angels, others find crystals have healing properties, yet others benefit from ‘mindfulness’ and meditation.
It also appears to be the case that even though people do not go to worship they are glad that others do. This has been called ‘vicarious’ religion, perhaps best captured by the humorous comment ‘say one for me’. Perhaps the traditional rituals of religion no longer ‘work’ for some people. New rituals have sprung up, or old rituals have become popular again, like marking the Spring Equinox, or visiting ‘holy’ places.
There is still a trend towards fewer people in Britain believing in God. There are more ‘nons’ than ever. That is, more people who say when questioned that they are not Christian, Muslim, Jewish or anything. Even those who are active in a religious tradition may believe something quite different from the accepted teaching. This is ‘belonging without believing’. It is the relationships and the social life of the community that seem to matter more than the official statements of belief.
The Church has responded to these challenges. Services (Liturgies) have become more informal. For example I have heard that baptisms and weddings are sometimes are much more interactive and friendly towards those who are not used to ‘Church’. Those churches that are growing tend to be in the livelier Pentecostal tradition, with joyful singing and dance. In an age of uncertainty, a message of confidence is attractive.
So, do you regard yourself as religious or spiritual? And whichever it is, does your faith find expression in how you live your everyday life?