Media blitz follows survey saying Brits have 'no religion,' but enlightenment remains elusive

Cue the R.E.M. video again.

This time for the United Kingdom, where a survey reveals a stunning number of folks who say they embrace no faith at all. Yep, the nation where Queen Elizabeth is, officially, "By the Grace of God, Queen, and Defender of the Faith," is ... losing its religion.

Of course, there's more to it than the headlines, and more than many reporters and editors seem to have grasped. By reporting the news on the surface data alone, the media are missing key questions, let alone reporting any answers.

Let's begin with that most venerable of British journalistic institutions, the BBC, which reports:

For the first time, more than half of people in the UK do not identify as religious, a survey suggests.
Last year 53% of people described themselves as having "no religion", in a survey of 2,942 adults by the National Centre for Social Research.
Among those aged between 18 and 25, the proportion was higher at 71%.
The Bishop of Liverpool said God and the Church "remains relevant" and that saying "no religion was not the same as considered atheism".

There's a lot to consider here, but one of the key elements missing is any consideration of why this has happened and what it might mean, other than calls for defunding of the state-sanctioned Church of England and of religious schools by the government.

As you read, look for signs that some forms of religions are growing and others are in decline.

But the charity, Humanists UK, said the figures raise fresh questions about the place of churches in the running of state schools and their other state-funded privileges.
The charity's chief executive, Andrew Copson, said: "More generally, how can the Church of England remain in any meaningful sense the national legally established church, when it caters for such a small portion of the population?"

What we get from the church side is not a consideration of the whys and wherefores, but a plea that they're still, you know, important:

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev Paul Bayes, said the figures bring a "continuing challenge to the churches" in "a sceptical and plural world".
But he said people's hearts and minds remained "open".
"Saying 'no religion' is not the same as a considered atheism. People see the point of faith when they see the difference faith makes," he said.

Clearly, the BBC "gets" the notion that religion is important enough that this shift merits coverage. But one hungers for a bit more depth. For that, however, we have to turn to an unlikely source: David Finkelstein, an opinion columnist for The Times of London and a veteran politico who is also Baron Finkelstein of Pinner, a member of the House of Lords. Oh, and he's also a columnist for London's Jewish Chronicle newspaper.

Writing in The Times, Finkelstein notes

It is at least possible that the decline of religion will leave a hole that will be filled by something worse, rather than something better. Extreme nationalism, for instance, might provide an alternative sense of belonging for many. It has been persuasively argued that fascism emerged as an alternative religion. And Bolshevism certainly had similarities. ...
I am not arguing that charity, community and fellow feeling are impossible without religion; only that we are living through a time of great change and should appreciate that we are. And that this change represents a very serious challenge. Britain was a Christian country. And now it isn’t. That’s not something we can just overlook.

The diminution of faith within the U.K. is "a very serious challenge," the columnist declares.

Why wasn't this reflected in news coverage? Why isn't anyone asking about this, other than a Times columnist? Oh, and again, are some forms of faith growing while others decline? Islam? Catholicism? Are all parts of the Church of England in freefall?

Perhaps the best person to address the significance of this change is the atheist-turned-Christian Peter Hitchens, brother of the late hyper-atheist Christopher.

Peter's 1999 book, The Abolition of Britain, is a bracing, almost prophetic look at what's happened to a Britain where religious enlightenment led to the abolition of slavery, prison reform and better conditions for workers. Perhaps Peter will address the topic in his Mail on Sunday column.

It's just a pity that the BBC's reporter didn't ask the questions first.

Initial image: West facade of St. Paul's Cathedral, London, by Andreas Praefcke via Wikimedia Commons.

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