No more than a cosmic accident?The National Centre for Social Research (NCSR) recently published the latest British Social Attitudes survey reporting that 53 per cent of us have no religion, and that the young are the least religious of all. As Angela Tilby says in her column in the Church Times:
As religious literacy has waned, young people have simply absorbed the anti-religious narrative of our time. ... The script that human life is no more than a cosmic accident, and that we acquire meaning only by choosing to be who and what we wish to be, is now deeply embedded in our culture.
Speaking truth to power?Leaving aside exactly what constitutes 'religion', let alone what the variety of people questioned took it to mean, there is little doubt that this is now the prevailing mood. And along with the decline of truthfulness in public discourse (our Foreign Secretary arguing with the UK's Statistics Authority as I write) there is a question over what now typically guides our thinking on matters of moral standards, such as, for example, compassion towards our neighbour, the poor, and refugees. If we do not trust our leaders in public life, from our MP to our vicar and from international experts to our own academics, where will our principles (if we have any) take us? Consumerism? Mindless destruction of our planet? My family, my community against the rest? America/Britain/me first?
People like usOn a (possibly) more light-hearted note, the popular philosopher Julian Baggini (author of A Short History of Truth) comments in an article today on the huge support for a Tweet by a disgruntled London commuter. Along with others on the Kings Cross Victoria line the commuter bemoans the loss of his painfully acquired advantage on the Underground over 'tourists and provincials' now that London Transport has painted green lines on platforms to show where the train will stop. Baggini concludes, maybe with resonance for broader aspects of our national life:
Traditional British fairness is not about treating everyone equally. It's about giving subtle, informal advantage to insiders and locals. The outraged commuters may not realise it, but they are following the ethics of both old-boys networks and "Britain first" nationalists. Both see preferential treatment for "people like us" as more just than treating any Tomasz, Dag or Ali the same.
Challenging the anti-religious narrativeBack on the subject of religion and our culture's unthinking attitude to it, Angela Tilby calls for more 'thoughtful, culturally literate' Christians to 'come out' and contribute to changing the narrative, from academics and scientists to media people and celebrities. She misses a contemporary C S Lewis. Well, in the Wychwoods we are fortunate in having a number of inspiring speakers to make us think twice: Richard Coles came to Milton's village hall as did Angela Tilby herself as well as, just a year ago, biologist Andrew Briggs and artist Roger Wagner.
On Sunday we look forward to a talk by Professor Keith Ward on religion and rationality - a task for which he is more than qualified with his background in both philosophy and theology. Angela Tilby is worth quoting again in order to set the scene which Keith Ward will no doubt tackle incisively:
In reality, the anti-religious script is less intellectually secure than it seems. It has been shown again and again that it is not really scientific: it distorts history, neglects philosophy, takes no account of religious experience, and is not obviously superior to faith in terms of rationality. While its rhetoric is strident, and even bullying, it steadfastly ignores the ultimate questions of existence.
Keith Ward is our guest at Milton under Wychwood village hall on Sunday, 24th September at 7pm. Open to all. Retiring collection.