Rafed English

Religion’s Fluctuating Status throughout the Last Centuries

The traditional secularization thesis predicted that modernization would inevitably and irreversibly lead to secularization, while the latter should lead to the limitation of religiosity to the worship sites. Many social scholars and materialist philosophers, like Karl Marx, postulated that key aspects of modernity, such as industrialization, urbanization, and scientific rationalism, would result in the ultimate erosion of religion in society. Church domination of virtually every aspect of life gave way to structural differentiation in which functions previously performed by the church, such as healthcare and education, became increasingly specialized and carried out by independent bodies or organizations. As the church lost its pervasive social influence, religion became a matter of private personal choice rather than social obligation. This has reinforced the stereotypic theories claiming that religion should appropriately remain solely a private matter between an individual and his creator.

It is hardly accurate to claim that religiosity has been blanched or limited, as it is difficult to give a precise numerical value on church attendance, mosque prayers in particular, or the actual presence of religious belief in general. Nonetheless, certain facts are verifiable; at the end of the nineteenth century, a period when some currents of thought- most notably Darwinism- seemed to many to pose a real threat to the Christian tradition. It posed a serious threat to the classical way of understanding the story of creation.

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) was moved to declare in 1882: ‘Whereas the basis of things amidst all chance and change has in Europe generally been for ever so long supernatural Christianity, and far more so in England than in Europe generally, this basis is certainly going.’ The years 1914-1945 seem a period of marked decline for organised religion and perhaps the trauma of the Great War was one factor behind this loss of faith. While wars’ catastrophes should have rendered people back on track to being humble servants of their Lord, the statistics tell their own distorted story. In 1920, perhaps about 23% of the adult population were active members of the protestant churches of Great Britain; a figure which had dropped to roughly 18%by 1945. In the major provincial town of York, regular church attendance fell from 35.5% in 1901 to 17.7% in 1935 and to 13% in 1948. The number of civil marriages in England and Wales rose from 16% in 1901 to 31% in 1952.
Sunday school enrolment in the same home countries fell from 51% of population aged 15 in 1911, to 46% in 1931, and to 20%in 1961.

J. Martain states: ‘Sometime during the 1920s’ we are told of organised religion in industrial Yorkshire, ‘the local religious classes lost heart.’ They ceased to believe in their mission to evangelise the nation... It no longer seemed possible. And it had become a burden.’

At a variety of official levels, Christianity still seemed well established but, as an official Church of England report acknowledged at the end of the war, realities belied appearances: The coronation ceremony, the regular prayerful openings of the sittings of Parliament, the Mayor’s Chaplain, the provision for religion in the services and in all state institutions, the religious articles in popular periodicals, the Religious Department of the British Broadcasting Corporation, and many similar phenomena, go to show that the ethos of the state remains Christian... the Established Church is still entwined by countless subtle threads around the life of the realm and the nation’... But behind the facade the situation presents a more ominous appearance. The decline seems to have accelerated after 1960. The statistics are unequivocal. By 1974 only 53.5% of marriages in England and Wales were performed in a place of worship, a figure that had declaimed to 45.1% by 1995, and by 1989 ‘only 14%of the under –15s attended churches or Sunday schools’.

As regards religious observance, it is estimated that in England in 1967 only about 15% of population attended religious service on Sunday and only 25% went to church at least once a month.
By 1975 only 11.3% of the adult English population were committed churchgoers and by 1989 only 9.5%. Recent decades have seen an especial collapse. Trinitarian Churches fell in active membership from 9.1 million adults in 1970 to 6.4 million in 1995. In England, in 1979, 5.4 million people attended Sunday Church; by 2005 that figure was down to 3.2million and the largest percentage decrease was amongst the young.

A Church of England account of the 1989 census on church attendance concluded its analysis in the following melancholy fashion: Can we consider England as ‘Christian’? With only two thirds of the population claiming some allegiance to the church, however faint, 14% active members, and 10% regularly attending the claim to call England Christian looks thin. The UK community figure is much lower than the figures of other Western European countries. However one interprets such figures it seems reasonable to suppose that they indicate a fading of Christian religiosity. They correlate with that they indicate a fading of Christian religiosity. They correlate with the fact that there is now a broad area of non-belief within British society.

All of the abovementioned reflect clearly and without doubt that there is a tendency towards rejecting Christianity. A phenomenon that has been called by some contemporary authors as ‘DeChrisitianisation’ is ongoing, whether one likes it, or is not willing to accept it.

Can we conclude that all the members of British society are currently against any form of religiosity? One can hardly reach this conclusion based solely on the above statistics, as those mentioned aspects of the Christian practice may only prove that it is no longer in favour of the Christian faith and its dogmas. It is beyond doubt that all the indicators available suggest that British society has become heavily discouraged about Christianity over the last hundred years when we survey that such factors as levels of church attendance, people’s connections with organised Christianity, the importance of Christianity in politics, and a whole range of contemporary comment, has been diminished.

But can one come to a wider and more all-inclusive conclusion that all forms of faiths and religiosity are rejected? It is the author’s firm belief that religiosity in individuals, as in societies, is hard to monitor. It is difficult to probe the presence of religious beliefs, the intensity with which they are held, the way in which they are put into practice, or the impact that they have on the lives of individuals or cultures.

Recalling the saying of an Iranian ethical scholar, Ayatollah Mazaheri, who always taught his students that: ‘You should refrain from being negative, as sometimes people are too negatively oriented ‘manfeebaaf’.’ One should become inspired, e.g. as to how to establish rightly-guided mass media! Being negatively-oriented, ‘Manfeebaafi’, means that one is always approaching the world wearing gloomy glasses. One is negatively built, that’s when one is always critical, approaches things from an evil angle and is never satisfied. This negative approach is disastrous as it causes others to avoid associating with such a person, or drives them away. Mass media – if it were to adopt such a negative policy - is capable of corrupting the whole world, and all individuals around them leading them to overwhelming destruction.

A narration has been reported by some Islamic references quoting the story that: In Tanbih al-khawatir the prophet Jesus (as) was passing the corpse of a dog, with his disciples, when the disciples exclaimed: What an awful stench this dog has!’ to which the prophet Jesus (as) retorted: How white are his teeth!’

Based on the abovementioned narration and the ethical lesson, one can only accept that there might be many individuals who have become apathetic to the Christian faith, and/or are unsatisfied with its dogmas, but this may also mean that mankind is now more inclined towards a religion that is more practical and commonsensical, more easily acceptable and more viable in being followed.

Imam Ali (as) taught us: ‘A real scholar is one who does not make people lose hope in the mercy of Allah, or cause them to have despair from the mercy of Allah, or make them feel safe from the Allah’s resourcefulness.

Based on these guidelines one is inclined to arrive at the abovementioned conclusion, albeit to be equally precautious to warn the majority of population that miserable life conditions are to be expected, if one remains rebellious towards his Lord. However the author is convinced that there are felt evidence that we are through a transitional phase, which is to be elaborated in the next paragraphs.

A- Transitional Phase:

Though the secularization thesis predicted the ultimate demise of religion in the modern world, religion is clearly thriving globally today even in secular Europe. It is the author’s claimed postulate that we are encountering the invisible reflections of perhaps the greatest social transformation of our times. Christianity is about to fade out of British culture. In recent decades, under the influence of secularism, the nations of Europe have moved away from unitary forms of religious expression toward greater pluralism or rather: We witness the phenomenon of the transitional phase from vague atheism towards invisible uniting Divine-humanism. It is an inevitable process that shall never be diverted into recourse nor distorted towards a reversion of atheism.

The Secularists’ Bid

Since the end of the Second World War, the secular declared approach to religion in the public realm has aimed to accommodate tolerance and peaceful coexistence within an existing or desired pluralist society through creating a public sphere devoid of any visible religious presence or even removing religion from public discourse. However, many insist that secularism was continuously leaning towards fundamentalism, i.e. that secularists, despite claiming neutrality and tolerance, were imposing their own values on others and threatening the very pluralism and diversity they claimed to encourage. This has been manifested in the many recent claims of German and British politicians that pluralism has failed. Thus, pluralist societies are confronted with the question of whether secularism was protecting it or whether it was constantly hindering religious freedom and dismissing what religion’s proper role could or should be in the public dialogue.

Amongst the various secular regimes of many European countries, Great Britain is the home to secular and religious forces competing for influence and authority both within and abroad. Both secularist and religious camps claim to champion toleration and liberty accusing the other side of endangering pluralism and freedom. Therefore, we feel the need for a profound understanding of religion in general and Islam in particular. In the following, we shall elaborate on the characteristics of society based on monotheism, more precisely Islam, its relationship and potential interaction with each society’s cultures and the role of media in creating an ideal just society or manipulating to produce an evil one.

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