Day By Day

Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Dechristianization of Britain

Niall Ferguson, who used to be a serious scholar, worries about the dechristianization of European culture and its implications for the future. He writes:
There was a time when Europe would justly refer to itself as "Christendom". Europeans built the continent's loveliest edifices to accommodate their acts of worship. They quarrelled bitterly over the distinction between transubstantiation and consubstantiation. As pilgrims, missionaries and conquistadors, they sailed to the four corners of the earth, intent on converting the heathen to the true faith. Now it is we who are the heathens.
He notes that dechristianization is a recent phenomenon, dating it to the 1960's, and then raises an intriguing question.
Why have the British lost their historic faith? Like so many difficult questions, this seems at first sight to have an easy answer. But before you blame it on "The Sixties" - the Beatles, the Pill and the mini-skirt - remember that the United States had all these earthly delights too, without ceasing to be a Christian country. To be frank, I have no idea what the answer is. But I do know that it matters.
Why does it matter?
[I]t is not the spread of... mumbo-jumbo that concerns me half so much as the moral vacuum our dechristianisation has created. I do not deny that sermons are sometimes dull and that British congregations often sing out of tune. But, if nothing else, a weekly dose of Christian doctrine will help to provide an ethical framework for your life. And I certainly do not know where else you are going to get one.
This absence of a common ethical framework, overwhelmingly recognized as valid by members of the culture, has, he argues, rendered Britain (and by extension the rest of Europe) a "soft target" not only for bizarre superstition, but also for foreign fanaticism.

I'm glad to see that a sophisticated secularist like Ferguson is finally beginning to worry about such things. I have no better answers than does he, but at least the search has begun.

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