On Thursday 27TH November 2014, Members of the Lords debated the role of religion and belief in British public life. The debate included two bishops, the honorary president of the Muslim Women’s Network, a council member of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, the vice-president of the National Churches Trust and a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State.
This debate was secured and introduced by Lord Harries of Pentregarth, who began by enumerating statistics on religion in the UK. According to the 2011 Census, 59% of Britons still consider themselves Christians. While this is down on the previous census, it is still the majority of our population. Four point eight said they were Muslim (up from the previous year). Several religious groups showed an increase in membership.
Post war immigration has brought us large communities of Caribbean origin and with them, thousands of black led churches, particularly in London. Between 2005 and 2012, 700 new Pentacostal churches started up in London. Immigration from eastern Europe has boosted the Catholic population.
The religious landscape has changed beyond recognition since 1945. Lord Harries suggested that religion is now livelier and more visible than it was in the past. It is more outgoing and vocal, not just concerned with “inner thought and belief”.
Lord Harries quoted the Chief Rabbi, who has stated that religion is now “a powerful shaper of civil society, a much needed source of altruism, in a culture which seems otherwise to celebrate the self”. He called religion “a major player on the public stage” and called on the government to think clearly and consistently about its approach to this subject.
Lord Harries’s sentiments were echoed by Lord Alderdice (Lib Dem) who pointed out that at the time of the enlightenment and shortly after, intellectuals thought that future educated generations would reject religion, all violence would cease and people would live in peace together. This is clearly not the case. Religion has not disappeared off the world map and neither has aggression and discord (whether related to religion or something else).
Lord Alderdice commented that religion would seem to be “an essential component of the human condition”, as evidenced by the fact that in countries where religion was once banned, belief and religious practice have undergone an enormous resurgence. Russia ia an example of this and so is China, a country that now prints more bibles than the United States.
(We will present more analysis of the debate in future posts).