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Britons leave priests with sagging spirits

world Updated: Jun 08, 2010 01:02 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar
Dipankar De Sarkar
Hindustan Times
Canon Mark Hocknull

The spirit, it seems, is distinctly unwilling on the island these days.

Church attendance has been falling for quite a number of years, and priests are all very upset. Matters reached to a head recently when Canon Mark Hocknull, the Chancellor of Lincoln Cathedral, hit out at woolly spiritual types, insisting the rituals of worship were the real thing. The way to salvation, apparently, lies through the local church where all must turn up every Sunday.

“Any member of a church community will have heard it hundreds of times: ‘I’m spiritual but not religious,” or ‘You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian’,” said Hocknull.

“A Google search yields 1,360,000 results for that sentence. The statement is revealing, not just for its implied disdain for the life of religious communities, but also for its reduction of ‘spirituality’ to a personality trait.”

Hocknull’s cathedral was consecrated way back in 1092, but the fact of the matter is that such grand religious buildings are becoming no more than tourist attractions.

An academic report last year showed that only half of Britons now consider themselves Christians, although in the last nationwide census, taken in 2001, nearly 72 per cent described themselves as followers of the faith.

Even more alarmingly for the Church, the report published by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and based on the 2008 British Social Attitudes survey, shows that the proportion of Britons who say they have “no religion” has increased from 31 per cent to 43 per cent in 1983. There had been “sharp decline in religious faith in Britain,” said NatCen.

Why so? Opinion is divided: Priests tend to blame everything from capitalism to consumerism, television, breakdown of the family (hence society) and the growth of eastern spiritual traditions.

It was suggested recently that it is in fact football that is the new religion of Britain — just like cricket in India. Some have been quick to tap into the allure of sport. A church in the city of Guildford has decided to use its high definition screens to show all the England matches during the coming World Cup in South Africa.

The tournament kicks off on June 11, and England have their first match against the US the next day. It’s a Saturday but it remains to be seen if the nave of Lincoln Cathedral the next day, when Germany play Australia, Algeria take on Slovenia and the Serbs face Ghana.