Has our country lost its spiritual heart?
By James Knight
There is a myth being spread – a lot of people are telling us that secularism and atheism are here to rescue the UK from the bad religious habits of old.
When one thinks about Christianity, the charges brought against it are often theodician charges, centred around suffering and feelings of an absence of God's love. Contrast the two halves of the 20th century - the first half arguably gave us greater grounds for turning away from Christianity - most notably we had two World Wars that ripped the stomach out of Britain and left us without a great many brave men and women. It would have been quite understandable for people to feel that these events are inconsistent with an all-loving, all-powerful God. Yet to the largest degree faith not only survived, but people went on to prosper; we had community spirit, loving one's neighbour, togetherness, and solidarity - all of these contributed to a strong family unit and a Christian-modelled impetus in post-war recovery. There weren’t widespread drug addictions and yob-mentality gang cultures and greedy financial executives and controlling media moguls in the first half of the 20th century – not in the same way that there have been in recent times. Have you ever wondered why?
The Sixties cultural and social revolution and its impact in the second half of the 20th century has resulted in the biggest diminution of Christian belief in modern history (maybe even in the entire human history). Radical changes in culture are what catalyse mass shifts in belief - and I note with considerable interest that the effects of the cultural revolution of the Sixties did (and continues to do) more harm to Christian belief than anything else in 20th century Britain.
Not only was the whole Christian framework inverted, there was a mass assault on most of the very things that bring about a good moral framework, self-worth, family stability, and positive mobility (as we've seen above). What this shows, I think, is that the pendulum-type swings in faith are most greatly catalysed by people's attitudes to other people, to money and material things, to ambition, to moral goodness, to work, and to their own contributions to the well being of others. Whatever our issues with the past (and we are right to be slightly hostile to it), there were institutions that anchored society in a moral framework - church, education, and leadership – and these have been dealt a severe blow by the current counter culture of modernity and post-modernity.
I’ll never forget the reaction to Britain from my Nigerian friend Dominic – a man of the Lord who wouldn’t bring his family to this Island because he sensed it had lost its spiritual heart. In fact, it is the correspondence I have with some of my Christian friends in the so-called poorer parts of the world that makes it clear to me how the whole idea of ‘secular progression’ in the UK is largely a myth. I would like to share with you my most recent letter from Witchaboon – he is the young boy I sponsor through Compassion UK. What to a British man is a small amount of money each month is to a young Christian boy in Thailand an opportunity to have food, a home and an education. In this moving letter (at least, I find it moving), he says:
Hello sir, thank you so much for always supporting me. Thank you for your letter. How are you? My school has started. On my school vacation I attended the camp that the project arranged for children. The camp title was “Who is Jesus Christ?” I was happy and had fun attending the camp. I learned a lot about Jesus Christ. I sang worship songs and did activities with my friends. On April 13-15 it was the Songkran Festival. My grandmother took me to join the festival. I had a chance to pay respect to elders and I splashed water to other people with my friends. I was happy and fun. Please kindly pray for my study and my health. May God bless you with the happiness in living your life forever.
Love in Christ
Witchaboon lives in a place in which material prosperity is scarcer that in the UK. But from reading his letters I get the impression that what God is doing in his life is something that many young people in this country wouldn’t make room for God to do. I say ‘make room’ because I think the second half of the 20th century has brought us significant changes in our thinking that make it harder to focus on God in the way that Witchaboon clearly can. It just fills my heart with joy when he says “I was happy and had fun attending the camp. I learned a lot about Jesus Christ” – because he appears to be enthusiastically expressing a joy, a freedom and an unfettered ability to enjoy the light of Christ’s love.
I have shared that as an introductory piece. Over the next few messages I want to write more on social commentaries in the UK, and also expose the perpetuated myth that Britain is enjoying a secular progression that has lifted us of the religious doldrums.
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James is a Christian writer and local government officer based in Norwich.