British Christian publications have been wondering if we are witnessing the "extinction of Christianity in Egypt", where the Christian faithful have suffered persecution and terror attacks at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. Christian leaders also seem to be wondering if Christianity will be "extinct within a generation" in the UK, where religious people enjoy total freedom of worship and faith.
Last year, the Church of England began to formulate a religious revolution. Its canonical laws require that British churches hold their functions every Sunday. The dramatic crisis of Christianity in the UK, however, is pushing the Anglican church to rewrite those rules, in order not to officiate in empty and abandoned churches.
A quarter of the British rural parishes now have fewer than 10 regular members of the faithful on Sunday. There are no more children in 25% of the Church of England's congregations, as new figures have just shown. On average, nine children attended each church service across all Anglican churches in 2016. Generally speaking, churchgoers have dwindled in the UK by 34,000 in just one year.
"Should we care that Britain's lost its religion?", Daniel Finkelstein asked in The Times. Yes. He suggests that nationalism might take its place, but what if, instead, its place is taken by another religion? There is no need to be observant to understand the importance of a country's cultural affiliation. If there were no mass immigration from countries with values antithetical to Western ones, the demise of Christianity would not be as potentially calamitous; society might simply become one of atheists and secularists. Europe now, however, is experiencing a terminal decline for two reasons that are linked: mass unvetted immigration coupled with a shrinking confidence in its own legitimacy and beliefs. There seems to be shame over Western colonialism, yet no thought at all seems to be given to who are the real colonists: The Crusades were a reaction to a Muslim colonization of the Christian Byzantine Empire, North Africa, the Middle East, much of Eastern Europe, Northern Cyprus and Spain.
In Europe, the UK is now leading the same process. Britain is living through "the biggest religious transition since the Reformation of the 16th Century", according to Linda Woodhead, professor of the sociology of religion at Lancaster University. In 2000, Anglicans were 30% of the population. Half of them have disappeared in just seventeen years. The number of those who belong to the Church of England fell below 15%, including just 3% of English young people ages 18-24. Writing in the Spectator, Damian Thompson wondered if "the Church of England is dying". Churchgoing dropped by 50% also in Scotland. Another report revealed that more than half the British population has no religion at all.
According to internal documents from the Church of England, Christianity is dying in Britain at such a pace that in the next three decades, Anglican congregations will halve again. Christians in the UK are on course to be in the minority by the middle of the century.
What defines Europe are its boundaries – not physical but cultural. Without its culture, Europe could not be distinguished from the rest of the world. And the pillar of this culture is based on the Judeo-Christian heritage and values. The journalist Melanie Phillips stated that the Church of England, by embracing trendy ideological extravagances such as gender ideology, is now culturally "sowing the seeds of its destruction." The goal of all this "inclusivity," according to Phillips, is actually to "overthrow the Christian basis of the West".
Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has said that "political correctness" is bullying and undermining Christianity in the UK. "I cannot imagine any politician expressing concern that Britain should remain a Christian country; that reticence is a scandal and a disgrace to our history."
According to a new poll, a total of 41% of British millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, said that the UK has "no specific religious identity". As the progressive publication Prospect asked, "if we are no longer a Christian country, what are we?". Former archbishops of Canterbury have warned that the UK will be soon unrecognizable. Rowan Williams has said that the UK is already "post-Christian".
The existential crisis of the Church of England does not involve only the third Christian congregation in the world, represented by Anglicans. The crisis is also going to tear apart a source of the British landscape, politics and culture. Recently, The Spectator featured "The end of British Christianity" on its cover, where one elderly lady is seen as the only faithful in a cathedral. "It's often said," the magazine continued, "that Britain's church congregations are shrinking, but that doesn't come close to expressing the scale of the disaster now facing Christianity in this country. If that rate of decline continues, the mission of St Augustine to the English, together with that of the Irish saints to the Scots, will come to an end in 2067".
The level of atrophy in the Church of England is so extensive that Anglicanism is expected to collapse "for the next thirty years". There are also rumors that "half of England's Anglican cathedrals could close".
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor said recently that in the UK, Christianity has been "nearly defeated". If the Church of England disappears, there will be a totally different UK. The British historian Niall Ferguson has called it "the creeping Islamization of a decadent Christendom".
Lichfield Cathedral, in Staffordshire, England. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons/David Iliff. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0)
Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.