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It's Christmas, but for too many Christ is not present

By Alf McCreary

Published 12/12/2015

Losing meaning: the central message of Christmas is being ignored by an increasingly secular society
Losing meaning: the central message of Christmas is being ignored by an increasingly secular society

It is ironic that in the run-up to Christmas, a report published this week claims that almost half the population of the United Kingdom describes themselves as non-religious.

More than 30 years ago, some 66% would have identified themselves as Christian, but now this is down to 40%.

There are also big changes in Judaism, which some 50 years ago was the second-largest faith in the UK, but it now lags behind Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism.

These findings are contained in the report, Living With Difference, which was complied by The Commission On Religion and Belief In Public Life, and chaired by Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss.

The report confirms the major changes in religious life in the UK during the past 30 years, with the decline in the mainstream denominations, and the revelation that only one in six people now claim to be Anglican.

The report also notes the dramatic rise in the numbers of Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, and also the major increase in non-Christian faiths.

This is not surprising. There has long been an awareness of the declining numbers associating themselves with Christianity, given the opposition from secularism.

This is an alarm signal for the Christian communities in Britain and Northern Ireland but, on the other hand, the fact that around half of the people still claim a religious connection still adds up to a very large number of believers.

One could also argue that those who still attend church are more committed than previous generations who went to church partly because their parents made them do so.

The thrust of the Living With Difference report is to try to make people more aware of the importance of religion in national and international life. For some time I have been perturbed by the attitude in the UK that religion is not important, whereas it is one of the most potent elements in the modern world.

The whole objective of militant Islamists is to convert or kill all those of us who do not share their views.

The recent attacks in Paris and elsewhere, and the heightened tension in the UK concerning possible Isis attacks, provide direct evidence that religion - including the evil distortion of Islam - is very important indeed.

So what can we do about it? The Butler-Sloss report makes a number of practical suggestions that are intended to create a more-truly pluralistic society in the UK, but which may also inadvertently further marginalise Christianity that is already under fierce secular attack.

One of the report's important recommendations is to make the worship in school assemblies more inclusive, but it will not be easy to please everybody.

The report suggests that these assemblies should be "appropriate for pupils and staff of all religions and beliefs", which will be a particular challenge to schools in Northern Ireland where most morning assemblies are still run on clear traditional religious lines.

The important point, however, is that these are only recommendations.

And therefore in the long term this may be seen merely as a well-meaning report which has no teeth, and which may be neatly filed away and conveniently forgotten.

However, it is most ironic of all that the brutal onslaught of militant Islam on the religion and standards of the West comes at a time when many of these standards are already crumbling from within.

Anyone who ignores or dismisses the importance of religion will do so at his or her peril.

'A well-meaning report with no teeth that may be filed away'

Belfast Telegraph

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