Savagery of militant Islam casts a shadow over world
Every year brings significant developments in religious life, and the past 12 months have been no exception.
On the global scale there has been an intensifying of the religious war being waged on the West by militant Islam, with unprecedented and chilling savagery.
The atrocities range from the filmed beheading of captives to the bestial treatment of captured women and children who are treated like pieces of livestock of no worth other than gratifying the lusts of their captors and also making money from improvised "slave" markets.
The most sinister aspect of this war is that it is not just confined to the Middle East where the Christian religion is in danger of being exterminated.
There are also great dangers from militant Islam in our midst, and although the recent murders in Ottawa and Sydney were the work of deranged loners, the threat from Islamic extremists is real everywhere.
Much of the blame is due to their warped interpretations of Islam, and people must be careful to dissociate the militants from the majority of law-abiding Muslims.
No doubt the governments and security forces in the West are fully aware of the danger and are doing their best to deal with it.
However, I wonder if ordinary people know what is at stake on a global scale. Too many in the West have rejected Christianity and are hostile or merely sceptical about religion as such.
It is ironic that such indifference is so widespread in a period of history where this global religious onslaught on the West will determine the future for our children and grandchildren.
Nearer home there have been important Church developments, and not least in the decision by the Church of England to ordain women bishops. The first to be ordained is the Rev Libby Lane, who will be consecrated as the Bishop of Stockport next month, and no doubt other women will become Bishops at regular intervals.
However the Church of England, like the majority of the main churches, has not yet produced a workable solution to the challenge of same-sex marriage, principally because Christians believe that the term "marriage" should apply only to the union between a man and a woman.
It surprises me that the gay community has not yet produced a term which would more accurately describe the relationship between people of the same sex who significantly share virtually full legal rights in their civic partnerships. Whatever happens, a solution with the support of everyone is not likely to emerge in the near future.
In Ireland, the Roman Catholic Church continues to face the challenges of the clerical paedophile scandals, and the new Archbishop of Armagh Dr Eamon Martin, who succeeded the retiring Primate Cardinal Sean Brady, has much to contend with.
So, too, has the Pope, who has given his cardinals and Vatican bureaucracy a right old rollicking in his Christmas message.
At the other end of the theological scale, the death occurred this year of the Rev Dr Ian Paisley, who dominated the religious and political landscape here, for better or worse.
People still have strong views either way, and history may judge him more dispassionately. Nevertheless, his decision to share power with his former political enemies still remains arguably the most important political development here in recent times.
Next year will bring its own challenges, and while Church affairs can be frustrating, frightening, exasperating and sometimes inexplicable, they are never, ever boring.
Happy New Year!