Christianity: Just Another Foreign Religion

Christianity is in decline. According to the recent census, more than 4 million fewer people said they followed the religion than in 2001. Furthermore, 14.1 million people, roughly a quarter of the entire population, now claim no religion at all. If trends continue, the number of non-believers will overtake Christians by 2030.

Peter Hitchens: Concerned about the decline of Christianity

The decline of Christianity is not only visible in Britain; it is being witnessed in all OECD states. In the US, one-fifth of the population  – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today.

These statistics have got a lot of people riled – not least in the established Church. Yet, it should be remembered that Christianity is as foreign as Islam or Hinduism. The earliest confirmed evidence of Christianity in Britain is found in a statement by Tertullian, from around 200 AD. He spoke of the ‘haunts of the Britons, inaccessible to the Romans, but subjugated to Christ’.

There is a correlation between economic development and the decline in religious fervour. Though the western world has seen a fall in religious affiliation, religion in the developing world is flourishing. Between 1970 and 2009, the Muslim population increased threefold to 1.57 billion. The majority of Muslims live in Asia and Africa.

But this growth is not confined to Islam. In Africa, there has been terrific growth in Christianity. Only nine million Christians were in Africa in 1900, but by 2000, the number was estimated at 380 million.

Muslim women in Whitechapel

When looking at religion in Britain, one gaping anomaly is the increasing popularity of Islam. There are 2.7 million Muslims in Britain, up from 1.55 million in 2001. Of course, the major cause of this increase is immigration, not British people discovering Mohammed. There is, however, evidence that the Muslim population is becoming more zealous. A recent poll found that 4 out 10 British Muslims want Sharia law introduced into parts of the UK. Crucially, the percentage is closer to 50% for Muslims under 24.

This religiosity can be explained by the way the British Muslim population has been isolated and attacked in the mainstream press. Segregation has made Muslims more insular, and it is hardly surprising that younger Muslims are developing a ‘battlefield’ mentality.

Charles Bradlaugh: Early advocate of a secular Britain

But fifty years from now, Islam will be heading the same way as Christianity. No religion is immune from the creeping impact of science, technology and common sense. It is surely not long before the same crisis of confidence sweeps the Muslim world. And with most of the world’s conflicts waged in the name of religion, should we not be relishing this secularisation? This was, in large part, why Charles Bradlaugh established the National Secular Society in 1866.

Foreign religions – for that is what all major religions in Britain are – will come and go. All are plagued by the same inevitable demise. Knowledge is the ability to read, comprehend and follow the teachings of a given religion. Wisdom is the ability to live without religion, whilst at the same time adhering to the fundamental principles of good citizenry. There will come a time when we no longer need the ‘manual’, whether that be the Quran, Bible or the Gita.

At this juncture, it is appropriate to ask: what, if anything, could replace religion? The answer is that faith may well remain relevant. Also, the basic principles espoused by the World’s major religions (and by Confucius before them) will be important. However, the archaic traditions, dogma and doctrines of religious life have no place in mankind’s future. These have always created a barrier between people and their God(s), and serve only to benefit the coffers of ‘holy’ institutions. As of 2005, the Church of England had financial stocks and bonds valued at £3.9 billion, with an annual income of roughly £900 million.

So much for these imported religions, but what of Britain’s own religion? I am referring, of course, to Pre-Roman Paganism (nothing to do with those cider-swilling hippies who flock to Stonehenge).

An increasing number of Britons are rediscovering Paganism

Paganism is a flexible religion free from dogma and outdated traditions. One is free to worship Gaia – literally ‘the earth’ – in the way which best suits him or her. It is about the personal connection between man and his God(s), there are no clergymen or choristers. Even Winston Churchill – a member of the Albion Lodge of the Ancient Order of Druids – dabbled in Paganism.

Many Pagan symbols are visible today. The Christmas tree, wedding ring and fish symbol – all considered integral aspects of Christian symbolism – have Pagan origins.

For those concerned by global warming and resource exploitation, a religion which actively worships the planet is appealing. And at least our world is tangible, unlike that bearded fellow in the sky.

13 COMMENTS

  1. “You are wholly wrong when you say other religions only arrived in the second half of the 20th Century (I found that rather hilarious, frankly)”

    Can you not read English? I did not say that, but rather that their presence was not significant. Do you doubt this? Do you think that the census of 1841 will show substantial numbers of Hindus or Muslims? There would have been some, no doubt, but not significant numbers. If you can contradict this with evidence, please do. I like to learn.

    ” It is therefore correct that all are foreign to these lands.”

    It’s correct, but is it meaningful? As I’ve pointed out, by the same measure the English are certainly foreign to ‘these lands’, and some time prior to that the Ancient Britons strolled over from the Continent. The notion that people living here now should return to a cod version of paganism, for which the greatest authority is probably Asterix, on the spurious grounds that, unlike any other system of belief, it’s not foreign, is ridiculous.

    “it is clearly your right to view Christian symbols as not really being Christian, but I would remind you that this in only your opinion.”

    Again, you misrepresent what I said. I did not dispute that the fish is a Christian symbol, I disputed that it had a pagan origin, which it didn’t, it comes from the Greek language. And what I said about the wedding ring, and the same applies to Christmas trees, is that I don’t see them as *important* Christian symbols. And this is correct, for one important reason if no other, because its origin is not Christian, as has been noted. You might as well claim chocolate money or the tangerine I always got in my Christmas stocking is an important Christian symbol.

    As for you last line: ” It is time to shine a light on outdated beliefs and expose them for what they are.” Yeah, okay, good luck with that.

  2. It’s not clear what your argument is, I’m afraid. As I stated before, Christianity did not begin in the British Isles. Nor did Hinduism or Islam. It is therefore correct that all are foreign to these lands. You are wholly wrong when you say other religions only arrived in the second half of the 20th Century (I found that rather hilarious, frankly). I would ask you to do some research in the area before you spew nonsense. Also, it is clearly your right to view Christian symbols as not really being Christian, but I would remind you that this in only your opinion. It is time to shine a light on outdated beliefs and expose them for what they are.

  3. @ Steve,

    I made a couple of simple points, I’m not quite sure how you managed to not grasp them.

    Calling Christianity a foreign religion when it’s been here since, according to the post itself, at least 200 AD, is foolish to say the least, but if you must have it so, then the English are foreign too, and the Celtic tribes before them, with whatever religious beliefs they had before the Romans – i.e. druidism or paganism, are also foreign – and, I might add, so is atheism! However, the post calls Christianity ‘just another foreign religion’, as if there is no difference between the influence of Christianity and that of other religions which were hardly here at all until the second half of the 20th Century, which is absurd, as even the most cursory knowledge of history will make clear.

    Secondly, I did not deny that the fish was an important Christian symbol, I merely refuted that it had a pagan origin. It doesn’t, it comes from the Greek for ‘fish’, which is an acrostic:

    “A famous acrostic was made in Greek for the acclamation JESUS CHRIST, GOD, SON, SAVIOUR (Greek: Ιησούς Χριστός, Θεού Υιός, Σωτήρ; Iesous CHristos, THeou Yios, Soter — ch and th being each one letter in Greek). The initials spell ICHTHYS (ΙΧΘΥΣ), Greek for fish.”

    As for a wedding ring, I do maintain it is not an important Christian symbol. I obviously don’t dispute that it has long been used as a symbol for marriage in Christian culture, but I don’t think it can be described as an important Christian symbol.

    As for your assumption, feel free to assume what you like.

  4. In response to Richard Carey – ‘Christianity has been in this country since before the English arrived’ so what? The author is talking about pre-Roman Britain, not the Kingdom of England (900-1707). Bringing in the Kingdom of England is like bringing in the Kingdom of Aragon in a debate about Christianity in Spain! Something does not cease to be foreign simply because it ‘got their first’. If you bought your baby a toy that is ‘made in China’ before the baby is born, that toy does not cease to be foreign once the baby has arrived! So runs the strange logic of your argument. Also, your denial that the wedding ring and fish are important Christian symbols is rather bizarre. One can only assume that you observe some unusual form of the religion.

  5. ‘Paganism is a flexible religion free from dogma and outdated traditions. One is free to worship Gaia – literally ‘the earth’ – in the way which best suits him or her. It is about the personal connection between man and his God(s), there are no clergymen or choristers’.

    Paganism is the libertarian’s religion i s’pose, i.e. you do what ya bloody well want (as they say in Yorkshire).

  6. What nonsense. Christianity has been in this country since before the English arrived, and if it’s still to be considered foreign, then the same must apply to druidism.

    ” The Christmas tree, wedding ring and fish symbol – all considered integral aspects of Christian symbolism – have Pagan origins.”

    The Christmas tree is not considered an integral aspect of Christian symbolism and neither is the wedding ring. As for the fish, it comes from a Greek acrostic.

    I could go on, but it seems unlikely to lead anywhere.

  7. Looking forward to the secular age. Can’t come soon enough as far as I’m concerned. I agree that all the flouncy traditions of the Church are pointless, and inevitably put people off going, not to mention all this stuff about opposing women bishops. The Church do themselves no favours. We just need to keep the good bits and get rid of all the baggage – which I think is what the author’s driving at. The thing that makes me laugh is how wars are apparently about religion, yet the Muslim and Christian God are the same guy!!!

  8. Hey, if it’s the human sacrifice bit that you’re not sure about, we have lots of bankers and politicians to use……

  9. The sooner we ditch all these middle eastern religions and get back to worshiping trees, the better we will be.
    Respect for the environment an for each other!

  10. I really enjoyed that article, and also happen to agree with the vast bulk of it. My only knit-pick is your bit about Paganism. What the ancient Brits believed and did is very different from the neo-Paganism of today. It’s very diverse and varies greatly, but in general today’s Paganism comes out of a specific context of anti-church rebellion, a lot of “personal guesswork” with a mix of pacifist values (you won’t see the ancient tradition of animal or human sacrifice among many modern Pagans). In general, kudos sir.

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