Fewer than one in seven Britons now describes himself as an Anglican.
That proportion stood at 40 per cent in 1983. Now it’s 14 per cent – and, at a mere 11 per cent, even lower among the middle-aged.
I hate to compare the salt of England’s earth to rodents – and resort to a clichéd saw – but when rats abandon a ship, it’s a fair guess that the ship is sinking.
Like any other statistics, these data must be treated with caution. In the past many people wrote ‘C of E’ in questionnaires simply out of social convention, not because they were ardent believers or, God forbid, churchgoers.
However, the very fact that the social convention no longer operates is telling in itself. Writing ‘none’ in the same rubric has evidently become not only acceptable but, well, cool – especially among young people, aged 17 to 24.
Only two per cent of them call themselves Anglicans, and the number of proud atheists among them stands at about 70 per cent.
Add to that exponents of non-Christian creeds, along with dubiously Christian sectarians, and the two traditional Western confessions can’t boast big battalions. Nor even big squads.
However, during the same period the Catholic denomination suffered a considerably smaller attrition, having gone from 10 to eight per cent. Thus, while suffering pain, Catholicism in Britain isn’t exactly suffering death throes.
Anglicanism clearly is, which must be seen as catastrophic not only by Anglicans, nor even by other Christians, but by all subjects of Her Majesty. For, as an established religion, the Church of England is an inseparable part of our constitutional dispensation.
Our monarchs and consequently their parliaments derive a great part of their legitimacy from divine, or at least ecclesiastical, ordination. In its turn, the Church of England has derived much of its appeal from being established.
However, there’s a danger inherent in this status. When the embrace between the state and the church grows too tight, the state may crush the church under its weight. Rather than being a partner to the state and the moral authority over it, the church may become its concubine, always at her master’s beck and call.
As a result, the church may sacrifice its core business to the task of following the meandering, or rather violently zigzagging, secular trends.
When that happens, the church begins to duplicate numerous secular institutions, but without the concomitant power of enforcement. A redundancy note awaits just round the corner.
That, I’m afraid, is exactly what has happened to the Church of England. It has become an extension not only of the secular state, but of its least commendable aspects.
That doesn’t mean that any Christian confession should refrain from trying to affect politics in any way. People who express this popular but erroneous view never fail to cite Jesus’s teaching that his kingdom is not of this world.
But what Christ meant was that his kingdom is higher than this world. And a higher authority must judge (within its remit) a lower one to keep it on the straight and narrow.
Actually the parenthetical phrase above is critical. In its dealings with the secular world, the church must not only bring the uninitiated to Christ but also pass moral judgement on secular affairs, including politics.
For politics, even at its most amoral, which is to say most modern, has a moral dimension in its very flouting of morality. Hence it’s the church’s business to pronounce on how the morality of politics agrees with the founding tenets of our civilisation.
However, as someone who has written several books, each trying to look at various aspects of modernity from a Judaeo-Christian perspective, I know how difficult this task is. Many disciplines have to come together for any chance of a comprehensive picture emerging.
Yet difficult tasks promise the highest rewards, and, though I’m not going to claim an unreserved success in that undertaking, I’ve learned something vital in the process:
That Judaeo-Christian perspective alone can function as a universal basis for the theory of everything, to borrow Stephen Hawking’s phrase. Nothing else can, certainly not anything Stephen Hawking conceived.
This, in addition to straightforward proselytising, is the church’s mission: to show how Christianity relates to every part of modern life. This is one service that only the church can provide, and it’s one that the Church of England is demonstrably not providing.
Rather than trying to elevate quotidian life to heaven, it tries to bring heaven down to earth. Rather than showing the way, it meekly trails in the wake of every modern fad, no matter how idiotic or perverse.
The feeble excuse favoured by church dignitaries is that religion must change, as it has always done. This is intellectual larceny, pure and simple.
Of course, unlike the other Abrahamic religions, Christian doctrine wasn’t delivered all at once. It developed over centuries by incorporating some new dogma at the expense of the old.
Yet every new change was believed to be, and explained as, something divinely inspired and therefore congruent with the Christian revelation.
Some of history’s deepest and most brilliant minds wrote thousands of exegetic treatises explaining how the proposed change fits into the general framework of Christian doctrine.
Some of history’s saintliest individuals pronounced on the issue, each time enriching one another’s understanding until a consensus was reached. They didn’t always succeed, but they always tried.
No one who knows anything at all about today’s Church of England will claim it goes through the same process.
It certainly doesn’t when, for example, creating female priesthood and episcopate, abandoning the traditional liturgical texts and language, encouraging the use in church of such anti-Christian musical genres as pop and rap, de facto endorsing every manner of sexual perversion or having its prelates mouth subversive leftist twaddle.
No wonder young people will have nothing to do with it. Even more worryingly, many middle-aged people, most of whom were raised as Anglicans, are wandering off.
Anglicanism has lost its aura of solemn mystery wherein salvation lies. By following secular fads – each morally subversive and intellectually puny – it finds itself in competition with secular institutions specialising in that sort of rubbish.
And mere dabblers don’t stand a chance against the pros: if a youngster can hear the same music at a rave as he hears at mass, why should he choose the latter? A rave is easier, it doesn’t even pretend to impose any obligations on the participant.
And if the spiritual head of Anglicanism starts preaching a ‘Christian’ economic sermon that falsifies in equal measure both economics and Christianity, what’s the point in staying in his church? That’s what we have schools, newspapers and TV for.
In conclusion, I wonder if anyone would notice any difference if Justin Welby and Jeremy Corbyn swapped jobs. Somehow I doubt it.