Yesterday here on the blog we took a look at Muslims in the United Kingdom and, based on a new book, what Muslims and others in the U.S. and elsewhere might learn from them.
Today we return to Britain to think about this opinion piece in The Guardian, which wonders what a world in which institutional religion plays a smaller and smaller role eventually will look like:
"What will it mean to have a predominantly godless country?" the editorial asks. "The great difficulty with answering this question is that theology and morality are only tenuously related. Habits of kindness, decency and tolerance come from practice rather than belief. Religions are justly feared because they often don’t practice the more loving parts of what they preach. But atheism is no guarantee of moral virtue or even tolerance, as the rhetoric of the 'New Atheist' movement towards Muslims made very clear. Any set of beliefs about God can be used to justify selfishness and cruelty."
I'm not at all sure I buy the argument that practice rather than belief produces "habits of kindness, decency and tolerance," although it's certainly clear that some kinds of religious beliefs produce the opposite of those desirable results.
At any rate, Britain's rejection of religion is considerably more advanced than what is found in the U.S., despite the fact that now about 25 percent of the adult American population identifies as religiously unaffiliated.
But loss of institutional religion doesn't mean simply empty houses of worship. It also means loss of what historically has been an important part of the whole social fabric of a land, and it's that fabric that provides the rituals, the concern for the common good, the practices that can make a society more whole and healthy.
Take away, for instance, the charitable work that religious institutions do in the U.S. and the already bad conditions of inequality, poverty and injustice would only get much worse here.
So, in the end, there's no telling where the anti-religion trend will lead, but it's important to remember that, on the whole, the world is more religious today than it was 100 years ago. Which is to say that both traditional institutional religion and new avenues of spirituality are finding converts in places other than North America and Western Europe. And if we fail to see that we fail to see reality.
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THE SINKING POPULARITY OF CLERGY
A new poll suggests that Americans don't think much of clergy. In fact, the RNS story about this says that "doctors, teachers, members of the military — even scientists — are viewed more positively than clergy." Some of this, of course, is the fault of clergy who are abusive, dishonest and greedy. But most of the ordained people I know are honest, hard-working and trustworthy. Still, now clergy know a bit of what it feels like to be a journalist these days.
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P.S.: My friend Sheila Sonnenschein will be speaking July 28 about her work with the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom at an event sponsored by the Precious Blood Renewal Center in Liberty, Mo. For details, here's a pdf about the event: Download Sheila-Interfaith Hope __ July 28. Please share it with anyone you think might be interested. Sheila and I serve together as board members of the Kansas City Interfaith Youth Council.