Changing times won’t remove place of Christianity in people’s hearts

Reports of the expected demise of Christianity in 2067 are greatly exaggerated, says Barney Zwartz.

In 52 years, Christianity will disappear from Britain as a living religion, according to an article in The Spectator. Damian Thompson bases his slightly mischievous projection on the rate of decline in the census. “The death rattle has begun,” Thompson wrote.

Between 2001 and 2011, the number of Christians born in Britain fell by 5.3 million, or 10,000 a week. “If that rate of decline continues, the mission of St Augustine to the English, together with that of the Irish saints to the Scots, will come to an end in 2067.”

British Anglicans fell from 40 per cent of the population 30 years ago to 17 per cent last year, while Catholics dropped from 10 per cent to 8 per cent, but they were artificially buoyed – as in Australia – by Catholic immigrants from non-Anglo minorities.

An interesting contrast to that bleak view came in a survey by the Mental Health Foundation and Canterbury District Health Board about how people in Christchurch, New Zealand, are coping four years on from the devastating earthquakes.  More than 40 per cent said their religion or faith had helped them.

A public health specialist in Christchurch observed that many people, especially men, had a relatively limited number of people to whom they felt close. Communities like churches provided vital connections for people who felt isolated, and had been pillars of support, safe places with people available to listen and share.

And that, I suggest, is a very strong reason why Christianity will not “become invisible” by 2067 in either Britain or Australia.

I have no idea what the world will be like in 2067, just as people in 1963 could scarcely have imagined what life would be like in 2015. There will be advances in technology, and some changes for the better, but – and this is my prediction – as the influence of Christianity declines in wider society, so will many of the benefits it brought, such as a concern for a common wealth (this has already largely disappeared). Society will be an increasingly lonely place, another trend that is well advanced.

The churches may return more to Christianity’s plebeian roots, communities of the afflicted. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.”

But in that ruthless 1st century society, the compassion, connections, sense of purpose and meaning Christianity brought had powerful appeal. Human nature in 2067 will not change, and Christianity will find a new equilibrium. Despite profound challenges, it will continue to be a blessing.

Barney Zwartz is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity.

This article originally appeared in The Age.