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empty church
A pretty empty church

On Saturday, I went to the film Spider-Man: Far From Home (no spoilers). One of the characters said:

People, they need to believe. And nowadays, they’ll believe anything.

Earlier that day, I read an article in our local Christchurch newspaper how the percentage of Christians in Britain has halved in 35 years and how the percentage of atheists continues to rise. “Confident atheists” have risen from a tenth to over a quarter of the population. The chief executive of the organisation that did the survey said that scientific rationalism plays a more significant role now.

One interesting part of the analysis was the generational nature of the stats. It is not that people are leaving church – it is simply that younger generations are not joining. And this while 55% of the population express “some sort of belief in some kind of God”. If anything, the situation in New Zealand is further along the trend explored in this British survey.

But wait; there’s more…

In the same Saturday newspaper, there was a large, two-page article about a Pascha group led by someone who has seen “dead people before she could walk”. She says, “At one stage I had two-thirds of the Crusaders coming to see me and half the All Blacks…. Some of the people who lead the Crusaders now are old clients of ours.” As an aside, I note the Crusaders, Canterbury’s rugby team overflows with religious symbolism as does most of the national game, rugby.

The article explains that the leader of the Pascha group ‘was first visited in 1986, when she was 26, by her spiritual guide and “teacher”, Raman Pascha – the Master Khamouri, a Persian man who lived 2000 years ago.’ They have trained over 400 Pascha therapists. Costs are $198 per hour. A year’s membership is $1175. They employ 30 staff.

While Christianity struggles to move into the 21st-century, post-modern context, other belief systems are rapidly filling the vacuum that has been created. Because, people, they need to believe. And scientific rationalism isn’t something that most people are able to build a life upon.

*****

And, having prepared this blog post, I saw this tweet reminding me that Dietrich Bonhoeffer had been grappling with this 75 years ago:

What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today. The time when people could be told everything by means of words, whether theological or pious, is over, and so is the time of inwardness and conscience – an that means the time of religion in general. We are moving towards a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious any more. Even those who honestly describe themselves as ‘religious’ do not in the least act up to it, and so they presumably mean something quite different by ‘religious.’…

…if our final judgment must be that the western form of Christianity, too, was only a preliminary stage to a complete absence of religion, what kind of situation emerges for us, for the church? How can Christ become the Lord of the religionless as well? Are there religionless Christians? If religion is only a garment of Christianity – and even this garment has looked very different at times – then what is a religionless Christianity?

Bonhoeffer’s letter Bethge 30 April, 1944

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