the death of christian britain

I’ve already talked about Dennis and Erdos’s book Families Without Fatherhood, the one that says it’s better for children to be brought up in the traditional two-parent family. The second thesis of this book was that this breakdown in traditional family arrangements is what has caused the growth of crime and general incivility which has been seen in Britain since the 1960s.

A book which I’ve been revisiting since then is Callum Brown’s Death of Christian Britain (2001). He argues that national religion hasn’t so much been declining as that it’s been abruptly rejected – since the 1960s Britain has suddenly abandoned the Christian morals and values which had characterised it for centuries. It only took us forty years to forsake Christianity, he says in the introduction, compared to the thousand or so years of practicing it [sic].

Quote: “The generation that grew up in the sixties was more dissimilar to the generation of its parents than in any previous century. The moral metamorphosis directly affected the churches’ domain: the decline of marriage, the rise of divorce and remarriage, the rise of cohabitation in place of marriage … decreasing stigmatisation of illegitimacy, homosexuality and sexual licence, the growing recourse to birth control and abortion, and the irresistible social pressures for government liberalisation of restrictions on drinking, Sunday closing and recreation. The range of the changes in demography, personal relationships, political debate and moral concerns was so enormous that it did not so much challenge the Christian churches as bypass them,” p190.

Both these books are rich sources of comment.

  • if the churches were bypassed by these changes, it isn’t because they had nothing to say on things like marriage or drinking, but because they weren’t being listened to any more
  • the decline in respect for what was traditionally thought of as morality seems to have gone hand in hand with what you might call selfish behaviour, prioritising your own perceived benefit over that of other people’s, to their disadvantage
  • even though people have rejected Christianity, they’re still religious; non-Christian religions seem to be growing, eg
  • if the churches were so decisively rejected when their message they were preaching was the orthodox gospel (or by and large, and to a much greater extent than today), what implications does that have for the future of orthodox churches now?
  • if the introduction of user-friendly gimmics in churches now still isn’t halting the decline, what implications does that have for the future of the nice and cosy reincarnations of churches?

Maybe I’ll come back to some of those things later, but there was one other thing which I ‘ve been wondering about, and which I’d very much like to hear other people’s opinions on. That’s the question of whether we should look at the 1960s as the ultimate source of all these changes, or whether instead there were trends in society in the run-up to the 60s which only surfaced then. If religiosity started its inexorable decline in 1956, as Callum Brown’s graphs show, and if crime rates started their inexorable rise in 1958, as Dennis and Erdos show, then what laid the foundations prior to the 60s or late 50s in order for this disintegration to take place? I wonder how much can we blame the war, for example, or both the wars – or maybe it started earlier than that, say with Victorian doubt filtering into the church itself rather than being rebuffed and kept firmly out of the pulpits. I’ll keep thinking, but if you’ve any ideas, there’s a comments section for accessing directly below, and you know how to use it …

[Edited 20 March 06]

3 thoughts on “the death of christian britain

  1. I grew up in England in the 1940s and 1950s, and attended a public school (Solihull School, 1950-53) and a private, “progressive” boarding school (Wennington School, 1953-59). The former was severely Anglican, while the latter was earnestly Quaker. I received religious instruction at both schools, but disliked the teaching methods and found the Christian message both irrelevant and unconvincing. There was also a harshness in the delivery of the message that I initially found frightening. Later, as a 16- or 17-year-old, I was appalled by the teacher’s dismissive attitude to Islam, and by her reduction of it to a caricature. Although I knew little about this religion, or about any other faith tradition, I realised it had to amount to more than a “convert-or-die” philosophy. Later, when I wrote an essay in which I criticized the Bible, I was censured and accused of submitting “tendentious” material. It was an ironic accusation, for if anyone was “promoting a cause” it was the teacher! Since leaving school, my antipathy to Christianity has been reinforced by my reading of books by Jewish scholars and other researchers. (For further information about me and my second school, see .)


  2. Cath, I’m sorry I don’t have anything useful to say regarding your question, but Allan, have you ever read Roald Dahl’s little autobiography of his childhood, titled simply Boy? It seems to be exclusively about corporal punishment in British boarding schools, maybe you’ll enjoy the blast from the past?

    Also, Callum is a lovely name. We were exposed to it when we lived in Reading for 2 years, and later named our middle son Callum.


  3. Thanks, RubeRad. I think the extent to which Christianity had waned in England was driven home to me in 1961, after I had arrived in Australia. Some friends took me to a church service, and I was amazed to find that it was packed. I had never seen anything like it. In England, I didn’t know anyone who went to church. And on the one occasion I went – because my father had been induced by the vicar to play the organ – there were only a few old ladies sitting at the back.


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