Religion in gr br

The vast majority of people in Britain do not regularly attend religious services. Many do so only a few times in their lives. Most people's everyday language is no longer, as it was in previous centuries, enriched by their knowledge of the Bible and the English Book of Common Prayer. It is significant that the most familiar and well-loved English translation of the Bible, known as the King James Bible, was written in the early seventeenth century and that no later translation has achieved similar status.It therefore seems that most people in Britain cannot strictly be describes as religious. However, this does not mean that they have no religious or spiritual beliefs or inclinations, Surveys have suggested that nearly three-quarters of the population in God and between a third and a half believe in concepts such as life after death, heaven and hell (and that half or more of the population believe in astrology, parapsychology, ghosts and clairvoyance). In addition, a majority approve of the fact that religious instruction at state schools is compulsory. Furthermore, almost nobody objects to the fact that the Queen is 'by the grace of God', or the fact that she, like all previous British monarchs, was crowned by a religious Figure (the Archbishop of Canterbury) in a church (Westminster Abbey) and that the British national anthem (God Save Our Queen) invokes God's help in protecting her. The general picture, as with so many aspects of British life, is of a general tolerance and passive approval of the status quo. The majority attitude towards organized religion is rather similar to that towards the monarchy. Just as there is no serious republican movement in the country, so there is no widespread anti-clericalism. And just as there is no royalist movement either, so most people are not active participants in organized religion, but they seem to be glad it is there!Religion and politics-Freedom of religious belief and worship (and also the freedom to be a non-believer) is taken for granted in modern Britain, With the notable exception of Northern Ireland, a person's religion has almost no political significance, There are no important 'Christian' or anti-clerical political parties. Except perhaps for Muslims, there is no recognizable political pressure group in the country which is based on a particular religious ideology. To describe oneself as 'catholic' or 'church of England' or 'Methodist' or any other recognized label is to indicate one's personal beliefs but not the way one votes.The religious conflicts of the past and their close relationship with politics have left only a few traces in modern times, and the most important of these are institutional rather than political: the fact that the monarch cannot, by law, be a Catholic; the fact that the twenty-six senior bishop in one particular church (the Church of England) are member of the House of Lords (where they are known as the 'Lords Spiritual'); the fact that the government has the right of veto on the choice of these bishops; the fact that the ultimate authority for this same church is the British Parliament. These facts point to a curious anomaly. Despite the atmosphere of tolerance and the separation of religion and politics, it is in Britain that we find the last two cases in Europe of 'established' churches, that is churches which are, by law, the official religion of a country. These cases are the Church of Scotland (see 'other Christian denominations' below) and the Church of England. The monarch is the official head of both, and the religious leader of the latter, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is appointed by the government.However, the privileged position of the Church of England (also known as the Anglican Church) is not, in modern times, a political issue. Nobody feels that they are discriminated against if they do not belong to it. In any case, the Anglican Church, rather like the BBC, has shown itself to be effectively independent of government and there is general approval of this independence. In fact, there is a modern politics-and-religion debate, but now it is the other way around. That is, while it is accepted that politics should stay out of religion, it is point of debate as to whether religion should stay out of politics.The Anglican Church used to be half-jokingly described as 'the Conservative party at prayer'. This reputation was partly the result of history and partly the result of the fact that most of its clergy and regular followers were from the higher ranks of society. However, during the 1980s and early 1990s it was common for the Church to publicly condemn the widening gap between rich and poor in British society. Its leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, repeatedly spoke out against this trend, implying that the Conservative government was largely to blame for it - despite comments from government ministers that politics should be left to the politicians. The Archbishop also angered some Conservative Anglicans when, at the end of the Falklands/Malvinas War in 1982, he did not give thanks to God for a British victory. Instead, he prayed for the victims of the war on both sides. In 1994 the Catholic Church in Britain published a report which criticized the Conservative government. Since the general outlook of Britain's other conventional Christian denominations has always been anti-Conservative, it appears that all the country's major Christian churches are now politically broadly left of centre.



Anglicanism-Although the Anglican Church apparently has much the largest following in England, and large minorities of adherents in the other nations of Britain, appearances can be deceptive. It has been estimated that less than 5% of those who, if asked, might describe themselves as Anglicans regularly attend services. Many others are christened, married and buried in Anglican ceremonies but otherwise hardly ever go to church. Regular attendance for many Anglicans is traditionally as much a social as a religious activity, and predominantly one for the upper and middle classes.The doctrine of the Church of England was set out in the sixteenth century, in a document called the Thirty-Nine Articles. However, the main motivation for the birth of Anglicanism was more patriotic and political than doctrinal. As a result, it has always been what is called a 'broad church', willing to accommodate a wide variety of beliefs and practices. For example, the nature of its religious services varies quite widely from church to church, depending partly on the inclinations of the local priest and partly on local tradition.Three main strands of belief can be identified. One strand is evangelical, or 'low church'. This places great emphasis on the contents of the Bible and is the most consciously opposed to Catholicism. It therefore adheres closely to those elements of the Thirty-Nine Articles that reject Papal doctrines and is suspicious of the hierarchical structure of the Church. It prefers plain services with a minimum of ceremony. In contrast, the beliefs of the 'Anglo-Catholic', or 'high church', strand are virtually identical to those of Catholicism - except that it does not accept the Pope as the ultimate authority. High church services are more colourful and include organ music and elaborate priestly clothing. Both these strands are traditional in their outlook. But there is also a liberal wing, which is willing to question some of the traditional Christian beliefs, is more inclined to view the Bible as merely a historical document, is more tolerant towards homosexuality and was the first to support moves to ordain women priests.Women priests- On Wednesday 11 November 1992, at five in the evening, Dr George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, rose to announce a momentous decision. By just two votes more than the required two-thirds majority, the General Synod of the Anglican Church (its governing body) had voted to allow the ordination of women priests. The debate in the Synod had lasted more than six hours, and had been going on for years before that, both inside and outside the church, all over the country.About eighteen months afterwards, the first women priests were ordained. Those who support this development believe that will help to give the Church of England a greater relevance to the modern world and finally bring it up to date. (Unlike the Catholic Church, it has always allowed its clergy to be married). Some who were opposed to the change have not accept the Synod's decision, and there are a few local cases of attempts to set up a rebel church. Some members of the Anglican Church have decided to 'go over to Rome - that is, to join the Catholic Church, which does not have women priests. But to many, perhaps most, of its members, it is the 'Englishness' of the Anglican Church which is just as important as its religious doctrine. This is what gives it meaning and holds its various strands together. Without it, many Anglo-Catholics would be Catholic, many low churchers and liberals would from their own sects or join existing nonconformist groups, and a very large number would simply cease to have anything to do with organized religion at all. Perhaps this is why an opinion poll in the 1980s showed that most people, displaying apparently uncharacteristic intolerance, approve of the law that does not permit a Catholic monarch.At present, this national distinctiveness is emphasized by the Anglican Church's position as the official religion. It has been argued that the tie between Church and State should be broken; that is, that the Church should be disestablished so that, after losing its extreme members to other churches, it could spend less time on internal disagreement and more on the moral and spiritual guidance of its remaining members. Those who are against this move fear that it would cause the obvious Englishness of the Church to disappear and thus for the number of its adherents to drop sharply. Catholicism-After the establishment of Protestantism in Britain, Catholicism was for a time an illegal religion and then a barely tolerated religion. Not until 1850 was a British Catholic hierarchy reestablished. Only in this century has it been as open about its activities as any other religion. Although Catholics can now be found in all ranks of society and in all occupations, the comparatively recent integration of Catholicism means that they are still under-represented at the top levels. For example, although Catholics comprise more than 10% of the population, they comprise only around 5$ of MPs. A large proportion of Catholics in modern Britain are those whose family roots are in Italy, Ireland or elsewhere in Europe. The Irish connection is evident in the large proportion of priests in England who come from Ireland (they are sometimes said to be Ireland's biggest export!).Partly because of its comparatively marginal status, the Catholic Church, in the interests of self-preservation, has maintained a greater cohesiveness and uniformity than the Anglican Church. In modern times it is possible to detect opposing beliefs within it (there are conservative and radical/liberal wings), but there is, for example, more centralized control over practices of worship. Not having had a recognized, official role to play in society, the Catholic Church in Britain takes doctrine and practice (for example, weekly attendance at mass) a bit more seriously than it is taken in countries where Catholicism is the majority religion - and a lot more seriously than the Anglican Church in general does.This comparative dedication can be seen in two aspects of Catholic life. First, religious instruction is taken more seriously in Catholic schools than it is in Anglican ones, and Catholic schools in Britain usually have a head who is either a monk, a friar or a nun. Second, there is the matter of a attendance at church. Many people who hardly even step inside a church still feel entitled to describe themselves as 'Anglican'. In contrast, British people who were brought up as Catholics but who no longer attend mass regularly or receive the sacraments do not normally describe themselves as 'Catholic'. They qualify this label with 'brought up as' or 'lapsed'. Despite being very much a minority religion in most places in the country, as many British Catholics regularly go to church as do Anglicans. Episcopalianism -The Anglican Church is the official state religion in England only. There are, however, churches in other countries (such as Scotland, Ireland, the USA and Australian) which have the same origin and are almost identical to it in their general beliefs and practices. Members of these churches sometimes describe themselves as 'Anglican'. However, the term officially used in Scotland and the USA is 'Episcopalian' (which means that they have bishops), and this is the term which is often used to denote all of these churches, including the Church of England, as a group.Every ten tears the bishops of all the Episcopalian churches in the world gather together in London for the Lambeth Conference, which is chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury.Despite the name 'Canterbury', the official residence of the head of the Church of England is Lambeth Palace in London.

Other conventional Christian churches-In many ways, Anglicanism represents a compromise between Protestantism and Catholicism. Its stated doctrine, which rejects the authority of the Pope and other important aspects of Catholic doctrine, is Protestant. But its style, as shown by its hierarchical structure and its forms of worship, is rather Catholic. When Protestantism first took root in Britain, there were many people who rejected not only Catholic doctrine but also 'Romish' style. These people did not join the newly-established Anglican Church. They regarded both the authority given to its clergy and its continuation of orthodox ritual as obstacles to true worship. Instead, they placed great importance on finding the truth for oneself in the words of the Bible and on living an austere life of hard work and self-sacrifice. They disapproved of the pursuit of pleasure and therefore frowned on public entertainments such as the theatre, on drinking, on gambling and on any celebration of the sexual aspect of life.This is the origin of the Puritan/Calvinism tradition in Britain. The first church within this tradition was the Presbyterian Church. In Scotland, this form of Protestantism was so strong that it became the nation's established church. The Church of Scotland has a separate organization from the Anglican Church. It has no bishops. Its head, or 'Moderator', is elected by its general assembly. It is the biggest religion in Scotland, where it is often known simply as 'the kirk' (the Scots word for 'church'). There are also many Presbyterians in England and a large numbers in Northern Ireland. In England, those Protestants who did not accept the authority of the Anglican Church were known as 'dissenters' and later, as tolerance grew, as 'nonconformists'. These days, when refusal to conform to the established church is irrelevant, they simply called 'members of the free churches'. A great many different free-church groups have come into being over the centuries. In the details of their organization, styles of worship and doctrinal emphasis, the various nonconformist groups differ considerably. However, they all share, in varying degrees, certain characteristics: they regard simplicity and individual prayers as more important than elaborate ritual and public ceremony; there is comparatively little difference between their clergy (if they have any at all) and their lay members; they praise self-denial, although to a lesser extent than the original Puritans. For example, many are teetotal (their members do not drink alcohol). After Presbyterians, the largest traditional nonconformist group in Britain is the Methodist Society. Methodists follow the teachings of John Wesley, an eighteenth century preacher who started his career as an Anglican clergyman. He had little doctrinal disagreement with the established church. However, he and his followers considered that it did not care enough about the needs of ordinary people and that its hierarchy was not serious enough about the Christian message. The Salvation Army grew out of the Wesleyan movement.Two other nonconformist groups with a long history are the Baptist and the Quakers. The former are comparatively strict both in their interpretation of the Bible and in their dislike of worldly pleasure. The latter, also known as the Society of Friends, are a very small group whose notable characteristics are their complete lack of clergy and their pacifism. They refuse to fight in any war, though they will do ambulance and hospital work.

Other religions, churches and religious movements-Since it is a multicultural country where the pressure to conform is comparatively weak, Britain is home to followers of almost every religion and sect imaginable. Some of these are offshoots, or local combinations, of those already mentioned. For example, the only Church of distinctly Welsh origin calls itself both 'Calvinistic Methodist' and 'Presbyterian Church of Wales'. The number of followers of all the traditional Christian churches have been slowly but steadily declining in the second half of the twentieth century.Other Christian sects and churches have been growing. Because of their energetic enthusiasm and their desire to attract new followers, they are sometimes characterized by the term 'evangelical'. Most of them are similar to traditional nonconformist groups in that they avoid rigid ritual and place great emphasis on scripture. In the case of some groups, their interpretations of the Bible are often literal: the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists (all of which originated in the USA) are examples. These groups, and others, also provide a strict code of behaviour for their followers.The fastest-growing type of evangelical Christianity, however, places less emphasis on dogma, sin, or giving people a code of behaviour. Instead, the emphasis is on the spiritual and miraculous; on revelation. Gathering often involve joyful singing. There is a belief in spiritual healing of the sick. The oldest existing church of this type in Britain is called Pentecostal, and this term is sometimes used to denote all such groups. Pentecostalism has had a small working-class following for many years. Its recent growth is among the middle class. Many groups began with meeting in people's living rooms, where formality is at a minimum. Another term sometimes used of these groups is 'charismatic', reflecting both their enthusiasm and their emphasis on the miraculous. The growth of these groups might indicate that many British people feel a gap in their lives which neither the material benefits of modern life nor the conventional churches can fill.

Some people are turning even further afield, beyond the bounds of the Christian tradition. The term 'New Age' is used to cover a very wide range of beliefs which can involve elements of Christianity, eastern religions and ancient pagan beliefs all mixed in together. Interests and beliefs of this kind are not new in Britain. Theosophy, Druidism, Buddism, Christian Scientism (which believes in the control of the body through the mind) and many other beliefs have all had their followers in this country for a hundred years or more. Until the 1960s such people came exclusively from a small set of the upper middle class. Since then, however, New Age beliefs have filtered downwards to other sections of the social scale. Despite their great variety and lack of exclusiveness, two features seem to be common to all New Age beliefs: first, an emphasis on personal development (often seen as spiritual development); second, respect for the natural environment.The remaining religious groups with significant numbers of followers in Britain are all associated with racial minorities. The most well-established of these are the Jews. Anti-Semitism exist in Britain, but for a long time it has been weaker that it is in most other parts of Europe. The security and confidence of Judaism in Britain can be seen both in the healthy proportion of Jews in Parliament and in the fact that within it there is, quite openly, the same struggle between orthodox/conservative and liberal/radical viewpoints as there is in the Anglican and Catholic churches.The numbers of followers of the Christian Orthodox, Sikh, Hindu and Muslim religions are all growing, mainly because of high birth rates among families belonging to them. The last of these is by far the largest. Its continued growth is also for another reason. Relative poverty, racial discrimination and occasional conflict with the authorities have cause people brought up as Muslims to be politicized - more so than any other religious group in the country. As a result, young Muslims are less likely to drift away from their religion than the young of other faiths. One example of conflict is the Salman Rushdie affair. Another is the question of Muslim schools. There have been both Catholic and Jewish state schools for some time now. The country's Muslims are demanding the same opportunity.Finally, it is necessary to mention what are called 'cults'. The beliefs of these groups vary so widely that it is impossible to generalize about them. What they seem to have in common is the style of their belief, involving absolute commitment to and unquestioning obedience of the leader around whom they are centred (it is often only in this sense that they can be called religions). Cult have a bad reputation for using mind-control techniques. Their extremist tendencies are often offensive to most people and, with a few exceptions, each individual cult is tiny. However, it has been estimated that there are between 500 and 700 of them in the country and that, taken together, they have nearly half a million followers.

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