Lancashire Telegraph – 8 Sept 2018. Note: the article mysteriously appeared in yesterday’s paper with a photo of Gill rather than me, and missing the last sentence!
‘If you think religion belongs to the past and we live in a new age of reason, you need to check out the facts…’ That was the eye-catching headline to a large spread in last week’s Guardian newspaper, which showed that religious faith is on the rise. According to the latest research 84% of the world’s population identifies with a religious faith, and this proportion is actually increasing.
Christianity is the largest religion, with 2.3 billion members worldwide, a figure which is predicted to grow by 34% by 2060. The second largest religion worldwide is Islam, with 1.8 billion members, a figure which is set to grow even faster. Contrary to the impression we often get in Britain, those who are atheist or agnostic are declining in numbers around the world. After years of enforced Communism Russia and China have both seen huge revivals of Christian faith and practice. China is predicted to have the world’s largest Christian population by 2030.
The growth of religion makes the quality of religious education in schools, and the quality of religious broadcasting on television, more important than ever. Often ignorance breeds fear and prejudice, whereas knowledge of another’s faith enables us to build good relationships and mutual understanding. We are fortunate in East Lancs in having many excellent Church primary schools which are very popular with Muslim parents, who value an education with clear religious foundations and moral values. These schools are beacons of community cohesion.
Besides reminding us of the importance of religious literacy, the increase in religious faith across the world might challenge us to think again about some of the secular assumptions that affect how we see the world. Clearly improvements in education and living standards across the developing world are not making God seem irrelevant or less believable. On the contrary, more and more young people seem to be asking the question, ‘Is there more to life than this?’
Bear Grylls, the survival expert and TV presenter, is currently advertising the Alpha course, which helps enquirers explore the Christian faith, by asking exactly this question. Grylls, who was the youngest man to climb Everest and is now the Chief Scout, wrote recently, ‘I probably don’t go to church as much as I should, but I do start every day on my knees, praying by my bed, asking God for strength and wisdom for the day ahead. That is the grounding for my day.’