A sure sign we’re winning

Today’s Telegraph reports that, in a study endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Anglican clergy have been instructed to go after Gnu Atheists:

Clergy are to be urged to be more vocal in countering the arguments put forward by a more hard-line group of atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who have campaigned for a less tolerant attitude towards religion.

A report endorsed by Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, warns that the Church faces a battle to prevent faith being seen as “a social problem” and says the next five years are set to be a period of “exceptional challenge”.

It expresses concern that Christians are facing hostility at work and says the Church could lose its place at the centre of public life unless it challenges attempts to marginalise religious belief. . .

. . .”One of the paradoxes of recent times has been the increasing secularisation of society and attempts to marginalise religion alongside an increasing interest in spiritual issues and in the social and cultural implications of religious faith,” says the report, called Challenges for the New Quinquennium.

The Church must be “explicit about the need to counter attempts to marginalise Christianity and to treat religious faith more generally as a social problem,” it says.

“This is partly about taking on the ‘new atheism’.”

I expect that Eric MacDonald will have something to say about this.

h/t: Raymond

61 Comments

  1. justsearching
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    “The Church could lose its place at the centre of public life.” How many people, even those within the church, would agree that the church is THE centre of public life?

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      I doubt the Church of England (and its associated churches in the rest of the UK) has been at the centre of public life in the UK since the 1940s, if then. It is often hard to work out the extent to which historical church attendance indicates genuine religious belief rather than social conformity. The speed at which church attendance in the UK has declined suggests social conformity may have had a large role or else there were a lot of de-conversions going on.

      • Stephen P
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        In the village I grew up in, it was still a pretty central part of public life in the late 1970s. But it was rather more concerned with the social life of the community than with bible-thumping. I’ve really no idea what percentage of church-goers were really committed believers: it wasn’t something people made a big fuss about.

      • Posted February 6, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

        It’s still quite central, when you consider that there are quite a large number of bishops who sit in the house, both by virtue of their office, and by being raised to life peerage on retirement.

        • Posted February 6, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

          Quite, so what are they complaining about?!

          • Matt Penfold
            Posted February 7, 2011 at 2:59 am | Permalink

            Well all the main political parties in the UK want to see the House of Lords reformed, which is likely to mean the bishops no longer get seats.

  2. Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Dawkins: “If an agent must always be responsible for a creation, who then created God?”

    Clergyman1: “…”
    Clergyman2(whispered): “He’s got a bit of a point there…”
    Clergyman3: “Uh, I’ve got somewhere to be…”
    Bishop(projecting): “C’mon fellas, speak up! Answer the man!”

    • MikeM
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      Simple, he uses magic and a time loop.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        Isn’t that a lose right there? It is supposed to be minty fresh SkyDaddy™ @ NT, not old MagicMan @ OT.

      • Sam
        Posted February 7, 2011 at 1:14 am | Permalink

        Nah that’s where they just start complaining about ‘tone’. It’s so rude and insensitive to make a point they can’t answer.

  3. Grania
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I’m all agog to see what convincing argument they are planning to come up with, especially in the C of E which has long been a rather nebulous “nuanced” (heh) version of the Christian religion.

    I’m guessing it will be variation of “Christians are really nice” with side orders of “atheists are all nihilists & scientism-ists” and a garnish of “different ways of knowing”.

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      Could be. After all if the C of E are sending all their bigots to the Catholics then he would have a point in saying the Anglicans are nicer than some other denominations. Of course that would not be setting the bar very high.

  4. Vern
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    “The Church must be “explicit about the need to counter attempts to marginalise Christianity and to treat religious faith more generally as a social problem,” it says.”

    Yes, I think they need to treat religious faith more generally as a social problem.

  5. Julian
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    The church at the center of public life… I wonder how accomodationist feel about that. Afterall, this isn’t some gnu bashing religion or insulting people’s faith. This is a clear example of what the religious and the power structures they support want. (In this case chrisendom)

  6. Egbert
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    It is no surprise that our enemies choose to attack us back. However, Anglicans are in a mess with fellow Anglicans and they’re in a mess with Catholics and presumably they’re in a mess with Muslims. It’s not going well for them.

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      I am sure it can all be solved with some dialogue, and maybe someone could build some bridges.

      And since it is the C of E, cake must be involved as well.

      Maybe the AAAS could get involved and host a symposium.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        And then it will be pake, and then Jerry will convert.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted February 6, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

          Sorry, “join” would be more apt. Atheists can’t convert. 😀

    • Sajanas
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      Did they ever figure out how to deal with the Episcopalians and their gay bishops? It looked for a while like America, England and Africa were going to split up, since the first want activism, the second want apathy, and the third want murder.

  7. Greg Esres
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    It’s not really a sign we’re winning, it’s a sign that the Anglican Church might think we’re winning. Given their preexisting lack of grounding in reality, the fact that the church believes something doesn’t make it likely to be true. I’ve seen nothing but subjective impressions that atheism is on the rise, so it might be wishful thinking on our part.

    • Posted February 6, 2011 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      I’ve seen nothing but subjective impressions that atheism is on the rise, so it might be wishful thinking on our part.

      Then you clearly haven’t seen what many others have. There is plenty data out there showing that atheism is on the rise.

      • Greg Esres
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

        plenty data out there showing that atheism is on the rise.

        Most people confused “non-affiliated” with atheist, and it’s only the former that the data show to have increased.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted February 6, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

          Does that confusion matter here?

          • Greg Esres
            Posted February 6, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

            Does that confusion matter here?

            Only to the degree that we don’t know whose side these unaffiliated are on, so we don’t know quantitatively whether or not we’re making significant inroads into religious belief. I haven’t heard any prominent atheist claim otherwise.

            • Posted February 6, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

              BS.

              The new data from ARIS show a different story since 2002. Take a look at the number of self-declared atheists and agnostics (I’m adding in to this group the small number of people who call themselves humanists). These went from 1.2 million in 1991 to 1.9 million in 2001, and then shot up to 3.5 million in 2008. Although there’s only been a small growth in the numbers of people with ‘no religion’, there’s been a doubling of people prepared to admit to an interviewer that they are atheist or agnostic. 3 million new non-religious, but 1.6 million new atheists/agnostics.

              Epiphenom.

              For one.

              • Greg Esres
                Posted February 6, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

                Doesn’t really answer the question. It only describes the percentage of people willing to acknowledge the label “atheist”. According to Pew, only around 25% of atheists will acknowledge the label. It may well be that this percentage fluctuates, rather than the base rate of the people who don’t believe in God. The Gallup data puts atheism at around 5%.

  8. john
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    It’s like he just woke up about this. Didn’t he watch his own interview with Richard Dawkins

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      He probably could not understand a word of what he said.

    • sasqwatch
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 12:36 am | Permalink

      Did you know that an anagram of “Archbishop of Canterbury” is “Hypocrite for a subbranch”?

      Just sayin’.

  9. Posted February 6, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    . . .”One of the paradoxes of recent times has been the increasing secularisation of society and attempts to marginalise religion alongside an increasing interest in spiritual issues and in the social and cultural implications of religious faith,” says the report, called Challenges for the New Quinquennium.

    I find it amusing they should call this a paradox. There’s probably a polarization going on, and different people thinking differently is no paradox. Is this how clergy always expresses themselves? “the New Quinquennium”!? *Chortle*

    • Astrid_H
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      The way I interpreted that paragraph was: people are actually taking an interest in religious claims and investigating them/reading up on them and are being sceptical. I see no paradox in that.

  10. Posted February 6, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Oh I know – maybe “Hammill” is the archbishop of Canterbury!

    • Egbert
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      Watch out. Hammill is in fact Ceiling Kitteh.

      • locutus7
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

        In the universe of CoE versus the Gnus, what’s the Hammill-tonian?

        Sorry, could not resist a quantum physics pun.

  11. stvs
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    “a less tolerant attitude towards religion” == honest criticism

    It does not add credibility to the Archbishop’s campaign that he starts with a gross misrepresentation of his critics.

    At least this will provide grist for another belly laugh or two.

  12. FresnoBob
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Seems the journalist was scratching around trying to make a story out of this. I just downloaded the report and searched for: atheist, dawkins, and hitchens – got zero results.

    There’s ONE mention of ‘atheism’

    “23. The first is to be explicit about the need to counter attempts to marginalise Christianity and to treat religious faith more generally as a social problem. partly about taking on the ‘new atheism’. Bishops have a key role here both as apologists and as teachers of the faith. Church members look to their leaders to
    out on their behalf and to help them in their own understanding and witness.”

  13. Posted February 6, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Religion did play a very central role in the UK for many years, no harm in admitting that.

    What’s interesting to note is that the benefits it provided such as community, a sense of belonging, social recognition, etc have all been found in other sources by people in the UK. Having found a source of these needs that doesn’t include guilt and extotion, they’ve abandoned the church.

    By focusing on Dawkins and Hitchens, the archbishop has missed the point: they aren’t destroying the church; it has already gutted itself to go elsewhere; they are simply tearing down the remaining authoritarian and theological scaffolding that’s serving no purpose to anyone. Kind of a public service actually.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      “Eh”minent!

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Ah, maybe I should be more specific. This is AFAIU how it played out in the waning years of the swedish state church (and still does as a freestanding ever smaller church). The more social connection, the less authoritarian attitude and power.

      A church, who needs it?

  14. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    One can also see it thusly:

    Commissioned by Dr Williams and Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, it says that religion in Britain is under threat from atheists, but admits that the Church faces many internal problems as well, from ageing congregations to rows over homosexuality.

    Drawing particular attention to the threat posed by a new movement of militant atheists, led by Dawkins and Hitchens, it says the Church must respond if it is not to be pushed from the public square. […]

    It [the report] predicts “the next five years are set to be a period of exceptional challenge for the nation and the Church of England.”

    In particular, it points to the fallout from the economic crisis, shrinking and ageing congregations and the retirement of 40 per cent of its paid clergy in the next decade.

    “We make the atheists the scapegoats for our failures, attracting attention away from our problems to get enough £££ for salary and pension.”

    Btw, this is hilarious seeing how Matzke just argued in the other thread:

    In recent years, a number of Christians have taken legal action against local councils and hospital trusts after being disciplined for expressing their faith by wearing crosses or refusing to act against their orthodox beliefs.

    “There is still work to be done to counter the prevailing tendency of treating faith as a private matter which should not impact on what happens in the public realm.

    “This is a challenge for all churches and faiths, but especially for the Church of England.”

    Wasn’t Matzke arguing to the effect that religion was a private matter? Well, yes, he may have:

    “Wow. Sexuality is personal and private and therefore deserves tolerance, whereas one’s religion is of “significant public interest”, and so doesn’t?

    It’s not just me saying religious preference is equivalent to these other things, it’s in non-discrimination clauses … ”

    Now I’m not sure Matzke meant that specifically, but it sure is one of the interpretations that could be made.

    • Tulse
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Commissioned by Dr Williams and Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, it says that religion in Britain is under threat from atheists, but admits that the Church faces many internal problems as well, from ageing congregations to rows over homosexuality.

      And there’s that small matter of the future Defender of the Faith being an adulterous divorcee.

      Then again, I guess that’s the way this “faith” was founded…

  15. Ken Pidcock
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    I will grant Williams this: The statement seems careful to avoid conflating religion with the religious (that is, attempts to marginalise Christianity, not attempts to marginalise Christians)which is, sadly, more than can be granted to some accommodationist secular voices.

  16. bric
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    If you look at society as a whole in the UK during my own adulthood – I was 21 in the year homosexual behaviour by ‘consenting adults’ was decriminalized – there has been a very considerable move towards equality for gays and women. The one group that has stood out against this trend is the major religions. The C of E may be at the softer end of the spectrum but they are generally seen as socially retarded; and it is no secret that a fair proportion of vicars are gay, and a number are effectively agnostic. Not a good prospect for doing the Archbishop’s proselytizing.

  17. Insightful Ape
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    We are not the reason for their problems, but they need a scapegoat.

    • Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

      Well, what’s religion without a good scapegoat? If it isn’t Jesus taking the fall for the entire species, it’s Satan being blamed for tempting us to sleep in on Sunday.

      Little wonder I became suspicious of organised religion long before I realised I was atheist – while it seemed like a good deal that Satan was the true source of my evil plans, I was more than a little cheesed to discover I’d never get credit for any of my good deeds.

  18. Posted February 6, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    The beautiful thing is, the religious authorities can’t win either way, present New Atheism. They can’t ignore us, they’re finally recognizing, but discussing the issue … well they got nuttin to work wit. The hole only grows deeper.

    Contrast this with the “old” atheism, that is neither seen nor heard. No action is required; propagandizing continues unopposed.

    What an absurd contention it is to maintain that this is better than speaking up.

    What the theocrats know, at least in their hearts-of-hearts if not outright, is that their kind of scam can only exist in the long run in the absence of close examination. They had it right when burning of heretics or libraries was the norm. Short of effective suppression, they’re doomed in the long run.

    • Rieux
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      I dunno. Our tactics only work under conditions that include something bearing a passing resemblance to civil liberties and to social equality and security. Atheism is not winning in Saudi Arabia, and it’s at best a scrappy up-and-comer in the United States.

      If some very nasty (and unfortunately not all that implausible) things happen on the international political and/or economic scenes, religion is going to have the whip hand again. For the rather long run.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

        Ideally democracy would be enough, and democracy is winning the world over. But yes, civil rights (allowing freedom of expression) and security (allowing for religious FAIL) would secure respectively benefit atheism at large.

        • jay
          Posted February 6, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

          Democracy is not incompatible with the imposition of a dominant religion.

      • Posted February 6, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

        I agree totally. I certainly don’t dismiss the possibilty of a theocratical take-over in the U.S., where I live. There are very powerful forces working towards just this end, seems to me, and they’re entrenched in the armed services, for crying out loud, and then plus there’s a huge private army owned by a professed theocrat. I guess they are feeling increasingly antsy to make a big move furthermore, due to obviously growing skepticism. We can only hope we have already gone down the secular road far enough that no such takeover is practical at this point, because we rather obviously can have no confidence the voters wouldn’t elect even the most despicable theocrat.

        It is this fear that compels me to proselytize that Christianity has the seeds of its own destruction within itself, as discovered by Joe Atwill. I fear there may be only a limited opportunity to fight back, and so the natural course of simple rational opposition may not have time to come to fruition. The Caesar’s Messiah thesis, which I find must obviously be true, could reduce Christianity to general laughingstock in much shorter order. I hope you will take some time to look into it.

        http://www.esnips.com/doc/b67761f4-ecd2-423a-93a0-0ff2b9eb6149/Joseph-Atwill—Caesars-Messiah—The-Roman-Conspiracy-to-Invent-Jesus

        It’s viewable in entirety for free there. But, the viewer is not good, and it may be taken down at any time, so please register and download the PDF (stiill free), so you can disperse it more widely, if you think it important. If you’re concerned about the author’s proprietary rights, perhaps a donation might be made via the CM website. Until recently he was selling the e-book on scribd for 5 dollars but they took that one down, presumably because a new edition is imminent. I suspect he knows full well about this one and doesn’t really mind it. It’s been there for quite a while now.

  19. Dave
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    If evolution is so true how come your succulents and cacti plants haven’t evolved to survive in the snow huh? You’ve been living there long enough!

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      They have, they are called pines and spruces hereabouts.

      • Wowbagger
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

        Is it because they pine for the fjords?

  20. raven
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    …warns that the Church faces a battle to prevent faith being seen as “a social problem”

    Not going to work.

    Because religions are a social problem. Whole societies are retarded today because of religion and some have almost been destroyed.

    We just fought two wars with two “religious societies”, Iraq and Afghanistan.

  21. Bruce Burnett
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Besides Dawkins and Hitchens, don’t forget A C Grayling. He insists that religion’s footprint in the public square should be no greater than any other special interest group. Check out his withering descriptions of Christianity, Catholicism, Islam of course and all the others in his book ” Ideas that Matter”

    • Posted February 6, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      And in To Set Prometheus Free and Against All Gods, and many other places as well.

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 3:13 am | Permalink

      Archbishop Williams fears to engage anyone who could rival — nay, surpass — his wild head of hair. And so I think he will avoid confronting Prof Grayling.

  22. Posted February 6, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    1. Nobody goes to church, so why should it have a “place at the centre of society”?
    2. Has the ABofC ever actually said anything that actually means something?

  23. Posted February 7, 2011 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    Yes,from science’s side incompatibility per the teleonomic argument that the weight of evidence evinces no intent- divine or otherwise but rather teleonomy- no wanted outcomes, and per the atelic one that theists beg the question of wanted outcomes.
    ” Logic is the bane of theists.” Fr.Griggs
    “Life is its own validation and reward and ultimate meaning to which neither God nor the future state can further validate.”Inquiring Lynn
    “God is in a worse shape than the Scarecrow who has a body to which a mind could enter whilst He has neither.He is that married bachelor. No wonder He is ineffable!” Ignostic Morgan

  24. Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    As a Christian, I have to say the last ally I want on my side is the Church of England.

  25. Sajanas
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    My girlfriend went to school in England for a year and was forced to sit through Anglican services as part of her education. I think this is both the alpha and the omega of the problems for Anglicanism. Since this is mandatory, you bore the crap out of a lot of students, and make it a required chore, and these kids have parents who were similarly required and bored. And since every student is forced to go to these services, the Anglicans feel like they are both entitled to the young, and they don’t have to work hard to appeal to adults, since they expect every child will continue on being an Anglican forever.

    The end result is generations of people forced to go to a church by teachers, rather than people who are enthused about it, who learn nothing (and what is there to learn, really?), and then view it all as bollocks and ignore it afterward. If you had completely secular education, wouldn’t the whole edifice come crumbling down?


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