Tuesday 19 April 2011

Denying the evidence of declining UK Christianity


Ann Widdecombe is on a mission to persuade us that reports of the demise of Christianity are greatly exaggerated. Her case, however, is severely hampered by the examples she chooses to highlight in this BBC1 documentary, which — contrary to her statements — suggests that congregations are indeed dwindling. She gives two examples of churches that have increased attendance, but these are clearly the result of massive amounts of local immigration. This isn't growing or even maintaining Christianity, it's simply moving it around; it also creates a disturbing tendency towards ghettoisation.

Maybe the Church really does want a congregation to be all but swallowed up by East European immigrants, or even to be completely replaced with immigrant African Pentecostals. Of course, the effect of such immigration could indeed be seen as an increase in Christianity in the UK, but to me it seems more equivalent to claiming that the best answer to the UK's dwindling manufacturing base is to have more stuff imported into the country.

In the interests of balance (one assumes), Johann Hari and Evan Harris are interviewed during the programme, but as dissenting views (dissenting from the Widdecombe views, that is) they are given short shrift. This is frankly not surprising — she's done this before in TV documentaries: if she gets an answer she doesn't agree with she simply ignores it, with little or no comment.

One of the reasons Ann Widdecombe converted to Catholicism was Anglican support for female clergy, so it's ironic to watch her interviewing a female cleric on whether or not Christianity is declining (and agreeing with her). She also interviews Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and agrees with him despite her "devil's advocate" questions, while presumably at the same time believing he's practising the wrong faith. But cognitive dissonance is no stranger to the blinkered Widdecombe thought-processes; she's quite happy to believe the Exodus really happened (because it's in the Bible), despite the total lack of archeological evidence that would have to be there if such a thing actually occurred.