Britain´s Top Anglican Optimistic About Christianity

Dr. Carey More Upbeat Than Cardinal Murphy-O´Connor

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LONDON, SEPT. 7, 2001 ( A day after Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O´Connor lamented that Christianity was close to being «vanquished» in Britain, the top Anglican sounded a much more upbeat note.

Asked about the speech made by the Catholic primate of England and Wales, Dr. George Carey, the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, said there was «nothing to frighten us or worry us,» the Telegraph reported.

He added: «It´s an exhilarating time to be alive and to be a Christian. There are many opportunities and many doors that are opening up. The challenges and opportunities are equally new.»

But Carey, who declared last year that «tacit atheism» prevailed in Britain, said he believed the cardinal´s views were worthy of serious study, and echoed some of his own concerns.

The Catholic Church, like the Anglicans, is experiencing a drop in the number of priests and congregation. Cardinal Murphy-O´Connor told priests on Wednesday: «Christianity as a background to people´s lives and moral decisions, and to the government and to the social life of Britain, has almost been vanquished.»

The mosques and temples of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs are thriving in comparison. There has been a dramatic growth of Islam in the past 40 years, with the number of mosques rising to 1,600 from 10, and the Muslim population increasing to 2.5 million.

Sher Azam, 60, president of the Council of Mosques, said: «Every Friday most mosques are full and they are full of young adult people.»

Islam appealed to more people because, despite being «very close» to Judaism and Christianity, it is the more modern religion, he said.

«Our numbers are rising but we are not pushing people to accept Islam,» he said. «When you see there is a generally apathy about something you do get concerned. I think that the modern Western world needs spiritual guidance and Islam can provide that.»

Hindu leaders said warning young people of the effects of drink, tobacco and drugs had left the close-knit community of 600,000 in good health.

Hindus have more than 140 temples, mainly in the Midlands and London, and there is no sign of a drop in attendance, according to Dullabhbhai Patel, vice president of the National Council of Hindu Temples.

«I think Christianity has experienced too much freedom in the past century and especially the last 50 years. Their situation is going in the wrong direction,» he said.

«If people are not right-thinking, through drink and drugs, then how can they go to church to worship?» he asked. «We teach our youngsters that drink and drugs are not the right thing and they understand this.»

Indarjit Singh, director of the Network of Sikh Organizations, sympathized with the cardinal´s comments. «Some of the things he said are true about the community in general,» he said. «People do think they can get a shortcut to happiness through drink and drugs.»

Even Christian believers who back the Anglican leader Carey´s view that it is «an exhilarating time to be a Christian» share the cardinal´s alarm at the relentless fall in church membership — often in contrast to other faiths´ success in winning new recruits.

«In the case of Islam — Britain´s fastest-growing religion — I think a sense of tradition and certainty is an important part of the appeal,» Sayed Ameli, head of the interfaith department of the British Islamic Center, told The Guardian newspaper.

«When I talk to converts from Christianity, they talk of their unease that so many changes are happening in the churches,» Ameli added. «They say: ´There is too much modernization in the Catholic Church´ or, if they were Protestants, ´we could no longer feel a proper sense of religion.´»

A Policy Studies Institute survey of religion´s importance to different faith communities offers similar evidence, recording a 75% «very important» rating among British Muslims compared to 11% of white Anglicans. Tariq Moddod, of Bristol University, who conducted the research, said: «The exception in Christianity was among churches like the Seventh-day Adventists or the New Protestant churches which are mostly Afro-Caribbean or South Indian. The New Protestants had a ´very important´ rating of 71%.»

Sayed Ameli, who is preparing for interfaith sessions on the family and the Bible with mixed groups of Muslims and evangelical Christians, said: «One different but encouraging message from converts to Islam is that they didn´t just want a ´Sunday religion.´ They wanted something that would involve them and purify them all the time.

«I do not say this in a hostile way to Christianity, because an ´everyday religion´ is one of the many things which Islam, Christianity and Judaism can all share. We have much to discover about that and about the effect on all of us of secularization and the idea that religion is just a ´childish thing.´»

Islam is Britain´s fastest-growing faith, with 675,000 active members in 1999 compared with 306,000 in 1980.

Membership of Pentecostal, Orthodox and New Protestant churches has risen from 678,000 in 1980 to 908,000.

Sikhs have 400,000 active members compared with 150,000 in 1980 and British Hindus have grown to 165,000 from 120,000 over the same period.

The remaining Christian churches now have fewer than 6 million members — including 4.1 million Catholics. This is 12% of the population compared with 22% in 1970 and 31% in 1920.

Judaism has seen a decline to 88,800 households in 1999 from 101,000 in 1990.

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