In Concrete’s previous issue, Comment Writer Matt Branston cited research from St Mary’s University in Twickenham, which found that 70 percent of 16 to 29-year-olds in the UK have ‘no religious affiliation’. After listing a number of criminal organisations, Branston concluded ‘it won’t be a loss to the world if religion dies out.’
This is a fanciful overreaction. Whilst it’s true atheism is now the norm, religion isn’t going anywhere. Nietzsche, hardly the first atheist, proclaimed the death of God back in 1882. How then do as many as 30 percent of today’s young remain believers? If atheism really is the global movement towards truth and enlightenment many claim it is, then this rebellious proportion should be far lower, with religion relegated to the status of a conspiracy theory. But the fact religion has survived such buffeting for hundreds of years is proof of its endurance.
The survival of religion really isn’t a bad thing. On the contrary, religion is good for society. We only have to look at our own campus for proof of that. All students and staff can enjoy a number of societies and their events, from regular religious observances such as the Catholic Society’s celebrations of Mass, to special events such as the Indian and Hindu Societies’ annual Diwali Ball, or the Islamic Society’s Halal Food Fest later this month. These all contribute to UEA’s rich campus culture and emphasise that religion is actually about community and shared experiences. Particularly important is the support network religious groups provide, especially with the current crisis in mental health services nationwide.
Are we really more enlightened today than we were back in the dusty, candle-lit cloisters of our distant religious past? Of course not. Just look at how awful the world is. The popularity of atheism today is less to do with some kind of scientific progress towards mass intelligence and wisdom, and more to do with the pervasive nature of capitalism. The atrocities and criminal actions a small proportion of people commit in the name of religion should not overshadow the great things religious groups do to oppose capitalism and its ruinous effects. Climate breakdown, poverty and famine are all on the agenda of various religious charities and organisations. Take Zakat for example, one of The Five Pillars of Islam: charitable almsgiving to the poor, which is at odds with the greed of our contemporary society. Or look at the teachings of Jesus: ‘It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’
The great thing about the modern world is the ability to decide for yourself what you do and don’t believe, and that survey’s data is proof that a large number of young people are still gaining a lot from religion. We should praise religion and its survival. Just because it doesn’t help you doesn’t mean it’s not the backbone of other people’s lives. And long may it continue.