God in austerity Britain

Considering that Britain is a deeply secular country, there is a lot of God about this Christmas. Austerity is a part of the explanation. With the core cultural activity of modern Britain–shopping for stuff–losing its lustre, there are hints of a nation groping for something more profound.

For millions, austerity Christmas will include a dose of carols. The trend has been noticeable for a couple of years. The great cathedrals expect to be packed on Christmas Eve. Charity services, family services, carols by candlelight and sing-along concerts abound. A London church, St Martin-in-the-Fields, is offering “carols for shoppers”, while across town the grand organ of the Royal Albert Hall, a 9,997-pipe monster, will pound through some two dozen carol concerts in December.

Anglican voices are prominent in less cosy contexts, too. On December 6th the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, made front-page news with a commentary on the riots that gripped English towns last August. Too many young people feel they have nothing to lose, the archbishop argued, decrying consumerism and government cuts to youth services. A fortnight earlier, 18 Anglican bishops wrote a joint letter condemning plans for a per-household benefits cap (intended to ensure that welfare recipients do no better than the average working family). This risked being “profoundly unjust” to poor families with children, said the bishops.

The Anglican church has become rather proprietorial about anti-finance protesters camped in the City of London outside St Paul’s Cathedral, after a muddled initial response that saw two senior clergymen resign. Yes, the protesters’ demands are vague, but that just shows that the Church of England is used as a place to air society’s “unspoken anxieties”, suggested Archbishop Williams last month. The Bishop of London has organised meetings between Occupy London protesters and the chief financial regulator, Hector Sants. On a homelier note, a priest reports that two protesters have started attending cathedral services.

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Image: The Economist

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