Perspective: Is the Church Dead and Buried?; in the Spiritual Free Market, Traditional Religions Are Losing out to a Pick'n'mix Approach to Spirituality. but What, If Anything Can the Church Do to Bring Parishioners Back to the Pews?
Byline: Jenni Ameghino
Asked to define her religious convictions, a colleague in her mid-30s responds that she is: 'Officially Church of England but with large helpings of Buddhism and a smattering of the Wicca.'
Old classmates who once marched to church parade in their Brownie uniforms talk today not of a biblical God but of 'the universal life force', 'the source' and 'earth energies'. Other friends are unsure what to believe in any more. They acknowledge the social and pastoral elements of church life but feel it somehow lacks spiritual relevance today.
It used to be so simple. You were Catholic. You were Protestant. But religion is evolving. The world is shrinking. In the spiritual free market, as one radio commentator has defined the new order, there is so much more religion to choose from, be it Western, Eastern, tribal or earth-based Paganism.
While many traditional churchgoers dismiss so-called New Age notions - laziness masquerading as enlightenment, since burning a joss stick doesn't demand quite the same discipline as attending Mass - it's clear they are popular, particularly among young people.
According to a senior figure in the Roman Catholic Church in Britain, more of us than ever are getting our 'glimpses of the transcendent' not from Christianity but from 'music, New Age beliefs and the environmental movement'.
People have long been uplifted by music, art and hill-walking, though possibly not at the expense of organised religion until relatively recently.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, leader of the 1.4 million Roman Catholics in England and Wales, fears the exodus from the pews has now reached crisis point.
'As a sort of backdrop to people's lives and moral decisions - and to the Government, the social life of the country - Christianity has now almost been vanquished,' he told a national priests' conference in Leeds last week.
Conceding that the Roman Catholic Church has been damaged by the scandal of paedophile priests, the Cardinal also laments what he sees as a 'demoralised society where the only good is what I want, the only rights are my own and the only life with any meaning or value is the life I want for myself'.
His unexpected warning suggests Britain is degenerating into a nation of Godless individuals with no higher spiritual aspirations that getting stoned under Perspex pyramids.
So is Christianity being eclipsed by a combination of science and crystals? Or is the free market and consumerism equally to blame, as the Cardinal also suggests. Whatever the reason, it seems modern life is diminishing religion's intellectual and political clout.
The Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Rev Mark Santer, attributes part of the decline to the continuing breakdown of society: 'Our loyalties, be they to local traders, politics or the Church have all become fragmented.'
Reviving interest in the modern Church might be easier if it didn't suffer from a general suspicion over its traditions and institutions, he says.
'The Church has to attend to the world it lives in and look to the future, but it must not betray its inheritances. …