At the start of each meeting of the Bideford Council in England a guest minister of religion led the council members in saying prayers. This practice had occurred for many years but in January 2008 Mr Bone, a newly elected councillor, objected to it. Mr Bone was not Christian and he did not want to be involved with this religious practice. After various unsuccessful attempts to amend the Council’s practice, the issue came before the courts. Last week the High Court of England and Wales rejected the claim that the practice contravened the Mr Bone’s human rights or discriminated against him under the relevant laws of the United Kingdom and Europe. However, the judge ruled that the saying of prayers as part of the formal proceedings at council meetings could not continue. This decision may be appealed.
For most of the twentieth century it was widely accepted by western scholars that modernisation would lead to the disappearance of religion. The ‘secularisation thesis’ became a fact in the academic world. Most scholars accepted it unquestioningly and it became a largely unacknowledged assumption underlying research in the humanities. However, towards the end of the twentieth century researchers noticed that religion had not disappeared.
Surely if the secularisation thesis was correct religion would have faded away by this time? Yet young Catholics flock to World Youth Day, evangelical movements continue to thrive and churches are still crowded at important times for Christianity such as Easter and Christmas. Christianity is not the only religion of influence in the west. Islam is a growing presence in many western countries as is Buddhism and ‘New Age’ beliefs. Having said this, it is also important to recognise the influence of those who do not believe in God or are ambivalent as well as the fact that many western nations are clearly more secular than they were two hundred years ago. Clearly the historic processes that have been at play are more complex than the secularisation thesis suggests. Continue reading