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Atheists should be careful what they wish for

Matthew Lloyd/Getty

For the first time, says Madeline Grant in The Daily Telegraph, the census has found that less than half the country are Christians. Meanwhile, the number describing themselves as “non-religious” has almost tripled since the millennium. “But while we may be losing our faith, that doesn’t mean society is losing its religion.” In fact, as Tom Holland “brilliantly observes” in his book Dominion, Western idealists who boast of being “emancipated from religious thought” are really beneficiaries of a Judeo-Christian inheritance that “seeps into everything”, especially their own “liberal and progressive” beliefs. The very idea that we can purge ourselves of superstition to reach some higher understanding is an “inherently scriptural belief”.

More importantly, religion’s retreat leaves a “vacuum in our worldviews”. The needs that faith addresses haven’t gone away: “to belong, to trust, to hope and to sense a dimension beyond our own”. But the obsessions and habits that have replaced religion in our lives are poor substitutes. The irreligious are often left with “atomisation”, the “snarky faux-communities” of social media, and cult-like devotions to contemporary fads: “my diet, my wellbeing, my half-marathon times, my gym sessions”. Worse, people end up obsessed with politics or “doomsday environmentalism”, or buy into cancel culture, which “assumes a religious censoriousness without the possibility of forgiveness or redemption”. To paraphrase GK Chesterton: “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in everything.”