Sociology Secular Society

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Find and cut out of a newspaper or magazine etc, evidence to support the idea that we are living in a more secular society. Drawing on evidence from elsewhere, evaluate the claim that religion is of less importance than in the past.

Religion in contemporary society has been, and still is, undergoing rapid change. It is predicted that further secularisation and diversity from religious beliefs and practices will undoubtedly continue to occur. Throughout the world there is no one agreed definition of what religion is comprised of. Our world has, and always will be, guided to a greater or lesser degree by religion. Religion is not just about attending church, but in fact, is something which has influence over many aspects of our lives including education, health and moral awareness. There is no common consensus as to what components together make up the term religion. Religion is explained as “the belief in a god or gods and all the activities connected with such beliefs.” (Collins School Dictionary 1989 Page 591)1 Secularisation denotes the diminishing authority religion has in our everyday lives. It comes about in peaks and troughs depending on the rejuvenation of beliefs at contrasting periods throughout time. As secularisation escalates, the church’s concentration is focused on more worldly matters such as raising awareness on homelessness and the starving. Brian Wilson (1966)2 defines secularisation as “The decline of the influence of religious institutions, thinking and practices upon social life.” Functions which were effected by the church have now been become the duty of the government and also to a lesser degree private businesses. Secularisation follows the spread of rationalisation and industrialisation of society and gives the polity greater power. There is much evidence to suggest that contemporary society is not as religious as previously perceived. There are various reasonable interpretations available for this decline in church attendance. This reduction not only affects church attendance, membership in general but also Sunday school attendance. Diminishing attendance is widespread throughout all major Christian denominations and it is accepted that there is a general decline in participation of organised religion in Britain. According to the World Churches Handbook3, in 1990 there were 6.7 million members of Christian churches and of that figure 4.4 million attended. However in 1995 there were 6.4 million members and 4 million regularly attended. There is too much significance placed upon attending church as proof of belief in God. In past and present times many people of high social status have used church attending as a means of confirming their standing within communities. A person certainly can believe and worship without the need to publicly prove it. Church membership figures are an undependable source of judging whether or not secularisation is arising. Various denominations have different criteria for determining what actually constitutes membership. For example the Catholic Church decides its membership based on baptisms, regardless of the actions of the adult. The Church of England use baptisms, conformations and those who attend at times of significance such as Easter and Christmas. Although membership in established mainstream churches has dwindled, the church nevertheless remains greatly incorporated in the cultural life of people in Britain. It provides activities such as playgroups, youth clubs and sporting events. “Traditional churches have lost one member every six minutes since 1975.” (Brown 1996 Page 356)4 The church contributes a social aspect as well as a religious one to society. Whilst many do however still make use of the rites of passage to mark consequential junctures reached in their lives such as baptism, confirmation, marriage and ultimately burial. Many who attend do so for other reasons, for example, family pressure and some only attend when they...
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