Dawkins provides Christians with a positive opportunity

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Responding to the Ipsos-Mori survey of 'census Christians' commissioned by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science UK, Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, said:

"This opinion survey makes interesting reading as part of a whole web of research on the changing shape and location of Christianity in Britain over the past thirty or more years.

"It shows that 'civic' and 'cultural' Christian self-identification is a very different thing to the deeply-rooted faith held by a much smaller number of people whose believing, belonging and behaving is strongly shaped by regular participation in active Christian communities.

"While we can argue over details, the broad outline of what this survey reveals should not come as any shock or threat to church leaders who have been paying attention to what has been happening in recent decades.

"Top-down and institutional religion is in decline. Trying to restore or maintain the cultural and political dominance of Established religious institutions in what is now a mixed-belief 'spiritual and secular' society is a backward-looking approach.

"Churches have a creative opportunity here. It is to rediscover a different, ground-up vision of Christianity based on practices like economic sharing, peacemaking, hospitality and restorative justice. These were among the distinguishing marks of the earliest followers of Jesus. They have always been part of the 'nonconformist' tradition shared in different ways by Anabaptists, Quakers, radical Catholics, Free Churches and faithful dissenters in all streams of Christian life.

"The mutually reinforcing pact between big religion and top-down authority that we call 'Christendom' is on the way out.

"The kind of conservative religious aggression that claims 'anti-Christian discrimination' every time Christians are asked to treat others fairly and equally in the public square is a threatened response to the loss of top-down religion's social power. So is overbearing 'Christian nation' rhetoric, and the 'culture wars' that some hardline believers and non-believers sometimes seek to launch and win against each other.

"A positive, post-Christendom perspective suggests that Christianity can and should flourish beyond the demise of 'big religion', and that a level-playing field in public life can and should involve both religious and non-religious participants.

"Likewise, while Richard Dawkins may not be a subtle, unbiased or persuasive analyst of religion overall, it would be entirely unhelpful for believers to dismiss this survey because they disagree with its commissioner in other respects. Its content evidently needs further and deeper analysis, alongside other data, than the initial response to it has allowed."