The Decline of Religion 03: Cultural Comparisons in Christianity

The United Kingdom is a very multicultural country and each ethnic group has its own traditions and heritage when it comes to religion. It is also the case that across the world, Christianity is followed by many different nationalities and cultures. Therefore, when discussing trends of religious observance, it is necessary to consider these groups individually, despite their commonalities.

In particular, I believe there are key differences between white British Christians and those of African or Caribbean ancestry. Namely in the attitudes of these two groups towards youngsters attending church. There are two areas I wish to focus on: a) how strict parents are in making their child attend church and b) differences in the nature of the church service itself between these two groups.

Most white British families nowadays are increasingly liberal and will encourage their child to attend church but will not punish them if they do not. In the past parents were given more of a free licence reprimand their child, often by beating them, if they did not appear to be as devout as was deemed appropriate. Modern society has a very different attitude to beating children and so the best most parents can do is encourage their child to study Christianity and perhaps force them to attend church, but it is no longer acceptable for them to beat unenthusiastic offspring. This results in less of an incentive for children to devote themselves to their religion.

African and Caribbean families are widely perceived as having a looser attitude towards punishment. It is not uncommon for parents in these kinds of families to occasionally beat their child if they misbehave. This means that children from these families have more of an incentive to do as they are told and observe their religion more stringently.

There is a significant level of ethnic segregation in the UK and this is reflected in churches. Christians of an African or Caribbean culture will often visit churches where their ethnicity makes up the majority of the congregation. If children from these families are forced to go to church they will be around people of the same age and culture, and will therefore make and meet their friends there resulting in an environment conducive to continued religious engagement.

Another factor is that ‘traditional’ Christian services (as is common in white British churches) and evangelical services (more common amongst African and Caribbean communities) are very different in content and energy. It could be argued that evangelical services will be more engaging and ‘fun’ for young children who may not fully understand the content of the teachings.

The subject of this post is the differences in religious observance between cultures and how this could affect the engagement of young people. I believe that children from white families who attend traditional churches are far less likely to continue their religious observance to adulthood than children from black families who attend an evangelical church. This is not meant as a sweeping generalisation but an indicative correlation.

This ties into parts 1 & 2 because further to my previous arguments that religion is in decline, I think it is possible that different branches of Christianity have more chance of surviving than others and that traditional Christianity in particular does not have a bright future.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for part 4 of The Decline of Religion where I will be discussing what role socioeconomic class plays in the development of religion. Follow the debate here at cbeconomics.com and on twitter @cbeconomic!

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