What the hell?

Charles 6 Comments

“Belief in life after death is as common in Britain as it was 30 years ago in spite of a sharp decline in church attendance” according to researchers at the University of Leicester. The story is in today’s Times. The stats in the Leicester report don’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, probably; not if you work in the funerals business, anyway. But it’s fascinating to read the numbers all the same. 

44% believe in an afterlife. Belief in Hell has risen from 26.2% in 1981 to 28.6% today. Almost a third of the population of Britain believe in all 5 Christian tenets: 1) God 2) life after death 3) Heaven 4) Hell and 5) sin. Almost a third! 

Older people are less  likely to believe in an afterlife than the young. 

All the while the C of E carries on shedding churchgoers at a steady 1% a year. Spare a wince, too, for the atheists who supposed that people would cast aside superstition and come over to them. As for the institutional religions, the growth of spirituality shows they are clearly missing out on a growing market and have only themselves to blame. 

In its leader, The Times quotes the philosopher AJ Ayer, who died in 1989, and who “recorded towards the end of his life an experience in hospital when his heart appeared to stop beating. What he “saw”, in that state, he later wrote, had “slightly weakened my conviction that my genuine death, which is due fairly soon, will be the end of me, though I continue to hope that it will be”.”

The Times also paraphrases the political philosopher Edmund Burke, who described society as a partnership of the dead and the unborn as well as of the living


  1. Charles

    Why do religion and spirituality so often become conflated in people’s minds? For instance, you may not believe in God but that doesn’t make you an atheist, nor need you go to church (why cite church in particluar, for god’s sake??) to believe in an afterlife. Or in god, for that matter. Nor does belief in any of the tenets of any of the religions by itself make you the slightest bit religious or inclined to the least hint of sympathy with religion. Religion lends no credence to its own beliefs outside of its faithful membership, but that doesn’t debar anyone else from sharing those beliefs without their being accused of being religious.

    That so many believe in sin and hell, however, boggles my mind… I’d always supposed they were the insidious weapons of religion, used to stop people thinking for themselves. So why would you think of them at all without it? Is our historic religious guilt so ingrained in our identities that we feel discomfort without it?

    And where does any of this lead us anyway? As far as this blog is concerned, people will do at funerals whatever they want that they are encouraged to do, or whatever someone with a vested interest persuades or fools them into doing.

    Oh, to be funded to while away the days doing research at a university – so much easier than doing an honest day’s work!

    1. Charles

      ‘Atheism’, Jonathan, doesn’t mean ‘anti-theism’. The word and its meaning comes from the Greek: a’theos. The ‘a’ prefix is what linguists and grammarians call a privative, it negates what follows, hence a’theos = no god.

  2. Charles

    I think people hold onto any slivery slippery hope of a ‘life after death’ in order to avoid the terrible finality of saying Goodbye. If someone asks me, ‘ what do YOU think happens?’ I’m pretty sure they don’t want me to say ‘Life’s a bitch and then you die.’ Imagining you believe in heaven and hell and sin means you can put lots of conundrums in the ‘too hard box’. It perhaps makes you think you have answers to why bad things happen and why people die and a belief that somewhere, sometime it’ll somehow all make sense…. just not here, not now… Reality is too stark. In the words of Scarlett O’Hara ‘I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.’ ….or maybe not, for as we all know tomorrow never comes. One day that will be true for us all.

    1. Charles

      Albert King mmmm mmmmmm
      metá, “changed after being with”
      and noiéō, “think” – properly,
      “think differently after,”
      “after a change of mind”;
      to repent (literally, “think differently afterwards”).

      You’re right RR, we all could do with some of that…

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