In his book, Welby depicts Britain as a country that has become embarrassed by its Christian roots. Since 1983, the proportion of Britons affiliating with the Church of England has halved to one in five. In the US, 28 per cent of people say that the pandemic has strengthened their faith. In the UK, it’s just 10 per cent. Joe Biden mentioned God four times in his inauguration address, while in Britain the Trussell Trust, which supports more than 1,200 food banks, no longer talks about its church origins. The footballer Marcus Rashford has won the support of millions by calling for free school meals for children during lockdown, but who knows he has “God puts you on a path in life” tattooed on his chest? “Oh, it doesn’t surprise me at all,” says Welby.
Does it sadden him that people aren’t more open about their faith? “In some cases, it does. In one sense the pendulum has swung so far that you have to justify to people the idea that it’s remotely a good idea to do any work with you at all.”
But “in one sense it doesn’t matter because God sees, and that’s the key thing. I mean, we’re not Unilever — we don’t have to put the brand on every bit of product.” In most of the world, he emphasises, faith is still the default. “For over 80 per cent of the world’s population, the idea that someone is not to be trusted because they hold a faith is just bewildering. They just think that’s bizarre!”
As God has been pushed from public view, Britons have seemed to cast around for replacements: pets, yoga, the philosophy of Jordan Peterson. “He’s a really good writer. And a really good speaker. I think he’s fascinating,” remarks Welby. Are people trying to compensate for a God-shaped hole?
“I think there’s an anxiety caused by the fact that it’s very difficult to discern the rules and values [of society]. And in one sense I’m not really worried about that, because the rules and values were extremely hypocritical in many ways.”
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