Predictably, the Prime Minister’s brouhaha over gay marriage is having a knock-on effect. The fracas between atheist agitators and the Church of England ”“ which had lulled since Christopher Hitchens died and the novelty of Professor Dawkins wore off ”“ has sprung back into newsprint.
Last week, a pair of heavyweight commentators attacked via a pincer movement in the pages of the Guardian and Observer. Polly Toynbee argued that the rows over gay marriage and women bishops revealed a ruling elite that is out of touch with public opinion. “With overwhelming popular support for both,” she wrote, “how can abstruse theology and unpleasant prejudice cause such agitation at Westminster and in the Right-wing press? Politics looks even more out of touch when obscure doctrine holds a disproportionate place in national life.”
Nick Cohen took up her baton, citing various polls and figures to illustrate the decline in religious observance in Britain. The number of people with no religion has risen from 15 per cent to 25 per cent over ten years, he said; the remaining 75 per cent “are not faithful to their creeds, or not in any sense that the believers of the past would have recognised”. Just 11 per cent of Catholics agree with the church on abortion, he added, and four per cent on contraception. Most strikingly of all, just 1.8 per cent of the population regularly attends church.