Friday, 15 December 2017

Even non-believers can say 'thank you'

THE findings of the recent British Social Attitudes Survey on religion reveal a marked decline in religious affiliation in Britain today.

For the first time, more people identify themselves as being of “no religion” (53 per cent) than those who profess an affiliation to a particular religion.

Only 15 per cent of adults in Britain now regard themselves as members of the Church of England, whereas in 2000 half the population identified themselves with the Anglican Church.

The decline in living faith in Britain is in marked contrast to the situation in the majority of the world, where Christianity is growing strongly.

Some of those who identify themselves as being of “no religion” do, however, have some faith. For example, one in five of them says they believe in life after death.

This shows that, even if we opt out of formal religion, which can be less than inspiring, we cannot avoid the fundamental questions posed by our life in this world. Very few are committed atheists.

In the last couple of years I have attended two humanist funeral services for people who were clear they had no faith. At one nothing was said. The family sat at the front of the crematorium for a short time then stood by the coffin briefly before leaving. I suppose for this family death is the end; there was nothing to say.

By contrast, the second mirrored a Christian service with a reflection on the life of the deceased and some selected readings Also, quirkily, we sang the hymn Amazing Grace with its explicit message of Christian hope (but that’s another story).

The thing that, for me, was missing in both services was any element of thanksgiving. I suppose that neither family felt there was anyone to thank.

For Christians, by contrast, a funeral service is full of thanksgiving — thanksgiving to God for the life of the bereaved and thanksgiving both for God’s grace shown in the person’s life and for His amazing provision for the life to come.

Since Christians are followers of Jesus, who died on a cross and rose from the dead on the third day. I suppose this is natural.

While the death of a Christian is, of course, hard for those who remain, Christians believe that to live is Christ and to die is gain. So why not give thanks!

I hope the latest survey does not mean that “thanksgiving” is a dying art in our society. Apparently, many fewer people now ever say grace before a meal — but I hope people of all generations can still treasure the significance of those two simple words “Thank you.”

Maybe we can find ways to express thanks at least to each other from time to time... and perhaps even to God!

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