A Response to Nikki Gemmell’s ‘Losing their Religion’ article in the Australian Magazine (5-6th November).
In part 1 we looked at seven myths deadly myths about Christianity. Whilst it is perhaps understandable that a secular journalist with an agenda doesn’t quite grasp Christian teaching – what is more surprising is how much Nikki Gemmell does not seem to grasp what is going on in Australian society today. I suspect that this is because the world has now been so politicised, including the media, that too often people read the world through their own particular political/philosophical lens. What far too many commentators do (including Christian ones) is allow what they want to be true, to determine what they say is true, rather than humbly face up to the truth – no matter how uncomfortable.
What Nikki does here is really interesting. She makes general observations about young people and Christianity, brings in Nick Cave as a witness and pronounces the death of the Church. But is what she says true? Let’s have a look.
(Incidentally whilst these are observations about Australia, I suspect they can be extrapolated to other Anglo Western democracies).
Misunderstandings about Society
- Younger generations in Australia – like around the rest of the world are coming for ‘Christian fundamentalism’.
“Religious extremists, you have a problem. It’s called the growing awareness of younger generations. They’re coming for you. Around the world we’re seeing youth-led reckonings with fundamentalist gerontocracies, most recently with demonstrations in Iran sparked by the death of young Mahsa Amini, held in custody for refusing to wear a hijab.”
This is a somewhat strange statement which conjures up images of mobs of youths marching on the streets protesting against Sydney Anglicans, Brisbane Charismatics or Tasmanian Presbyterians – who Nikki equates with the Ayatollahs! There is zero evidence of this actually happening. Although I suspect the image of little Green Brigades of young people attacking the church, is something that quite a few progressive ideologues fantasise about. The reality that the church has to face is much more threatening. Far too many young people are just apathetic – and regard the church as irrelevant to their lives.
2)Young people have turned away from Christianity.
Again, this is a case of wishful thinking. It’s what Nikki thinks should happen and so in her mind, it has happened. But if she had done even the most basic research, she would have found that in Australia at least, the younger you are, the more likely you be interested in Christianity. The most recent research according to the 2021 Australian Community Survey (2021 ACS) by NCLS Research shows that 1 in 3 young adults aged 18 to 34 (32%) say they attend religious services at least once a month. Those aged 65 and over, and those aged 35-49 are both at 19% – with the lowest rate of attendance being in the 50 to 64 age group – when only 1 in 10 attend. Nikki is in this latter group – I cannot help but wonder if she is just projecting her own fears and desires here. It is incomprehensible to her that it is the older generations who are attacking the Church – and the younger ones who are more likely to attend it!
3) Young people can make this kind of judgement because they have been enlightened by social media fuelled modern thinking.
“The dogma of religious ultra-conservatives is butting up hard against social media-fuelled modern thinking.”
The notion of social media as a source of enlightenment is at least novel! Most analysts would consider social media to be a major factor in fuelling hatred, ignorance and prejudice. It’s why apparently, we need ‘hate speech’ laws. The American psychologist Jonathan Haidt is one of many who have pointed out the devastating impact of social media on the mental well-being and health of young people – see for example his Coddling of the American Mind. If you believe that social media as a source of modern thinking is a positive thing, then it only goes to show how out of touch with reality you are.
Take for example the current fad amongst teenage girls for declaring themselves transgender. That is almost entirely fuelled by social media, Tik Tok and You Tube videos. It is a form of social contagion and indoctrination. It is the very opposite of ‘thinking’. Again, I would recommend that reading Abigail Shirer’s Irreversible Damage.
You will note in passing how Nikki uses the derogatory term ‘dogma’ to describe those she disagrees with. This shows both a lack of understanding of Christian education (which teaches us how to think – not what to think), and a lack of self-awareness. Progressives have their own dogmas. They don’t call them that. But they hold to them with all the certainty and zeal of a fundamentalist religious zealot. They are even re-introducing blasphemy laws to ensure the silence of those who dare to question them!
4) Nick Cave exemplifies the ‘spiritual but not religious’ approach of young people.
“No wonder so many young people don’t define themselves as religious anymore – yet may see themselves as spiritual. It’s a nebulous yet deeply felt spirituality unaligned with church certainties, exemplified by the likes of Nick Cave.”
Having just finished Nick Cave and Sean O’Hagan’s wonderful Faith, Hope and Carnage I had to have a smile at this one. Admittedly sometimes Cave, like Dylan or Cohen, can use words in such a way that almost anyone can take their own meaning from them – but on this issue, as on many others, he is as clear as a bell.
For example, on spirituality he explains why he doesn’t like the term “The word spirituality is a little amorphous for my taste. It can mean almost anything, whereas the word religious is just more specific, perhaps even conservative, has a little more to do with tradition…. It’s that struggled with the notion of the divine that is at the heart of my creativity. (p.19)
Nick is a great example of someone who has tasted the waters of modernity and found that they do not satisfy. He doesn’t share Nikki’s dogmatism. He is seeking – and those who seek will find!
5) A Brave New World is Coming
“The world is morphing, ancient edifices crumbling, old certainties being questioned by the roar of under-35s calling out unfairness and cruelty. The callousness of some parts of the racing industry is highlighted in a hashtag #nuptothecup. The national netball team refuses to play with uniforms carrying the logo of its sponsor, Hancock Prospecting.”
The old ways and certainties – which were clearly bad, unjust and cruel, are now being called out by the young who are changing the world into a more just and kind place. And the evidence for this? A hashtag about racing and netball stars refusing to wear a logo! It’s not a lot. But then evidence is not needed if your fantasy is that things can only get better!
It is true that many structures on which our society was built were not perfect and needed reform – even radical reform. But it is easy to destroy. Not so easy to build. When the little Green guards have finished their destruction – what will we be left with? Human history suggests that societies that try to get rid of the Church (Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany, Mao’s China), don’t fare so well.
So far, the legacy of Nikki’s older generation is not looking good. Having rejected the Christian roots of our culture, they seem to think that they will still be able to retain the fruits. Such blind, and irrational, faith!
Education, equality before the law, democracy, the family, the right to private property, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, health care and justice for the poor are all under threat from the new dogmatism of the Progressives. Nick Cave has an apposite warning for our destroyers…
“The belligerent dogmatism of the current cultural moment is a case in point. A bit of humility wouldn’t go astray.” (p.23)
6)Tide of modern thinking is ebbing away from hard-line Christianity.
“The tide of modern thinking is ebbing away from hard-line Christianity. Modelling by maths professor John Hayward suggests the Anglican Church will be extinct in England by the 2060s.”
Nikki thinks that ‘modern thinking’ is based on social media. Which makes me wonder whether such a basis makes it desirable or even whether it could be called ‘thinking’. But leaving that aside this remark again shows the danger of writing dogmatic analysis based on little more than personal prejudice and a quick Google search. Ironically Nikki cites the work of a professor who says precisely the opposite of what she is trying to say.
I know John Hayward and find his work invaluable – some of which can be read here. https://churchmodel.org.uk/2022/05/15/growth-decline-and-extinction-of-uk-churches/
Hayward shows that Nikki is right in saying that the Church of England will die, but he also shows that it is because it has adopted ‘modern thinking’ that it will die – not because it has held to what she calls ‘hard-line Christianity’ (what the Bible calls Christianity!).
He writes: “The future of the progressive denominations is bleak. Despite the enthusiasm of leaders for the new ideology, they face division and despondency in the church and a faster decline. The embrace of same-sex marriage is the final gasp of churches near the end of their lifecycle. Desperately sad.”
He argues from the data that the Church of Scotland is likely to be extinct by the middle of this century. He also shows that every church that has supported progressive ideology and same-sex marriage has declined.
7) Stubborn old people of the church are destroying their institution.
“Stubborn old people of the church are destroying their institution; leaving it, in the western world in particular, as a fragile movement of its time – that’s not moving with the times.”
Why this obsession with youth and age? Why such ageism? As shown above the truth is precisely the opposite – it is the older leaders of the mainstream churches, like the older leaders in politics, business, academia and law, who think they are being hip and happening if they just go along with the cultural tide. You can relive your youth if your virtue signal ‘progressive’ values – even if you don’t live them. Even billionaires can be communists now!
As for ‘moving with the times’ – that would be the end of the Church. We are here to turn the world upside down, not just float along with the Zeitgeist. A quote often attributed to Gk Chesterton but really from Dean Inge puts it perfectly – “He who marries the spirit of this Age, will soon be a widower in the next”
Or as CH Spurgeon argued: What, then, is it for a man to serve his own generation? I note, first, that it is not to be a slave to it. It is not to drop into the habits, customs, and ideas of the generation in which we live.
As long as we follow Christ, the Church will always be free. As soon as we follow the fashions of this world, or the dictates of politicians or cultural elites, we are dead.
As the West regresses to a Greco/Roman/Pagan ideology, it is the West that is fragile and collapsing, not the Church. The gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church of Jesus Christ – empires, civilisations and cultures come and go but the Word of God endures forever.
Losing their religion is a title borrowed from REM’s ‘Losing my Religion’. The use of that title demonstrates the main weakness of the article – it is shallow in its understanding and weak on facts. REM’s song is not about religion, but rather about obsession, love and frustration.
It seems that Nikki – like many of her generation are obsessed with religion and frustrated that their Brave New World just doesn’t seem to be working out that well. Nikki’s solution is to set up a caricature of Christianity, which she then blames for all the ills in the world. The Progressives want to eradicate the virus of biblical Christianity from modern Australian society, and to use young people to do so. It’s why Dan Andrews and others seek to control and use education to indoctrinate children into their ideology – and why they seek to silence any alternative points of view. It is a delusional and dangerous path. Because although it may succeed – it will only do so by destroying Australian society.
As the prophet Hosea warned you sow the wind, and you reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7).
How can the Church respond to all of this prejudice, ignorance and hatred?
I will leave a fuller answer to that for another time – but for the moment let me simply say that countering error, being salt and light by following Christ; prayer; being filled with the Spirit, believing and keeping his Word; and sharing the Good News will always bear fruit – especially amongst the young!
Nikki speculates about the young. I work with them. And contrary to her wishes, I find that young people today are the most open, thoughtful and prone to believe, generation in Australia. They are seeking for love, meaning and truth – and we are offering them the Christ who is all of those – and more! We can’t lose!
Note: The Australian has not responded to my request for a right of reply.