Why Is Religion Dying out? Ronald Knox’s View

The influential Catholic writer Ronald Knox saw that religion was dying out as early as 1931. He asked why. Here are some of his answers:

The facts, indeed, have been patent enough throughout this century. The ripples of that agnosticism which was fashionable among intellectual circles in the later Victorian period widened out slowly over the surface of the public mind…. Meanwhile, the growth of the Labour movement had neutralized the political appeal and sapped the political strength of Nonconformity. Increased facilities for worldly enjoyment had whetted the appetite for it, popular education had encouraged people to specialize over their hobbies; a general loss of simplicity began to tell upon the vitality of our insular religion, which had always depended upon a soil of unadventurous conservatism to fertilize its influence. The War [1914-18] at once intensified the action of these forces, and opened our eyes to the inroads they had already made on public feeling” (Caliban in Grub Street, 1931).

He went on to argue that people no longer believed in a literally true Bible (the result of new Biblical scholarly studies). This “bred in us an itch for private theologies.”  The western world swarmed with amateur theologians, unauthorised prophets, mystics and charlatans. Other thinkers, such as G. K. Chesterton, Malcolm Muggeridge and T. S. Eliot, also detected this unsettling trend.

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