Religions of England

The main BBC Web site home has a lot of links to interesting internal resources. There is a page on Religion and Ethics. There is a box on that page which links to an Index of Religions in Britain The Guardian Online has its own Guide to Religion in the U.K..


The BBC’s approach seems to be descriptive and inclusive. At the top level, they list several religions – old, young, large and small – with distinctive traditions, sacred writings, teachings and rituals: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Sikhism, Jainism, Bah’ai and Mormon.
They also have top-level sections on atheism. They include Paganism and Unitarianism as top-level entries. The Guardian, on the other hand, addresses these manifestations of the believing spirit, but not with the less emphasis, and goes on to deal with Scientology and Zoroastrianism and Rastafarianism.
Each top-level entry on the BBC page links to an index and home page for each religion or category. At that level there are links to current articles and other sources of information, as well as links to the next levels in the index. In each top-level index, there are links to an Introduction and a History, and links to pages on Beliefs, Worship or Rituals. The Christianity and Judaism pages have links to indices of sub-divisions but the Introduction to Islam page only has a short comment on the Sunni/Shia division.
Paganism, according to the BBC, has two main branches in modern England – Wicca and Heathenry. “Teenage Witches” are mentioned in the introduction but aren’t listed as a subdivision. Druids seem to be related to Wicca, but they don’t rate their own page. The English Pagan religions are modern attempts to re-create or imagine the traditional religion of the indigenous peoples of Britain. The BBC has not tried to deal with North American Aboriginal spirituality, native African religions or other indigenous peoples’s religions.
The BBC defines atheism this way:

Atheism is not a belief.
Atheism is the absence of belief in God.
Atheists are people who do not believe in God or other spiritual beings.
Some atheists go further and deny that God, or other spiritual beings, exist.

That’s probably not a fair definition of atheism as a religion. Some of the specific groups listed – humanists and rationalists – maintain affirmatively that there is no God, and dont’t have rituals or religious practices. They suggest that Buddhism is an atheist religion because it does not teach the existence of a God or gods, even though it does seem to have a supernatural cosmology of consciousness and reincarnation, and even though it does have sacred writing and communal rituals. They identify Christian Non-realism as a form of atheism. That’s probably a legitimate way of looking at what many Christians actually believe although it is also unkind to Christians who have faith but are burdened by doubt.
It’s hard to say where people who really don’t care about God, prayer or ritual, but who care passionately about work, football, sex, gender, politics, equality and justice, really belong, but it’s hard to ignore them in a fully diverse and inclusive overview of religion. People with personal belief and value systems are often intense and dogmatic as religious fanatics, and they often don’t travel quietly or alone. When we get into animal rights, global warming and deep ecology, there is a cultural movement to a modern syncretic nature worship that borrows from paganism, Buddhism and science fiction. The BBC hasn’t quite figured out how to deal with these belief systems.
The BBC gives Pagans and Unitarians their own top-level entries, and is quite supportive and respectful of these movements. I would expect that the BBC has built up some material about these groups under the general topic of lifestyle journalism. Unlike the Guardian, the BBC doesn’t discuss cults, even the bigger and well-known cults, or the apocalyptic movements like Jehovah’s Witnesses, probably because they aren’t as trendy and media-friendly as some of the diverse and colourful (I am trying to be inclusive and respectful here) movements they do cover. The BBC has some archived features on cults in the news area, but they aren’t included in the Religion and Ethics area. They don’t address the New Age or Aquarian movements – perhaps because they are so individualized that they defy orderly classification.
I noticed in October that the BBC News had an article about the first sailor in the Royal Navy to identify himself as a Satanist but they don’t seem to have found a way to fit that in any of the categories in the Religion and Ethics area. I would suspect that including Satanism would change the tone of the site, and would generate some nasty discussions. However there are similarities between Satanism, Wicca, Theosophy and other movements started – or made up – by modern individuals (modern Satanism was founded by Anton Szandor LaVey) who were trying to create a set of religious beliefs and rituals worthy of their own creative gifts based on their personal interpretations of extinct, exotic or esoteric religions.

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