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Shrinking society

Church-going is declining. Among migrant communities, it is still strong. But for the second and third generation the attractions of active religion are also less.


Steve Latham


Shrinking society 2Before the atheists get too excited, however, they need to reflect that the same phenomenon is occurring among political parties and trade unions.

Membership numbers are going down in all voluntary organisations. Civil society is shrinking. The amount of participation in charities too is decreasing.

Something is happening in our society, which is discouraging active citizenship, at all levels. People are retreating into their own individual spaces.

It’s not just a matter of folks preferring to snuggle down in the comfort of the nuclear family, because that too is collapsing, as single parent families become the norm.

The individualism, isolated, atomised, of our competitive, capitalist, consumerist, culture, is sapping the will and the ability to cooperate for collective action for the common good.

Shrinking society 1Capitalism threw agricultural workers, with their extended families, off the land, and installed them in cities.

Here it made sense to have smaller family units: were cheaper to maintain, and easier to release and discipline for labour, and the reproduction of labour, through education.

Now, even this degree of family cohesion is not necessary. Indeed the multiplication of households, through divorce and family breakdown, produces more consumers for products.

Capitalism everywhere destroys social bonds, as Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto.

It also makes people more satisfied with the proliferating range of gadgets and other commodities that claim to make modern life bearable.

Shrinking society 3The psychic cost of life in the postmodern city, fast-paced, disconnected from genuine relationships, is met by the anaesthetisation of leisure-time consumption.

TV, the web, and smart phones perform dual functions. They simultaneously provide new markets while also supplying narcotic techno-fixes for the alienation which cyber-consumerism creates.

Collective action therefore becomes less attractive, when there is something good on the telly, or someone to chase up on Facebook.

There are some new charities, and ethnic ally-based organisations, especially in cities. This online newspaper, The Prisma, is an example of this.

But the numbers involved does not match, or compensate, for the drop in more conventional, traditional, forms of involvement.

Shrinking society 4The Occupy! Movement, and Arab Spring, did use the new technologies, Twitter and Facebook, to mobilise members.

But these have proved to be short-lived networks, unable to sustain themselves for long-term political action.

Anarchism is an attractive ethos, but soon gives way to a nihilistic antipathy toward any organisation, or ideology.

Effectiveness requires permanent structure to deliver determined action. It also needs analysis to inspire and guide a strategic programme.

The same phenomenon is observable in religion. Any today claim to be ‘spiritual’ but not ‘religious’. It is clear that the abuses of power in the churches makes people suspicious.

But this translates into a dislike of “organised religion”. What would they like then? “Disorganised religion”?

Capitalism separates us from each other. Without collective myths, unifying for the common good, we will not be able to unite.


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