The term modernity is synonymous with a specific kind of progress. We’re only 20 years into the 21st century and already we’ve seen mammoth advances in our ability to research, build and harness the powers of science and technology. And since many of these developments have helped to significantly improve our standards of living, it’s perhaps no surprise that we as a society hold science and technology as sovereign in solving our problems.
Given this, it’s probably even less surprising that during a global pandemic, we’ve relied on our modern infrastructure as a reason to hope. Without the internet, we undoubtedly would have faced a much bleaker and less connected ‘new normal’ than we do currently. And without the ability to fast track a vaccine that we hope will save us all, our very existence might just be hanging in the throes.
The British government have consistently used messaging that resonates with this view throughout the Coronavirus crisis. Listen to any one of Boris Johnson’s addresses to the nation and you’ll hear him reassure us that he’s ‘working with the science’, evidenced by the selection of medical professionals that he regularly shares the stage with (such as Professor Chris Witty and Professor Jonathan Van-Tam), as well as the abundance of graphs and data that come with them.
With news of three highly effective vaccines piercing the veil of pessimism that’s clung so tightly to the world, it seems that it was right to trust in the science all along. But, our worship of the empirical brings with it a lot of consequences; and one of these is rapid deterioration of the nation’s already fragile relationship with organised religion.
The end of religion?
It’s no secret that many people in the UK have already decided religion belongs to an expired world. A 2019 ONS poll showed that in the space of a year, atheism in Britain had increased by nearly 46%. But while these bold figures suggest that religion is on the brink, others suggest it’s quite the opposite.
While the Coronavirus pandemic has amplified our heavy reliance and vested trust in science, it’s also seen many people find new strength in religion. According to one survey, Google searches for the word ‘prayer’ rose by 50% from around March to May, with a quarter of British adults saying they had prayed for an end to the crisis. We shouldn’t underestimate religion’s ability to comfort, guide and provide hope to billions of people in the most trying of times.
The temporary relaxation of otherwise stringent rules over Christmas could be taken as a nod to the fundamental importance of religious celebration. However, the government only ever seem to refer to this period of grace as a chance to meet family. There is little to none emphasis on the religious aspect – and if there is, why are we allowed to enjoy a Christian festival, but not those from other religions?
Only a few weeks ago, we were told there were to be strictly no gatherings to celebrate Diwali. And if you cast your mind back to May, new measures were put in place the night before Eid, showing little sympathy for those who it’s important to.
For some, this is a blatant display of the government’s disregard for those who belong to minority religions in Britain. For others, it’s a reminder that the government no longer prioritise religion in an increasingly secular society. Either way, it doesn’t inspire confidence that our leaders take seriously the importance of religion in modern Britain.
It’s not over yet
You only need to look at the language used to describe science, claims that it will save us all, or that the vaccine is a holy grail, for example, to understand that religion is so entwined with the way we operate, even when we don’t realise it.
This is a reminder that the debate cannot be reduced to a battle between science and religion, because it isn’t. But what is clear is that the government’s priorities remain with the former, and religion is not high on their agenda.
In the future, as we start to edge out of the pandemic and towards a society that will have been changed forever, we cannot celebrate our scientific advancements to the detriment of our old pillars, including religion. As with many things, it’s when they work in tandem that we reap the most benefits.