“The retrogressive tendencies of the masses were invariably reinforced by the periodic invasions of aliens who had no respect for official deities or temple creeds.”
—Donald A. McKenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Just over a year after the opening of a vast, phantasmagorical Hindu temple in Neasden, north London, has come news that Britain’s Muslims are flexing their muscles again. “Muslims planning 100 new mosques by millennium” ran the portentous headline in the Daily Telegraph on February 3. Although some of these mosques are still at planning permission stage, the various architects all sound confident that obtaining the permission will be a mere formality in almost all cases. This means that 100 or so new mosque buildings (they are not all new mosques, as some are merely replacing old, unsuitable mosque buildings) will soon be arising to change Britain’s urban skylines. All will be built according to the classic Muslim pattern, with a central dome and minarets, and separate entrances for men and women. Some have already arisen, like the Bilal Masjid mosque in Harehills Lane, Leeds, which is almost complete. “If you stand in front of the Bilal mosque and blink, you would think you were in the Middle East” rejoiced the architect, who is of Iraqi extraction.

All the new mosques are necessary because of all the people of differing, sometimes mutually antipathetic, Muslim traditions who are now living in Britain. There will be separate mosques built for Bangladeshi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Pathan, Turkish, and Mauritian Muslims, and at least one built for a heretical sect, the Ahmadiyas, in a disused dairy in Merton, south London, once more famous for its Augustinian foundation of Merton Abbey, founded in 1114, where Thomas a Becket and the founder of Merton College, Oxford, were both educated, and where the Statute of Merton, the oldest on record, was enacted in 1236. (Most of the Abbey is now under a car park.) While all these projects are going on, extension or refurbishment will be taking place at 160 other mosques across the country. Not to be outdone by all the Hindu statues bleeding milk in London’s Hindu temples, Allah is now autographing the inside of aubergines (eggplants), according to a recent news report from what is now the heavily Islamized Yorkshire town of Bradford.

Compared to these signs of life, Christianity seems to be stagnant. Church of England membership is only 40 percent of what it was in the 1930’s, and the number of Sunday worshipers has dropped from 1.6 million in 1968 to 1.1 million in 1992 (Daily Telegraph, October 30, 1996). Over the last 25 years, 350 Anglican churches have closed for good (out of 16,000), although there has actually been a slight increase in the number of Roman Catholic churches over the same period (four in 1994-95, to bring the figure to 3,760). The Greek and Eastern Orthodox congregations are standing still, and there are slight increases in the numbers of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who find recruits in the ranks of upper-working-class people anxious for respectability, but none too discerning theologically. Part of this is merely a natural side-effect of the general aging of Britain’s population, but it still seems a little incongruous in the country which produced Milton, Bunyan, and Hopkins—the country of which Dean Inge could say in The English Genius as recently as 1939, “Christianity is, I think, stronger in Great Britain than in any other European country.”

The decline of Anglicanism should be viewed with trepidation because of its status as the Established Church. Although it would be an overstatement to say that Anglicanism is England, it is not overstating the case to say that the disestablishment of Anglicanism, which is increasingly likely to happen, would mean enormous upheaval. A further reason why conservatives should lament the passing of Anglicanism is that it is, or was, a conservative faith, which was relatively rational, where mysticism and dogmatism were kept in check, which inculcated the national values of moderation and good sense, and whose vicars tended to live modest and useful lives (a good example is that of Gilbert White of Selborne).

If ex-Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie is to be believed, the reason for the decline in church attendance lies in Anglicanism’s neglect of tradition and its heritage in favor of what he called “happy-clappy” services, involving “speaking in tongues,” playing guitars, dancing, and the like. One can see why the evangelists are considered revolting (one modern hymn for schoolchildren boasts the couplet, “He gave me lips / To eat my chips”), but the uncomfortable fact is that it is the evangelists who are the most fervent churchgoers and the strongest conservative force in the Church of England today. It is largely the unintellectual “happy clappies” who fill the pews every Sunday, and run the various pro-family movements—although similar evangelists, full of egalitarian erethism, form the backbone of the Labour Party. Not for nothing has it been said that the Labour Party is where Marxism meets Methodism.

Anglicanism is the product of an uneasy compromise between two equally English traditions—that of the harsh, judgmental, democratic Dissenter and that of the articulate, elitist, rational, effete, often camp aficionados of what are jocularly called “smells and bells.” This alliance reached its apogee in the 18th century, when British Christendom was united against “Johnny Frenchman” and his Jesuitic plots. Since the last war, however, the Low Churchers have been getting the upper hand, as their rough equality is more suitable to an anti-elitist world. High Church conservatives, such as those who parade yearly at the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk (where they are barracked by black-clad nonconformists anxious about Popish plots), the Forward in Faith movement, which campaigned against priestesses, and individuals like Digby Anderson of the Social Affairs Unit and Roger Scruton of the Salisbury Review are a very small minority. If it were not for the Catholic ban on married clergy, vestigial distrust of Romanism, and the aesthetic satisfaction provided by churches like the famous All Saints on Margaret Street, there would be no High Church conservatives at all. Many who would have been High Church conservatives in another age have arrived at their logical conclusions, and converted to Catholicism, entranced equally by the intellectual respectability and the romance of a Church where there are “statues . . . who can bleed, speak, walk and cry,” as Thackeray’s Henry Esmond exclaimed.

“All religions die of one disease, that of being found out,” I remember reading somewhere. Anglicanism, antimystical and never strong on theology, is rationalizing itself out of existence, leaving Anglicans to flounder in a morass of relativism, where every faith is considered of equal value, and even rites which might bind the present Church to its own past are discouraged. Anglicans, who are too well-educated to believe in anything supernatural but not well-educated enough to believe all over again, are vulnerable to fundamentalists because they don’t understand the primitive fundamentalist mind. Anglicans need to unite once again—if unity can be regained now—repair their Anglican temples, and reinstall England’s official deities.