What were the main contributors to the death of Christianity in the 1960s?
“The changes of the 1960s were a rupture as profound as that brought about by the
reformation” (Professor Hugh Mcleod, University of Birmingham) . The 1960s was a 1
tumultuous decade in world history, where traditionally accepted ideas, norms and beliefs were
largely overturned and replaced by a more ‘modern-day’ approach to the world. The area of
religion proved to be no different, with historians such as Hugh McLeod pointing to the
significant changes, both in the period leading up the the sixties and during the decade itself,
which led to the ‘death’, or considerable decline of the religion. Unable to be attributed to one
sole factor, this decline was due to a multitude of reasons, with both short and long term
factors playing a vital role. Starting in Britain, the decline of churchgoing and religious
adherence began from the late nineteenth century, signalling an evolutionary change of ideas.
Paired with changes occurring in society during the 1960’s ‘revolutionary’ period of
expressiveness and shifts in cultural viewpoints, the resulting ‘death’ of the Christian religion
was unavoidable, with the Church today still battling the repercussions of the decade.
Though it is true that the causation and impact of the crisis has been disputed by many
historians, the fact that the Roman Catholic Church experienced a religious crisis of some sort
in the 1960s remains a key feature to all debates. Affiliation to one of the Christian
denominations throughout the 1950s was commonplace, with churches being highly influential
institutions in everyday life and society. Throughout this period, as it was assumed that Britain
was unequivocally Christian, it was believed also that religious commentary should reflect this.
As such, the media, including the BBC and newspapers, were hardwired to reflect the religious
beliefs of society, with statistics showing that in 1952, one in very three adults would listen to
its Sunday religious broadcasts. The Governor General’s 1948 statement summed up the 2
correlation between ‘Britishness’ and Christianity’, saying: “There are many demands of
impartiality laid upon the Corporation, but this is not one of them. We are citizens of a Christian
Country, and the BBC - an institution set up by the State - bases its policy upon a positive
attitude towards Christian values”. By the 1960’s, however, a shift in the state of religious 3
affairs led to a shake-up of a traditionally Christian nation, with Britain and the world facing a
challenge to national identity due to difficulties churches faced in the recruitment and
retainment of clergy. Though there was a steady downward decline in the statistics of religious
practice throughout the 1960s, from 1967 onwards these took a dramatic downward plunge in
nearly every country of the western world. In general, this decline was felt most severely by 4
Catholics, however other religions were certainly not...