I have recently had occasion to work through some of the research on Christianity’s recent decline in the UK. There is something of a consensus in the literature that at least part of the explanation for its deterioration is not, in fact, the rejection of the possibility of a spiritual dimension to reality—in fact, by some measures, people are becoming increasingly credulous. Instead, at least part of the answer lies in what philosopher Charles Taylor calls the “massive subjective turn of modern culture.”
People no longer want a life lived in respect of external roles, duties or obligations, but turn to the unique experiences of selves-in-relation. Consumer capitalism, which trains us to expect the world to be fine-tuned to our expectations, has intensified a change already under way in modernity. To use words attributed to St Paul, we are increasingly philautos, lovers of ourselves.
Under these conditions, churches and other religious institutions are bound to suffer. Too much of their life is given, immutable and inflexible. The good of the community comes before the good of the individual. There are given structures of authority, which must be obeyed. Gender roles are more closely defined than in the wider world. There’s a moral order which must be conformed to. Consequently, the values of Christianity are those which subsume the good of the individual into the good of the community: endurance, patience, gentleness, service, humility and so on.