In a move that delighted the British Humanist Association (BHA), the Air Cadet Organisation, which was formed in 1938 and played a key role in the second world war, is to offer future cadets the option of a non-religious oath. The decision follows a campaign by the BHA and the United Kingdom Armed Forces Humanist Association (UKAFHA), after they had argued that the organisation needed to recognise that many of its recruits were non-believers.
The development is likely to be studied closely by other youth organisations. Both the Scout Association and Girlguiding UK are consulting on changing their pledges so that they are inclusive of young people without a specific faith.
Recent studies have left little doubt that Great Britain’s Christian population is shrinking … so much so that it’s thought that by 2030, we will no longer be able to call it a “Christian nation“. In light of these trends, it’s only a common sense move to acknowledge the existence of this emerging population and allow for the recital of an oath that better represents their beliefs.
Andy Tilsley, a spokesman for ChristChurch London, said the decision raised broader questions. “Should we change the words of the national anthem because they include ‘God save our gracious Queen’? What are people threatened by?”
However, the BHA’s chief executive, Andrew Copson, said British society was changing dramatically and praised the cadets for recognising it. “Over two-thirds of young people have a non-religious identity and that proportion is growing all the time,” Copson said.
I’m wondering if England is about 20-30 years ahead of us on the path to secularism. It’s my hope that we’ll see a similar situation in the US where fundamentalism and evangelical Christianity just wind down on their own, after the GOP realizes they’re getting less and less traction with the American public by pandering to the “religious right”. Without the backing of a major political party to legitimize their views, the rest would take care of itself.
That’s a big “if”, but there’s reason for hope: non-belief is rising here too. It’s slow, but steady. Combine this with the majority of the mainstream “believers” supporting distinctly secular, anti-Christian institutions like contraception, same-sex marriage, and abortion rights, and it’s enough to imagine that we may be on the same path, only a few miles back.
Just a favor to ask for our friends across the pond: leave the light on for us.