First appeared in the CMI-UK/Europe Prayer News, April 2012 (GMT+10)

From time to time, I’m told that people’s behaviour is no worse than it was fifty years ago. The results of a recent study, undertaken by researchers at the University of Essex, suggest otherwise.1 Based on a survey of 2,000 adults, they concluded:

  • Only 50% now believe that having an extra-marital affair is never justified, compared with 70% a decade ago;
  • Only 20% now consider keeping money found in the street is never justified, compared with 40% a decade ago;
  • Only one in three now condemn lying in their own interests.

According to Professor Paul Whitely, “Gradually people are tending to become more dishonest. They are more willing to tell lies, more willing to tolerate adultery. It’s slow over time, and going on in the background—but pretty evidentially there.” Secularists, of course, will argue that all this has nothing to do with society’s sidelining of Christianity—but this is hard to believe.

In the past, British people were immersed in a predominantly Christian world-view and knew ‘the fear of God’. They were ‘God-conscious’. They knew that God was there, and was watching them. They could say with the Psalmist, “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways” (Psalm. 139:2, 3). They were taught the Ten Commandments at school or at Sunday school and knew that God had said “You shall not commit adultery” and “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:14, 15). Many would have recited, week by week, the words of the Apostles’ Creed and understood that, one day, Christ will return to “judge the living and the dead.” Today, fewer and fewer have this fear of God and fewer still have a sense that ‘God is watching’. Recently, prominent British atheist, A.C. Grayling joked, “You can see we no longer really believe in God, because of all the CCTV cameras keeping watch on us.”2….

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