The results of the 2011 Census for England and Wales reported a decline in the number of people identifying themselves as Christians and an increase in the number of those saying they had no religion. How significant are these figures for our nation? What influence will this change have on our society? Does it matter that fewer people believe in God? Does this affect the way they live?
A legal expert once asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Jesus clearly linked a wholehearted love for God with a true love for our neighbours. When we do not recognise God’s right to be first in our lives, this has inevitable consequences for those around us. When self is king, when what I want reigns supreme, then the rights and needs of those around me count for nothing.
There are signs that this is what is happening in our society. We affirm a mother’s right to choose whether or not to have a termination of her pregnancy. But does not the unborn baby also have rights? If we were that unborn baby what choice would we want our mother to make? Sexual predators who abuse children and vulnerable adults feel they have the right to fulfil their perverted desires without any thought for the devastating consequences for those they abuse. How would they feel if someone did the same thing to them? The growing population of elderly people is becoming a burden to the rest of our society. Some say it is not fair that younger people should have to pay the cost of caring for the elderly. But when we are old, how will we want people to care for us?
The commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves is a sure guide when we have to make moral choices. We owe a moral duty to God and to each other to seek to obey this commandment. Jesus said, “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” Future happiness for us and for our children depends on us rediscovering a real love for one another through a living relationship with God.