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British History VI (1815-1924) Church, Society and Secularization in the Victorian Age Is it accurate to describe British society as being less religious at the end of Victoria's reign than at the beginning of it?
The Victorian Church, 1829-1859: O. Chadwick
- Origin of the Species was published in 1859, and contributed to the doubtful state of religion in the public's consciousness.
- The first atheist MP sat in 1886.
- Would Britain be less religious without an established church.
- 1828 - Repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts.
- 1829 - Catholic Emancipation.
- 1832 - Reform Act
- 1859 - Darwin's Origin of the Species
- 1867 - 2nd Reform Act
- 1868 - Abolition of Church Rates
- 1869 - Irish Church Act- Abolition of the 39 Articles?
- The age of religious freedom encouraged Christianity to be better organised, more liberal, and more open-minded.
- Was representative government compatible with an established church? Could Christian churches adapt to the age of industrial revolution? Did the Christian church teach truth?
- Anglican Bishops had voted almost uniformly against the 1st Reform Act, and suffered public opprobrium as a result; there were calls for disestablishment of the church1.
- Popular representation meant that Irish MPs would be elected by Catholics, Scottish by Presbyterians, and some English by dissenters.
- The resistance of the Established Church to reform proved deeply counter-productive.
- 1834 - Dissenters sought the disestablishment of the Church of England on the grounds that in was 'unchristian'.
- The Wesleyan Methodists were the largest dissenting group, although they refused to count themselves as such. They did not campaign for disestablishment.
- The most serious grievance of dissenters was the payment of rates to maintain Anglican churches; they objected to paying for the maintenance of a religion to which they did not belong. Grey's government abolished rates in Ireland, but maintained them in England on the basis that the nation should pay for the upkeep of the national religion2.
- During the early part of the Victorian period the middle-classes were seen to be becoming more religious, attending chapel regularly. The working-classes, particularly in cities, were not similarly 1 The Victorian Church, 1829-1859: O. Chadwick 2 The Victorian Church, 1829-1859: O. Chadwick
inclined. Those who had attended country chapels ceased to upon migration to cities; community ties enhanced religious observance, and these were far weaker in urban areas.
- The population grew by 10million between 1801 and 1851, predominantly in large cities. Churches and chapels were not able to cope with the influx of migrants, and a weakening of religious teaching saw observance and church attendance drop further.
- In 1840 Mozley calculated that 75-90% of the working-classes practiced no religion, and a figure much lower in the poorest urban parishes3. Attendance was not diminishing because of a rise in disbelief, but because the church was seen as wedded to the establishment.
-Impact of the Chartist movement?
- Religion and education :
- At the beginning of the period most children were educated in voluntary schools, teaching religious alongside traditional subjects, and supported financially by the State. Opponents to this system sought a secular education system, with religiosity restricted to the church.
- 1851 Religious census:
- Additional voluntary information reported with the normal census of 1851.
- Population: c18million.
- CofE - c5.3million.
- Catholic - c400,000
- Dissenting (Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist) - 4.5million
- It was estimated that c10.9million, or c60% of the population, participated in some form of Sunday worship4.
- However, church capacity in cities was too low to house the entire populous. In London only around 30% of parishioners could be seated if they all attended church.
- The strength of the CofE was shown to be in the Home counties and the East. Dissent was far strong in cities. In Wales, four times the number that attended church went to chapel instead. Dissent had not been believed to be as widespread, and the census highlighted the absurdity in continued government protection for the established church.
- The religious element of the census was not repeated during the Victorian period.
- State protection of religion:
- Individuals were still being tried and convicted of blasphemy in the mid-Victorian period, and the spreading of atheist doctrine was banned. However, Thomas Pooley's 1857 conviction for blasphemy, later overturned and also mentioned by Mill in On Liberty, marked a turning point. By the end of the c19th, trials for blasphemy were rare and convictions even rarer5.
- Ecclesiastical courts, and the public penances passed down to the morally lax, were irrevocably weakened by the beginning of Victoria's reign, except in the case of defamation. Occasional and absurd penalties continued to be administered in some parishes until the 1850s, but enforcement of 'moral law' undermined Christianity within the communities it served.
-National days of prayer took place in 1854 and 1857, marking the Crimean war and Indian mutiny, respectively; despite hesitation on the part of the government, they were enthusiastically supported by the nation. This may have owed more to their infrequency and the poignancy of the occasions than any upsurge in religious observance.
- Four State services, marking events including the queen's accession and the execution of Charles I, were abolished in 1858. The Victorian Church, 1860-1901: O. Chadwick
- Darwin and conflict: 3 The Victorian Church, 1829-1859: O. Chadwick 4 The Victorian Church, 1829-1859: O. Chadwick 5 The Victorian Church, 1829-1859: O. Chadwick
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