Easter is the most important festival of the Christian calender, and for that reason it’s also a time when the churches like to remind a secularised society of their existence. Students are, perhaps, the hardest demographic to preach the Christian message to. Being young and well educated, students traditionally embrace the latest idealogical ideas and attitudes. This, combined with our well trained critical mindsets, means that it’s probably an unrewarding exercise preaching Christianity to most students.
Without a doubt though, the people best equipped to spread the Christian message to students are the Christian students themselves. As is exemplified by the Christian Union here at Lancaster, who have consistently run a very impressive PR campaign. When you first arrive at Lancaster, it won’t be long until you hear about “text for a toastie” or a spot a sign promising free lunch if you ask a question about God. They know that most the effective student bait, short of free alcohol, is free food. Whilst I’m not in the position to comment on the success of these campaigns, I’ve personally never texted for a toastie nor turned up for a free lunch, because I don’t want to ask a question about God and debate philosophy with Christians even if it does mean free food. I’ve got more pressing things on my mind, like doing my coursework, getting to my next lecture on time or if I can afford to go out tonight. And I dare say I speak for most students here.
So why aren’t we more inclined to think about God? Why are students, on the whole, apathetic atheists? I’m reminded of an observation made by one of my history lecturers, who said that people in the Middle Ages were instinctively spiritual, unlike people today who are instinctively secular. It seems fair to say that the circumstances of living in Middle Ages bred spirituality, but those circumstances have gone away with modern living. What were those circumstances? I think the most major one is death. If you were born several hundred years ago, there was around a 50% chance you wouldn’t have reached adulthood. And even if you did reach adulthood, there was a whole array of horrid diseases out there just waiting to kill you, like smallpox, plague, dysentery, or tubcolousis. Dying young was pretty routine in the past, but now it’s highly exceptional, it’s something that only seems to happen to celebrities. The fact that most of us won’t expect to die until we are eighty something is a expectation we take for granted.
But Christianity, in a way, revolves around death. For Christians, Easter is of course when Jesus was crucified on the cross and resurrected three days later, thereby proving to them that by worshipping Christ you will be resurrected after death in heaven. Religion therefore then must have been of great comfort to people in the past. But modern medicine has inadvertently kicked away this great pillar that supported religion in Europe by radically increasing our life expectancies.
With its other foot, science has also done away with another pillar that supported religion. Religion once provided all the answers. If you wanted to know why the universe exists and how it was made you used to read the Bible and learn that the universe was made in six days and the first humans were Adam and Eve. Today however, you would buy a copy of Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time or watch a science documentary and learn that the universe began billions of years ago with the big bang, and the humans slowly evolved from primates millions of years ago.
This, however, won’t be enough for everyone, and there are indeed many spiritually-minded students. But even so, Christianity no longer has the monopoly of souls it once had. In a globalised, liberal and tolerant West, there are other religions such as Buddhism or brand new faiths like Neo-Paganism to which spirituality minded students may turn towards instead. With these kind of circumstances, there aren’t going to many student converts to the Christian faith, it seems the main thing that’s keeping Christianity going is historical and cultural inertia. None of this however has deterred Christian Unions across the country from trying to win converts. I find their persistence against these odds admirable, but I feel that they are swimming against the tides of change.