Despite the cheerful proclamation voiced by a madman in Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science (1882), a proclamation reiterated by others elsewhere in his work, that ‘God is dead’, the evidence for the particular breakdown of religious belief at the beginning of the twentieth century is clouded. Nietzsche’s target in this proclamation uttered through his personae was, of course, Christianity, but more particularly the whole moral and ethical system which Christianity entailed, in his view. Yet there is little truth to the claim, in terms of there having been an actual retreat from visibility amongst the various established churches of Britain and America in the first decades of the twentieth century. In the US, there seems to have been no fall in the numbers in church attendance across our period; in Britain in 1910 numbers attending Protestant denominational churches were actually 3 per cent higher than they had been in the 1860s, and membership of the Roman Catholic Church had doubled across the intervening time. The Christian church was a very visible part of everyday life, through its social clubs and work to alleviate poverty and deprivation in the big cities. During the First World War, inevitably, church attendance rose even further, and there was a huge growth in ‘alternative’ practices, such as spiritualism, as the bereaved sought to contact the lost soldiers.
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