It’s Christmas. Be prepared to see lots of angels: in shop windows, on Christmas cards, on TV, on top of Christmas trees. And for some people, sitting around the lunch table with them, whether that table is decorated festively or not.
In a world where the popularity of Christianity is dwindling faster than X Factor ratings, and there seems to be more reason to hate thy neighbour than love, angels are taking over as our favourite belief. 80% of Americans believe in angels. That is a huge amount of people: 248 million of them. Over here in the UK, it’s more 50/50 but that’s still around 30 million. Across the world, we are, in the words of Robbie Williams, loving angels instead.
Recent research by the House of Commons library concluded that Britain will be a secular nation, with fewer Christians than any other faith, by 2030. When we rely on parish records, religious books and churches for so much of our documented history, this is quite a profound shift.
I’m not christened, have only ever been in a church during weddings and funerals and read the bible at university purely because I thought I should. I’m a scholar and ardent evolutionist and as such, ask myself: Is the upsurge in our collective angelic belief a cynical, postmodern ransacking of our most established faith? Or a much needed spiritual evolution?
Angels are many things to many people. New-agers talk about colours and energy, angels might be human strangers, they might be blurred columns of light. Religious believers talk of serphim, cherubim, thrones, dominations, principalities, virtues, powers, archangels and guardian angels.
In a recent article in The Observer, Tim Adams interviewed Lorna Byrne, a life-long seer of angels. As an Irish Catholic, many of her angels are pretty much as we’d imagine them if plucked straight from a Sunday School text book. Some however, are not. And she has managed to delight many people she’s met with revelations direct from her angelic companions. Tim presented some intriguing figures:
“In the most recent survey of opinion … conducted by ICM for the Bible Society in 2010, 31% of the [UK] population professed a clear belief in angels, only 51% said they did not believe, and 17% were unsure. This concurred with a YouGov inquiry asking the same questions in 2004, suggesting that heavenly minions were essentially recession-proof. The ICM survey found that belief was higher among British women (41%) than men (23%), slightly more common among over-45s than those aged 18 to 44, and more prevalent in London, where 40% of people of all creeds professed a faith in angels, than elsewhere….Slightly fewer than 29% of adults believed they had a guardian angel watching over them personally; 5% claimed they had actually seen or spoken with an angel (though in Nottingham for some reason, this figure rose to 17%).”
It’s the “40% of Londoners of all creeds” part that got my attention. We are teetering on the brink of an insidious world war, a war that sucks its life from us arguing over differing religious beliefs. Yet angels are a commonality amongst one of our largest cultural melting pots: London.
Whether you believe in Lorna Byrne’s winged visions, or in new-age balls of energy, or that we all have celestial guardians or God’s Gabriel resides at the bottom of your garden, angels really are all around us – living in the minds of people of all colours and racial backgrounds. Couldn’t this alone mean they might be the harbingers of peace so many claim them to be?
If we can just agree on one thing, rather than focusing on all the things we don’t agree on – let’s call that thing the presence of angels – isn’t that a million times better than where we are right now?
In the midst of all the blinding Christmas glitz and endless Slade repeats, will be angels. I will be looking at them differently this year. Will you?