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Columnists

Old faithful

Agnostics Anonymous

Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name. Drummer Lee Rigby died in the street and was buried along with pledges to 'tackle extremism'. The difference illustrates the strange route British Christianity has come on the last stretch of its journey into oblivion.

Eleanor Rigby, pining away in a church playing host to sermons 'that no-one will hear' remains an accurate portent of the demographic death of British Christianity. Anglican congregations haven fallen by 2% a year since the 1960s. In May, the ONS suggested that congregations are haemorrhaging even faster than suspected: the 10% decline in all-Christian congregations between 2001 and 2011 becomes a 15% decline if you count only British-born Christians.

The difference is made up by Polish Catholics, Nigerian evangelicals and other immigrants. These newcomers prop up the otherwise doleful congregation figures, and ensure that 'only' a quarter of British Christians are over 65. But these recruits are not likely to restore Christianity's dominance, particularly when they might be recruited by one of the other belief-systems more popular among the young. These include 'no faith', which added 6.4m young adherents in the last census, and  Islam, 50% of whose British adherents are under 25.

Lee Rigby's murderers came from Nigerian Christian families, and various causes are now being ascribed to their conversion to the murderous version of Islam. David Cameron pins the blame on the hate preachers of Islamic radicalisation. Those on the other end of the spectrum seem to point the finger at British foreign policy. Neither  analysis explains why young men are so willing to be radicalised.

David Lammy MP had a go: young 'males isolated from the rest of society' are living a life 'absent of camaraderie and purpose', stricken by a 'sense of hopelessness and lack of belonging'. Here, we are back to Eleanor Rigby's lament: 'all the lonely people / Where do they all belong?' But whereas Eleanor Rigby herself faded away quietly, isolated men like Michael Adebolajo have an empowering alternative. Instead of wasting their lives away, they can waste others; and ensure in the process that their own blood-soaked sermons are heard across the world.

For all the discussions about the appeal of the radical Islamic 'brand', the answer is in plain sight. Murder, mayhem and misogyny have a deep and obvious appeal for self-pitying young men, whether supplied by gangs or god-warriors. In its old age, British Christianity has lost the taste for murder and mayhem and is more subtle in its misogyny. But until some way can be found to make radical Islam as uncool as spinsterish British Christianity, it will take more than a taskforce to save anyone.