Here I want to suggest that a sense of belonging and the concrete experience of social networks (and the relationships of trust etc. that are involved) can bring significant benefits. However, as we have seen, the sense of attachment and quality of social networks varies greatly between the different ‘communities’ that people name. It could be argued that we should be focusing on enhancing the quality of social networks etc. rather than the creation or strengthening of ‘community’. (This is the line taken by writers such as Stacey 1969). As a way of appreciating the possibilities here I want to look at the idea of social capital – and Putnam’s (2000) impressive exploration and compilation of evidence concerning its health and benefits. From there I want to return to the idea that in meeting with others there is the possibility of communion – and that this is, for many, a highly desirable goal.
But where the church is no longer able to discipline belief or behavior, which is the case across most of the continent, young people do not, it seems, turn to secular rationalism; they begin to experiment. Now, whether this will be of significance in a decade or whether it will be something that grows, is too soon to say. All I will say now is that nobody predicted the shift in the mid-1990s. Something is happening; something that I need to think about as I prepare a new edition of this book for the 21st century. But so much for believing without belonging.