My reaction takes two forms. One, I’m not at all convinced of religion’s being a symptom of “progress” or lack of it, simply because my social anthropological training has convinced me of what Rik and Eloise have theorized — that religious activity, as much as any other social manifestation, is fundamental to human life. Anthropologically speaking, “religion” refers to far more than any one system of belief; rather, it’s a set of behaviours that are a mixture of belief and action and every society and every group of people — even those who style themselves “unbelievers” — manifest them. Religion is as fundamental to society as family, as economic organization, as political activity. Its manifestation varies widely — from atheism (which is its own belief system) to fundamentalism. Our lives are composed of so many variables and chances, even with science at hand, that most people fill in the gaps with philosophies that govern their actions, whether that philosophy be more articulated or less. As Malinowski observed, science is simply a better form of magic; both they work in exactly the same way from the point of view of anthropology (trial and error, hypothesis and experimentation, the getting rid of theories and practices that don’t work/fit your theories and the holding on to theories and practices that do.)
What I think may be true is that there are different sorts of religious expression. One is more “C of E”, as you put it, more laissez-faire, more doubt-filled, more wishy-washy. This seems fine when people believe that the material world is meeting their needs, when certainty and comfort is around them. But the other, which we see expressed in fundamentalism, comes into play when life seems uncertain. Right now, for the first time in a long time, Britain and the USA are both caught up in a war that doesn’t seem to have an end, that doesn’t seem to have a controllable enemy, and that threatens the stability of life at home. This should not be new to the UK; after all, the war of Irish independence was similar in all but one respect. The current difference I read as one of race, not of religion, with one main difference. When the IRA was bombing London, terror was a fact of big-city British life. The big difference between that twentieth-century terror and this twenty-first century one was that the bombers of the past blew themselves up by accident; these blow themselves up on purpose. That fact is uncontrollable and frightening.
The reason young men do this is superficially a religious one. However, it’s not much different from the reason young men of colour kill one another in the USA and the Caribbean; it’s the continuation of the psychological destruction of a whole set of people that began in colonial domination and continues far more subtly today. Frantz Fanon‘s theories of the psychological damage done by the extended oppression of whole societies — that violence from the top breeds violence at the bottom — are more than relevant today, even with direct colonialism apparently gone. That Fanon did his work in North Africa — Algeria, to be exact — may not be incidental to their current aptness.
For me, politics far more than religion — the politics of governance and the politics of hegemonic ideologies — are at fault.