Is “No Religion” the rising inevitable trend in the UK?


timthumb.phpQuite clearly we in the UK are undergoing a huge shift in our cultural thinking. A recent YouGov poll carried out by Lancaster University has revealed that “No Religion” is very much the rising demographic …

Of the adult population as a whole, 46% now identify as having no religion (nones) and 44% with Christianity.  The proportion of people reporting “no religion” is rising with every generation. The survey revealed in the under 40 age group there are twice as many nones as Christians, in the 40 to 59 age group there are equal numbers, and in the over 60 age group there are nearly twice as many Christians as nones.

… The shift is more pronounced in Britain than in other counties with a similar or related religious history. The Scandinavian countries retain strong Christian majorities, as does the USA.

Overall, these findings reveal a revolutionary generational change in Great Britain’s religious identity from the default or norm being Christian to the default or norm being no religion.

… so clearly as we all age and the older generation fades into memory the non-religious will become the clear majority.

Incidentally, that reference to Scandinavia being more religious struck me as odd, because I’ve tended to think of them as less, not more, religious. It turns out that, for example, only 12% in Denmark actually tick the “no religion” box on polls because the rest still culturally identify as “Christian” (or similar). In reality they don’t actually go, and so perhaps a far more meaningful question to ask in such polls would be “Do you regularly attend religious services?”, because clearly they are ticking the religious box to identify a cultural heritage and not their actual belief. I do also wonder how altering the question for the UK would change the numbers as well.

Anyway, putting aside how you gather such numbers, it all points to something huge happening within a UK context.

Andrew Brown has a few words on it all

Over in the Guardian Mr Brown has been mulling over why things are the way they are and what is driving it. The suggestions he offers may indeed be correct and are are in essence this …

  • Historically the majority of individuals have tended to identify as C of E as an almost default position, but we no longer do so
  • The growing distaste for the C of E appears to have quite a lot to do with their growing degree of religious intolerance and push against equality

He writes …

Only last week, Justin Welby was boasting to the other leaders of Anglican churches that the Church of England had secured exemptions from equalities legislation – and then complaining that he operated in an “anti-Christian culture”. What does he expect, when the church he leads systematically violates the moral intuitions of most of its own natural constituency?

Under those circumstances, it’s not really surprising that no religion has become the new religion, while “religion” has become something that other people do. 

OK, yes, I do have a minor quibble there about the suggestion of “no religion” being the new religion, but overall I think his suggestion is basically correct.

Society has indeed moved on and so when faced with clerics pushing against gay rights and equality, then most are inclined to quietly down tools and walk gently away because they have no appetite to be personally associated with a stance that harkens back to a very different Victorian era. Basically the C of E lost the plot, and by doing so, lost most of their members.

The British Humanist Association

The BHA has also some additional thoughts on all this …

When you look to the population as a whole, what’s interesting is that the ‘Church line’ on issues like LGBT rights, abortion, and assisted dying is rejected by the population at large as well – and by none moreso than the non-religious. And yet despite this, in public policy terms, churches retain an enormous sway over politicians.

This is the BHA’s 120th anniversary year and in that 120 years, much has changed. Humanists are no longer the few. Instead, more and more of us are approaching ethical questions and issues in our lives not through religion, but by thinking about a situation rationally and considering how our actions might affect others.

And they’re finding that this coherent and honest approach to life not only works well for them, but that it is deeply fulfilling as well.

If interested in finding out more about the BHA, then their web site is here. Their current president, the Iranian born comedian Shappi Khorsandi, would love to welcome you.

One further Thought

Apparently a quarter of the nones …

take part in some spiritual activity in the course of a month, and 11% call themselves “spiritual”. 

… and I have quite honestly no idea what that actually means at all, except to perhaps muse over the thought that there are nones who do actually believe that there is something out there, and some do also believe that there is a god. In other words, it would appear that these are not all people who have stopped believing, but instead have simply opted out of the more formal religious institutions.

This should really not be a surprise.

While the decline and demise of the C of E is very much down to the C of E itself, and is not due to a surge in critical thinking skills, it is perhaps also of note that they have no monopoly for turning people off. The Catholic church has also not exactly been a shining example of decency (child abuse, cover ups etc…), and we should not forget that Islam has been quite appropriately getting quite a bit of bad press for some of the abhorrent activities within its ranks, so finding a rising tide of people who respond to all this by turning their backs upon all of the formal institutions is a natural outcome. Add to that the far greater flow of information that we now have about what has really been going on, and it is all perhaps very inevitable.

Perhaps in some ways we have begun to grow out of these toys from our cultural childhood and are now as a society starting to move beyond them. We do indeed live in a new age of enlightenment.

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