UK, an evolving post-christian secular nation

Social researchers have been looking into the attitudes of the growing numbers of non-religious young Britons. Its an important question to ask because if the recent polls are correct, then the majority of the population in the UK are not religious. Let me spell that out for you … if you take every possible form of religious belief, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu and lots more, add up all the followers in the population, you find that together they are a minority.

It will of course be very interesting to see what the latest census reveals and how true this really is, back in 2001 only 15% ticked no religion. Today the BHA suggests that perhaps only 20-40% of the population is truly non-religious, but what is encouraging is that they suggest that as many as 65% of young people are non-religious … in other words religion in its traditional form would indeed appear to be slowly fading away.

But what is going on inside the heads of this non-religious younger generation, are they simply indifferent, do they hold a specific atheistic view, or is the very question of God of no importance to them at all? Well to answer this, social research is being run by Lancaster University to try and understand more about this growing constituency that are apparently defined by what they are not. Here is a link to the Research Team’s Facebook page.

From their research, so far, it seems this new generation may be more flexible and open to different perspectives than older non-religionists, and prefer to engage with online communities than belong to official organisations, and they are also strongly influenced by family and education. Some have reacted against Christian upbringings; others have been influenced by writers like Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris. Specific examples include one man who is challenging the influence of the Christian Union on his university campus, and another who would like to break the association between Britishness and Christianity. For one woman, the important thing is being pro-human rather than anti-religious.

Its a small sample so far, but what the researchers find is that the group they have engaged with is demographically similar – mainly British-born, white and middle-class, planning to go to, attending or having been to university. This fits with other people’s findings, though of course there are exceptions.

What we can also observe is that an actively non-religious position is more socially acceptable in Britain than in the US, and that it is easier for a young person to be a non-believer in contemporary Britain.

All this appears to be a real and distinctive social change, which some  now refer to as “post-Christian”. Nonetheless, Christianity is clearly of enduring social significance for some “young atheists”, so they push against that and strive to affirm a positive (pro-human), rather than negative (anti-religious), content of their “irreligious” identity.

Finally, what is truly encouraging, is that this rising generation are finding that the secular can be both truly moral, and also emotionally rewarding; no mythological deity is needed.

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