Christianity's rapid decline makes the UK better for most

Christianity's rapid decline makes the UK better for most May 27, 2016

The Spectator, in an editorial this week, reports that, for the first time in recorded history, Britons declaring themselves to have no religion have exceeded the number of Christians in the UK.
And it asserts:

Christians, for their part, should not automatically associate a decline in religiosity with a rise in immorality. On the contrary, Britons are midway through an extraordinary period of social repair: a decline in teenage pregnancies, divorce and drug abuse, and a rise in civic-mindedness.

The editorial reveals that some 44 percent of us regard ourselves as Christian, eight percent follow another religion and 48 percent follow none.

The decline of Christianity is perhaps the biggest single change in Britain over the past century. For some time, it has been a stretch to describe Britain as a Christian country. We can more accurately be described now as a secular nation with fading Christian institutions.

Just 15 years ago, almost three quarters of Britons still regarded themselves as Christians. Five years ago, the number of people professing no religion was only 25 percent.
The editorial goes on:

Remarkably, the overall decline of religion in Britain has coincided with the arrival of three million migrants who tend to have more religious belief than British Christians. In particular, the visual impact of Islam, most obviously expressed in the proposal for a 9,000-capacity ‘super-mosque’ in east London that was rejected by planners last year, might give the impression that migration has brought a religious revival to Britain. Yet neither the growth of British Islam nor the huge influx of Christian immigrants from Africa and Eastern Europe has spurred a revival in public Christianity.

It is possible that the rise of Islamism has made casual believers less inclined to ally themselves with any kind of organised faith. Say ‘religious’ to many Britons and the next word that pops into their heads is ‘extremist’, or perhaps ‘bigot’ or ‘homophobe’.
To the growing population of secularists, religion has become something to be treated with suspicion. Politicians who are religious find their faith used against them. Iain Duncan Smith’s Department of Work and Pensions was known by his critics as the Department of Worship and Prayer, the joke being that his reforms were inspired by a desire to save lives rather than money.
In government, to be a Christian can be seen as a personal failing. The ambitious minister keeps his or her faith under wraps. It is unthinkable now that a Prime Minister would do as Mrs Thatcher did on arrival in Downing Street 37 years ago, and quote St Francis of Assisi. All Cameron has dared to say, quoting Boris Johnson, is that his faith comes and goes like the reception of Magic FM in the Chilterns.
The eclipsing of our national religion has deep implications for those who do retain faith, especially those who wish to pass it on to their children. They must now face the reality that they, no less than Muslims, Jews and Hindus, face being treated as oddballs.
As for the church itself, it is no use pretending there is a Christian majority whose non-attendance at church is just down to laziness. If church leaders wish to keep their buildings open, they will have to start from the beginning – with missionary work to recruit parishioners in a now-sceptical country.
Inevitably, the question of what is to be done about our national Christian institutions will arise. Is it appropriate that we are still invited to swear on the Bible in court? (Many new MPs routinely refuse to do this in the Commons.) Is it right that the Lords Spiritual should still have a role in the Upper House, or that church and state should have any formal connection at all?
The British regard for tradition will see that such roles are preserved, but for nostalgic reasons. The aesthetics of Christianity – the architecture, the choral singing and so on – still pull in crowds, even if little of the liturgy is inwardly digested.

The Spectator concludes:

We cannot discount the possibility of a Christian revival; the Christian faith specialises in defying the odds. But it seems more likely that Britain will continue to muddle along as a post-Christian country with quaint customs that derive from its history as a deeply religious country. Some will find this sad, others as a sign of progress, but the greater majority will view it with indifference.

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  • Bob

    It’s the fucking sovereignty of God. People won’t come to repentance and faith in Christ unless God opens their eyes and draws them – John 6 v 44 and v 65.
    Moreover, as we head to the 2nd coming of Christ there will be a falling away – 2nd Thess 2 v 1-3

  • Grand Tufty Squirrel

    Bob – there was no first coming of christ. All religions, and yours is no exception, are man made designed to exploit and control of the masses by a coterie of privileged secretive sinister men. And they made very comfy and cushioned lives for themselves. You are one of the stupefied suckers who bought into it and who are too cowardly to give it up.
    Go look at history and the masses of literature that expose the facts behind religion. If I had written this a few centuries ago I would be in danger of capital punishment. Well all that has gone now and christianity is withering and few people will mourn it. You keep the faith if you have to but be prepared for marginalisation and ridicule if you persist in pushing it onto those who neither need it or want it.

  • H3r3tic

    Oh Bob, this must be so hard for you to come to terms with. At last the social stigma that the church has worked so hard to attach to those who profess no faith is less than that attached to those who do. The ability of the church to limit the information available to it’s flock has been torn away by modern methods of communication and it is impossible to keep reason, logic and rational thought from the majority of those who previously accepted your dogma without demur, nor can you disguise the numerous evils committed both by the church and in it’s name. If I were so inclined I may cry “hallelujah”. As John McClane once said, “welcome to the party pal.”

  • Stephen Mynett

    Had Constantine not taken power in Rome it is likely Christianity would never have progressed much further than being a Messianic cult. Constantine made it the state religion and from then on the Western world had Christianity forced on it, often by means no better than those used by some Islamic fanatics today, the only difference being the standard of killing devices used.
    It is time some Christians started being more honest and accepting the fact that without coercion and threats of violence people are not going to bother with outdated myths and fairy tales. The Bible, like the Koran, is not even new, just a mixture of plagiarised stories from many other mythologies that preceded it. Of course, that will not stop some bores quoting it as if it meant something or had a basis in fact.

  • gedediah

    Poor Bob can’t grasp why quoting holy books to prove gods doesn’t work.

  • Angela_K

    This is good news and a surprising editorial from the usually right wing – “we are a Christian country” – Spectator.
    Many of the 44% who regard themselves as Christian do so only because they were baptised and/or they believe we are a Christian country with a Christian culture, so the numbers are still very over-stated. It is also interesting to note that the Bishops in the House of Lords, religious schools and the BBC’s proselytising have failed to stem the tide of those leaving superstition.

  • Broga

    Christianity, via its priests, held the population in thrall through terror. Barbara Tuchman in “A Distant Mirror: the calamitous 14th century” describes well the terror of hellfire in which people lived and were blackmailed into living. That was a time of the “reality” of Satan, ghosts, spirits, miracles and belief without question.
    What is left are the disappearing tendrils from that time. Christian’ believers survive by cognitive dissonance and by the psychological pain suffered by unfortunates like Bob when they try to accept the facts. Face it Bob, it’s game over, and you could stop punishing yourself right now. Give yourself mental freedom by ditching the trash of faith and enjoy real life like so many here.
    By the way, that was a brilliant editorial and from an unexpected source – which makes it all the more powerful.

  • Raul Miller

    @Bob, as a biblical scholar can you help with this one? In Mathew 18:19-20 this is written: “Again, I tell you truly that if two of you on the earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three gather together in My name, there am I with them.”
    I wonder then when a child is abducted and inevitably people gather to pray and form a vigil begging God for safe return of the child, yet later the child is found to have been tortured and murdered; why did God not answer this prayer? I mean think about it, he’s sitting there in heaven and all he has to do is will the child to be safe and it will happen; yet???? Nearly every soul on earth with an ounce of compassion would save the child, some even by extraordinary means if necessary, but your God….nothing. Jesus seems to claim that his father in heaven will do it, but he doesn’t. How can this be explained?

  • Newspaniard

    The article does not mention the rise in Pastafarianism which is attracting more and more to the sacred temples at Italian Restaurants. The Spectator won’t get rid of them so easily. “More gravy vicar?”

  • Barry Duke

    @ Raul Miller. Don’t ask Bob Hutton questions. He never responds because he HAS no answers. He is a hit-and-run troll driving with only one VERY dim headlamp.

  • sailor1031

    @Bob: I’d like to point out that the late JC already came the second time – on the sunday morning after his crucifixion. Christians need to read their scriptures more closely and carefully. JC is not coming a third time you are waiting in vain!

  • jay

    The missing Christians will be replaced by more vehement Muslims. So much for a secular future.

  • Vanity Unfair

    2 Thess 2,3-4 is a standard confidence trick tactic and often still works.
    [3] Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;[4] [w]ho opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
    When the obedience of the marks starts to waver,as was the case with the early Christian church, you remind them that of the previously planted assurance that the lack of confidence is a sign that the investment is about to pay off. Meanwhile you make arrangements to decamp with the profits.
    Warning: on no account should you believe this yourself. See Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate for details.

  • Raul Miller

    @Barry Duke, Yes, I guess that’s typical. It’s probably why the apostle Paul admonishes them for thinking about the Christian claims too much; they simply don’t add up.

  • How many of that 8 percent belonging to other religions are responsible for beheadings in England? Why, it’s almost as if beheadings in England were only being carried out by one religion and no other. And forced marriages. And cousin marriages. And honor killings. And female genital mutilation. But of course that can’t be right. It would be ‘racist’ to say that. What race that religion is I could not tell you, but the endless shrieking of ‘racist! racist! racist!’ must mean that it’s true.
    My atheism opposes all religions but does not consider all religions equally vile. All poisons make me sick but some are more deadly than others.

  • Broga

    Bob quotes the bible to justify his opinions. Richard Dawkins’ has something to say on the bible which disposes of it as source of truth:
    “To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and ‘improved’ by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries”
    ? Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

  • Stonyground

    On the subject of being invited to swear on the Bible in court. Thankfully this is no longer compulsory and people are now allowed to affirm or to swear on any holy book of tripe that they choose. Interestingly, some use the New Testament rather than the Bible, the first words of the New Testament are the heading at the top of The Gospel According to Matthew. It is in fact the gospel according to nobody knows who because the name Matthew was added to it to make it look as though it had been written by a disciple. Since the opening sentence of this book is a lie, why would anyone but a fool believe the rest? and why would anyone swear to tell the truth in reverence to such a book?

  • tonye

    It’s only taken a couple of thousand years, but, finally we are waking up, except one…..

  • Broga

    @Stonyground:: Adding the names of the disciples to the books of the bible to give them authority was common to them all. However, the stories in the different books do not agree with each other so the inerrant word of God is exposed as hokum. They can’t all be “God’s truth.”
    I wonder if Bob knows this? Or has an explanation. Or will his usual silence on such questions prevail? What effort it must take to continue convincing yourself that what is incontestably incorrect is correct?

  • cnocspeireag

    I was brought up as a Christian,and many good people were. My own minister was obviously embarrassed by the ridiculous idea of ‘original sin’ and didn’t really mention it in classes before church membership, merely suggesting that we were all fallible so needed a saviour.
    I think many of the good and intelligent people who worked their religion around real life have moved on that simple step to realising that it’s all nonsense. It was easy to regard a large percentage of US ‘Christians’ as being as far away from the biblical Christ as they could get, and as basically evil and inadequate people. Unfortunately in the UK, the good ones have moved on, or are now very old, and we are left with the evil rump.

  • RussellW

    Steven Mynett,
    Yes, without Constantine the West might have have avoided the thousand year torpor caused by Christian totalitarianism. Without Christianity as a model, Islam might never have been invented.

  • Michael Glass

    Social change can take place quite quickly. England was a Catholic country in 1529 (the year that Henry VIII was told that he couldn’t divorce his wife but by the accession of Elizabeth 1 in 1558, England had embraced Protestantism. It only took 29 years.
    It is possible that the change from Christian to post-Christian Britain could occur in 30 years, too.
    Time will tell.

  • Grand Tufty Squirrel

    M Glass … with respect …
    But the rcc is still there poisoning minds of children, raping them,getting free bus passes when other kids don’t , causing division and hatred, preventing abortions for women in dire need (NI) and so on. Don’t think they are not a very damaging influence upon British Society.
    And if they were really strong again just dwell on how quickly they would drag us back to the dark ages. A islam is spreading by smarm and stealth. Anglicans still weild far too much power and wealth the worst example being the inhuman cruel and fundamentalist blocking of the human right of assisted dying for terminally ill people.
    So we need to keep up the pressure to put religions, all of them, back in their cages.

  • Brian Jordan

    @Angela K
    “It is also interesting to note that the Bishops in the House of Lords, religious schools and the BBC’s proselytising have failed to stem the tide of those leaving superstition.”
    Unfortunately the tide has yet to wash away those bastions of superstition.
    @Paul Miller
    “It’s probably why the apostle Paul admonishes them for thinking about the Christian claims too much; they simply don’t add up.”
    I understand that Muslims live under a similar injunction.

  • Broga

    If the human species, currently a destructive pest in my opinion, is to approach its undoubted potential of a species to be valued then religion must be no more than an anachronistic, irrelevant oddity.
    Religion needs obfuscation, ignorance, terror, slavish obedience to priest and fictional God, irrationality, cognitive rigidity and denial of facts and evidence.
    My hope and expectation is that education, maturity, freedom of thought and science will eventually see the end of this curse which has plagued humankind.

  • John

    This development – non-religionists exceeding anglicans – explains why the CofE and their placeling politicians in government and parliament are bending over backwards to allow private religions to take over public schools.
    Thicky Morgan is a publicly declared ultra-religionist.
    The Ofsted Chief Inspector of Schools is of a similar bent.
    The CofE identified schools as an area from which to re-stock their dwindling church attendances years ago.
    This survey is not grounds for complacency.
    We must all defend and promote secular schooling.

  • Stephen Mynett

    Good point John, plus there are the noisy and well funded evangelical groups, while they may be small in numbers they have the cash, often American, to cause trouble.
    I cannot see a major change coming about quickly or easily. It is easy to say we changed from catholic to protestant in 29 years but the methods to do this were often violent and it is easy to enforce change by such methods. That is the one thing we should not do, if we resort to the sort of violence religions have used through the centuries we become no better than the religions.
    As much as I dislike religion and think it stupid, I am a secularist and will defend the right of people to believe whatever they want. It is religious privilege that has to be ended and, hopefully, through education people will eventually see through the false promises and general stupidity of all religions.

  • barriejohn

    John: That is, indeed, an excellent point, and members of the Church from the Archbishop of Cant downwards are quite open about their desire to (a) increase the number of “faith schools” of one kind and another, and (b) increase their influence in state run schools, through “assemblies”, RE, appointment of Christian governors, etc., which our local CofE is actively engaging in, as I have pointed out here before. I have also linked several times to sites which show how active fundamentalist groups are
    in infiltrating schools , and how welcoming some headteachers are of their attempts to make converts, sometimes with very well-funded exhibitions and mobile classrooms. I know from experience that money is no object to these groups, not all American either. They tend to be very well off, and regular tithers!
    Archbishop Welby later wrote in his blog that it was a “historical fact” that UK law, ethics and culture were based on Christianity’s teachings and traditions.
    Returning to the debate, Archbishop Welby said the UK’s “systems of justice and health, the way we value people, the basic way we look at the human being and the dignity of the human being, reflects the values of Jesus Christ”.
    “We are a deeply Christian country in that way,” he added.

    “Thicky Morgan”: that’s a good one!

  • barriejohn

    Stephen Mynett: I’m not an expert, and maybe someone better qualified can put us right, but I’m not sure that violence had a lot to do with this nation’s transition from Catholicism to Protestantism; after all, who was more “violent” than Bloody Mary? Henry VIII would have been horrified to learn that his break with Rome accelerated a break with Catholicism, as that was never his intention (though it suited his purposes to lead many – like the unfortunate Thomas Cromwell – to think so), but it was the way that things were moving, aided by better education (virtually non-existent in former years), the fierce enmity of Catholic rulers on the Continent, increasing friendship and intercourse with Protestant nations across the Channel,and THE PRINTING PRESS. That’s why I am hopeful that even the dreadful influence of Islam will eventually be defeated by education and, especially, the internet, despite mankind’s inexplicable desire to hang on to irrational and superstitious beliefs.

  • Stephen Mynett

    Barriejohn, I agree there was a lot less violence by comparison to the catholic atrocities but there was still some and any is unacceptable. My point was that it was not a straightforward social change but needed state force to bring it about,
    The catholics were also guilty of causing trouble in this period, especially the Jesuits who started to arrive in numbers for the sole purpose of enforcing papal will. That is typical religion and even if we voted by a vast majority in a referendum to make the UK secular we would still get a lot of trouble from many religionist groups.

  • 1859

    @barriejohn: ‘That’s why I am hopeful that even the dreadful influence of Islam will eventually be defeated by education and, especially, the internet…’
    Not sure if I got it from this site or somewhere else, but an exiled Moroccan (?) guy has just finished translating Dawkin’s The God Delusion into Arabic as a pdf. I think he got over a million downloads in a couple of weeks. And when they tracked the source, over 70% were downloaded by computers in Saudi Arabia. I may have got some of my numbers wrong but the gist was very clear – you can’t stop the spread of new ideas,especially with the internet and books. Fingers crossed .

  • Stephen Mynett

    1859, it has been on a couple of sites and is good news. During my time as a TEFL teacher I worked with a couple of very open-minded students from Islamic countries, although also with some very indoctrinated ones as well. It was pleasing to see how interested the open-minded ones were to learn, despite the dangers they faced back home. I sometimes hear from one, he has to be careful what he says and who he contacts but the TOR browser and the TAILS operating system (something I have alerted a lot of students to) are very useful and about as safe as you can get in the computer world.

  • barriejohn

    1859/SM: It was reported widely, and Barry did cover it on this site. The most encouraging thing that I had come across in ages, and I did have it in mind when I posted that comment!
    I know from my time amongst the Brethren that what people aver publicly and what they think privately are often very different, so don’t be fooled by all the fundamentalist bluster (“I am 100% sure that my faith is not misplaced; I have absolutely no doubts whatsoever” – yeah, tell that to the Marines; they’re riddled with doubt, and the more strident they are the less confidence they have in many cases).

  • 1859

    My only reservations about the welcome drift away from christianity and islam, is that as the more moderate and open-minded leave to embrace secular ideas, so those that are left behind become a smaller and more concentrated group who, in order to hold onto something from their glorious past, become ever more zealous, fanatical and desperate. It may be a clever strategy for atheists to try and reach out to these tattered remains of fundamental believers (without any proselyting intentions) before they do something stupid and/or murderous – 9/11 springs to mind etc.