The number of Scots who say they are not religious has risen to almost three quarters, according to new research, but ‘the role of spirituality in people’s lives remains important,’ says Rev Norman Smith, above, convener of the Church of Scotland’s grandly-named Mission and Discipleship Council.
Reacting to figures that show that just under a quarter (23.6 percent) said they were religious, while 72.4 percent said they were not, Smith tried, and signally failed to put a positive spin on the results.
The Church of Scotland is well aware that formal church membership has declined, yet as our own research, detailed in Steve Aisthorpe’s book The Invisible Church shows, the role of spirituality in people’s lives remains important.
As a Church we are not driven by numbers, although we are committed to sharing our faith through our words and our deeds.
It is no accident that people of faith across the country are over-represented in volunteer activities from supporting youth groups and operating dementia cafes to running food banks.
We are also exploring new, fresh ways to express our faith and planting new churches, such as Dunfermline East, St Columba’s Inverness, and through our pioneer ministries.
The primary task of the church has not changed throughout the ages but the way we tackle that task continues to evolve. In the midst of decline you can find growth and in the midst of growth you can find decline. That is how it has always been.
A similar poll in 2011 showed that 56 percent of Scots said they were not religious while 35 percent said they were.
The Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) said the findings raised concerns about official statistics on religion in Scotland.
It suggested that the way in which census data and other studies of religion were being carried out gave higher figures of religiosity due to the way the question was framed.
In the latest Social Attitudes Survey in 2016 people were asked whether they:
Regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion.
Almost six in ten (58 percent) said they didn’t belong to a religion while just over four in ten (41 percent) said they did.
Gordon MacRae, above, Chief Executive of HSS, said:
These new findings raise concerns about the official statistics on the adherence to religion in Scotland.
We know that many people identify with a particular religious community, usually due to family ties, but are not themselves practising that religion.
These latest findings would suggest there could be as much as a 15 percent difference between ‘official statistics’ and the reality of religion’s place in the Scottish public daily lives.
This raises major questions about key policy decisions made by government regarding special rights given to religious bodies under law. For example, the right of Scotland’s churches to hold the balance of power on local education committees.
We need a new consensus in Scottish politics that respects and protects individuals’ right to freedom of religion and belief and separating this from policy making. Scotland’s democracy needs to get to a place where we stop blurring the lines of church and state.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church described HSS’s response to the latest poll as:
Confused, yet not surprising.
And it unconfusingly added:
The question ‘are you religious’ does not lend itself to a binary ‘Yes/No’ answer since religiosity tends to exist on a sliding scale rather than at either end of a stark spectrum.
That 72 percent of Scots describe themselves as ‘not religious’ should not be read as implying, they have ‘no religion’.
Last year it was reported here that if people weren’t coming to church, the church ought to go to the people “in their natural environments”. Chillingly, the Fresh Expressions initiative included targeting school kids and even police officers.
Phil Potter, Archbishops’ Missioner and Fresh Expressions team leader said:
I realised we had 10,000 people on our doorstep who were not coming into the church. In fact, there is a statistic that says 50 percent of the population are completely unchurched – not just the children or even their parents, it was the grandparents who were completely unchurched.
Hat tip: Jim Haught
• See ‘Spirituality’: A word that makes my hackles rise.