I imagined – I really, REALLY did – that the question above would send flocks of True Christians™ frantically phoning-in to lament the findings of a new report that indicates just how quickly Christianity is sinking into obscurity in the UK, and that tempers would flare.
They usually do on London’s LBC Radio phone-ins but it just didn’t happen. More people listening to the segment were interested in guessing who the presenter (I didn’t catch his name) saw on an Underground train today. Turned out it was Prince Edward (yawn).
By far the most intelligent caller was Stephen Evans, above, of the National Secular Society, who welcomed the findings of the British Social Attitudes survey and briefly pointed out that freedom and tolerance tends to flourish best in secular societies.
There was one lame call from a Christian who thought Britain would fare better if it were to “return to its religious roots”, but offered no convincing evidence – nor any evidence at all – that this would be the case. There was a Jewish man who said religion bound his family together, and a Sikh who thought society would improve if people were to engage more fully with “holy books”.
And for this I gave up an afternoon that would have been better spent reading a Ruth Rendell novel by the side of our pool.
The report released today says there has been a “dramatic decline” in Britain’s Christian identity over the last 35 years – with a “substantial increase” in atheism.
Almost two-thirds (63 percent) or Britons polled agreed that religions bring more conflict than peace, while 13 percent disagreed.
Slightly over one-third (38 percent) of the 3,879 people polled for the study described themselves as Christian, down from one-half (50 percent) in 2008, and nearly two-thirds (66 percent) in 1983.
Conversely, those identifying as Muslim increased exponentially – up from 1 percent in 1983, rising to 3 percent in 2008, and 6 percent in 2018.
The findings show for the first time that the percentage of those describing themselves as Christian has dropped below 40 percent since the survey began in 1983, although those identifying as no denomination Christian increased from 3 percent in 1983 to 13 percent in 2018.
More than half of all people polled (52 percent) said they do not belong to any religion, up from nearly one-in-three (31 percent) in 1983.
The report said:
The past two decades have seen international conflict involving religion and domestic religious organisations, putting themselves at odds with mainstream values. We find a dramatic decline in identification with Christian denominations, particularly the Church of England, a substantial increase in atheism …
The data also showed 51 percent of those polled “feel positive” towards Christians, compared with 30 percent) for Muslims.
The report added data offered:
Compelling evidence that the process of secularisation continues unabated. Britain is becoming more secular, not because adults are losing their religion but because older people with an attachment to the Church of England and other Christian denominations are gradually being replaced in the population by unaffiliated younger people.
To put it another way, religious decline in Britain is generational – people tend to be less religious than their parents, and on average their children are even less religious that they are.
Responding to the findings, Andrew Copson, above, Chief Executive of Humanists UK, said:
For the third year in a row, the British Social Attitudes survey – the gold standard in reliable data on our society – has shown a majority of Brits are non-religious. With these trends set to continue, policy-makers in every field, from education to constitutional law, to health and social care need to wake up to such dramatic social changes, particularly the rise of the non-religious and the decline of Christianity.
Stephen Evans said the figures showed:
The need for a serious rethink of the privileges granted to religion in Britain. Britain’s constitutional settlement and public policies should catch up with the opinions of its population.
But in a desperate attempt to put a positive gloss on the survey, Dave Male, the Church of England’s Director of Evangelism and Discipleship, said:
Times have changed and for many people ticking a box marked ‘Church of England’ or ‘Anglican’ is now an active choice and no longer an automatic response.
In spite of this, the Church of England remains at the heart of communities with millions of people reached in their daily lives through our ministry and our message of the Good News of the Gospel.
We are living in an era of rapid social change – but people are still searching for meaning and answers to life. Only this weekend, the General Synod heard that as many as 5,000 new congregations, mission communities and outreach initiatives have been set up in the past 15 years attracting a majority of people – 60 percent – who have not been churchgoers before.