The Guardian’s front page news headline today is happy news for those nonreligious of us. I even heard it on local radio this morning:
The number of people who say they have no religion is rapidly escalating and significantly outweighs the Christian population in England and Wales, according to new analysis.
The proportion of the population who identify as having no religion – referred to as “nones” – reached 48.5% in 2014, almost double the figure of 25% in the 2011 census. Those who define themselves as Christian – Anglicans, Catholics and other denominations – made up 43.8% of the population.
“The striking thing is the clear sense of the growth of ‘no religion’ as a proportion of the population,” said Stephen Bullivant, senior lecturer in theology and ethics at St Mary’s Catholic University in Twickenham, who analysed data collected through British Social Attitudes surveys over three decades.
“The main driver is people who were brought up with some religion now saying they have no religion. What we’re seeing is an acceleration in the numbers of people not only not practising their faith on a regular basis, but not even ticking the box. The reason for that is the big question in the sociology of religion.”
The report did not examine data from Scotland or Northern Ireland. Last month a Scottish Social Attitudes survey found that 52% of the population said they were not religious, compared with 40% in 1999.
In Northern Ireland, which has long been the most religious part of the UK, 7% said in the 2011 census that they belonged to a non-Christian religion or no religion.
The new analysis will fuel concern among Christian leaders about growing indifference to organised religion. This year the Church of England said it expected attendance to continue to fall for another 30 years as its congregations age and the millennial generation spurns the institutions of faith.
Some 40% of people raised Anglicans and almost as many raised Catholics now identify as “nones”. Anglicans lose some 12 followers for every one they gain, and Catholics lose 10. In fact, Catholics are far more likely to attend church once or more a week. The article continues:
The proportion of the population who describe themselves as Anglican plunged from 44.5% in 1983 to 19% in 2014. Catholics made up 8.3%, other Christians 15.7% and non-Christian religions 7.7%.
London’s “nones” rate as the smallest percentage, at 40%, which is in some sense understandable given the cultural mix there, from immigrants (both long and short term).
Wales has the highest proportion of nonreligious. Half of Christians in the data are over 55, whilst 58.5% are women.
The Guardian states the report’s author, towards the end of the article, as saying:
A spokesperson for the Church of England said: “The increase in those identifying as ‘no faith’ reflects a growing plurality in society rather than any increase in secularism or humanism. We do not have an increasingly secular society as much as a more agnostic one.
“In a global context, adherence to religion is growing rather than decreasing. Christianity remains the world’s largest religion with over 2 billion adherents. In the UK the latest census found the overwhelming majority of people to have a faith.”