Archive for religion

A Gradual Reversion?

Posted in Social Concern, Speculation with tags , on March 10, 2011 by davidnm2009

I have an odd theory about religion in Britain. Here we go…

Census time has come round again. People across the country are getting white and purple forms through the post. These forms ask questions on various topics, most of them rather dull. But controversially, a question on religion was added into the 2001 Census. That’s still there in the 2011 census.

And it brought an odd phenomenon to public attention.

Basically, a lot of people tick ‘Christian’ on that question; the 2001 Census found that about 72% of the country described themselves as such. Nothing odd so far, obviously – Britain is at least theoretically a Christian country. However, a lot more people call themselves Christian than actually seem to be. Church attendance is low. Polls tend to suggest ambivalence about religious ideas; as one example, a 2006 ICM poll found that only about 33% of people described themselves as ‘religious people’. In the same poll, 43% also said that they never attend religious services. Also overt, evangelical proselytising is both rare and also generally somewhat disapproved of. (As a purely anecdotal example, in my area we have a very active Mormon church. The reaction it gets in my social circle is one of some irritation! It doesn’t help that they like to jump in front of you when you’ve got heavy shopping bags…)

By and large, the British public seems to use the term ‘Christian’ effectively as an ethnic descriptor, rather than as a religious one. (On factor feeding into this, I suspect, could possibly be misgivings over overtly-racial bases for collective identity.)

That said, characterising the British people as atheistic seems to me to be a step too far. Certainly some of us are non-believers (hi! *waves*), and the country as a whole has no particular problem with non-theism. Thing is, while many of the British people may not identify with a specific church in terms of their beliefs, they do seem to have a spiritual sense of sorts. As one piece of evidence, a 2005 Eurobarometer poll (pdf) found that 38% believed that ‘there is a god’ and 40% believe there is “some sort of spirit or life force”, whereas only 20% said they wholey-disbelieved.

So, that’s the nice, data-based section of the post out of the way. Now we proceed to my speculation…
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