Having been away from active blogging about religion for a while, what with a few personal family issues and a little matter of my fellow countrymen and women having voted to commit economic suicide by trying to go back to the 1970s instead of forward as part of a united Europe, it's good to come back with some good news, albeit a little late.
Ironically, it is news that illustrates how much like the rest of Western Europe we are. As with many other European countries, religious affiliation and church attendance continues to tumble in England at a rate that is causing panic and despondency in the established churches. The reaction of the established churches may reveal something about the attitude of clerics to 'faith'.
The striking thing is the clear sense of the growth of ‘no religion’ as a proportion of the population. 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.An analysis of NatCen's British Social Attitudes survey by Stephen Bullivant, senior lecturer in theology and ethics at St Mary’s Catholic University in Twickenham, has shown that those self-identifying as having no religion in 2014 (the so-called 'nones') outnumber all the different Christian denominations added together (48.5% compared to 43.8%). This has risen from 46% in 2011. In the 2011 census a different question resulted in just 25% of the population self-identifying as 'none'. In the BSA survey, 'none' includes not only Atheists and agnostics but those who, while being 'spiritual' do not feel affiliated to any particular religion.
Stephen Bullivant, senior lecturer in theology and ethics at St Mary’s Catholic University in Twickenham.
The significance of this result is that people are increasingly rejecting the dogmas and teaching of established churches.
A similar survey in Scotland in April 2015 showed 52% of people having no religion, compared to 40% in 1999. The Church of England has resigned itself to falling church attendances for the next 30 years due to loss of an aging congregation and failure to recruit or retain the 'millennials'. Regular attendance at an Anglican church has already fallen below 10%.
40% of those raised in an Anglican household leave the faith and almost as many Catholics likewise become 'nones'. Conversions are falling a long way short of replacing these losses with Anglicans losing twelve members for every convert while the Catholic church in England loses ten. Almost all converts come from other Christian denominations. These figures are consistent with a massive decline in affiliation to the Anglican church since 1983 when 44.5% of people self-identified as Anglican. This was down to 19% in 2014. Catholics made up 8.3% of the population, other Christians 15.7% and non-Christians 7.7%.
In a rather strange response, a 'Church of England spokesman' was quoted in the Guardian article as saying:
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 the UK the latest census found the overwhelming majority of people to have a faith.
Are we to conclude that the CofE now thinks it is better to have any faith than to be agnostic or Atheist? Why would this be? Isn't it the dogma of all churches that theirs is the only true religion and their teaching supplies the only route to 'salvation'? If not, why so many denominations? Why then is it better to have the 'wrong' religion rather than to have none at all? Could this be a case of sympathy for their fellow clerics who are also facing redundancy and irrelevance rather than concern for the spiritual well-being of the population and for their ultimate fate?
One might be forgiven for thinking that clerics see religion in terms of jobs, privileges and career prospects and not in terms of praising their god in the right way to ensure a future in Heaven. Any faith will do as long as the faithful show up come Sunday and bung a few quid in the collection.
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