|Those saying that they do not believe in any god or higher spiritual power has gone up from 33 to 38 per cent; those saying they believe in a god or a higher power has declined from 32 to 28 per cent.|
One of the few bits of good news to come at the end of 2016, and maybe because 2016 has been such an awful year, is that decline in religious belief in the UK, according to a poll commissioned from YouGov by Times Newspapers, has accelerated, falling by a full four percentage points in a single year.
This is one of the biggest falls ever recorded and comes at the end of a year which saw the Brexit debacle, the election of Donald Trump, supported by a lot of very un-Christian Christians, an asylum-seeker crisis in Europe caused by warring religious factions in the Middle East, some appalling religiously-inspired terrorist attacks in Europe and elsewhere and the deaths of several poplar celebrities.
Last February 32% of those surveyed reported belief in a 'higher power' or deity; in this recent survey that figure has fallen to 28%. Meanwhile those reporting a positive non-belief in a deity or higher power has risen by five percentage points from 33% to 38%, opening up a clear 10% lead for non-belief. Previous surveys had shown an approximately 1% per annum decline in religions belief over several years, so this 4% decline in less than a year is highly unusual if not highly significant.
Although it is difficult to see a direct causal link between the Brexit vote and change in religious belief it is interesting that of those who voted 'Leave', 35% do not believe in gods or higher powers against 45% of those who voted 'Remain'. There is also a significant difference between genders with 50% of men having no religion against only 28% of women.
There is little comfort for the established churches in the detail; if anything it gets worse. As we have seen before with these surveys the younger generations tend to be less religious than the older ones and this has again been confirmed. 46% of those between 18 and 24 years old reject religion; 43% of those between 25 and 49; 38% of 50 to 64 year olds and 25% of over 65s. But, contrary to what might be expected, studies have shown that people do not generally become more religious as they age. In fact, religious views formed by between 18 and 24 tend to become permanent.
A similar poll conducted last year for Times Newspapers revealed the curious paradox that, whist 51% of people identified themselves as belonging to Christian, Jewish or Muslim faiths, only 32% said they believed in a god. This might at first sight seem surprising until one realises that in this sense 'faith' is a cultural background identifier and not a statement of religious belief. In multicultural, multi-ethnic Britain, cultural identity tends to be 'faith' based. It is becoming no more strange to be a 'Christian' or 'Muslim' Atheist than is is to be a secular, Atheist Jew.
My guess is that the EU referendum and subsequent muddle over what exactly people thought they were voting against (or is that for?) has played little part in this decline in religion. What is far more likely to be behind it is the growing tensions world-wide between Islam and Christianity with the grotesque jihadist atrocities in France, Germany and elsewhere, the plight of refugees fleeing the faith-based conflicts in the Middle East and the abandonment of any pretence of humanitarianism, compassion or sexual morality by American Christian fundamentalists in their craven support for the odious, sexually depraved, misogynist, serial adulterer and casual female abuser, Donald trump in his hate-based, white supremacist campaign.
If anyone epitomises the very antithesis of the public face of 'caring, compassionate Christianity', then it is Donald Trump. The willingness to turn a blind eye and make excuses for him by the religious American right was truly sickening and must have cause many decent people to question a 'faith' which is so flexible in its 'objective' morals and disingenuous in it protestations of love and piety. If Christianity can't persuade a devotee that Trump is unfit for elected office let alone the position of the most powerful man on Earth, then what on Earth good is it? It is providing a strange moral compass if it is providing any moral guidance at all. Certainly, there was none discernible; nothing that could be called 'good'.
No wonder so many people this year reached the conclusion that religion (and frankly, in the UK that means mostly Christianity) isn't for them anymore.
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