Wednesday 3 June 2015

The News Just Keeps Getting Better

British Social Attitudes: Church of England decline has accelerated in past decade

Another survey and again we see the inexorable decline in religious belief in the UK and the accelerating increase in Atheism. This is such a common thing nowadays that it would probably make the news if the decline in religion was halted or reversed.

This survey comes from NatCen, the leading independent social research agency:

The Church of England has been in decline for over 30 years and that decline appears to have accelerated over the last decade, new data from NatCen Social Research reveals.

The findings from NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey show that the proportion of British adults who say they are Anglican fell from 40% in 1983 to 17% in 2014. However the shift has been most dramatic over the last decade as the proportion has fallen by two fifths in ten years, down from 29% of the population in 2004.

In real terms, this suggests that the number of Anglicans in Britain fell by as many as 4.5 million over the last ten years from around 13 million people to about 8.5 million.

The rise of atheism?

The biggest group remains people who say they have no religion, which accounts for around half (49%) of all people in Britain, up from 31% in 1983 and 43% a decade ago.

However, most Christian denominations have remained fairly stable over the last 30 years; Roman Catholics and those we have grouped together as “other” which includes Methodists, Presbyterians and Christians without a denomination, make up 8% and 17% of the population respectively and remain at a similar level as in 1983.

There has also been a significant rise in the proportion of people from religions other than Christian, up from 2% in 1983 to 8% in 2014. The biggest of these growing religions is Islam, which has grown from around half a percent of the population in 1983 to around 5% in 2014.

Naomi Jones, Head of Social Attitudes, NatCen Social Research: “The proportion of people saying that they are Anglican has fallen quite dramatically in the last ten years, coinciding with a rise in people saying they are not religious. Meanwhile, members of other Christian and non-Christian religions have remained relatively constant and even increased.

We know from previous analysis of British Social Attitudes that the main explanation for the increase in British people saying they are not religious is generational displacement. In other words each generation is less religious than the next so as older generations die the overall population becomes less religious.

But this doesn’t explain why the Anglican Church alone continues to decline. One explanation for this might be that the numbers of Catholic and non-Christian people in Britain may have been supplemented by migrants with strong religious beliefs. While another explanation could be that in the past religion played a more prominent role in people’s identity. We know from recent NatCen research that people are less likely than in previous years to see being Christian as an important component of being British. Therefore, fewer British people may feel that the Church of England is an important part of their identity nowadays.”

In stark contrast to the dire forecasts and shrill propaganda emanating mostly from American fundamentalists, who insist that people need their particular god to be good and that without a god, people would be unable to see any reason why they should go on a killing and raping rampage or turn to robbery with violence as a way of life. The facts show otherwise and suggests the claims of these fundamentalist may say more about their repressed desires than about those of normal people.

The UK has actually become a kinder, more caring, tolerant and compassionate society in which equality of opportunity is seen as a basic right regardless of race, religion, sexuality or physical ability. Social attitudes towards drink-driving, dangerous driving, wearing seat belts, health and safety, environmental damage, conservation, animal cruelty, etc, etc, are much different today than they were in 1983.

This contrasts with the mainstream religions which have generally opposed same-sex marriage, decriminalisation of homesexuality, even full female emancipation with even the normally liberal Anglicans almost splitting over the issue of women priests and bishops. In all matters of social progress it is the secular humanist who are advocating change and always in ways which increase individual liberty and freedom of choice. Indeed, it is the intolerance and exclusivity of most religions which is turning people away from them who now see the attitudes and morality they espouse as unacceptable in a modern society.

People are leaving faiths because faiths represent division, exclusion, bigotry and intolerance and because the behaviour of priests and religious extremists has highlighted to many that religions are more about excuses for bad behaviour than reason for good.

The small crumb of comfort for the faithists, though scant comfort for the Anglicans, is that immigration from Eastern Europe, especially Poland, is tending to make up for the loss of Catholics to Atheism, and the numbers of Muslims continues to increase due to immigration from Pakistan and Bangladesh and a differentially high birth rate. Similarly, Baptist Christianity remains strong in the Afro-Caribbean and West African community. For both Black and Asian Britons, religion is as much an ethnic identifier as a matter of religious belief.

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