Irreligion emerges from the shadows

The first tranche of 2011 census data in England and Wales have been published, and they paint an interesting picture of religious practice and lack thereof.

What is particularly interesting is the marked fall in the numbers of those who say they are Christian. And that is in response to the loaded question “What is your religion?”. As the British Humanist Association says, the question carries with it the assumption that the respondent has a religion of some kind. For the next census that question must be framed in a neutral manner.

That 59% of English and Welsh people declare themselves Christian is more indicative of culture than religious belief and practice. Not that one can legitimately separate the two, mind you. Accept the Christian gospel, and one is compelled by scriptural edict to be in active communion with other believers. Saul of Tarsus is quite clear on this, as he is in all manner of things. In modern practice it means church membership and attendance.

In recent years I have seen various figures published for church attendance, but on average we are talking only of a few percent of the population, with statistical spikes relating to hatching, matching and dispatching. How do we square that with the 2011 census data? It is only possible if one considers contemporary Christianity as primarily a cultural identity.

Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association,…

“Religious practice, identity, belonging and belief are all in decline in this country, and non-religious identities are on the rise. It is time that public policy caught up with this mass turning away from religious identities and stopped privileging religious bodies with ever increasing numbers of state-funded religious schools and other faith-based initiatives.”

If the trend shown in census data continues, within a few generations religious practice and cultural identity will be consigned to a minority sport. In the shorter term, public policy must be rewritten to reflect the increasing irreligiousness of the British peoples.