Is Britain a Christian country?

There’s been some hoo-ha in the last couple of days over whether or not Britain is predominantly Christian. David Cameron has suddenly come over all religious because there’s an election looming and he wants God’s vote (presumably). The PM urged the UK to be “more confident” in its Christianity and for people to be proud of their religious affiliation.

This prompted the Humanist Association to send a letter to the Telegraph stating that the UK wasn’t Christian at all and was a largely “non-religious” country. There’s been a lot of talk about divisiveness and hurt feelings, and dark mutterings about the cynical manipulation of politicians (as if they ever do anything else – why is anyone surprised by all this?).


Anyway, my response to this little storm in an Anglican tea cup was to shrug. Aside from the question of exactly how a country can have a religion, I don’t care what people choose to believe, or pretend to believe. The stories we tell ourselves can be entertaining. It’s only when we start to believe they are absolutely true that we get into trouble.

As a Zen Buddhist I often joke that I don’t believe in anything – not even belief – but that’s just facetious. We all place value in something. How we define meaning for ourselves is central to our humanity – we can’t function effectively without it. Not even humanists or atheists. I have serious reservations about the humanist belief system, but that’s another post for another time.

Census Consensus

If you look at the figures from the UK Census 2011, Christianity tops the list at 59.3%. There’s no data on attendance, so we don’t know how many of those Christians regularly go to church. Other polls suggest that figure will be lower. But there are plenty of other religions and belief systems to choose between. The total for all religions was 67.7%, for no religion it was 25.1%, and for religion not stated 7.2%.

After a little more digging around in the figures I discovered there are more people who identify themselves as Jedi Knights than atheists and humanists combined!

This is probably an example of people thumbing their noses at the establishment by taking the piss out of a box ticking exercise. But despite that, it seems pretty clear that religion or spirituality is still important to people in the UK. The grumbling from the Humanist Association looks more like sour grapes than reasoned argument.

For the curious, here are the numbers for England and Wales, sorted to show the highest at the top:

Belief System Believers Belief System Believers
Christian 33,243,175 Pantheism 2,216
No Religion 13,836,778 Heathen 1,958
Religion Not Stated 4,038,032 Own Belief System 1,949
Muslim (Islam) 2,706,066 Satanism 1,893
Hindu 816,633 Witchcraft 1,276
Sikh 423,158 Deist 1,199
Jewish 263,346 Shintoism 1,075
Buddhist 247,743 Universalist 923
Jedi Knight 176,632 Theism 830
Pagan 56,620 New Age 698
Spiritualist 39,061 Shamanism 650
Agnostic 32,382 Traditional African Religion 588
Atheist 29,267 Animism 541
Mixed Religion 23,566 Druze 515
Jain 20,288 Free Thinker 513
Humanist 15,067 Occult 502
Spiritual 13,832 Unification Church 452
Other Religions 13,813 Brahma Kumari 442
Wicca 11,766 Church of All Religion 408
Ravidassia 11,058 Eckankar 379
Rastafarian 7,906 Realist 348
Heavy Metal 6,242 Reconstructionist 251
Baha’i 5,021 Vodun 208
Druid 4,189 Mysticism 204
Taoist 4,144 Thelemite 184
Zoroastrian 4,105 Chinese Religion 182
Believe in God 2,969 Native American Church 127
Scientology 2,418 Confucianist 124

I haven’t heard of some of these religions, but seeing them listed by number of believers throws up some interesting juxtapositions. Of course, surveys and censuses are limited, and statistics are notoriously unreliable, so we should be careful of drawing too many conclusions from all this counting.

However, I have been entertaining myself by pondering how a meeting between a believer in Mysticism and a believer in Realism would go down.

Anyone know what a Realist is?

Update: On 27th April former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams gave a more balanced viewBritain is a post-Christian country: “A Christian nation can sound like a nation of committed believers and we are not that. Equally, we are not a nation of dedicated secularists. It’s a matter of defining terms. A Christian country as a nation of believers? No. A Christian country in the sense of still being very much saturated by this vision of the world and shaped by it? Yes.”

Image: Stained Glass


6 thoughts on “Is Britain a Christian country?

  1. Jessica, Thanks for this list of the “religious” preferences of Brits! As for the politicos getting into the “We are Christians” act, have you folks been drinking some American Kool-Aid?


    1. Ha ha! Yes, it looks like it. But I think the PM is just trying to woo older Conservative voters who tend to be more traditional in their outlook and more likely to vote than the rest of us Godless heathens!


  2. Several other polls show non religion at 50% in Britain. The census was widely discredited because the question’s wording invited a religious preference. People in Britain also consider themselves cultural Christians rather than actually religious, which is of course understandable, because the impact on Britain of Christianity is pervasive and many people do not trouble themselves with theological discussions or musings to make it known they’re not religious.

    But certain politicians have been trying to say that these cultural Christians establish a basis for evangelical policy by the government which is not at all appropriate, as ticking a Christian box does not mean you agree that Jesus was born of a Virgin, or died and rose again or that the Church of England should be at the forefront of social policy.


  3. Very interesting. I had no idea the Jedi religion was doing so well.

    What a realist is seems to depend on the context and is quite a technical question. Their main practice is presumably reifying stuff.


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