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.
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|
|Religion Not Stated||4,038,032||Own Belief System||1,949|
|Agnostic||32,382||Traditional African Religion||588|
|Other Religions||13,813||Brahma Kumari||442|
|Wicca||11,766||Church of All Religion||408|
|Believe in God||2,969||Native American Church||127|
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 view – Britain 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