11 December 2012

A quarter of Brits are non-religious

The UK’s 2011 census results are in, and they contain good news for humanists, atheists, agnostics and other non-religious people. You may remember the high-profile campaign ran by the British Humanist Association last year encouraging non-religious citizens to tick the ‘No religion’ box on the census. The campaign may have had an effect after all, as the results below indicate:

  • The number of non-religious people has increased from 15 percent in 2001 to 25 percent in 2011.

  • The number of Christians has dropped from 72 percent in 2001 to 59 percent in 2011.

  • The number of Jedi Knights has more than halved, dropping from approximately 390,000 in 2001 to 176,632 in 2011.

That’s a dramatic decrease in the number of self-identified Christians with a corresponding large jump in the irreligious population. The BHA’s campaign urging so-called Jedi to stop being silly and just put themselves down as ‘no religion’ may have played a part in the massive drop in Jedi numbers. BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson responded to the census data with the following comments:

This is a really significant cultural shift. In spite of a biased question that positively encourages religious responses, to see such an increase in the non-religious and such a decrease in those reporting themselves as Christian is astounding. Of course these figures still exaggerate the number of Christians overall – the number of believing, practicing Christians is much lower than this and the number of those leading their lives with no reference to religion much higher.
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. They are decreasingly relevant to British life and identity and governments should catch up and accept that fact.

The UK is not yet as secular as countries like Japan, Sweden and Denmark, but amazingly it has become less religious, even less Christian, than Australia: 22 percent of Aussies have no religion (compared with 25 percent of Brits) while 61 percent of Aussies are Christian (compared with 59 percent of Brits). Still, both countries are much less religious than the US, which remains an anomaly among rich, developed countries with 73 percent of Americans identifying as Christians (though the number of non-religious Americans is rising).

The steady increase in the non-religious demographic in not only the UK, but Australia and the US also, is an encouraging sign that secular ideas and values are being embraced by more and more people in these countries. Religion will still be around for a while, and may even pull off a modest comeback, but social trends in the developed world are evidently not in its favour. Let’s celebrate that.


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