According to a recent survey from YouGov (December 2015), a post-Christian era has dawned in Britain, with most white Britons now saying they have no religion. YouGov polled a sample of 1,500 people across the UK, including recent immigrants and found that almost half (46%) have no religion (up from 37% in January 2013) , rising to more than 50% among white British.
One in six (16.5%) of those who say they have no religion believe there is definitely or probably some higher power and a quarter of those without a religion take part in some spiritual activity each month, typically prayer. Only a small proportion are anti-religious (13%) or identify as secular or humanist (7%).
The disillusionment with Christianity is particularly pronounced among the under 40’s, who are perceived to feel alienated from the church’s conservative social values. Among the under-40s of all races, 56% have no religion. Less than a third (31%) say they are Christian.
The findings will be revealed on Tuesday by Linda Woodhead, professor in the sociology of religion at Lancaster University, when she delivers the British Academy lecture. In her address, “Why ‘no religion’ is the new religion”, she will argue that Britain’s Christian leaders have lost touch with congregations on issues including gay marriage and abortion. She said it was only in 2002 that the Church of England had agreed that divorced people could remarry in church under certain circumstances. She is quoted as saying:
“Most Anglicans and Catholics are not like their leaders. They are liberal about personal morality and more right-wing politically but their leaders are more conservative in personal morality and more left-wing politically. The leaders have led their religions off in this countercultural direction. There has been a revolutionary generational change in our religious identity from the norm being Christian to the norm being ‘no religion’.”
I guess we only have to look at the lengthy and tortuous process in the Anglican church for agreeing to the consecration of women Bishops as evidence of ultra-conservatism. Most lay people didn’t understand what all the fuss was about, particularly in view of the equality and diversity laws and various EU directives that had established both a legal and cultural shift towards ensuring gender equality. The more recent debates and arguments about gay marriage will no doubt alienate even more of the growing number of liberal-thinkers who believe that religion is not representative of how we live today. But perhaps this is the inevitable cost of the Church – and religion – being our moral compass. There will always be tension between morality and liberalism. The issue for our church leaders is finding the right balance.
[The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of St Michael’s Church, The Diocese of St Alban’s or the Church of England]