There are some intriguing new interactive maps of the UK by DataShine that show you which cities of the country, and which parts of those cities, are most and least religious, and where in each place the various faiths are more common.
The site is a bit slow today, but you can see places divided up not only by degree of belief in, say, Christianity, but in Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and so on. You can do this for a number of cities (Leeds, Cardiff, Manchester, Liverpool, etc.) and also see the cities divided by language, ethnic group, country of birth, and so on.
Here, for example, are where the Jews of London live, with red being almost none, and the darkest blue being over 3%. I have no idea what this means, for I thought they all lived in Golders Green. (Click to enlarge):
And here are the Muslims, with read again being almost none, and blue being over 29%:
I don’t know how to interpret these, though UK readers will have a better understanding, but it’s clear that cities do have enclaves divided by faith.
The Guardian has a separate piece highlighting Britain’s most atheistic cities, which include Brighton, Norwich, Bristol, and Nottingham. And, of course, Andrew Brown has something to say about that at the Guardian in a piece called “Religion is a toxic brand in some UK cities—but it’s not about atheism.”
As usual, it’s barely coherent. He rabbits on, for instance, about how Muslims live in the East End, and British politicians have to take that into account rather than assuming that London is like Islington, with no Muslims and hardly any believers at all. The point is lost on me.
Brown does, however, take the opportunity to make his usual feints at atheism, to wit (my emphasis):
Oliver O’Brien and James Cheshire’s extraordinary and illuminating heatmaps of Britain’s religious fervour look as if they have a lesson for people interested in religion, and this is that it is fading over large sections of the country. The overall tone is pale pink at best and often completely cyanotic blue.
Looked at more closely, though, and one lesson to emerge is the absolute centrality of religion in today’s politics. The cities where ‘religion’ is the most completely toxic brand – Brighton and Norwich to name two – are also those where green politics are likely to be strongest, and where a strong sense of ethical obligation to the world and to humanity is easiest to appeal to. This may not be theistic, and it certainly isn’t arranged around the worship of one Father God – but it’s not atheist either. A distrust of ‘religion’ often goes alongside a strong belief in ‘spirituality’ and an interest in alternatives.
I barely understood the second paragraph, until I realized that the “most toxic brand of religion” is actually nonbelief. I’m not sure where he gets his data about cities like Brighton and Norwich being places where ethical obligation is most easily invoked. But what I’m pretty sure of is that he’s simply making stuff up about those least religious places being highly spiritual rather than atheist. Unless I’m mistaken, Brown’s trying to make a virtue out of necessity—the UK’s increasing secularism—and claiming that the secularism is actually spirituality rather than atheism. And he sees “the absolute centrality of religion” because he construes nonbelief as “religion.”
Maybe I’m misinterpreting Brown, and I don’t want to spend a lot of time on his piece (not his blog, but a regular column); for the man is low-hanging fruit. And, if I don’t miss my guess, the low-hanging fruit is rotting.