The dramatic increase of secularism in Britain

April 12, 2019 • 1:10 pm

Just a short but heartening report from Humanists UK, which you can access by clicking on the screenshot below. (The pdf of the report—just an Excel file—can be downloaded here.) The take-home message is that the decline in religiosity in Britain is becoming precipitous, though Muslims, Jews, and Hindus, have increased—but not nearly enough to offset the decline in the majority faith of Christianity:

From the report:

The number of people in Britain who say they have no religion has increased by a staggering 46% over the past seven years, making non-religious people the fastest growing group in the country, according to new figures released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

The data from the ONS, taken from the Annual Population Survey, show the number of non-religious people has increased by nearly a half since 2011 to 39%, with nearly 8 million more people now saying they have no religion.

. . . The results also showed a 15% decline in the number of people who say they are Christian (all denominations). People who said they were Muslim grew by 22%, Jewish 17% and Hindu 13%.

This continues the trend of secularization of the West, though Muslims are bucking that trend, both because they have a fair number of kids and also because of the opprobrium attending leaving the faith. The trend also parallels the finding in the US that “nones” (those who declare no formal religion, but can still believe in God or be “spiritual”) is the fastest-growing category of “faith”.

Humanists UK does note, however, that the question used to estimate religion is biased towards overestimating it, a conclusion that comes from a survey that asks a different—and more revealing—question:

But Humanists UK also raised concerns about the leading question used in the survey which asked ‘What is your religion?’ It has been advocating for the Census question and other survey questions on religion and belief to change to ‘What is your religion, if any?’, as the existing question tends to overestimate religious belief, acting as a measure of weak cultural ties rather than religious belief. The British Social Attitudes Survey, which uses a two-part question, estimates that 52% of British people have no religion.

Good news, I’d say, though Humanists UK still note the prevalence of faith schools (often state supported) and—something I didn’t know—”26 voting places for Church of England in Parliament.”  SERIOUSLY?

I make my prediction again, though I won’t be around to test it: in 200 years religion will have largely disappeared from the West, church attendance will be minuscule, and the remaining religionists, including the Vatican, will be selling off their assets and scrabbling furiously to retain believers.

h/t: Michael

45 thoughts on “The dramatic increase of secularism in Britain

    1. Yup, I guess that’s what Jerry was referring to in his penultimate para. It is shameful that ours is the only Parliament in the world, apart from Iran’s, with automatic places for representatives of the stablished religion.

      It is even more shameful that the answer, for some people (eg the Governmen’s ‘faith minister’ – why do we even have such a position?), is not to eradicate such privilege but to extend it to other religions:

      1. It’s because the UK has the queen as the head of its established religion i.e. the Church of England (CofE). Disestablishmentarianism was big in the Victorian age, but the issue has been pretty much neglected since. In the modern era, it’s ridiculous that the state officially distinguishes between religions in this way, for example the automatic inclusion of CofE bishops mentioned above, but I don’t see anything changing any time soon.

        1. If you Google the short video Stephen Fry Church of England you’ll see your not too badly off 🙂

          1. I do like Stephen’s argument, which is basically that the C of E is a sort of inoculation against more fanatical religions. (If I recall rightly).


  1. Good news and bad news. Greatly reduced incidence of typhus,but an increasing cholera epidemic?
    Great that the number of atheists has grown, but it is scary the number of muslims, -Islam being an even nastier disease than Christianity- has grown by nearly a quarter.

    1. On Wednesday, I started a religion “Arsenalism”. Our God is Dennis Bergkamp. Yesterday I converted my nephew, so Arsenalism has literally doubled overnight.

      Islam is starting from a long way back so it doesn’t take much to make it look like they have dramatic growth. Given a few generations of immersion in our largely secular society, I think Islam will go the same way as Christianity.

      1. The data in that spreadsheet show that nearly all the UK moslem population is concentrated in less than two dozens ‘local authorities’ where moslems comprise double digit percentages. In several, they represent from a quarter to a third of the population. In two — Tower Hamlets and Newham — 4 in 10 inhabitants are moslems. The actual concentration is even more intense, as moslems tend to cluster in their own insular neighborhoods.

        Immersion and assimilation is not the trajectory this is taking.

  2. in 200 years the Vatican will become the Cativan and a cat will rule. Its the secret held in the sealed box

  3. There seems to be a hysteria in Muslim society against Ex-Muslims. They are shamed and denigrated and subject to death threats and prison and possible executions. It’s an awful hypocrisy when you consider that Muslims complain about people with “phobias” out to get them, and they in turn do the same to others. Here is Maajid’s take on the Phobia:

    1. Islamophobia is a misnomer on another level too, not just a wrong term for anti-Muslim bigotry. A phobia is an irrational and unwarranted fear, but fear of Islam is far from irrational or unwarranted.
      And I agree 100% with Maya’s comment. I would only add that it is not just militant muslims, but also the ‘intersectional’ crew, that treats ex-muslims horribly.

  4. If the prediction is that in 200 years religion will have largely disappeared from the West, I think that has to be more specific.

    I think religion will have largely disappeared from Europe and the UK (if those are, indeed, still separate entities in 200 years), but I think it will persist in North America, specifically what was the US.

    The US seems to be breaking apart into several smaller entities. The urban areas are indeed following the trend of Europe, but the rural areas are regressing and becoming more religious. I don’t see the social movements like acceptance of LGBTQ people, freedom to have abortions, separation of Church and State and other progressive issues persisting in the rural areas. Legislation like Roe v. Wade will probably be repealed, and the US will continue to fragment, resulting in several smaller municipalities with vastly different customs and perhaps even different languages.

    What’s more, the upheavals of populations due to climate change (migrations of people away from flooded areas, famines and droughts, monster storms that kill millions), will all contribute to a heightening of immigration and cultural clashes. The smaller countries may even go to war with each other.

    This, of course, assumes the current polarization and intractability of the two groups (city and country) continues on its current trajectory in the next 200 years. I’m glad I won’t be around for it either.

    1. Yes, I don’t think religion is going anywhere in the U.S. Also glad I won’t be around for that as it is disgusting enough already. At least 8 states in this country have already done away with abortion if you are keeping track with one more just added. The first sound of a heart beat is their criteria which usually happens before a person even knows they are pregnant.

      1. IIRC, in most protestant traditions the ‘quickening’, the mother feeling the fetus move, was considered the sign of ensoulment.

        1. I think some fundies put ensoulment at the moment of fertilization, others at the zygote’s implantation in the uterus.

          That god of theirs is some abortionist, terminating over half of all such pregnancies unsuccessfully. Must have barely used souls stacked up like cord-wood (in Limbo, or wherever).

    2. Maybe but it will be one of those things where if it passes a critical point, then the change may come quickly after that. I never thought we would have a black president or serious contemplate a gay one but it happened. If we have an openly atheist president someday, it would give atheism a big boost.

  5. “In 200 years religion will have disappeared from the West”? Anyone fancy placing a bet on when the first openly atheist president will be elected in the US?

        1. Shhh. Don’t tell the children. They’ll be so heartbroken to hear that about their hero.

          Good thing they don’t believe anything you tell them about him.

  6. I suspect that in 200 years this will be a Muslim dominated world. To what extent will depend on a lot of things. Given rural America’s penchant for fundamentalism, switching to Islam would not be a difficult thing to do. Here are some links that describe the growth of Islam.

    As someone said in this email string, I am glad I won’t be around.

    1. ‘It’s not like Britain is becoming a more hospitable place for them.’

      Why is that? Are you saying that antisemitism is on the increase in Britain?

      1. Just google “Jeremy Corbyn anti-semitism”.

        Ignore any results from The Guardian – these days they are about as unbiased as HuffPo.

  7. I agree with Humanists UK that the question wording seems designed to overestimate the number of religious: “What is your religion?” carries with it the implicit assumption that a religion is something everyone has, like a shoe size. A much more realistic percentage would be got from asking 1) Do you have a religion? 2) If yes, what is it? – but of course that implies that whoever is asking the question *wants* a realistic percentage …

    The growth in “nones” I think is due to the collapse of the broader cultural definitions of the word “Christian” that used to be common in Britain: the idea that the word referred to a certain upright way of behaving, or an identification with white European, protestant civilization, or membership (however loose) of an institution, rather than mentally assenting to a set of theological propositions. All of those broader, fuzzier definitions are more or less moribund now, and as each decade passes those who used them, and thought with them, are gradually replaced by generations for whom the word “Christian” refers to a specific set of beliefs. In other words, as time passes the percentage of admitted “nones” more and more accurately reflects the percentage that, in truth, they probably have been in Britain for a long while.

  8. I do not see Islam disappearing any time soon, even in the West. As a religion Islam seems resistant to reform because of the unquestionable authority of the Koran and other more-or-less contemporary writings. Also Christians can believe as little or as much as they wish, and nobody needs to know. Muslims in the West are expected to publicly demonstrate their adhesion, creating a separate society where for example women are expected to wear the hijab.

    1. Don’t you think that children of Western Muslim families are becoming more secular?

      I listen to Catholic radio in the US — a problem they discuss often is the tendency of children to leave the faith while attending secular universities.

      1. All cults bemoan the “loss” of their children who grow up normal and move on. Don’t think about that, its frightening.

  9. Admittedly I’m feeling a bit pessimistic right now, but even correcting for that, my prediction is that in 200 years time there will still be a huge number of people – about 50% of us – believing in utter BS. Also admittedly, the BS may be different flavours to todays BS.

    1. Thanks Murali, a very interesting report. A few things struck me looking at that graph:
      1. The timeline over which the growth of nones happened, with its sudden uptick starting in 2006 and continuing today, makes a mockery of the sneerers — many of them supposedly atheists themselves, like John Gray — who claim that the Four Horsemen and their ilk have had no effect.
      2. The growth in nones has clearly mostly come from “Mainline Protestants” — that is, the more intellectually sophisticated denominations and groupings within American protestantism. For the last two hundred years, this group and its counterparts all over the world has always been the one closest to abandoning faith altogether — the last stop, as it were, on the road from a faith-based to an evidence-based view of reality.
      3. Despite that, “nones” have managed to draw members from *every other* group as well. That’s particularly heartening.

  10. `In 200 years religion will have largely disappeared from the West`

    You mean among Christians and Jews. There is no sign this will happen to the non-negligible population of muslims in the West.

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