Secularism increases rapidly in UK

July 12, 2019 • 8:45 am

My theory, which is not just mine but is shared by several sociologists, is that the Western world is becoming increasingly secular in tandem with an increase in the West’s well being. (The latter is, of course, documented in Steve Pinker’s last two books.) As people can rely more on their governments and societies to give them jobs, food, medical care, and so on, there is no need to believe in a God who will either provide these things or make things right in your next life. The world’s least religious societies, the data tell us, are both the most prosperous and the happiest. So much for the salubrious and consoling effects of religion!

Secularism in the U.S. is increasing, but it’s increasing even faster in the UK, as the following Guardian article (h/t: Matthew) reports:

This may be surprising in a land that has a state religion (Church of England, of course), but as we know from many Brits who report in the comments on this site, nobody pays much attention to the CoE, and its pews are emptying at an alarming rate. The Guardian article informs us that this is due not so much to deconversion of people away from faith, but to the dying off of the religious, who tend to be older. In other words, religious dinosaurs are going extinct, body by body. Here are some of the Guardian‘s facts (these are direct quotes):

  • Only 1% of people aged 18-24 identify as Church of England, according to the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey for 2018. Even among over-75s, the most religious age group, only one in three people describe themselves as C of E.

    Across all age groups, the younger people are the less likely they are to call themselves Anglican.

  • Fifty-two percent of the public say they do not belong to any religion, compared with 31% in 1983 when the BSA survey began tracking religious belief. The number of people identifying as Christian has fallen from 66% to 38% over the same period.

According to my calculations, in 144 years, 100% of UK residents will be ‘nones’; and in roughly 50 years nobody will identify as Christian. Those are wonky calculations, of course, as the figures will asymptote—some folks will always believe. Still, the pace of change is pretty astounding.

But wait! There’s more! Nonbelievers aren’t just having a faith that doesn’t fit into a recognized religion, or are general deists. Rather, increasingly they are becoming nonbelievers:

  • The non-religious are increasingly atheist. One in four members of the public stated: “I do not believe in God,” compared with one in 10 in 1998. The figures challenge theories that people are “believing but not belonging” – in other words, that faith has become private rather than institutional – the report says.The proportion of people who say they are “very or extremely non-religious” has more than doubled, from 14% to 33% in the past two decades.

That’s 25% of the population being explicit atheists: an increase of 15% in only 21 years.  Finally, trust in religion—as opposed to other institutions—has decreased, perhaps because of sex scandals in Catholic churches. These figures, which show an increasing trust in science, are quite heartening:

  • As religious adherence declines, trust in scientific institutions is increasing, says the report. University scientists have a higher trust rating (82%) than corporate scientists (67%).In terms of confidence in institutions, 11% of people say they trust churches and religious organisations, compared with 36% who have confidence in the education system, 34% in the legal system, 16% in business and industry and 8% in parliament.

11% of people trust religious organizations and churches! Amazing!

That’s all good news, I think, but some media outlets still tout claims that religion, or aspects of it, are increasing in the West. Here’s a new article from the odious HuffPost (I had no free will to ignore it), which implies an increase in religion, or at least an increase in the number of people becoming nuns.

But when you look at the evidence for an increase in the number of nuns among Millennials, you find it doesn’t exist. There are several anecdotes in the article, but what you see is that women contemplating becoming nuns appears to be increasing. Needless to say, contemplating becoming a nun and actually becoming a nun are two very different issues.

Here’s the totality of HuffPosts’s evidence:

A 2008 Pew Research Center study found that Catholicism lost more adherents in the late 20th century than any other religion in the U.S. About a third of Americans raised Catholic reported that they had left the church.

The contraction hit church staff, too—its priesthood and its community of nuns. In 1965, America had 180,000 perpetually professed Catholic sisters, the technical term for women who have pledged their lives to chastity, poverty, obedience and serving the church. By 2010, that number tanked to fewer than 50,000. In 2009, more Catholic sisters in America were over 90 years old than under 60.

But right around the time I began to notice my high school classmates’ burgeoning faith, something flipped. After 50 years of decline, the number of young women “discerning the religious life”—or going through the long process of becoming a Catholic sister—is substantially increasing. In 2017, 13 percent of women from age 18 to 35 who answered a Georgetown University-affiliated survey of American Catholics reported that they had considered becoming a Catholic sister. That’s more than 900,000 young women, enough to repopulate the corps of “women religious” in a couple of decades, even if only a fraction of them actually go through with it.

. . . Patrice Tuohy, the publisher of guides for people considering the religious life, including, told me that not long ago she used to get only about 350 queries a year by phone and online. Last year, she got 2,600.

None of this supports the contention that an increasing number of Millennials are becoming nuns. Suck it up, believers: your faith is on the way out.

h/t: Matthew

45 thoughts on “Secularism increases rapidly in UK

  1. I wonder what it would cost me to relocate to England. I think it would need to be in the very southern part for weather. Also housing cost is pretty high I understand. Probably should wait until this economic problem with the Europeans is worked out. Maybe get into the fish and chips business.

    On another not too religious breaking news, the labor secretary, Acosta has left the building.

    1. Don’t be bothered by the british weather. According to a study presented yesterday by the Swiss Institute of Technology, Zurich, in 2050 London will have mean temperatures like those of today in Madrid (prudent estimation; it may get hotter).

    2. Blooming furriners coming over here ,bah ,bah ,bah .
      You could have changed places with that tithead Tommy boy ,he was asking the POTUS for asylum .
      But he has just been sent down for 9 months for contempt of court .

      About non- god botherers in the UK ,there are around 5 million Muslims ,don’t know how many former Muslims are out there .

    3. Fish and chips ? Better yet, when the cathedrals of the coe are empty they’ll be great places for pubs.

  2. In Australia recently there hsve been arguments to scrap special religious education (scriputre) in public high schools due to low enrolments. Also in public primary schools non scripture and ethics is dominating scripture as well.

  3. Why would a girl sincerely desires to be a nun? Because someone has led her to believe that heaven really exists. All the rest is fluff. GROG/

  4. According to my calculations, in 144 years, 100% of UK residents will be ‘nones’

    This ignores a significant Muslim population; they are, I think, bucking this particular trend (though exactly how many of the younger generation actually believe, rather than express belief, I couldn’t say).

  5. Yes, the world needs more nuns.

    There are millions of children who are not being beaten on a regular basis /s

  6. The data clearly show a strong, inverse correlation between a rise in standard of living and a drop in religiosity, presumed in part due to mundane desperation spurring appeals to divine solace, if not intervention.

    But I think the drop in religiosity is also a one-time phenomenon: once the cohesive social factors that sustain and reinforce religion start to erode, there comes a tipping point where the entire bottom falls out.

  7. “Suck it up, believers: your faith is on the way out.”

    I marvel that some people believe this vacuum is going to be filled by some flowering of rational thought. The majority of humanity is not capable of much analysis and, as T. S. Eliot said, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”

    Interesting times.

    1. I wonder if Eliot said that before or after he converted to Anglo-Catholicism. Either way, in light of his conversion, he was speaking for himself as well as humankind.

    2. Well, the report does make clear (as does our host) that trust in science has increased, and is well above most other institutions, especially the churches.

      1. Also increasing are paganism, shamanism and a wide variety of occult beliefs. It’s probably nothing.

  8. I would say that reading about Weinstein, Epstein et al. might lead a woman to contemplate becoming a nun.

  9. Only 1% of people aged 18-24 identify as Church of England, according to the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey for 2018.

    A worrisome stat indeed, given that even a youthful English reprobate like Alex DeLarge used to claim the C of E:

  10. Love those U.K. results. A recent British Columbia poll found that 3% of us attended church weekly, and 2/3 never. So we’re on the right track too.

  11. The UK is not becoming more secular. The old religion (Christianity) is simply being replaced by new civic religions like diversity and global warming. The old fairy tales are being swapped out for new ones.

    The new civic religions are much less tolerant and humane than the old one.

    1. Good Lord: in what sense are “diversity” and “global warming” religions. Yes, people are passionate about these things, but they don’t entail any worship of the divine. And I don’t think those who rightfully accept anthropogenic global warming (which you apparently don’t) engage in sexual abuse of children as part of the system, or dictates the sexual mores of others, as religions do. If you think that advocates of global warming are as bad as the Catholic Church or many branches of Islam, you’re plain nuts.

    2. The new civic religions are much less tolerant and humane than the old one.

      Be sure to give us a heads up when global-warming and diversity advocates give us anything like the The Thirty Years’ War or the Inquisitions, ‘kay?

    3. What an unfathomably ridiculous comment. How is global warming a “fairy tale”? How is “diversity” a “fairy tale”?

  12. Sadly, it isn’t just the Catholic church that has featured in abuse scandals here in the UK – a recent inquiry was very critical of the Church of England’s own record on covering up abuse to protect its reputation.

    1. Good point JeyGrove, the CofE had an easy ride for a long time and it seems they were enjoying seeing the RCC take all the flak as it kept people’s attention away from them.

      I also think they were naif enough to think they could escape relatively untarnished as the RCC would take all the blame. A ridiculous notion but with the way the religious minds works practically anything is believable. The thing was, many of us knew there were a number of them just as bad as the others and it would only be a matter of time.

      I live near Gloucester and remember when Peter Ball was forced to step down as bishop there and the pretend shock shown by many of the CofE crew in the area. I accept some may have been unaware of his past but it was also common knowledge he and his cronies, although never formerly banned had been told in no uncertain terms by a few head teachers they were not to return to their schools.

      I have an account of this from two friends at different schools who both saw the odious Ball in action. Often during the evangelical visits, Ball, without permission or having asked if it was OK would go and sit in the changing/shower rooms after rugby or cricket and not in a corner but in the midst of those changing.

      I am unaware of anyone molested during those visits, it seems the complaints were quick coming and the schools acted equally quickly but the fact was Ball was already a pervert 30 years ago and it was well known.

  13. the Western world is becoming increasingly secular in tandem with an increase in the West’s well being.

    “No atheists in a foxhole,” but in reverse.

  14. “In 2017, 13 percent of women from age 18 to 35 who answered a Georgetown University-affiliated survey of American Catholics reported that they had considered becoming a Catholic sister.”

    In the absence of any information whatsoever as to the percentage of women who had considered becoming a nun in prior years, this statistic obviously provides no support whatsoever for their premise that there is an increased interest in doing so.

  15. “In 2017, 13 percent of women from age 18 to 35 who answered a Georgetown University-affiliated survey of American Catholics reported that they had considered becoming a Catholic sister.”

    Surely, God has created the best of all possible worlds. In the best of all possible worlds, young woman want to become nuns in droves, therefore, it must be true. Checkmate, atheists!

  16. The inverse correlation between well-being and religiosity does not mean a direct causal relationship. Increased well-being could correlate with some other variable—having to do with reading, or with a type of thinking—that is the actual cause of decreased superstitious faith. So I’m not persuaded that the welcome decline of Christian superstition in the UK is a simple consequence of increased well-being. For one thing, is there specific evidence that well-being in the UK has increased markedly since around, say, 1983? Maybe it is something else in the culture that has changed markedly during the period in question. There is an obvious candidate.

    Looking back, recall that Gutenberg introduced the moveable type printing press in 1450, printed his bible in 1455, and there were 110 presses in Europe by 1480. By 1517-1520, the Protestant Reformation was finally breaking the stranglehold of the Church of Rome. Now recall that the worldwide web was invented in 1989, and Tim Berners-Lee’s first web-browser was released to the public in 1991. ???

  17. As a British humanist I am delighted by these figures. However, churches are fighting back. Realising that they have to brainwash converts early, there is a push by the Church of England and others to increase the number of state-funded faith schools. This move is supported by a government grossly out of step with the mood of the public. Humanists UK and the National Secular Society are both politically active in opposing this travesty (eg see

  18. Going up from the bottom of the Puffho puffification, Mr. Tuohy is probably lying, since his job is to be a ‘PRman’–ominous enough in itself, but doing PR for religions!?

    The 300,000 contemplating nunniness is first of all not compared to any earlier number, and so does nothing to demonstrate their so-called “increase”. IIRC, an ordering relation in mathematics is a BINARY relation not unary. (That’s sarcasm, as surely you realize.)

    And secondly, I’ll reveal that I was supposedly raised as a Roman Catholic, and certainly am honest in saying that I did consider, in some sense, the idea whether becoming a priest had any appeal. But we students ‘all’ had to; they had these things called “retreats” at school. But by the age of 16, I can remember the ‘recruiter priest’ saying right away that he recognized me to be a hopeless case. A much above average cleric intelligence there!

    So those were likely 300,000 guinea pigs, in schools press-ganging them into thinking about this fairy tale method of living forever up on a cloud with jesus, after a pretty horrid life down here.

  19. This may all be true, but humans are incredibly susceptible to magic thinking, especially when the appeal is to the fear module. Whether it is the supernatural or conspiracy theories and fake news, when coupled with social media, don’t hold your breath.

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