It’s official: England and Wales are no longer Christian countries

November 29, 2022 • 11:30 am

Thanks to the many readers (probably atheist Brits) who sent me the links to these articles.

Of course England and Wales will still consider themselves Christian countries, but they have to do some fast stepping to justify it, for the 2021 government census (conducted once per decade) shows that people who identify as Christian no longer form a majority of the populations. They’re “Christian” only in the sense that Christianity is the faith of a plurality of people. (Scotland apparently wasn’t part of this survey.)

The decline in Christianity, which has been breathtakingly fast over the last decade, is the good news.  More good news is that, as expected, the proportion of people saying they had “no religion” has risen as steeply as Christianity has fallen.

The bad news is that Islam is growing, though that’s probably via immigration, not, like Christianity, via (de) conversion or death. And it’s still a tiny fraction of British faith.

Here are two articles; quotes from both are indented below with “G” for the Guardian and “B” for the BBC. Click on the screenshots to read.  The articles also discuss the growth in England’s ethnic minority population, but I’m dwelling on religion here.

From the Guardian:

And the BBC:


The census revealed a 5.5 million (17%) fall in the number of people who describe themselves as Christian and a 1.2 million (43%) rise in the number of people who say they follow Islam, bringing the Muslim population to 3.9 million. In percentage-point terms, the number of Christians has dropped by 13.1, and the number of Muslims has risen by 1.7.

It is the first time in a census of England and Wales that fewer than half of the population have described themselves as Christian.

Meanwhile, 37.2% of people – 22.2 million – declared they had “no religion”, the second most common response after Christian. It means that over the past 20 years the proportion of people reporting no religion has soared from 14.8% – a rise of more than 22 percentage points.


The proportion of people who said they were Christian was 46.2%, down from 59.3% in the last census in 2011.

Note that the 13% fall in the proportion of Christians (these include Catholics, Anglicans, and assorted followers of Jesus) took place in only a decade. Likewise the 22.4% increase in those espousing “no religion” also occurred within the last decade. If this goes on, in the next census more than 50% of Welsh and English will be nonbelievers, and the proportion of Christians will be about 33%. As you can see from the BBC graph below, the decrease in faith and increase in unbelief over two decades have followed a nearly straight-line plot, making extrapolation easy (and probably unreliable).

Muslims are still a small minority of the population, so we don’t have to worry about a big increase of Islam in the UK.

More data from the Beeb.

The hotspots for nonbelief from the Guardian:

The places with the highest numbers of people saying they had no religion were Caerphilly, Blaenau Gwent and Rhondda Cynon Taf, all in south Wales, and Brighton and Hove and Norwich in England. They were among 11 areas where more than half the population are not religious, including Bristol, Hastings in East Sussex and Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, most of which had relatively low ethnic minority populations.

The places with the lowest number of non-believers were Harrow, Redbridge and Slough, where close to two-thirds of the populations are from minority ethnic backgrounds.

There is a correlation, with areas having the highest minority populations also being the most religious, surely because ethnic minorities are more religious than Indigenous Welsh and Brits.

Below you can see hotspots of nonbelief—the darker ones. Ceiling Cat bless the Welsh! London is a hotbed of Christianity, possibly because it has a high proportion of minorities (are they less frequent in the tony area of Islington?):

And while the atheists and humanists are making hay, the distressed Archbishops are kvetching hard (G):

The archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said the census result “throws down a challenge to us not only to trust that God will build his kingdom on Earth but also to play our part in making Christ known”.

He added: “We have left behind the era when many people almost automatically identified as Christian but other surveys consistently show how the same people still seek spiritual truth and wisdom and a set of values to live by.”

But why do humans have to make Christ known when Christ could make himself known—simply by returning? He won’t return, of course, because a divine Jesus (and perhaps no Jesus person) ever existed.

The good folk weigh in:

The chief executive of Humanists UK, Andrew Copson, said: “One of the most striking things about these census results is how at odds the population is from the state itself. No state in Europe has such a religious setup as we do in terms of law and public policy, while at the same time having such a non-religious population.”

. . .Humanists and secularists seized on the figures as proof of the need for an overhaul of religion’s role in a society that has bishops of the established Church of England voting on laws and compulsory Christian worship in all schools that are not of a designated religious character.

“It’s official – we are no longer a Christian country,” said Stephen Evans, the chief executive of the National Secular Society. “The census figures paint a picture of a population that has dramatically moved away from Christianity – and from religion as a whole. The current status quo, in which the Church of England is deeply embedded in the UK state, is unfair and undemocratic – and looking increasingly absurd and unsustainable.”

I didn’t know about that “compulsory Christian worship” in non-religious schools, but it’s ridiculous. (I presume that Jews, Muslims, and nonbelievers can opt out.) Remember that the Church of England is the official National Church, and the King is the head of the Church. That has to go, too. It’s time for England to join Scandinavia in pervasive nonbelief.

Finally, Adam Rutherford said the obvious, but it needs repeated saying:

Dr Adam Rutherford, the president of Humanists UK, said people should not think a decline in religion equated to an “absence in values”.

“We might be living in a more values-driven society than ever before,” he said. “Surveys show, for example, that around three in 10 British adults have humanist beliefs and values, and it’s a trend we’ve seen growing in recent years.”

Humanists say they trust science over the supernatural, base their ethics around reason, empathy and concern for humans and other sentient animals and that in the absence of an afterlife, “human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same”.

67 thoughts on “It’s official: England and Wales are no longer Christian countries

  1. “the 2021 government census (conducted once per decade) shows that people who identify as Christian no longer form a minority of the populations.”

    I think this should read “…no longer form a majority of the populations”

    1. I don’t normally notice fonts enough to comment on them, but the font of that article is distractingly bad. Like I was wondering if there was something broken at the site or with the way Chrome was rendering it.

      As far as the content – disappointing but sadly not surprising.

  2. You wrote: “Remember that the Church of England is the official National Church, and the King is the head of the Church.”

    My question: Do I remember correctly that Charles used to say that when he became king, he would change his royal title from Defender of the Faith to Defender of the Faiths (meaning Christianity and Islam)?

    I don’t follow the royals much, so I might have misremembered this.

    1. I think it was an aspiration. I don’t think there’s any mechanism for formally changing a 500-year-old, papally bestowed title.

      1. The UK doesn’t have a single written constitution. There are various documents and precedents serving in lieu thereof. The King is free to declare himself that; Parliament could ratify, if necessary. Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church in 1534, creating a precedent which could be seen as currently in force, Not that any of it matters; it’s all lipstick on a pig. Religions and governments are all arbitrary, unnecessary, and temporary.

        1. Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church in 1534 …

          Thereby establishing a church, as the Hitch used to say, founded on the Tudor family values.

        2. Religions and governments are all arbitrary, unnecessary, and temporary.

          When you say that religions and governments are unnecessary, with respect to what is each one unnecessary? For example, for some people, beer is not necessary to survive. So for what things are religion and government unnecessary?

          1. Either Linguist got ahead of himself as he flung himself into libertarian rhetorical excess, or he would prefer to live in the “all against all” that Hobbes saw as the role of government to prevent.

            1. Which part are you contesting: arbitrary, unnecessary, or temporary? I am not discussing whether some people desire it. People who believe that ‘benefit’ is a rhetorically robust concept (I don’t) may even consider governments and religions to be beneficial.

              Religions and governments are arbitrary: their actions and policies are an inconsistent hodge-podge of precedents and conflicting policies.
              Religions and governments are temporary: we will go extinct.
              Religions and governments are unnecessary: whether we have them in the short run or not, we will all die. Other species do do not need them; they do just fine without them – until they go extinct.

              > or he would prefer to live

              Nope. I definitely never made that claim.

            1. Cute. I’ve spent an extensive amount of time in the Middle East. Several major cities have dozens of hundreds of private fully-armed virtually sovereign compounds with hundreds or thousands of residents. People decide which compounds fit their preferred lifestyle. Have you read Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash?

    2. Yes, I remember him saying something like that; but my recollection is that he wanted to be “Defender of faith”. Or maybe “Defender of Faith” ; he was talking and I couldn’t tell if he pronounced it with a capital F.

      I also may not have remembered accurately.

  3. Scotland apparently wasn’t part of this survey.

    Not part of the WC either, so they don’t matter. Only England and Wales matter and it looks like neither side is going to have God on their side. It’s all about free will now.

  4. Kurt, your memory is correct. Sadly, dopey Charlie is likely to follow up his threat, he has nothing to do with his time and seems to crave attention, probably because his mother was fairly well liked and he is not

    1. He’s rowed back a bit since then. He seems content to accept the status quo, including Fid Def. But I take issue with your comment that he is not well liked: most polls since he succeeded to the throne are strongly positive. (This may of course be partly a honeymoon effect).

  5. And of course the UK Census religion question notoriously over-estimates the number of religious people in any case (see the campaign that the Richard Dawkins Foundation ran in the run-up to the 2011 census, and the surveys they took in its aftermath). So the true picture is much less religious even than this.

    Does anyone know if the 2021 religion question wording changed at all (I wasn’t in the UK in 2021)? It used to be “What is your religion?” (with multiple options, including “no religion”). A wording that implied that a religion is something everyone has, like a height or a shoe size, and thus played into the tendency of most functionally non-religious people to think of “Christian” as a sort of cultural and ethnic marker, or a statement of aspiration to live a moral life, rather than asserting a group of core doctrinal beliefs.

    1. Yes; it hasn’t changed. As the Humanists point out, “what is your religion? is a leading question”. The British Social Attitudes Survey asked in 2018: “Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion? If yes, which?”, to which the answer “No” came out as 53%.

      1. PS: one difference from 2011 is that “no religion” was the first option offered, instead of the last. That might have affected some responses.

      1. But the first option to answer with is “no religion”. I really don’t think that is a problem.

        However, what is a problem is the way in which census data is collected. Every household has to provide a response for all the people living in the household. Typically, that means one person will be filling in the form for everybody. Imagine you are a male religionist in a household of four people. All four people dutifully attend church/the mosque/temple at the required times. What religion are you going to put down for the other three people in your household?

        Had this question been asked of my parents’ four person household in the 71 or 81 census, the answer would have been four Christians. I never discuss religion with my brother, but I’m pretty sure he never really believed any of it – in some ways, he’s way ahead of me.

    2. In my understanding, the UK now recognizes parody religions as ‘real’ religions (admitted, as real as any other religion). Does anyone actually take Jedi or Pastafarianism seriously? Does the UK categorize them as believers, non-believers, or something else?

      1. The Jedi Knight thing was in response to the religion question being added to the census for the first time in 2001 – aided and abetted by the internet, enough people decided to tick “Other” and write it in.

        Sadly, Pastafarians aren’t officially recognised in the UK so no colanders as religious headgear on British passports or driving licences.

  6. Compulsory Christian worship is indeed real and ridiculous, particularly in the light of these new census statistics. All schools in England and Wales are legally required to hold daily acts of worship of a wholly or mainly Christian character. Guidelines say worship “should be concerned with reverence or veneration paid to a divine being or power.” That’s the government requiring children to not just recognise, but revere and venerate something for which there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever.

    1. It is possible to have your child opt out of these assemblies, but at least when I was at school very few did – a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses and another couple of Sikhs out of 500-600 kids IIRC.

  7. British fertility rate is 1.72. Humanism causes the extinction of anyone who adopts it. If you really valued reason your first conclusion would be that any value system that causes the extinction of those who live by it should be rejected. Have fun modern Shakers.

    1. Antinatalism has a long and fascinating history. While atheism, monotheism, and polytheism do not explicitly embrace antinatalism, there have been antinatalist movements in all three traditions. Unsurprisingly, a lot of them died out.

      HOWEVER JS123, that does not undermine their basic thesis. 99.999+% of all species have gone extinct; humans and all currently extant species will, too. At the very least, it makes sense to examine the eventuality, plan for it, and guide it, rather than remaining in denial about the inevitability, just as it makes sense for individuals to have a legal will, a living/medical will, and discuss when euthanasia is appropriate.

    2. One reason it is not dropping faster is the import of religious people from abroad. Evangelical oddities abound, small churches often with African origins.

  8. I have a pet theory and I’m interested in what the academics here think about it: it strikes me that the younger cohort is generally ignorant of even the basics of Christian cosmology. That is, older atheists and agnostics know the stories (virgin birth, the resurrection, etc., etc.) even if we don’t believe in them. I’m in my fifties and I was surprised at having to explain the concept of the Trinity to our firm’s paralegal, a woman in her twenties (btw, her reaction to this—WTF!?!—was priceless).

    My theory is as follows: being dragged to church once a week, along with an extra hour of Sunday school, may have the salutary effect of lessening the appeal of closed-loop ideologies. Having been-there-and-done-that, so to speak, such an 18-year-old will enter college less at risk of being seduced by a new ideology (the great awokening) that provides the thrill of righteousness and opportunities of persecution of heretics.

    University teachers are best able to confirm or deny this, but my impression is that today’s college-bound kids are generally irreligious, and my further impression is that this goes double for kids on their way to the fancier schools. And it’s the fanciest schools (Williams, e.g.) that are turning into burned-over districts for this ideology.

    1. Can’t speak for the US; but from my UK perspective, your diagnosis is correct. We boomers were dragged to church, sent to Sunday School, made to pray and sing hymns every morning at school, and so on. This has left its legacy: I still have a soft spot for the CofE’s Choral Evensong, and for some of the classic hymn tunes (the words, not so much); and of course for the religious music of Monteverdi, Bach, Haydn and the rest of them (largely on aesthetic grounds).

      And it took time to wear off: it was quite some time before I finally rejected the whole thing, bag and baggage. The difference these days is that people mostly don’t take their children to church, and so the indoctrination they may get at school just doesn’t take.

      I look forward to the outcome of the 2031 census!

    2. Being dragged to church and forced to worship has gone on for generations. But the decline in recent decades seems a new thing. So what sustained religiosity was perhaps because there were fewer distractions and more insularity. Now kids have 24/7 social media and they can see multicultural attractions all around them.

    3. “I have a pet theory and I’m interested in what the academics here think about it: it strikes me that the younger cohort is generally ignorant of even the basics of Christian cosmology. That is, older atheists and agnostics know the stories (virgin birth, the resurrection, etc., etc.) even if we don’t believe in them.”

      Had this experience over Thanksgiving holiday, spent with extended family and many nieces nephews. I’m a bit younger than you but felt old trying to explain the tenets of Christianity to one side of my family, who never went to church of any sort and are completely ignorant of the Bible or any other “holy” book. I felt like I was explaining LOTR to someone who had never heard of Tolkien..

      All of us from my side of the family are ex-Catholics. Some of us, like me, have read the (Catholic) Bible multiple times and despite our best efforts, cannot excise large parts of the Catechism from our memories. My brother, who married into this non-religious family, has no issues with his wife, son or in-laws being ignorant of religion.

      I tend to disagree, as I think that at least a nominal knowledge of the basic tenets of Christianity is important cultural knowledge, and I think also has the “inoculation” effect that you mention against wonky beliefs.

      1. Indeed, for a few years now I’ve been reading commentary on the “new” ideology of “woke-ism”, or DEI, or whatever we end up calling it, and only once have I ever heard anybody remark on what seems obvious to me: that it’s a variety of Calvinism. Rather, everybody’s acting as if it’s a brand new thing. Which to them it is, but only because they’ve never read or thought about any of the many earlier American “great awakenings”.

        I recall having to explain to a pal of mine, who was a college graduate (albeit in “Communications”), and a highly-compensated “information worker” in his early 40s, that the Pope had no authority vis-a-vis American Protestants; that in fact there had been a lot of noise made about all of this in the 16th century; and that the current American political landscape had been (and still is in the process of being) shaped by the various religio-cultural-political-economic disputes arising therefrom.

        It never occurred to me that someone could be unaware of the Protestant Reformation, but there you have it. History bores most people, my pal being no exception. What’s more, as a secular Jew (from Colorado, of all places) he regarded the history of Christianity as being especially boring and irrelevant to his concerns … I know this because I could see his eyes glazing over while I was trying to explain all of this.

        The distinction between “Scots-Irish” and “Irish Catholics” was what finally did him in. In some exasperation, he cried, “but they’re all [i.e., Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Mormons, Quakers, Unitarians, Presbyterians, Catholics, et al.] just Christians, right?”, indicating that he had completely missed my fucking point (I never would have made it as a school teacher, I’m aware of that).

        He grew up thinking that all of the goyim form a kind of undifferentiated mass, and he wasn’t about to expend the effort needed to change his mind now, in early middle age. And his is probably the wiser approach–consider how much time it saves!

        1. To be fair to him, I – a reasonable well educated British person – had almost no idea about the history of the Jews beyond how it intersected with Christianity in the Bible until I was well into my adult years.

    4. If you are churchgoing parents with young children, Sunday school functions as childcare for the hour or so that you are in church. So even you are open to the idea of not indoctrinating your children at a young age, it is probably just too inconvenient to make other arrangements for their care.

  9. I’d argue that compulsory chapel, at least as it’s practiced in the UK, is harmless. Most American prep schools (“college” in the UK) have (or used to, anyway) compulsory chapel.

    This kind of schooling is largely Episcopalian and such chapel services are essentially Anglican; that is to say, so watered down as to be impossible to offend anyone. I remember attending while sitting between a boy from Thailand and another boy from the Upper West Side. The general message was invariably something like, “don’t be an asshole”, which was hard to argue with, even if you don’t believe in Jesus Christ or God Himself.

    Of course, the enthusiastic backwoods Protestantism that generally obtains in this country is something else altogether. That stuff is poison!

    And maybe this is a worthless distinction, given that old-school upper-crust Episcopalians like George H.W. Bush (Andover ’42) were perfectly happy to move from Connecticut to Texas and thereafter pander to the crude hillbilly sensibilities of Baptists and Methodists and integrate them into the presently-existing Republican Party…

    1. > essentially Anglican; that is to say, so watered down as to be impossible to offend anyone

      Anyone else start to think this is, in fact, the best we can do? And that it may have been only temporary?

      I think it’s obvious to most here that societies get worse as you move far in the more-religious direction. They stop having space for scientists and the like to stand outside religion. It’s also obvious that there have been worse societies in the less-religious direction, such as the avowedly atheist communist societies… in which other beliefs were compulsory, and there was also no space for curious types to stand outside and ignore such beliefs. But is this guaranteed?

      The present climate makes me start to think so. That perhaps the atheism we like can only belong to a minority, that it has to push against a not-too-religious majority. That there is a vacuum left by the the retreat of majority christianity which will, unfortunately, be filled by something. And whether it’s woke or islam or eventually something else, there may be less space left outside for those of us who don’t want to believe.

      1. I don’t know about most societies, but this one has definitely gotten worse while I’ve been paying attention (since 1984 or thereabouts). The bible-thumpers have certainly gained in political power since then, but is that due to organic growth or is it due to the destruction of countervailing forces? I’m thinking about the Democrats’ deliberate abandonment of their core 1932-1972 platform, which aimed to and did actually deliver social product widely.

        The U.S. was probably never going to become like Scandinavia, but since the Carter administration there’s been a bipartisan agreement in force to hollow out most of America. So can you really blame the people left behind out there for turning to religion? In that situation, I think I’d probably choose the (increasingly popular) OD-on-fentanyl option, but who knows, I might be tempted to turn to religion myself.

        So I don’t think that we are truly “moving in the direction of” more religion, I think that it just looks that way, as increasingly absurd figures like Lauren Bobert and Marjorie Taylor Greene et al. have been able to gain traction. The whole God-n-Guns pitch works because it’s being made in a political, social, and cultural vacuum.

        Democratic policies treat low-income and low-status Americans with total and open contempt and have done so for going on two generations now. The other party may hold the lower classes in contempt, but it does that in private, at the country club, while it panders to their gauche sensibilities (religious or otherwise) in public. It’s been a winning strategy.

  10. PCC(E) wondered about “the tony area of Islington”. According to the official breakdown, the percentages (rounded up) are 41% no religion; 35% Christian; 12% Muslim; 8% no response; others 4%.

  11. Another UK comment. Taken 40 years and a middle aged Bsc to shake off my youthful evangelicalism. My wider family are still strong believers and Im expecting the usual round of “praying for you” Christmas cards. I suspect much of the shift in census religion stats is based on a greater degree of honesty in answering q’s and less “soft faith”. There is still a long way to go in leaving hard religion in the past.

  12. Are Caerphilly and Rhondda better places to raise a family than London? Beyond having fewer religionists, I mean. Does it correlate with anything? Or is it just something we should celebrate for its own sake?

    Perhaps British people could chime in. Would you move to South Wales just to be among more fellow atheists?

  13. Wales seems to have gone in for imposing gender ideology in a big way. They may be atheists but that’s not to say they aren’t believers in other things one might wish they weren’t unquestioning believers in.

    1. It is all that keeping a welcome in the hillside!

      “We’ll keep a welcome in the hillsides
      We’ll keep a welcome in the Vales
      This land you knew will still be singing
      When you come home again to Wales”

  14. “London is a hotbed of Christianity, possibly because it has a high proportion of minorities (are they less frequent in the tony area of Islington?):”

    I think Islington probably does have a lower proportion of minorities in it than some of the other London Boroughs although it is definitely not a Tory Borough. The MP for Islington North is one Jeremy Corbyn while the Islington South constituency is held by another Labour MP, Emily Thornberry. As a whole London is predominantly Labour voting although some of the outer Boroughs have Tory MPs.

  15. Further to the above about 50 of 73 MPs in London are Labour. Tories tend to be better represented in the outer London constituencies but do hold some centrally located seats.

  16. I was brought up in the UK and went to school there. Every bloody morning we had a religious ceremony with hymns and prayers to the christian god. It was and still is obligatory. Having never believed in magic and the supernatural, even as a pre-teenager, I though the whole thing a waste of time. I did what I could at the time and didn’t participate in the rituals. Nothing the school could do about it as I was present and so fulfilled the requirement. As I got older and moved further to the back of the school hall I eventually got to a point where I could not turn up at all and not be noticed. I was not the only one.
    When I was 14 I was reported to my parents for expressing disbelief in a “divinity” lesson (another tedious think we were obliged to endure). My parents, as liberal secularists, thought it amusing. After that, off to University to study natural sciences, with no religious intrusion.

  17. I suspect the Canada correlation is due to how it was colonized – by religious Europeans in the East, who then started to spread out West to settle. So religious foundations are stronger in the east and weaker in the west.

  18. As a citizen of the increasingly godz-besotted USA, I also envy those countries whose inhabitants are finally growing up. (I say “increasingly,” because while the USA may also show declines in believers, and a rising number of “nones,” it seems that the faitheists are more than making up for any loss in numbers with a corresponding increase in fervor, or as I see it, rabid insanity.)

    In any case, as to (for example), the Scandinavian countries, and now England and Wales, I think that Austin Dacey said it best:

    “True, secular values can turn a civilization inside out. In post-Christian Europe, entire nations have been plunged into endemic health, skyrocketing education and hopelessly low rates of violent crime.” –Austin Dacey, New York Times, 2006-02-03

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