Thinking Anglicans

People of no religion outnumber Christians in England and Wales

Updated Wednesday morning

Stephen Bullivant of the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, London, has published a report Contemporary Catholicism in England and Wales (free pdf download). Despite its title the report is not confined to Catholicism, as the headlines of these press reports make clear.

Harriet Sherwood The Guardian People of no religion outnumber Christians in England and Wales – study

Rose Gamble and Megan Cornwell The Tablet Catholic Church in England and Wales is failing to attract new believers, finds report

John Bingham The Telegraph Exodus: churches lose 11 worshippers for every new member

Mark Woods Christian Today Religious ‘nones’ outnumber Christians in England and Wales

The Guardian article starts

The number of people who say they have no religion is rapidly escalating and significantly outweighs the Christian population in England and Wales, according to new analysis.

The proportion of the population who identify as having no religion – referred to as “nones” – reached 48.5% in 2014, almost double the figure of 25% in the 2011 census. Those who define themselves as Christian – Anglicans, Catholics and other denominations – made up 43.8% of the population…

St Mary’s University has its own news item, St Mary’s Study Finds London Most Religious Area in England and Wales, and a page of key findings.

Update

Lucy Denyer The Telegraph Fewer churchgoers? That’s no bad thing if it means they’re there for a reason

Mark Woods Christian Today The rise of the ‘nones’: Why are people leaving the Church?

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Susannah Clark
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I don’t attach much credence to the actual figures. A lot of people have historically expressed a kind of ‘allegiance’ to church without actually attending more than very occasionally – weddings, funerals etc. However, at least in the past people didn’t mind being associated with the church. However, what seems to be happening – I’d suggest – is that the church has actually alienated people by appearing prejudiced and discriminatory, and that – along with publicised abuse scandals – has resulted in people no longer wanting to be associated with the church. A vague allegiance has collapsed, and the church… Read more »

Froghole
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Froghole

This is striking news, and deeply troubling for people of faith. If these figures are indeed accurate, they tend to suggest that a tipping point has been reached, and many people are now willing to discard even the thinnest garb of confessional allegiance (or, indeed, belief) and advertise to the world that they are not people of faith – or, at least, of faith in a divine power. I think it worth referring to R. W. Bulliet’s ‘Conversion to Islam in the Medieval Period: An Essay in Quantitative History’ (1979). Bulliet tried to explain how it was that the lands… Read more »

Father David
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Father David

What a sorry state of affairs these depressing figures represent. Surely we must look beyond the mere statistics and look for the reasons why and the causes for this sad decline?

James Byron
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James Byron

I doubt the church’s homophobia has alienated people, since most people are utterly indifferent to gay rights. There was close to zero public pressure to reform English law: change only came ’cause a few brave activists took the British government to the European courts; and the government used it as cover to attack moral conservatives. Now the status quo’s changed and people go with it for a quiet life, but if it changed back tomorrow, doubt most would even notice. People have stopped going to church not out principle, but ’cause shopping malls are a lot more entertaining. The church’s… Read more »

Fr William
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This town is divided by the river. The river is the diocesan boundary. The biggest church over the river is Reform and, I am told, imposes conditions parents wanting their children to be baptized. Many of them then come to me. I refuse to limit divine grace. Quite what effect such limiting has in the public perception of the church and of Christianity can be the left to the imagination.

Picky
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Picky

It seems to me unlikely that the presence of discrimination is the main cause, but then I have some sympathy for the CofE’s predicament. I am in my seventies, and I recall with shame the barbarous attitude I had, when I first came to manhood, towards those men whose sexual direction was different from mine. Like the rest of England, I have travelled a road since, which has seen a remarkable transformation of attitudes in an historically short period. Institutions are not fleet of foot, of course, but the CofE, too, has moved. I am convinced it will come (much,… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

I could write a lengthy comment but I think all I truly want to say is that the church ought to debate, “If St Paul wrote us an epistle, what would he say to us?x

Susannah Clark
Guest

I think that’s a great comment by Picky. People have stopped finding the religious narrative credible. I’d also concede some ground on James Byron’s point (re-iterated by Picky) that perhaps the whole LGBT thing is not the crunch factor. Rather, perhaps we’re just witnessing the narrative of the Enlightenment and science winning more hearts and minds… appearing more convincing… than a narrative of Christianity that in many cases has remained quite conservative, and constructed around a view of the bible as being more authoritative than it maybe actually is. When a ‘tipping point’ (as interestingly defined by Froghole) occurs… it… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest

In all kinds of ways, if we make Church seem less credible as a narrative (and the narrative of the resurrection is already pretty challenging enough) then people get to a point where they switch off. Discrimination then adds to the negative impression. Most people in this country regard gay sex as okay, if not as a high principle, then because they have a relative or friend who is gay, who they owe more allegiance to. Also, being open-minded makes them feel good. A brand (the Church) that has declining credibility, may then get criticised and disassociated from on any… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

“I doubt the church’s homophobia has alienated people, since most people are utterly indifferent to gay rights. There was close to zero public pressure to reform English law: change only came ’cause a few brave activists took the British government to the European courts; and the government used it as cover to attack moral conservatives. Now the status quo’s changed and people go with it for a quiet life, but if it changed back tomorrow, doubt most would even notice. People have stopped going to church not out principle, but ’cause shopping malls are a lot more entertaining. The church’s… Read more »

Marshall Scott
Guest

You know, this side of the water there has been research about the growth of those in the category of “None” or “Unaffiliated” (which title depends on the researcher). When polled as a separate group, something like 75% of them still talk about values that guide their lives, and talk about those values in terms we would call religious (and not just spiritual in some abstract sense). Surveys continue to show, too, that something beyond 80% of folks in the United States believe in God or a Higher Power, but are not likely to be associated with a congregation. So,… Read more »

Nathaniel Brown
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Nathaniel Brown

I must applaud Susannah’s post, and wish to echo it from personal experience: my LGBT friends have been thrown out of their families, read every day about not only the C of E’s eternal waffling and allowing the most homophobic national churches to set the agenda, but also the horrifying lies and hysteria put forth by right-wing christianists, that they dismiss religion in general, and Christianity in particular, with repulsion. And no wonder. Our church, Trinity Episcopal, Seattle, made it very clear when we were searching for anew rector that his willingness gladly to perform same-sex marriages was a non-negotiable… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

Very well put, Susannah, with more nuance than my own take: the church was undoubtedly an alliance of convenience, and now it’s broken, its attitude to LGBT people certainly reinforces negative impressions (especially among the many people who aren’t just following the crowd, but who’ve changed their minds). Also agree with Kate that too many congregations are clubs that don’t go out their way to welcome newcomers. Whatever else I may say about evangelicalism, its churches often have dedicated “welcome teams,” and make a serious effort here (also in making services lively). So do many churches in other traditions, but… Read more »

henry dee
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henry dee

Do you not think that the downward spiral has been going on for years and we keep making excuses why we as a church are losing members. It’s because we discriminate against women so women priests and bishops will restore things. Or we accept gay people and gay priests will restore things. It’s because we discriminate against lgbt people. Whatever we do doesn’t seem to help maybe delay the inevitable. Society generally doesn’t see religion of any importance and it’s a relic that will go away. Fast forward another 10 years and how many churches will still be viable Perhaps… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

“I could write a lengthy comment but I think all I truly want to say is that the church ought to debate, “If St Paul wrote us an epistle, what would he say to us?x

Posted by: Kate on Wednesday”.

I wouldn’t choose Saint Paul. Give me Francis of Assisi every time – he was an advocate of ‘the great love of God as revealed in the Son’. Just what the world needs today.

Kate
Guest
Kate

Father Ron,I am no lover of Pauline philosophy so I would much prefer to hear what St Francis had to say. But with St Paul we have enough epistles that we might ourselves actually attempt to identify what Paul might say. For instance, St Paul might observe that the church spends a lot of time bogged down in discussion about marriage because the bishops set such a poor example, seeming to prefer marriage for themselves rather than dedicating their lives to Christ. He would suggest not all marriages should be avoided – a marriage caring for a disabled partner can… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

There can be little doubt that stories like this do give many people a negative impression of Christianity:

http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2016/05/26/northern-irelands-new-equalities-minister-wants-to-legalise-discrimination-against-gays/

It is N Ireland rather than England but it is within the union. Very damaging.

David Runcorn
Guest

Henry Dee I agree with you. CofE membership actually peaked in the early 1920s. Which suggests something deeper has been at work than simply attitudes to one group or other – important though those are to address. Our diagnosis does not go deep enough.

Daniel Berry, NYC
Guest
Daniel Berry, NYC

I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that what has really changed (in my lifetime – I’m 62) is that large numbers of people who have no religion are no longer saying that they’re Church of England.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Kate, I do agree with your comment about Saint Paul advocating celibacy (a status referred to by Jesus in his remark “Eunuchs, for the sake of the Kingdom”) – as being the gold standard for Christian ministry.

This is especially poignant when anti-gay clergy (usually heterosexually married) want to consign Gay clergy to the closet of celibacy – when they (H.C.) would not consider celibacy as the preferred option for themselves.

Daniel Berry NYC
Guest
Daniel Berry NYC

@ Nathaniel Brown re his parish in Seattle: THANKS for that lovely posting. I was especially taken with the newly burgeoning need for chldcare in your parish. At St Luke in the Fields in NYC, we’ve had an explosion of need for childcare in the last 15 years, thanks be to God, so that the old custom of “family communion” at 9 has reappeared–with a vengeance! This in a parish in Greenwich Village, well known by many as a “gay” church, though most of us have never felt the moniker really applied. In any event, we’ve managed to find a… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

The diagnosis is that ‘the Church’* is dying out.

It has gone beyond the point of no return -in the West certainly, and we need to face it, reflect on it, and make sense of it and our lives as individuals and families….surely.

Maybe Bonhoeffer and John Robinson will be taken seriously….

Bonhoeffer thought for today, perhaps :–

‘If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.’

* or if you prefer the Churches *

JCF
Guest
JCF

[“Our church, Trinity Episcopal, Seattle, made it very clear when we were searching for anew rector that his willingness gladly to perform same-sex marriages was a non-negotiable condition for consideration”: um, “his”, Nathaniel?] “I, and my family, and many of my friends, have no religion, not because of the discrimination (or the worship style, or the music, or whatever) but because we simply do not find the religious narrative credible.” It’s a (sorry) testament to the Triumph of Fundamentalism, that religious narratives are judged as to whether they’re “credible”—a series of propositions claimed to facts—or (as for Picky & Co)… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

JCF’s comment makes a lot of sense to me.

There was a piece on the 10 o’clock news radio 4 on the news I commented on on 30th May.

Those who spoke for ‘evangelism’ made me cringe and high-lighted the problem we face regarding intelligent religion let alone forms of outreach.

If that is christianity I regret that it is untenable. But this kind of thing is very loud, and drowns out more viable approaches in the ears of the general public.