England census: Why have the ranks of the religious declined?
Sure, fewer Britons registered their faith as 'Jedi Knight' in the 2011 census of England. But it's the 12 percent drop in those identifying as Christians has prompted fresh debate about modern British identity.
(Page 2 of 2)
An editorial in Wednesday's edition of the conservative-leaning Daily Telegraph, which said that the census depicted the biggest social upheaval in modern times, blamed the rise in the number of foreign-born residents on a “decade of virtually unchecked immigration” since the last census, under Labour Party administrations.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
“It has left this country less white, more ethnically diverse, and less Christian,” said the editorial.
It added: “The white British make up 80 per cent of the population of England and Wales and in London are now in a minority. There are a million Muslims living here, while the number of self-professed Christians has fallen by four million. All the while, social structures are changing rapidly. For the first time, fewer than half of households contain a married couple.”
All the more unnerving, perhaps, for some British conservatives is that the seeming decline in the number of Christians has been paralleled by a rise in some other religions, most dramatically illustrated by the increase in the number of Muslims. They now make up 4.8% of the population, or 2.7 million, up 2 percentage points from 1.5 million.
Even more unnerving again may be a rise in secularity, with around 1 in 4 people classifying themselves as having no religion.
Someone who may be representative of many in that group may be Tim Roberts, a lighting technician in London’s West End theater district, a poet and humanist.
While Mr. Roberts sometimes take part in events organized by Britain’s increasingly vibrant secular activist movement – he protested with others during the Pope’s 2010 visit – he has opted not to fully engage or join such groups.
“I am reluctant to be part of something where everyone goes along and meets up regularly. I’m comfortable with my own opinions, which I have formed, and perhaps some of theirs,” he says.
As for his initial moves away from religion, he says: “I started questioning it when I was quite young. I’m in my 40s now and grew up in the era of punk, when everyone was questioning everything, but at school I just didn’t like the fact that I as being told to believe something that didn’t have much substance to it.”
Today, out of the eight people he works alongside, he counts five who openly say they don’t believe in God and have no religion whatsoever, while the other three are prepared to argue otherwise “quite forcefully.”
He credits part of the recent rise in secular and atheist thinking on the mass popularity of works by the evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, the author and prominent humanist Philip Pullman and Brian Cox, a British particle physicist who was the face of the award-winning BBC television series "Wonders of the Solar System."