England and Wales are now predominantly nonreligious

There’s a new survey out about the religiosity of England and Wales, and although the Guardian report on it doesn’t link to the original study, it does give the salient results, which are these:

  • The secularization of Britain is very rapid, to the point where most of England and Wales consists of people who say they have no religion. The Guardian:

“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.

‘The striking thing is the clear sense of the growth of ‘no religion’ as a proportion of the population,’ said Stephen Bullivant, senior lecturer in theology and ethics at St Mary’s Catholic University in Twickenham, who analysed data collected through British Social Attitudes surveys over three decades.

‘The main driver is people who were brought up with some religion now saying they have no religion. What we’re seeing is an acceleration in the numbers of people not only not practising their faith on a regular basis, but not even ticking the box. The reason for that is the big question in the sociology of religion.’”

and this:

“Neither church is bringing in fresh blood through conversions. Anglicans lose 12 followers for every person they recruit, and Catholics 10.”

A nice chart to use:

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 10.11.06 AM

Remember that “nones” still include people who believe in God, or have a heavy spirituality, as well as atheists and agnostics, so it might not be accurate to say they have “no religion.” They are practicing no religion. Regardless, if you don’t practice a religion you’re less likely to join fellow believers in doing harmful stuff.

  • The Scots are becoming more secular, too. The Guardian links to a BBC article from April saying that, “Findings from the Scottish Social Attitudes survey show 52% of people say they are not religious, compared with 40% in 1999 when the survey began. The proportion who say they belong to the Church of Scotland has fallen from 35% in 1999 to just 20%.” The BBC adds that even among religious Scots, 2/3 of them rarely or never attend church, up from 49% in 1999.
  • All Christian denominations seem to be waning at about the same rate; the proportional drop is roughly 40-45% of believers in a given faith, though the absolute proportion declining differs:


Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 10.11.35 AM

The Anglican Church’s response to these figures is pretty funny: they declare victory and then get out!:

A spokesperson for the Church of England said: “The increase in those identifying as ‘no faith’ reflects a growing plurality in society rather than any increase in secularism or humanism. We do not have an increasingly secular society as much as a more agnostic one.

“In a global context, adherence to religion is growing rather than decreasing. Christianity remains the world’s largest religion with over 2 billion adherents. In the UK the latest census found the overwhelming majority of people to have a faith.”

The Catholic church did not respond to a request for comment.

I’m not sure how a “growing plurality” differs from “fewer believers”! Declaring that you “have a faith,” after all, could mean “a spiritual faith” or “a sort of belief in God, but not one that comports with an established Church.” Neither Anglicans nor Catholics can bring themselves to admit that they’re growing increasingly irrelevant.

Yes, secularism is winning. Some of the “nones” are still believers, but, as in the U.S., I’d bet that the proportion of agnostics and atheists is rising within that group.




  1. Scott Draper
    Posted May 24, 2016 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Surely the rate of increase will itself increase as the spiral of silence self-destructs.

  2. Richard Bond
    Posted May 24, 2016 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    It is conventional in the UK for people to reply “Christian” when asked, even when they are effectively non-religious. That the survey asks about the particular denomination probably makes it more reliable. Even so, I strongly suspect that the proportion still reported as owning up to faith is a gross overestimate.

    • Posted May 24, 2016 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      That would be my guess too. Plus I’m skeptical that a lot of the nones are “spiritual” unless there is a decent scotch involved!

    • Posted May 24, 2016 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      Yep. As I’ve said here before, when I was in the admissions ward in hospital a few years back, everyone who came in after me, when asked their religion, answered, ”Church of England … I suppose.” Telling, eh?

      (I just confused the nurse by answering his question, “Humanist”.)


      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 24, 2016 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

        I was too scared to write “atheist” on my admissions form for surgery. I was scared that someone involved in the surgery would kill me by subconsciously disliking my atheism.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 24, 2016 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

        Recruiting sergeant: “Religion?”
        Raw recruit: “I ain’t got none”
        Sergeant: “Right, C of E. Next!”


      • Posted May 25, 2016 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        Bertrand Russell (when he was sent to prison for protesting WWI) was asked his religion and upon answering “agnostic” the warden asked him to spell it and then (the warden) said something like “Religions are many, but I suppose they all believe in the same God.”

  3. Claudia Baker
    Posted May 24, 2016 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    “…almost double the figure of 25% in the 2011 census.” Good news travels fast!

    • Posted May 24, 2016 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      But care is needed in interpreting the change as the Census was notoriously bad in how it framed the question compared to the BSA surveys, inflation the “Christian” percentages (as the later RDF-funded Ipsos-Mori poll revealed).


      • Posted May 24, 2016 at 3:57 pm | Permalink


        • Stonyground
          Posted May 25, 2016 at 1:48 am | Permalink

          It should be noted that the poor wording of the question on the 2011 census was deliberate. The N.S.S. pointed out to the census people that it was a leading question and suggested a more neutral form of wording that would give a more accurate result. The leading question was retained.

          • Posted May 25, 2016 at 2:09 am | Permalink

            Well, yes, but was it deliberately designed to inflate the figures?

            I doubt it. Applying Hanlon’s razor, I’d guess that it was just sloppily worded in the first place, and then the census people just stubbornly retained it in the face of “outside interference”.


            • Posted May 25, 2016 at 11:56 am | Permalink

              The problem with census stuff (anywhere) is that one also wants comparability, so often bad questions are retained for that reason.

    • Historian
      Posted May 24, 2016 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      The subtitle of the article is: “Proportion of population who identify as having no religion rose from 25% in 2011 to 48.5% in 2014, surveys show.”

      I hope that the 2014 poll is accurate, but I am suspicious. Is it really possible that an almost doubling could take place in just three years? Maybe the 2011 poll was inaccurate.

  4. John
    Posted May 24, 2016 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Don’t get too carried away! Northern Ireland still has to report. That won’t fill you with as much secular excitement I’m afraid.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted May 24, 2016 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      We must have some non-faith in NI.

      • plingar
        Posted May 24, 2016 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

        Ah yes, but to quote the old NI joke,
        Is that Catholic non faith or Protestant non faith?

        • veroxitatis
          Posted May 24, 2016 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

          Or the even older one – “But are you a Protestant Buddhist or a Catholic Buddhist?”

          • bric
            Posted May 24, 2016 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

            The question is not without merit – the two major divisions of Buddhism are to a degree similar to the division of Christianity: Hinayana and Mahayana

            • Posted May 24, 2016 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

              Banayana! Buddhism practiced by Minions.


              • bric
                Posted May 25, 2016 at 2:47 am | Permalink

                They are kinda safron coloured so that figures. And I could see the fart guns as Zen koans . . . yes I’m convinced

  5. GBJames
    Posted May 24, 2016 at 11:48 am | Permalink


    • jimroberts
      Posted May 24, 2016 at 4:38 pm | Permalink


  6. Diki
    Posted May 24, 2016 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    It doesn’t mention age but from what I recall of other surveys the celebrating members are heavily skewed to plus 60 years old and beyond. It will only take one particularly virulent epidemic of winter influenza and the pews will be empty.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted May 24, 2016 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      I think this is right. A lot of that generation (like me) were brought up in church-going families, and many of them have continued to trot along every Sunday without ever examining what they believe or why. But a lot more (perhaps an increasing number) (like me) started thinking seriously about the basis of their faith, not least because of the clear damage that religious doctrines were starting to do from the 1970s on. And once such serious questioning starts, the whole gallimaufry starts to unravel.

      • veroxitatis
        Posted May 24, 2016 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

        I tend to think of myself as a “cultural Christian”. Apart from attendance at events such as marriages, christenings and funerals I usually go to a Candlemas service on February 2 each year or most years. It follows a special litany and is rather interesting. One part of the service involves the congregation perambulating around every part of the church three times (clockwise, of course!) carrying a lit candle and singing a hymn with the refrain “Hail Mary, full of grace” uttered three times after each verse. It has become very noticeable over the last dozen or so years that fewer and fewer of the congregation are physically able to perform the rite. There are few, if any of the congregation much under 60, and I would put the average age of the regular attenders (some 50 or so) at over 80.

  7. Barney
    Posted May 24, 2016 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    The full report is here (it’s not very large, but has some more figures than The Guardian has used; it does concentrate on statistics for Catholicism): http://www.stmarys.ac.uk/benedict-xvi/docs/2016-may-contemporary-catholicism-report.pdf

    One thing to note is that The Guardian’s comparison with the 2011 Census question probably isn’t valid. The answers you get for ‘what religion’ can vary quite a lot, depending on the exact wording and context, and those for the Census, the 2 times it’s been asked in 2001 and 2011, tend to give the fewest answers of ‘no religion’. The report does show how the BSA results have changed since 1983 (fig 1.3, page 4), and it’s been a gradual increase from about 40% to 48% now (there’s a fair amount of variation; you might even interpret it as a peak just above 50% around 2010).

  8. Heather Hastie
    Posted May 24, 2016 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    This lines up with what I’ve been predicting – that the rise of the Nones is much faster than statistical models presume. They make assumptions like the lower birth rate of secularists meaning the Nones won’t grow as fast, and they don’t take enough account of the faster and faster rate of people leaving religion.

    • EvolvedDutchie
      Posted May 24, 2016 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      You are absolutely right. Also, I’m looking at you, Kiwis, to become the first nation with an atheist majority in the southern hemisphere. 😀 Go for it!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 24, 2016 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

      And the religious dying off.

  9. bric
    Posted May 24, 2016 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    I think this quote from ‘Yes Minister’ sums up the English attitude to religion

    Sir Humphrey Appleby: The Queen is inseparable from the Church of England.
    Jim Hacker: And what about God?
    Sir Humphrey Appleby: I think he is what is called an optional extra

    • Posted May 24, 2016 at 4:04 pm | Permalink


    • Dave
      Posted May 24, 2016 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      I Liked the one where Appleby said Anglican bishops were divided into two groups: those that believe in God and those that don’t. Haven’t seen those in years.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 24, 2016 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

      Jim Hacker: How could the Church of England suggest an atheist as Bishop of Bury St Edmunds?
      Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, very easily. The Church of England is primarily a social organization, not a religious one.


  10. TJR
    Posted May 24, 2016 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always tended to assume that anyone born in Britain after 1945 is non-religious, and its a good first approximation.

    However, religion now seems to be far more important and talked about than it was when I was a kid in the 70s/80s, largely due to highly religious immigrant groups.

    The real question is how fast immigrants are losing their religion.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 24, 2016 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      The real question is how fast immigrants are losing their religion.

      That does get some address in the report, where they ascribe the (relatively) high religiosity of places like London to the presence of (relatively) large numbers of (relatively) religious immigrants.
      Another point that they make is that much of the growth of individual denominations (such as it is) comes from recruitment from other denominations, with very very few non-believers or young people being recruited.
      All in all, a good start.

  11. Sooko
    Posted May 24, 2016 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Tony Blair’s moronic policy of faith schooling will see to it that this temporary trend in the direction of modernity is soon reversed.

    • Posted May 24, 2016 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      Nah. Kids these days have interwebz.


      • Stonyground
        Posted May 25, 2016 at 1:59 am | Permalink

        Religion in schools does not tend to produce faithful little believers nowadays. It is far more likely to produce atheists. This is partly because the National Curriculum means that they have to at least pay lip service to informing the kids of the beliefs of other religions. I grew up unaware that there were religions other than Christianity. In my early teens I found out that there were other religions and It was then that I realised that it was all nonsense.

  12. jahigginbotham
    Posted May 24, 2016 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Or do they just have a different “religion” now?

    From the BBC:
    England and Wales fans will not be allowed to drink alcohol on the streets of Lens around their Euro 2016 game after a 24-hour ban was put in place.

  13. Johnd
    Posted May 24, 2016 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    I would not get too excited. Non Christian religions, read Islam, have barely moved, because apostasy is a crime, and a muslims identity is so reinforced with Islam. With their population increase jihad, a disaster in the making.

  14. Dave
    Posted May 24, 2016 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    “… Anglicans lose 12 followers for every person they recruit, and Catholics 10.”

    Wow, they definitely stop recruiting!!

    • Dave
      Posted May 24, 2016 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      … they should …

  15. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted May 24, 2016 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    I felt we were all pretty non-religious back in the 60’s, when I was a kid. Yeah I got sent to Sunday School, but nobody took it very seriously.

    The very rapid change does seem suspicious to me, though. I would have expected it to be far more gradual. Given that the line between ‘religious’ and ‘non-religious’ is blurred, with lots of ‘cultural Christians’, or people who only go to church twice a year, I’m wondering whether the two surveys didn’t put the dividing line in a slightly different place, or whether the questions skewed the responses, such that many people changed categories without any significant change in their position.

    I’d like to believe it’s genuine, but I can’t help being sceptical.


    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 24, 2016 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

      Of course, it may also just reflect, rather than a change in religious attitude, just a small but influential change in public perceptions, whereby it is now seen as more acceptable to admit to no religion. So where the don’t-really-care-either-way ‘social Christians’ would have said “Christian” a few years back, now they feel it quite acceptable to say “None”.

      (The C of E’s ‘growing plurality’ is presumably an oblique reference to this idea)


    • Posted May 25, 2016 at 2:09 am | Permalink

      See my reply at #3.


      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 25, 2016 at 3:53 am | Permalink

        Yes, noted. I read your comment after I posted.


  16. elsburymk14
    Posted May 24, 2016 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    I recall Dawkins advocating that nonreligious people in the UK to ensure they tick ‘nones’ (or whatever the term was) for an upcoming census a couple years ago (as oposed to people casualy ticking the religion of their upbringing or culture).

    I wonder if that campaign had a significant impact on these results by raising the consciousness of people to the impact of inflated religious adherence numbers.

    • Stonyground
      Posted May 25, 2016 at 2:04 am | Permalink

      The Dawkins foundation funded a survey to find out how much these cultural Christians know about Christianity. The answer seemed to be very little. A significant number couldn’t name the first book of the New Testament out of a list of four.

      • Don Quijote
        Posted May 25, 2016 at 7:34 am | Permalink

        Chapter One?

  17. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 25, 2016 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Things have been heading in this direction since the Sex Pistols released “Anarchy in the UK.”

    Now, if our special relations would also shitcan the Royal Family, they’d really be on the right track.

  18. Alex Gee
    Posted May 25, 2016 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    One must also remember that the question in the Census is a bullshit establishment question biased in the favour of religion!

  19. Zack
    Posted May 26, 2016 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    May we please hurry this up so we can disentangle Church and State? Bishops in the House of Lords and whatnot? Doctors trying to restore their patients to a state of “sanity” that is contingent on them believing hysterical nonsense?

  20. aljones909
    Posted May 28, 2016 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    A 2011 poll in Scotland found only a third of self identifying christians believed Jesus rose from the dead:

    Richard Dawkins Foundation 2011
    Just a third (32%) believe Jesus was physically resurrected, with one in five (18%) not believing in the resurrection even in a spiritual sense; half (49%) do not think of Jesus as the Son of God, with one in twenty-five (4%) doubting he existed at all.

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