Overview:

Analysis of data from the 2021 UK census is now becoming known, and we now know that less than 50% of English and Welsh are Christian.

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Over the past few months, as the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) has analyzed the data from Census 2021, they have gradually released interesting nuggets to the British public.

Today, the ONS released data showing the continued decline of Christianity, the dominant religion in the UK. This census has indicated a 5.5 million-person decline since 2011 in people declaring themselves as Christians (in a population of almost 70 million). At the same time, Islam has grown by 1.2 million declared adherents, for a total of 3.9 million in its fold. Christianity has shrunk by 17% and Islam has grown by 44%.

“The latest results represent an increase in the pace of change,” state Humanists UK, “with both the growth of the nonreligious and the decline in the religious occurring at a faster rate than between 2001 and 2011. The nonreligious grew by almost 60%.

Those with “no religion,” a category that includes a wide variety of scenarios, have grown 14.8% in 20 years to 22.2 million, or 37.2% of the population. This differs from another major survey, the British Social Attitudes survey, which last year found that the share of the population belonging to “no religion” had continued to grow, standing at 53%, with 12% Anglicans, 7% Catholics, 18% other Christians, and 9% all other religions.

Humanists UK were quick to point out this disparity:

The result is still likely to underestimate the number of non-religious people. This is because the question is not only optional, but also uses leading wording (‘What is your religion?’) which has long been shown to inflate the number of people who do not believe in, practice, or consider themselves to belong to a religion choosing a religious box. They do so because they were christened, because their parents are/were Christian, or because they went to a Christian school. The Office of National Statistics acknowledges this itself. The annual British Social Attitudes Survey, by contrast, found in 2020 that 53% of British adults belong to no religion, with only 37% Christians.

Nationally speaking, this means that Christianity remains the most popular religious position, despite retreating to less than half of the population.

“One of the most striking things about these census results is how at odds the population is from the state itself,” said Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson. “No state in Europe has such a religious set-up as we do in terms of law and public policy, while at the same time having such a non-religious population. Iran is the only other state in the world that has clerics voting in its legislature. And no other country in the world requires compulsory Christian worship in schools as standard.”

For those who know their UK geography, the places with the highest nonreligious populations were Caerphilly, Blaenau Gwent, and Rhondda Cynon Taf, all in south Wales, and Brighton and Hove and Norwich in England. Brighton is a famously liberal city with the single Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, elected there.

The breakdown of ethnicity is also interesting and perhaps pertinent to these other shifts: 81.7% of the population is now white (this includes non-British), down from 86% in 2011, and 9.3% of the population is Asian British, up from 7.5%. 2.5% is Black, Black British, Black Welsh, Caribbean-African, and African, which is up from 1.8% in 2011, and 1.6% are other ethnicities.

Leicester (59.1%), Luton (54.8%), and Birmingham (51.4%) now have majority ethnic minority populations. 20 years ago, in Birmingham (the UK’s second-largest city), 7 in 10 people were white, and now ethnic minorities comprise 51.4% of the population.

“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.”

Humanists UK President, TV and radio presenter, and scientist Dr. Adam Rutherford said it best in his statement:

The Census result shows that the nonreligious have grown enormously in the last ten years. Yet far from creating an absence in values, we might be living in a more values-driven society than ever before! Surveys show, for example, that around three in ten British adults have humanist beliefs and values, and it’s a trend we’ve seen growing in recent years.

We’ve seen increased demand for humanist ceremonies, non-religious pastoral care, and resources about humanism in schools. Millions of non-religious people in the UK today are leading humanist lives – fulfilling, meaningful, ethical lives – on the basis of reason and humanity.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...