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Updated: 06/02/2019

Published: 18/01/2019

Is Britain still a Christian country?

 

In this article we explore another social issue of importance – The Religions of Britain.

 

  • Do the people living in Britain believe Britain is fundamentality a Christian country?
  • Did you know nearly 1 in 4 people living in Britain now say they have ‘no religion’?
  • Did you also know there are some areas of the UK, where Christians make up less than 50% of the population?

 

We explore this interesting subject and hear from Key Opinion Leaders who feature in our article including a Christian Reverend and Hindu R.E Teacher.

 

History of Christianity in Britain

Christianity was brought to the island by the Romans, but little is known about the religions that pre-dated it. That means for the last 2000 years approximately, Christianity has dominated Britain. The UK is considered to be a religious country by many people still, but how many?

Real Jesus vs Perceived JesusJesus is predicted to look like the man on the left (brown eyes, darker skin and dark hair), and very unlikley looked like the perceived image on the right (blue eyes, blonde hair and fairer complexion) 

 

Even from very early on, Britain had many different religions as part of its DNA. Firstly it was nonconformist sects of Christianity such as Congregationalists, Baptists, Methodists, and Quakers. Then, later, due to large numbers of immigrants from the 1920s onwards, Britain's political DNA was further changed by Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Sikhism among others. This is particularly important when considering whether or not Britain is still a Christian country.

 

Who brought Christianity to the UK

The Romans brought Christianity to the UK in about the 1st Century (although many associate the arrival of Christianity in Britain with the mission of Augustine in 597 AD). It's not known precisely when this happened, but it’s definitely thought to have happened around that time and this was the base of the religion in the UK. Interestingly enough, at this time it was mixed with the Pagan belief in multiple gods. Most likely, locals mixed their old beliefs with the new beliefs, just like on Game of Thrones where there's a distinct class of the old gods and the new.

 

Martin Henig, a Christian archaeologist, says that it was closer to Hinduism, in the sense that they believed in a polytheistic system.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_the_United_Kingdom

At the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions, Paganism was temporarily re-introduced as the religion in Britain. Although it was again wiped out by the Christianisation of England by Irish-Scottish missionaries in the 7th Century, parts of pagan cultures and ideals shaped the future of Anglo-Saxon Christianity. Even by the 11th Century, Pagan beliefs still pervaded everyday life in England, despite the overwhelming majority of the population now being Christian. Indeed, even some of the temples and shrines to old Pagan gods were modified as part of a compromise, and became places of worship for the God of the Bible. This is still a minor source of contention between the Pagan faith and the Church. Pagans accuse the Church of stealing these properties from them 1300 years ago, and are now attempting to demand them back.

 

Breakdown of the different religions in Britain in 2019

Nearly all of the information available, is from the censuses. These give us massive amounts of insight into religion in Britain. However, the census only includes the six main religions, and the 7th option is “other”. This is a little unhelpful, as it would have been interesting to see what the “other” is (for example, as we just established, there are still people of the Pagan faith living in Britain). These statistics are for England & Wales, as for religion there is no UK wide census. Scotland also ran a census in 2001, which as you can imagine will now be very out of date.

 

There are many sects, but also many more religions in England and Wales than just these, but on the census there are 7 religions:

 

  • Christianity (59.3%)
  • No Religion (25.7%)
  • Islam (4.8%)
  • Hinduism (1.3%)
  • Judaism (0.4%)
  • Other Religions (1.5)
  • Not Stated (2.7%)

 

These numbers alone confirm a trend, which has been happening since after the Second World War. A general downward trend in the percentage of the population who identify themselves as belonging to some kind of organised religion, compared with those who simply put 'no religion'. In the 2001 Census, the proportion of the population who put no religion was only 14.81%. This is such a massive increase, almost 75% 10 years. When the next census comes out in 2021, it will be incredibly interesting to see how much this number increases again, if at all.

Muslim Girl Wearing British Brand Burberry HijabMuslim Girl Wearing British Brand Burberry Hijab

 

As of right now, the numbers do suggest the a majority of the population are Christian, meaning that the country could still be considered a Christian country. The Scottish Census has very similar results, with 65% of the population saying they're Christian, whilst 27.55% gave 'no religion' as their response. Other religions only made up 1.87%.

 

So Britain, in regards to the ‘numbers’ at least, can definitely be considered a Christian country still.

 

UK Census shows ‘Jedi’ as a religion

Say whaaaat! In the 2001 census, although it may be hard to believe, 0.7% of the respondents to the question of religion stated Jedi as their religion. This was actually a huge number (390,000 people). The joke has a long running history, and although the numbers dropped significantly in 2011 (176,632 people), another group of people, after encouragement from Biff Byford, put 'Heavy Rock' as their chosen religion. Although there was no punishment for these people, because of religious freedom laws, it may have further skewed the figures which we rely on. However, it is a fantastic comment on religious freedom and pretty amusing.

Percentage of respondents reporting a religious affiliation chartPercentage of respondents reporting a religious affiliation chart

 

 

How many churches are in the UK

According to the Church census, in 2005 18,720 churches took part in their survey. This was less than half of the overall amount, which is 37,501 (the total number in the UK is thought to be around 50,000). This is only England, so in the whole of the UK the number will be much higher. There are many different sects of Christianity alive and well in England today:

 

  • 16,247 Anglican churches in England, with an average congregation size of 54.
  • 5,999 Methodist churches with an average congregation size of 48.
  • 3,656 R. Catholic churches - average congregation 244
  • 2,386 Baptist churches - average congregation 107
  • 2,281 independent churches - average congregation 84
  • 2,227 Pentecostal churches - average congregation 129
  • 1,470 URC churches - average congregation 48
  • 1,307 'new' churches - average congregation 140
  • 317 Orthodox churches - average congregation 81
  • 1,611 churches of other descriptions with an average congregation of 63.

 

The fact that there are still this many churches, with quite a high average congregation, is surely a sign that Britain is to some extent still a Christian country. However, even with quite a high attendance rate, if you look further at the figures, Church attendance is still in massive decline. Since 1998 (the last Church census) some churches have seen a drop of almost 50% in their church attendance. Furthermore, the average age of someone who is Christian in England is 45.

 

There is a general belief within the religious community that they are struggling to attract young people to the religion. This could mean that as more and more of the older generations pass away, numbers of Christians in the UK will drop even further.

 

By 2050, it's possible that the majority of the population will not identify as being a Christian. This would be the first time in the history of Britain as we know it that this would be the case. Although, there are some areas which already have a higher proportion of other religions, as of right now, Britain is still a majority Christian country, with a lot of churches and fairly high congregations. Northern Ireland even more so, still has a large proportion of their youth who identify as either Protestant, Catholic, or Other Christian.

 

Is Britain religiously diverse?

Firstly, not as diverse as you may first think and neither is the US. The most diverse are countries in east Asia: Singapore, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Chart  shows examples of countries with varying levels of religious diversity.Examples of countries with varying levels of religious diversity

 

 

As you can Singapore has pretty even levels of many different religions compared to France (similar to the UK) which has a large number of Christians and the US an even larger number.  

 

So, is Britain religiously diverse is a complex question. It firstly depends on what we mean by diverse. Do we mean strictly as a percentage of the population?

 

What percentage are Christian now, and what percentage were Christian in the last census? If this is the only question, then yes. Britain is becoming more diverse. The proportion of the population who are Christian has been going steadily going down, due to less younger British people aligning themselves with Christianity and also because of immigration and emigration. 

 

However, if what is really being asked is: is Britain more or less segregated, then it's a question of  whether or not Britain is more or less divided than the last census. This poses an important question, and is an extension of the question of whether or not Britain is accepting of other religions, that aren't the traditional Judaeo-Christian religions.

 

The British establishment & the general British population seem to be mostly accepting of different religions. They definitely tolerate them at the very least (in most cases). A lot of people are open and very welcoming. Furthermore, for those people who do move to a new country, and who have a different religion, but who also adapt and integrate into society, they will find an open and accepting majority. The UK itself has incredibly strict rules. The Conservative Party's code of conduct includes this passage, which is basically the same as the UK's laws and policy on discrimination:

“Discrimination includes victimising or harassing any other person because of race (including colour, ethnic or national origin, nationality, citizenship), sex, gender re-assignment, sexual orientation, marital or civil partnership status, disability, age, religion or belief [which should be interpreted as fully adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antiSemitism], pregnancy and maternity status”.

 

However, 1 in 4 people of faith are affected by harassment, with verbal abuse (19.2%), emotional abuse (17.3%) and physical abuse (11.3%) on the rise all the time. Religion has definitely become more of a personal thing, almost certainly because of this fact. If you don't feel free to practise your religion in an open and honest way, then you do not feel as welcome. The fact that 23% of British schoolchildren say they've been bullied because of their faith could definitely be a reason why less and less people are openly practising their religions. This, in turn, is definitely a reason for the downward trend in people who openly say they are not part of any religion. Furthermore, this shows that Britain is less diverse, as the numbers of people who are abused because of their faith has been on the rise. On the census, 7.8% of respondents chose not to respond to the question. This is a significantly large proportion of people, this could be people trying to hide their religion because of fear to practice religion. That cannot be seen as diversity.

 

How are religions portrayed in the British press?

You would expect that the main people who complain about how religion in Britain is portrayed would be people belonging to the faith of Islam, however, this is not necessarily the case. Although it's true that Muslims are the most demonised religious (or even, perhaps, non-religious) groups in the UK, and is almost certainly the biggest failing of the Free Press and the Independent Press Standards Organisation, it is not the only cause for complaint by religious groups (see below). The biggest criticism by many people is that whilst Muslims are denounced as terrorists and are identified by their religion, often times Christian groups or individuals who carry out similar atrocities are not. A great example of this is Norwegian mass murderer and self-identified protector of European Christianity Anders Breivik. The decision to shape a narrative around one religion carrying out atrocities and to call them terrorists, and another group carrying out a similar set of atrocities and calling their actions political and not religious, is one of the root causes of so much controversy in the press about how religion is portrayed. But, then the UK is a 60% Christian country, and the 25% who claim no religion are more than likely majority from Christian backgrounds whether they still align themselves or not. The press are ultimately in it for the entertainment value, they want people to click on their articles and those ‘people’ are from majority Christian backgrounds.

 

Regarding my personal relationship with God, I guess I’m not an excessively religious man. I am first and foremost a man of logic. However, I am a supporter of a mono-cultural Christian Europe.”

- Andres Breivik.

Anders Breivik and Bleeding VictimsAnders Breivik and a Victim

As mentioned before, it's not only Islam which has cause to be concerned with how they and their faith are represented by the press. The main problem between the press and the Christian faith is that Christianity has been so dominant in the UK for so many years now. The narrative was always shaped by the faith. However, these days, the narrative is shaped by the press, and by social media.

The fact that certain 'non-negotiable' truths (like the age of the world or the truth of the bible) are accepted or denied by either side, means that they are openly contradicting each other in the most public of forums. It's really a question of two groups battling it out to be the source of information and guidance for people. The press have one way of doing it, and religion has another. Spiritual counsellors are no longer the main and only source of information and advice for some people. New technology such as Google means that instead of asking our priests and faith leaders for advice, we simply ask Google.

 

What is the main religion in London?

If you take all of the answers from the census except Christianity and then add them together, you have 4,192,533 million people. Christianity on the other hand has 3,981,407 people. This means that less than 50% of the population of London consider themselves to be Christian. However, there are some factors which have to be taken into account. 'Other Religion' could be Christian sects, 631,235 people didn't respond, some of those could also be Christian. However, the main religion in London is still definitely Christianity, and it's a majority of the population, but it's NOT over 50%.

 

Populations of Christians by London borough

 

 

 Here we can see that there’s about 19 different boroughs in which Christians do not make up 50% or more of the population. In Tower Hamlets, Islam is the religion of around 38% of the population, more than any other. London alone contains around 21% of all of England's Muslim population.

 

Towerhamlets chart

 

There are two interesting things about this table. Firstly the fact that there are more Muslims than Christians in this area of London, which is most likely one of very few places where this exists. The second is that despite there being two religions which are clearly so dominant in this area, 1/5th of the population there still considers themselves to be irreligious. So, despite Christianity still being the main religion in London, this could not be the case in the next census, or at least not in 20-30 years time. This follows a general trend that we can see in the statistics, but could happen faster in London. This is because of 2 reasons: firstly, pre-existing enclaves of religious groups, which tend to attract more people from that religion. Secondly is that in general, London is often the place many people move to when they come to this country, and it is generally accepted that London is the most open and tolerant place in the UK, for things like religion or sexuality. You can download and explore some of this data from the office of national statistics. All of this type of data is public. 

 

Is Britain a Christian country?

On the whole, it should still be considered as such. Although there's a definite reduction of numbers year on year, as well as an increasing number of people putting no religion year on year, Britain still has Christianity woven into its patchwork. There are a number of seats reserved in the House of Lords for bishops (26 seats) which is one of the very seats of power in the country. Furthermore, a majority of the population consider themselves to be Christian, and until the census comes out in 2021, we'll not be sure exactly of the correct numbers. It is hard to predict what the numbers say, but some estimates say that by 2050, a majority of the population will have 'no religion'. Some say that it will take this long for the majority of the population to simply put anything except Christian. There is talk of reform in the House of Lords, and the falling numbers of people going to church (as well as the ageing of those who do attend) could spell worse times ahead for religion. The failure to re-capture the youth from technology is probably the Church's biggest problem. However, it is likely that even if mass religion disappears, there will still be enclaves of every religion across the UK.

‘Overall, a third (33%) of British adults do not believe in God or a greater spiritual power of any kind – roughly the same number as believe in “a God” (32%). The rest either believe in a higher power but not a God (20%) or don’t know what they believe (14%).’

 

A third of youths not  believing in any higher power could be seen as the biggest problem facing modern religion. However, the same number put that they did believe in some kind of power, 52% overall either believed in God or believed in a higher power but not god. This shows that the Youth still have some interest in religion, but the overall numbers are much lower in young people. 

 

To judge whether the UK is a Christian country or not, it seems that the only good answer for this is that it is currently, but it probably won’t always be.  

 

The BBC also has a similar story for reference. 


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