Sunday, 10 December 2017

Britain's Religion and Belief Landscape

In November Jeremy Rodell spoke to us in Stockport on the topic - The Big Change in Religion and Belief: How Might a Humanist Respond? Jeremy took the inspiration for his talk from the book - A New Settlement: Religion and Belief in Schools by Charles Clarke and Linda Woodhead.

We are undergoing some of the most significant shifts in religious belief and practice since the Reformation as traditional religious authority, doctrine and practice have given way to a much wider and more diverse range of religious and non-religious commitments.

Nationalities whose populations think religion is most important range from Ethiopia (98%) to China (3%). The UK is low down with 21% who think religion is very important in their lives. It is projected that over the next 45 years Islam will grow faster than any other religion to rival Christianity in numbers. In the same period it is expected that the religiously unaffiliated will decline as a share of the global population.

 Belief is only one dimension along with Belonging and Behaviour. For Example of British people “Uncertain or with no belief in God” there are 40% of Jews, 35% of Anglicans, 18% Catholics, and 8% of Muslims. Amongst British Catholics 14% of under 40s support a ban on abortion more than 50% of under 50s say same-sex marriage is right, and 58% support a change in the law to permit assisted dying for the terminally ill.

The number of British people identifying as non-religious depends on how the Question is asked. When the 2011 Census asked ‘What is your religion?’ 59% said Christian and 25% said no religion. When the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey asked ‘Do you regard yourself as belonging to a particular religion?’ 6.5% said Christian and 46.2% said no religion. Over the period 2012-14 these changed to 44% Christian and 50% No Religion. According to Local Census Data Stockport is close to the average for the UK.

According to the BSA survey the trend for the non-religious is going up, with a big decline in C of E but  an increase in non-denominational Christians and Muslims. Romans Catholics stay the same as immigration from Catholic countries offsets the decline in indigenous believers. Younger people tend to be less religious; more than 60% of 15-24 year olds professed no religion in 2015 compared with 24% of 75 and over.

The non-religious are not all atheists. About 64% do not believe in a god, 18% think there must be something, 14% do not know and 4% believe there is a god. Around half with no religion have a broadly Humanist worldview.

The future looks as if there will be Cultural super diversity with substantial religious minority and a non-religious majority. The religious minority will have diverse religious identities, diverse views within each identity and a higher average commitment and seriousness. The non-religious will have diverse beliefs and practices (including don’t care); around half will have a broadly humanistic worldview, many will be from faith backgrounds, and the situation will be evolving.

Challenges ahead include: polarisation and lack of social cohesion; uninformed generalisations about “the other”; faith-based and race based prejudice; declining institutions defending privileges; and conflicting values. 

Humanists UK says “We want a world where everyone lives cooperatively on the basis of shared human values, respect for human rights, and concern for future generations. Of importance are: Secularism; Education; Dialogue and Participation

Secularism means the separation of religious institutions from the institutions of state; freedom of thought, conscience and religion for all; and no state discrimination against anyone on grounds of their religion or non-religious worldview. It does not mean Atheism or Humanism; denying the role of Christianity in our history and culture; or denying the right of religious individuals to express their views (providing no special weight is given simply because they are faith-based).

In Education there needs to be high quality education about religious and non-religious beliefs and ethics. This can be achieved with a positive contribution to curriculum development and by providing Humanist speakers for schools. We need to end faith-based admissions to state-funded schools, compulsory collective worship, and state funding for faith schools. Children need a broad preparation for life in a plural society. This means: sex and relationships education; curiosity, thinking skills and creativity; and values & citizenship. We need institutions where the core values are defended.

In Dialogue and Participation we first have to view others primarily as fellow humans; religion and belief are only one dimension of personal identity. Dialogue is preferred to Debate. We need to beware assumptions and generalisations, but recognise areas of disagreement and also common ground. There are some limits to Dialogue. There should be no tolerance of bigotry and no succour for terrorism. Humanist engagement in dialogue has two objectives: Making a positive humanist contribution to building a peaceful plural secular society, and improving others’ understanding of Humanism. Three broad types of dialogue are: Interfaith Dialogue and participative action via established organisations; public events; and private bilateral dialogue series and actions.