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The anti-Ecklund

Ecklund, you may recall, is the sociologist with a fondness for counting anyone who expresses awe at the universe as belonging to the religious camp, artificially inflating the number of Christians around. Now the RDF has commissioned an analysis of the population of the UK to see how many people are really Christian in their beliefs, vs. nominally Christian by heritage. The results probably won’t surprise you.

Not only has the number of UK adults calling themselves Christian dropped dramatically since the 2001 Census – our research suggests that it is now only 54% – even those who still think of themselves as Christian show very low levels of religious commitment:

• Only about a third of what we shall call ‘Census-Christians’ cited religious beliefs as the reason they had ticked the Christian box in the 2011 Census

• 37% of them have never or almost never prayed outside a church service

• Asked where they seek most guidance in questions of right and wrong, only 10% of Census-Christians said it was from religious teachings or beliefs

• Just a third (32%) believe Jesus was physically resurrected; half (49%) do not think of him as the Son of God

• And when given 4 books of the Bible to select from and asked which was the first book of the New Testament, only 35% could identify Matthew as the correct answer.

Also, even self-identified UK Christians do not think religion should have a special influence on public policy.

I think the issue is settled. The UK is a diverse and largely secular nation. All the fanatics who whimper about Europe being Christian need to adjust to reality: they are a minority.

Now I just wish the demographics of the United States had a similar arrangement…but I suspect that a majority here aren’t just Christian, but pig-ignorant evangelical/fundamentalist-leaning Christian. We need a few more years to catch up with European enlightenment.

Comments

  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    And when given 4 books of the Bible to select from and asked which was the first book of the New Testament, only 35% could identify Matthew as the correct answer.

    While Matthew appears fist in editions of the New Testament, it was not chronologically the first book written (that would be the epistles of Paul. The chronologically earliest gospel was Mark). Probably the low score here reflects confusion driven by the advanced state of textual scholarship among Britain’s Christian population (not).

  2. says

    Ecklund, you may recall, is the sociologist with a fondness for counting anyone who expresses awe at the universe as belonging to the religious camp

    Wait… So I’m religious now? This is actually quite strange, as the people who are most in awe of life and the universe are often the kind od people which are inspired to become scientists and the proportion of atheists among scientists is pretty damn high.

  3. Dick the Damned says

    The Bible Bogey doesn’t have many fans here, outside of the Conservative Party. But they’re doing their darnedest to push religion on defenseless schoolkids. I think they’re fighting a losing battle.

  4. thomasbloom says

    ” And when given 4 books of the Bible to select from and asked which was the first book of the New Testament, only 35% could identify Matthew as the correct answer.”

    John is the odd one out that everybody knows, it’s the last book, Revelation. The first three are about the same. So the the survey number of 35% is very close to the random number of one choice in three of 33%.

  5. says

    And when given 4 books of the Bible to select from and asked which was the first book of the New Testament, only 35% could identify Matthew as the correct answer.

    Isn’t the correct answer is “Jesus Christ and the Philosopher’s Stone.”?

    Evil unicorns

  6. embertine says

    Has anyone seen Baroness Warsi’s opinion today?
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17021831

    It fills me with hope that the vast majority of commentators think that the degradation of religion in the public arena is a good thing. I find the story amusing, given that Baroness Warsi is only able to hold the position that she does because secularism has made it acceptable for a Muslim to act as cabinet minister.

  7. says

    Actually, when they look for adherence to specific beliefs in American Xians, there’s a fair bit of heterodoxy found there as well. Not knowing much about the Bible doesn’t necessarily indicate lack of commitment, either.

    You’re always going to find that a good many lag in what the pious think they should do or know. Pastors often preach about how believers don’t study and pray like they “ought” to do.

    So although I think that this does cut into the raw numbers given, I’d have to say that any closer study would cut into the raw numbers almost anywhere.

    Glen Davidson

  8. stonyground says

    The problem in the UK is that, though we are mostly a bunch of heathens, we have a great load of religious baggage left over from the past. Our National Secular Society has been relentlessly chipping away at this for about 150 years now. They have made huge strides but there is still much left to be done.

    Loved the link from comment #3.
    Hilarious that the US are actually so concerned for our pitch-black souls that they are sending us missionaries. Church attendance went from 2% to 1% during her stay, not exactly a huge success then.

  9. franko says

    On this morning’s BBC Radio Today programme, a god-botherer asked Richard Dawkins for the full title of Darwin’s Origin of Species book. Dawkins stumbled, hesitated and couldn’t supply the answer. http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9696000/9696135.stm Isn’t this the equivalent of a xian not coming up with the first chapter of the new testament?

    We should ask ourselves how many people who happily claim to accept and understand the theory of evolution could give a decent account of it? How many could name key scientists working in the evolutionary field or explain key pieces of evidence supporting the Theory? It is entirely possible for someone to declare themself a christian by cultural background without their being able to answer detailed questions about christianity or without ever going near a church. Let’s not gloat too soon!

  10. marko says

    @Franko
    I think there are more telling statistics in the press release:

    When asked why they think of themselves as Christian, the research found that fewer than three in ten (28%) say one of the reasons is that they believe in the teachings of Christianity.

    People are much more likely to consider themselves to be Christian because they were christened or baptised into the religion (72%) or because their parents were members of the religion (38%) than because of personal belief.

    As many as half (50%) do not think of themselves as religious and less than a third (30%) claim to have strong religious beliefs.

    So, of all the people who said they were Christian on the census, when probed with slightly better questions, agreed they weren’t really Christian after all

  11. says

    Well quite: being “a christian by cultural background” is the point – that’s like an ethnic category rather than a set of beliefs. It’s “christian” rather than Christian.

  12. dianne says

    Oddly enough, I’ve heard this sort of finding being used to argue for the superiority of Christianity: The argument goes that this proves that Christians aren’t fanatics like those…others (Islam may or may not be named here). Therefore, it is important for Europeans to keep raising their children Christian and force or at least strongly pressure immigrants to become Christian because Christians have never been crazy fanatics.

  13. says

    Therefore, it is important for Europeans to keep raising their children Christian and force or at least strongly pressure immigrants to become Christian because Christians have never been crazy fanatics.

    It’s very important that we indoctrinate people into not giving a shit?

  14. dianne says

    It’s very important that we indoctrinate people into not giving a shit?

    That seems to be the argument. It strikes me as a desperate attempt to explain why the various churches should continue to receive money from the state, but what do I know?

  15. KG says

    On this morning’s BBC Radio Today programme, a god-botherer asked Richard Dawkins for the full title of Darwin’s Origin of Species book. Dawkins stumbled, hesitated and couldn’t supply the answer. http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9696000/9696135.stm Isn’t this the equivalent of a xian not coming up with the first chapter of the new testament? – franko

    No. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life is not a sacred text. Dawkins should have been ready for this sort of “gotcha”, though.

    We should ask ourselves how many people who happily claim to accept and understand the theory of evolution could give a decent account of it?

    There’s certainly plenty of room for improvement, but again, you appear to be assuming that evolutionary theory is a quasi-religion. Everyone, in most areas of rational enquiry, depends on the experts for more than the barest outlines. I could give a reasonable account of the theory of evolution, but not of quantum mechanics or differential geometry or comparative philology.

  16. says

    Franko: Dawkins made the point that in the poll there was a multiple choice question with four possible answers (including Matthew) and only 35% of self-proclaimed Christians picked Matthew as the first book of the New Testament.

    Fraser countered this by challenging Dawkins to remember the original 23 word subtitle to Origin of Species (which was removed from later editions). Hardly an equivalent question.

    Dawkins’ point stands. If only 35% of those who claim the title Christian actually know the most basic information about the book that their faith claims was inspired by the creator of the universe, in what sense can the other 65% claim to actually be Christian?

  17. raven says

    That UK phenomenon is probably also true in the USA.

    A lot of self identified xians are just box checkers or “census xians” as they are called above.

    Church attendance in the USA is only around 25-30%. A lot of US xians probably haven’t been in a church except for weddings and funerals for decades.

    I saw a national poll once.

    76% of Americans called themselves xians.
    70% of Americans believed in a personal god.

    Presumably the 6% difference were either Deists or xian atheists.

  18. says

    franko, you are comparing apples to motorcycles. In mitigation, that probably is because you haven’t any non-fallacious arguments. (Pesky reality, taking no prisoners …..)

    Scientific theories are not religious dogma, and scientific works are not holy books. Most people who have read “Origin”, only did so for the sake of interest. There are better texts available nowadays, thanks in no small part to various discoveries that have taken place in the sesquicentury or so since it was published (a couple of guys called Crick and Watson made a discovery that was particularly interesting ….. you might want to go look it up).

    As for summarising evolutionary theory, it is intuitively obvious that whatever helps a population survive will tend to be passed on to the next generation. To deny something so basic must require a conscious effort of will.

  19. Sastra says

    franko #10 wrote:

    We should ask ourselves how many people who happily claim to accept and understand the theory of evolution could give a decent account of it?

    As KG pointed out, scientific theories are not supposed to be used to ground identity and guide one’s personal life. Frankly, I think that even the majority of people who accept evolution do so with either only a vague understanding of it, or a wrong one.

    This pretty much parallels the general public’s scientific and technological understanding of anything. The biggest problem with such ignorance usually occurs when people don’t really understand it and still reject the views of the people who do — thereby substituting some pseudoscientific explanation which they also don’t understand.

    It is entirely possible for someone to declare themself a christian by cultural background without their being able to answer detailed questions about christianity or without ever going near a church. Let’s not gloat too soon!

    I think the point is that ‘declaring (yourself) a Christian by cultural background’ also apparently includes not believing in most of the tenets of Christianity.

    I was raised without religion but often used to identify myself as “mostly Christian” or some such qualified variation because I both celebrated Christmas and wasn’t Jewish (in an area which had a large jewish population.) By the time Christianity gets watered down to “I think we ought to follow the Golden Rule” it seems to me that you’ve just got humanism by another name.

    The apologists think that, by identifying morals, meaning, and feelings of awe as “spirituality,” they’ve managed to lock atheists into the room with religion. Oh no, my dears. We are not being locked into the room with you. You are being locked into the room with us.

  20. godskesen says

    It’s a sad state of superstitiously fuelled, religiously funded, accommodationist affairs that “anti-[name of sociologist]” should be a term for doing sociological science properly… But the numbers on that survey are heartening. If only people would pay attention and absorb what it really means about Britain.

  21. raven says

    There is a theory circulating in the scholarly communitiy that US xianity has already died and come back as a Zombie. It’s dead but lurching around looking for brains to eat.

    A lot of US xianity, the fundies, seem to be just right wing extremist politics with a few god stickers stuck on it for show.

    The fundies typically don’t know what is in the bible, have never read it, and their understanding of what xianity and the bible is comes from such theological powerhouses as Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Michele Bachmann, and the hordes of “send me money” vaguely humanoid toad leaders like Hagee, Parsley, Robertson, Jacobs, the self proclaimed New Apostles, and Dobson’s Focus on Hating Everybody.

    It’s certainly made no difference in their behavior. Fundies score low in IQ and education, and high in any social problem you care to look at.

    I haven’t quite decided whether this is correct or even if it is testable. Without thinking too hard on it, it does explain a lot such as the three sacraments of the fundies, hate, lies, and hypocrisy.

  22. Matt Penfold says

    Dawkins made the point that in the poll there was a multiple choice question with four possible answers (including Matthew) and only 35% of self-proclaimed Christians picked Matthew as the first book of the New Testament.

    Assuming they took the standard precaution of varying the order of the choices at random, then that is a pathetic result. A guess alone would tend towards 25%, so there are not many people who know their Bible in the UK.

  23. raven says

    We should ask ourselves how many people who happily claim to accept and understand the theory of evolution could give a decent account of it?

    False dichotomy.

    The Theory of Evolution is a scientific theory and has nothing to do with religion and nothing to say about how you live your life. It is equivalent in that regard to the Germ Theory of Disease, Quantum Mechanics, Relativity, or the Theory of Internal Combustion Engines.

    In point of fact, the majority of xians worldwide accept evolution and accept xianity, the two being by no means mutally exclusive.

    Xianity claims to be the way to salvation. Immortality in heaven rather than being tortured for all eternity in hell. According to xians and the magic book, the stakes are high here. That they have no idea what their magic book from god says is rather careless. Life for the xians is just an instant before eternity.

  24. Azkyroth says

    Hey, Europe: give us the Secularism technology and we’ll trade you the Real Grown-Up Free Speech Protections technology.

  25. dianne says

    we’ll trade you the Real Grown-Up Free Speech Protections technology.

    You may be overpromising.

  26. franko says

    To all of you making the point that evolutionary theory (or science in general) is not a religion, I fully agree. So yes, @AJS and @Sastra, the comparison between religious and evolutionary/scientific knowledge is less than fully appropriate. But many people I know personally latch on — in the most intellectually lazy way — to vague notions of being nice to other people, and they think this is christianity. How much we gain as atheists by enthusiastically pointing out to such folk that they’re perpetuating a piece of superstitious nonsense I’m not sure: they just don’t really care about it. Is that such a bad thing?

    An irony is that in Britain, technically a theocratic democracy with an established church, the majority of people in practice don’t give a stuff about religion. Compare the USA, with its long history of constitutional separation church and state, where a massive proportion of the population not only regard religion as essential; many of them seem unable to see anything unreasonable about the nonsense and sadism of the old testament.

  27. says

    Azkyroth,

    be careful what you wish for: in many European countries, there is no clear separation of church and state, and many church-affiliated employers, incl. schools and hospitals, are permitted to discriminate against employees on religious grounds.

    Also, even some commenters form the US have expressed their support for the restrictions on free speech many European countries indeed have.

  28. Moggie says

    Having skimmed the press releases (I haven’t yet read the full results), the headline figures for me are:

    Three quarters (74%) strongly agree or tend to agree that religion should not have special influence on public policy, with only one in eight (12%) thinking that it should.

    The Tories look longingly across the Atlantic at the large conservative Christian base, and would like to build their own easily manipulable zombie army. The figures suggest that there’s little support for that.

    As many as half (50%) do not think of themselves as religious.

    Half of Christians are not religious! Doesn’t that sound like the term “religious” has negative connotations, even for self-identified Christians? We’re winning that argument!

    Asked why they had been recorded as Christian in the 2011 Census, only three in ten (31%) said it was because they genuinely try to follow the Christian religion, with four in ten (41%) saying it was because they try to be a good person and associate that with Christianity.

    So, we’ve still got that “Christian = good person” cultural assumption going on. You want to be a good person, so you latch onto the brand associated with that. If we continue to publicise that you can be good without God, we should be able to eat into that 41%.

    Finally:

    But when asked where they seek most guidance in questions of right and wrong, only one in ten (10%) said it was from religious teachings or beliefs, with over half (54%) preferring to draw on their own inner moral sense.

    The churches like to shout about their moral leadership, but it looks like they’ve pretty much lost that. Only one in ten Christians look to religion for moral guidance, reducing the churches to the status of social clubs. This is the figure we need to throw in the face of every bishop trying to lay down the moral law: even among Christians, only one in ten is listening.

  29. cag says

    Matt #23

    Assuming they took the standard precaution of varying the order of the choices at random, then that is a pathetic result. A guess alone would tend towards 25%, so there are not many people who know their Bible in the UK.

    I believe that you meant fantastic rather than pathetic.

  30. RW Ahrens says

    Franko, this shows exactly how that separation from government helps religion hang on.

    Folks in Europe have had religion shoved in their faces as part of the government for a very long time. In many places the government even takes your tithe out of your paycheck.

    I can’t see any better way to make people despise something than to associate it with the government and the government’s power to enforce that relationship on the population.

    Which is what makes me wonder about the sanity and the intelligence of the folks in the US who are working towards a European style established church.

    Given the independent streak of Americans in many ways, I think that one of the quickest ways to marginalize religion in this country would be to make it mandatory!

    Folks, check out this web site:

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/rel_rate.htm

    Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance

    How many North Americans attend religious
    services (and how many lie about going)?

    I think the results of some of the studies they cite may surprise you.

  31. Matt Penfold says

    An irony is that in Britain, technically a theocratic democracy with an established church, the majority of people in practice don’t give a stuff about religion.

    Britain does not have an established church. England does, but you did not say England. Scotland has never had an established church, and Wales not for over 100 years. You excluded Northern Ireland of couse, since it is not part of Britain.

  32. says

    Given the appalling lack of knowledge I have seen among American self-declared Christians, I can’t help but wonder if the numbers are very different in the US.

    My question would therefore be: what right do we have to declare these people who so miserably fail, non-Christian?

  33. says

    My question would therefore be: what right do we have to declare these people who so miserably fail, non-Christian?

    The same as the study that declared atheists who weren’t miserable are secret Christians/theists.

    That’s the point.

  34. says

    The churches like to shout about their moral leadership, but it looks like they’ve pretty much lost that. Only one in ten Christians look to religion for moral guidance, reducing the churches to the status of social clubs.

    That is certainly something to be happy about. People who get their moral code from Bible and Church are very scary indeed.

  35. says

    The same as the study that declared atheists who weren’t miserable are secret Christians/theists.

    I would agree with that. Except, that they don’t, and that to me, is both predictable and puzzling.

  36. says

    @Bart

    the point is people declare their religion to be an important part of their identity, where they get their morals from and their sense of ethics.

    And yet most of them are so profoundly ignorant of their own religion it is staggering. The religion that they get hyper upset over if someone challengers. And they don’t know jack about it.

    That’s an important bit of data. That’s like finding out most electricians don’t know about alternating current or grounding. It’s like if most heart surgeons believed in humors.

  37. zmidponk says

    Speaking as someone who is British, this isn’t really news to me. It’s always struck me as extremely ironic that a country that actually has a written constitution that is practically worshipped as a Holy Text, which includes clauses that protect the idea of freedom of religion, seems to be actually more religious and more obsessed with religion than a country utterly lacking similar protections enshrined within a similarly revered document, and also has things like the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, which states that all pupils must partake in a ‘collective act of worship’ on every school day.

  38. says

    @Zmidponk

    You do have to understand some of the US’s history. You Europeans after all did export a lot of your loons of the day over here. Not surprisingly that their influence had long lasting effects on the culture.

  39. says

    We Are Ing:

    I agree completely and utterly. But it still puzzles me. I simply cannot understand how people can defend something of which they know little or nothing so fiercely and aggressively, to the point of killing others for it with great enthusiasm and yet be so almost completely ignorant or even misinformed.

    I see it being done all the time. I do not understand it. To me, this is insanity.

  40. raven says

    I simply cannot understand how people can defend something of which they know little or nothing so fiercely and aggressively, to the point of killing others for it with great enthusiasm..

    Much of religion, particularly in the USA is just a cover for the human drives for money, power, and sex.

    On a personal basis, a fair amount of religion is just a cover for mental illness.

  41. says

    Much of religion, particularly in the USA is just a cover for the human drives for money, power, and sex.

    On a personal basis, a fair amount of religion is just a cover for mental illness.

    I second both. The first is obvious enough when looking at the pop, archbishops and other assorted underlings. It is just as obvious when looking at such loving characters as Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson, John Hagee, Creflo Dollar…

    As for the second one, the thing that really creeps me out is that the DSM IV in relatively well-defined cases *explicitly* excludes religious delusion from being diagnosed as delusion. I realise that there are so many religious wingnuts out there that there would not be enough asylums for the mentally challenged to house them all, but from there to let these people run around free and undiagnosed is a very big step indeed.

    And as a result, we get to deplore the victims of such fine Christians as Vincent Li, Carlos Rico, Deanna Laney, Ria Ramkissoon…

  42. leonpeyre says

    We need a few more years to catch up with European enlightenment.

    I wish I shared your optimism about which way things are headed.

  43. raven says

    The DSM IV does some finessing to exclude religion as a mental illness.

    If you believe weird things that are not part of a group belief system, you are crazy.

    If you believe weird things that are part of a group belief system, you are religious.

    They don’t say it but if you believe weird things not part of a group belief system and convince a few others, then you are a prophet and founder of a..new religion.

    If you look at the known historical prophets, most of them have been pretty weird. Martin Luther was a hate filled, superstitious kook. Calvin was a moron and a homicidal maniac. Joseph Smith was an overage adolescent conman. David Koresh was David Koresh. Warren Jeffs is doing life + 20 years. Reverend Jim Jones didn’t do so well in Guyana. Reverend “Jesus the Second” Moon is pretty bizarre. Harold Camping was wrong three times.

    There might be some relatively normal prophets or cult founders but I can’t think of any off hand.

  44. says

    I suspect that a majority here aren’t just Christian, but pig-ignorant evangelical/fundamentalist-leaning Christian

    Preliminary data indicates that this is false, and I’m not sure why you’d suspect such a thing. Granted, non-evangelical/fundamentalist Christians still believe silly things, but that doesn’t make them evangelical or fundamentalist in the traditional sense of the terms.

  45. says

    @Raven

    You’re full of shit when it comes to mental illness.

    Religion does hide mental illness but most of the problems of it are due to just how the brain works, even your precious head meats.

    It’s tribalism and emotional indoctrination. Raven lay off the mental illness bullshit

  46. jdze says

    Half of Christians are not religious! Doesn’t that sound like the term “religious” has negative connotations, even for self-identified Christians? We’re winning that argument!

    When I used to believe in God, religion was a bad word in a way for me. At least the Pentecostals I know tend to draw a line between religion and a personal relationship with Jesus. They see the former as an institution that often stifles true growth in faith, while in the latter you dedicate your whole life to Jesus. In practice the True Faith (TM) seemed to equate to loud prayer sessions (Oh Jesus! Thank you, Jesus! Jesus, Jesus!) that were really awkward to listen to.

  47. says

    We Are Ing:
    You may be right, but my problem is this: Imagine person A kills person B because God told her/him so.

    How are you going to determine that this person did this because of “mental illness” or rather because of “indoctrination”?

    Is there truly a difference?

  48. says

    jdze:
    That is indeed what I see with those of the American Taliban that sometimes “discuss” with me. The interesting part is that they are just as dogmatic and inflexible in their claims as any institutionalised sect, perhaps even more so.

  49. says

    How are you going to determine that this person did this because of “mental illness” or rather because of “indoctrination”?

    Is there truly a difference?

    Yeah there is

  50. says

    Yeah there is

    OK then. Let’s assume that there is. How is one going to determine which of the two it is? Is it even possible? I am not talking about possible “in the future” since it seems rather probable that “in the future” we will be able to all sorts of things, but I am talking about now.

    When Vince Li killed his victim, he claimed God told him to do that. How would Vince Li himself be able to distinguish between this being the result of mental illness or the result of indoctrination?

    How would the rest of the world be able to distinguish between the two?

  51. seditiosus says

    Thanks for the link Richardelguru!

    Where I live, even in the small town shithole bastion of traditional values I grew up in, “religious” is often considered to be reasonably synonymous with “fundamentalist” (AKA social Kryptonite), so it could be that there’s a similar association in the UK and that this is why some UK xians are reluctant to identify as “religious”.

    This is an interesting study. I imagine results would be similar here in New Zealand, and that perhaps more Americans are census xians than the right wing wackjobs would like to believe. I know that in NZ there is a correlational relationship between religious affiliation and age: younger people are much less likely to identify as religious. (This is census data. I don’t have any information about people’s level of commitment.) So I’d love to know whether the RDF has analysed their data by participant age.

  52. says

    See there’s something called psychology and neurology and that sort of thing

    Yes, and? Are they not two aspects of the same coin? Psychology looks at the effects, neuroscience at the mechanisms. There is considerable overlap, because both are ultimately about the brain.

  53. says

    Yes, and? Are they not two aspects of the same coin? Psychology looks at the effects, neuroscience at the mechanisms. There is considerable overlap, because both are ultimately about the brain.

    reading comprehension fail. Ing was not trying to distinguish psychology and neurology, but rather suggest that those are the tools we can use to figure out whether a person was mentally ill or indoctrinated. Which also allows us to tell how to handle such a person; whether to put them on medication and therapy or not, for example. psych meds won’t do shit to alleviate indoctrination, you know.

  54. says

    Which also allows us to tell how to handle such a person; whether to put them on medication and therapy or not, for example. psych meds won’t do shit to alleviate indoctrination, you know

    I know that too, but while I would trust neuroscience to be able to detect the presence or absence of a relatively serious chemical imbalance, I am less than convinced that psychology would be able to do anything reliable here.

  55. avh1 says

    Hi there

    Long time lurker, first time commenter

    A comedian who writes novels over here, Chris Brookmyre, described Catholicism in Scotland as being a sort of pseudo-ethnicity. I think he was right but that you could expand that to cover how all religions are seen here in the UK (by those on the left at least).

    So yes Britain is technically more secular than the US in a lot of ways but criticism of religion is just as unpopular over here as it sounds like it is in the US.

  56. chrisdevries says

    Regarding the ongoing debate as to how few American Christians are actually familiar with their religion or active in Church and why, despite this, a majority of Americans strongly endorse that which they don’t understand (or misunderstand, having been mislead by various powerful people), I am reminded of a book I recently read, called The Authoritarians.

    In it, 25-30% of the American population is shown to be authoritarian followers, people who exhibit “sloppy reasoning,
    highly compartmentalized beliefs, double standards, hypocrisy, self-blindness, a profound ethnocentrism, and–to top it all off–a ferocious dogmatism that makes it unlikely anyone could ever change their minds with evidence or logic.” Its author, Bob Altemeyer, has studied the phenomenon for 40 years and published a myriad of papers and books on these people. Unsurprisingly, they are almost uniformly Christian fundamentalists.

    My question was always the chicken-and-egg problem: do the qualities of the authoritarian followers (eager submission to authority, tendency to aggressive behavior on behalf of that authority, and strong support of “traditional family values”) result from their Christian fundamentalism, or does fundamentalism merely thrive in the presence of these types of people. In other words, is fundamentalism the cause of, or an effect of authoritarianism?

    I am starting to see that authoritarianism is the real problem in about a third of the American “believing Christian” population. You won’t touch these people with evidence; in fact, studies show that they cling even harder to their position as evidence is presented to them against it. Our activities as outspoken atheists are therefore primarily reaching non-authoritarian religious people, those for whom truth can be approached with the scientific method.

    In one bit of good news however, studies also show that these authoritarian followers’ prejudice can be moderated if they get to know someone who is in the group to which that prejudice is directed. E.g. if they learn a friend of theirs is gay, they hate gays less. This should work with atheists too, meaning that we have to keep encouraging those closeted atheists in conservative places to open the door and step into the light. There is a tremendous long-term benefit.

    I cannot recommend this book enough; it is hugely explanatory, and in an evidential way, not just through opinions. There is a tonne of data supporting this perspective. It is available free, from the author, at:

    http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

  57. says

    avh1:

    So yes Britain is technically more secular than the US in a lot of ways but criticism of religion is just as unpopular over here as it sounds like it is in the US.

    I can’t help but suspect that it is more a “politeness” issue in Britain. In the US, it can be quite dangerous to criticise religion, especially the American Taliban type (the evangelicals who claim to believe in a 6,000-year-old earth, the literal truth of the Bible…)

  58. KG says

    Half of Christians are not religious! Doesn’t that sound like the term “religious” has negative connotations, even for self-identified Christians? – Moggie

    I don’t think so, though this is based only on experience of living in the UK, not on systematic data. I think most people would take “religious” to mean going to church/mosque/synagogue/whatever, praying regularly, etc. – primarily a behavioural term, IOW, and more or less neutral.

  59. gravityisjustatheory says

    KG says:
    15 February 2012 at 10:40 am

    Half of Christians are not religious! Doesn’t that sound like the term “religious” has negative connotations, even for self-identified Christians? – Moggie

    I don’t think so, though this is based only on experience of living in the UK, not on systematic data. I think most people would take “religious” to mean going to church/mosque/synagogue/whatever, praying regularly, etc. – primarily a behavioural term, IOW, and more or less neutral.

    Yes, I think that’s how most people (both believers and non-believers) would see it, and people who described themselves as Christians but not as religious probably mean they just aren’t heavy church-goers.

    There are some Christians on the evangelical wing who keep insisting that True Christianisty isn’t a religion, it’s a “personal relationship with Jesus”, and its just all the other religions (including false versions of Christianity like e.g. Catholicism) that are religions, but (speaking as a former Anglican) seems to be a fringe point of view.

    ***

    On the subject of established churches undermining religious belief, I’ve heard it claimed a lot of times, but don’t think it stands up to evidence.

    There have been a lot of established religions over the millenia that have been very good at both inspiring great devotion, and unleashing terror on dissidents (either directly, or by encouraging the devout to take matters into their own hands).

    And in its earlier centuries, the Church of England was responsible for a lot of bloody persecution, mainly directed against (a) Catholics, and (b) dissenting Protestants who thought the CofE was still too Catholic.

    I think what tamed the CofE was that it gradually came to view being an institution promoting national unity and support for the establisment (and providing solemnity at weddings, funerals, state occasions etc) as more important than enforcing specific dogma.

    Which has served it well for a long time, but I think now it has so watered down its doctrine in an attempt to be everything to everyone that it is pretty much an irrelivancy. (With the exception of a reactionary rump opposed to women bishops, gay marriage, etc, and who keep threatening to break away and join the RCC if they don’t get their way. Which just serves to make them look even more out of touch with the public).

    ***

    An irony is that in Britain, technically a theocratic democracy with an established church

    I’d dispute that. We’re a democratic technical monarchy with an established church, where some priests have a very small amount of influence in the political process, but no legislative or executive power.

    IMO a “theocratic democracy” would be something like Iran, where you can vote for any canditate thats the religious leadership allows to stand.

  60. avh1 says

    @64

    Apologies, I should have qualified that – there’s much less physical threat, but the verbal and written pushback is surprisingly similar given the different levels of religiosity. Just about all the various ‘shut up’ arguments get used, and the idea is assiduously promoted across just about every level of the media that atheists are ‘dogmatic’ and ‘fundamentalists’. From my (admittedly second-hand) knowledge of the US that doesn’t sound so very different.

  61. avh1 says

    Sorry, should have added that an example would be that no journalist would have tried the sort of ‘gotcha’ move that the OP mentioned the BBC pulling on Dawkins. The hypocrisy was also pretty clearly on display – this was an effort by him to justify his beliefs with evidence.

  62. Matt Penfold says

    Sorry, should have added that an example would be that no journalist would have tried the sort of ‘gotcha’ move that the OP mentioned the BBC pulling on Dawkins. The hypocrisy was also pretty clearly on display – this was an effort by him to justify his beliefs with evidence.

    The BBC did not pull the “gotcha”, it was the other person being interviewed.

  63. says

    avh1:

    Apologies not necessary. In the search for what is true or most plausible, we must be able to express all ideas, otherwise, the conclusion is not worth making.

    From my (admittedly second-hand) knowledge of the US that doesn’t sound so very different.

    Religionists also often claim that atheists never come with any new arguments. My question would then be if this is unexpected. The holy books are thousands of years old, and they have been debated ad nauseam in those years. Although I try to find ideas of my own, some Googling has always shown me that others have found the same argument as well.

    To me, it’s a bit like arguing that apples do not, as rule, fall upwards when talking about gravity, and having someone complain that gravitationalists never come up with new answers.

    I don’t know. It’s just an impression

  64. says

    avh1:

    Unfortunately, I seem to be unable to access the broadcast.

    Forgetting the full title of the seminal book for evolution may not have been Richard Dawkins’ most glorious moment, but we all have moments like that. I would not dream of taking advantage of such a moment in a Christian, but it won’t keep me from roasting her/him on the basis what he/she is defending, or trying to defend.

  65. TimKO,,.,, says

    I suspect that a majority here aren’t just Christian, but pig-ignorant evangelical/fundamentalist-leaning Christian.

    No way. They wouldn’t even be 10%. They’re just very vocal. Practicing Protestants are not a majority outside of the Bible Belt and Iowa.

  66. avh1 says

    @69
    Thank you.

    @70
    I stand corrected, it wasn’t the journalist who pulled the gotcha. I’m really not off to a very good start commenting here!

    @72
    It mostly just came across as pointlessly inconsequential – the debate wasn’t about evolution and even if it had been him not remembering a book’s subtitle wouldn’t have anything to do with whether evolution was oh say, *true*. It’d be like me claiming that the bible wasn’t true because somebody hadn’t pronounced one of the kings or disciples names properly.

    Anyway I should probably stop commenting because the thread is several days old, and I’m not contributing anything worthwhile.

  67. KG says

    We [UK]’re a democratic technical monarchy with an established church, where some priests have a very small amount of influence in the political process, but no legislative or executive power. gravityisjustatheory

    Not quite true: since the bishops in the House of Lords do vote on legislation, and hence have some legislative power.

  68. Matt Penfold says

    Not quite true: since the bishops in the House of Lords do vote on legislation, and hence have some legislative power.

    Only Bishops with a dioceses in England. The Anglican Bishops in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland do not get a seat. I am not sure how of the CofE justifies that bit of English nationalism.