The UK has released the results of its most recent census of England and Wales and it shows a sharp drop in the number of people who call themselves religious (from 72% in 2001 to 59% in 2011) and a corresponding rise in those who ticked the ‘no religion’ box, from 14% to 25%.
As Richard Dawkins points out, even those figures for religion may be overstated because the question was poorly worded.
The exhilaratingly high figure of 25 per cent for non-believers – far more than any group except Christians – would be even higher if the census question on religion had been more intelligently framed. If they had asked “Do you have a religion?” instead of “What is your religion?”, polling data from the British Social Attitudes Survey confirms commonsense: the numbers of nonbelievers would have been massively higher. Non-belief is not a religion, and it is insulting to frame a question that presumes that everyone has a religion, in the same way as they have an age and a sex.
What I found interesting is that the Richard Dawkins Foundation commissioned its own poll that asked people who had checked the ‘Christian’ box some very specific questions in order to better gauge the depth of their religiosity. Only 32% of them believed in the resurrection of Jesus, which is the central tenet of their faith, and only 10% turned to religion when faced with a moral dilemma, so it is not clear what being a Christian means to them.
Interestingly, the largest number of nonreligious was around 42% and found in Brighton and Norwich. Why there? The Guardian points out that these areas are student enclaves. The 2012 British Social Attitudes Survey released in September found that a staggering 65% of those in the 18-24 age group professed no religion, compared with 18% among those over 75. All these add to the evidence that religion is losing its hold on the young and faces a dim future.