Today we learn that the analysis of the 2011 Census for England and Wales shows the number of people in the countries expressing no religious affiliation at all at a record level of 25%. That’s doubled since the last census in 2001. Unfortunately, comparative statistics from the census in Scotland are not yet available, but I’d be surprised not to see a similar trend.
The results show 59.3% of the population describing themselves as Christian, a figure which was anticipated in February by the Ipsos MORI research published by the Richard Dawkins Foundation. That research suggested an outcome of 54% who would express a Christian affiliation, so pretty close to the census result. The interesting thing about the research conducted by Ipsos MORI was the detailed responses given by people who stated that they’d identified themselves as Christians in the census. Highlights:
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.
Indeed, many Christian practices, including regular reading of the Bible and prayer outside church services, appear to be unsupported amongst respondents self-identifying as Christian.
So the true level of Christian affiliation in the sense that the churches would like – creed-believing, praying, worshipping (and preferably tithing) are a vanishingly-small proportion of the population of England and Wales. Remember, that England is the only one of the four countries in the UK in which the Anglican church is established, or has special privileges as the state church. Remember also, that the UK has it in common with Iran in that it has unelected clerics in its national institutions of government, but that’s just a digression.
So, we come back to this present stooshie about abandoning the restriction of civil marriage rights to heterosexual couples only, and the obstinate refusal of religious bodies to wake up and smell the zeitgeist. Today, the UK’s Culture Secretary Maria Miller said that the Church of England and Church in Wales will be banned in law from offering same-sex marriages.
The problem here is not, as you might expect me to say, having established churches in the countries of the UK, but giving them rights to conduct civil marriages wrapped up inside their religious ceremonies. That’s the nub of the problem here. Religious bodies then claim rights to interfere in the administration of what is a civil contract, the terms and availability of which are determined for the greater public and social good by civil authorities, and stamp their feet when the civil authorities act in a more moral, loving and inclusive manner than they are prepared to themselves.
As Jesus said, “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. The answer is simple; remove the right to conduct and register civil marriages from religious bodies, as is the case in France. Churches, mosques, synagogues, ashrams and covens can then conduct whatever religious ceremonies they want to for whomsoever they want, without it being of the least consequence to the majority of the people in this country.
Disestablishment can come later – and it must – but this one’s easy to fix.