Is Britain losing its religion?


A recent poll found that Britain sits as one of the least religious countries in the world. In a global ranking of 65 nations, just a third of British participants polled identified any religious belief, compared to 53 per cent who stated they were “not religious,” just 13 per cent self-identitifed as atheists with the others unable to provide a definitive answer. A result that ranks the nation six from last.

But what does the data actually tell us? The framing of the question is problematic and obscures any nuanced understanding of religious and non-religious belief. Binaries do not provide any real insight into the religious makeup of a nation, or the cultural, economic, political, and educational factors that potentially influence religiosity (or lack thereof).

For adherents, religion goes beyond the simple noun, as it influences a sense of self, a moral standpoint or reflects a cultural upbringing. A ‘convinced atheist’ also simplifies the fluidity of belief. This fluidity reflects various socio-economic and cultural considerations that will change with time. The methodology reveals that British participants carried out the poll online. Would a direct interaction influence a sense of religious identity away from a simple mouse click?

A blurring of cultural-religious norms potentially influences a more cultured (and less traditional) sense of religious identity.

To some, religion invokes the very worst of human behaviour, from criminals and terrorists claiming to act on behalf of, or indeed influenced by various tenets of their ascribed religion. So the very question potentially frames belief in negativity. Others simply hold spiritual beliefs but reject traditional forms of religion.

Nor is it fair to claim that a lack of formal education draws a person towards religion. Just 16 individuals indentified as having no formal education (or a basic level of education). Of that the split, 6 were religious, 5 non-religous and 4 indentified as atheist. At the highest level of education, the poll found a higher number of religious individuals (38 individuals or 36 per cent) compared to 21 atheists (or one fifth).

But neither point is particularly useful as the data simply does not interrogate the factors that influence belief outside the structures of education acheivement.

One rigid opinion poll question will not accurately capture the complexities of religious (and non-religious) belief as it reductively assumes, rather incorrectly, that beliefs are so readily compartmentalised.