Decline of religious belief in the UK

Feria VI infra Octavam Ascensionis

The decline of religious belief in the UK is a matter of concern, as highlighted by recent reports. A newly published report, commissioned four years ago by then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson, cites a profound need for improving Britons’ knowledge of religion in general and for protecting faith in an increasingly secularized landscape. According to The Bloom Review: An independent review into how government engages with faith, only 38% of the population believes in God, and there is a lack of religious knowledge among the British population. This trend is deeply disturbing, as it affects the social fabric of our society.

In the UK, a random probability sample of 3056 adults was analysed from March to September 2020, of whom 1645 were from England, 523 from Scotland, 437 from Wales, and 446 from Northern Ireland. This data was measured against 24 other countries and compared with results from 1981. The report surveyed more than 21,000 people, more than half of whom said they believe that freedom of religion is under threat in the U.K. This view was held by Christians more than any other group, with 68% saying that people were penalized for being open about their faith in the workplace.

The Bloom Review published by the British government, stresses the significance of religious education in schools and promotes interfaith dialogue as a means of building a cohesive and inclusive society. The report notes that religious literacy is essential to understanding the diversity of beliefs and practices present in contemporary society. According to the Bloom Review, increased engagement with religious communities is necessary to this goal. The report cites several examples of successful interfaith initiatives, including the Near Neighbours program, which promotes community cohesion by bringing together people of different faiths to work on local projects (Bloom Review, 2023). Additionally, the report recommends improving the quality of religious education in schools by providing training for teachers and developing a national framework for religious education (Bloom Review, 2023).

The lack of religious knowledge is not just limited to the British population but also extends to the United States. The Pew Forum’s religious knowledge survey Who Knows What About Religion found that only 2% of their respondents answered 29 or more questions correctly, indicating a lack of basic religious education. The survey covered topics such as the Bible, Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, world religions, religion in public life, and atheism and agnosticism. This highlights the need for better religious education not only in schools but also in society as a whole.

The lack of religious knowledge among the British population is also highlighted in a report by Church Times that states that only 6% of the population can name all four Gospels. This highlights the need for better religious education in schools. In 1981, three-quarters of the surveyed UK adults said that they believed in God, compared with just under half (49 per cent) in 2022. Just five countries had a lower percentage of belief in God: China (17 per cent), Sweden (35 per cent), Japan (39 per cent), South Korea (41 per cent), and Norway (46 per cent).

The latest British Social Attitudes Survey 2021 showed that the share of the population belonging to no religion had continued to grow, then standing at 53%, with 12% Anglicans, 7% Catholics, 18% other Christians, and 9% all other religions. It also showed that the share of non-religious people will continue to rise over the coming decades, with some 68% of 18-24 year olds saying they belong to no religion, versus just 18% saying they are Christians – including 0.7% saying they are Anglicans. The Church of England has experienced the largest decline in affiliation, halving from 40% to 20%. BSAS report suggests generational replacement is the main reason for this change as younger generations are less religious than older ones. The British Social Attitudes survey is considered as a credible source for measuring religious belief in British society.

The Bloom Review highlights that the lack of religious knowledge is not confined to Christianity alone but extends to other religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. This presents a clear need for a better understanding of religion and its role in society. Religious education can be a great tool to promote mutual respect and understanding among different faiths and cultures. By learning about different religions and their beliefs, people can develop a better of the world around them. This can ultimately lead to a more tolerant and accepting society, where people from different backgrounds come together to build a better future.

The Bloom Review calls for increased involvement of religious groups in the public sphere, and Archbishop Lloyd’s work in his local community has been particularly focused on this area in recent years. Formerly Chair of Trustees of Brighton & Hove Faith in Action, and as a trustee of the Racial Harassment Forum Brighton & Hove, he continues to work towards building bridges between different faith communities and promoting social cohesion. His membership of the Brighton & Hove Local Education Authority’s Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE) enables him to speak to the condition, content and standard of religious education in schools locally. ✠Jerome believes passionately that such efforts are an essential witness to the inherent truth of Christianity and to dispelling ignorance of the important contribution religion makes to society and community.

There is no clear consensus on why religion has declined in the UK. However, the Bloom Review report recommends improving religious education, promoting interfaith dialogue, and increasing engagement with religious communities. The Bloom report claims that Christianity is being marginalized and discriminated against in society. This resonates with the British Foreign Office’s 2019 commissioned report on Christian persecution globally revealing that around a quarter of a billion Christians across the world are suffering persecution, with reports indicating the problem is worsening. Anglican Bishop Philip Mounstephen’s recommendations to the Foreign Office included imposing sanctions against religious human rights abusers and having more detailed policy regarding anti-Christian persecution. Colin Bloom’s report on religion and the state in Britain, suggests that the government needs to intervene more to weed out oppression, violence, and radicalization in religious settings.

Aside from the recommendations made to the Government and institutional strategies to counter religious indifference and ignorance, ✠Jerome is convinced that Christians themselves need to become bolder in witnessing to the Gospel in our communities. He firmly believes that British Christians themselves need to comprehend and appreciate that they are no longer an influential majority in Britain and avail themselves more of the protections and advantages that recent equalities legislation now provides. It can no longer be assumed that even major festivals in our Christian cultural tradition like Christmas and Easter are understood by the majority of British people anymore. From day to day interactions in a variety of settings, the Archbishop is constantly made aware of the ignorance of people about the most fundamental of Christian beliefs or naive assumptions made about our religion.

However, ✠Jerome also believes all these reports demonstrate there is an opportunity as well as a need identified here for a revival of orthodox Christianity in British society. By no longer labouring under the assumption that a latent or residual cultural influence exists in contemporary British society, Christians should evangelise by focusing on the core teachings of the Christian faith. This would involve a renewed emphasis on the Bible and the gospel message, rather than cultural traditions or an attempt to adapt Christian beliefs to fit with contemporary secular values. By doing so, orthodox Christians could offer a clear distinct message that differs from the surrounding culture and provides a compelling alternative to the relativistic and individualistic values of modern society. In this sense, the challenges posed by secularism and the decline of Christianity in Britain offer an opportunity for revitalization of the faith, one that can bring new life to Christian communities and help to share the transformative power of the gospel with others.

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