People who have no religion now outstrip Christians in England and Wales, as those brought up within the faith are falling away, new analysis of religious beliefs in the two countries has found.
The proportion of people who consider themselves to have no religion at all, referred to as ‘nones’, reached 48.5 percent in 2014, soaring up from nearly half that, 25 percent, in 2011 according to the census results of that year.
Meanwhile those who affiliate with a Christian denomination, whether Anglican, Catholic or another strain, numbered 43.8 percent of the population in 2014, the Guardian has reported.
London had the smallest proportion of people identifying as ‘nones’ at 40 percent, but also had a larger proportion of non-Christian religious groups.
Five regions – Eastern, South-west, Yorks/Humberside, North-east and Wales – had an overall majority of ‘nones’, with Wales topping the chart with 59.5 percent of people saying they had no religion.
“The striking thing is the clear sense of the growth of ‘no religion’ as a proportion of the population,” said Stephen Bullivant, senior lecturer in theology and ethics at St Mary’s Catholic University in Twickenham, who identified the trend while analysing data collected via the British Social Attitudes surveys.
“The main driver is people who were brought up with some religion now saying they have no religion. What we’re seeing is an acceleration in the numbers of people not only not practising their faith on a regular basis, but not even ticking the box. The reason for that is the big question in the sociology of religion.”
His figures showed that both the Catholic and Anglian churches were declining as people brought up in the denominations drifted away. Four in ten birth Anglicans have renounced their faith to become ‘nones’, and nearly as many Catholics have done likewise.
And neither church is replenishing their following; Anglicans lose 12 followers for every person they recruit, which Catholics lose 10. Meanwhile the majority of new recruits are coming over from other denominations rather than being converted to the religion. “There’s a kind of denominational musical chairs,” said Bullivant. “No one is making serious inroads into the non-Christian population.”
Although the data did not encompass Scotland, a separate Scottish Attitudes Survey found last month that the majority of Scots – 52 percent – now consider themselves as of no religion, up from 40 percent in 1999.
The Church of Scotland has responded by floating ideas for baptisms to be conducted over the internet in a bid to make it easier for people to join.
“We are living in an age when some of the old rules are fast becoming redundant and, as a result, the [committee] believes that it is time for the Church to undertake a wide ranging review of practice and procedure which is impacted by the use of new technology in church life,” a committee paper presented to the Church’s General Assembly read.
“As fewer people join up in the traditional sense and as they make choices which include ever greater interaction with the Church through online access and social media, questions arise about online membership and even about access to the sacraments while not being physically present in the congregation,” it continued.
The Church of England has similarly responded to downward congregational trends by proposing ‘modern’ solutions.
It’s annual attendance survey showed in February that congregations are set to halve over the next thirty years to just over 400,000, equivalent to a mere one percent of the population.
The church reacted by accusing itself of institutional racism and kick-starting it’s ‘Renewal and Reform’ agenda, designed to recruit 6,000 new vicars with the emphasis on women and ethnic minorities.
A program to fast track Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) clergy into positions of responsibility is already under way.