More than half of British people believe that religion does more harm than good a recent poll has found. Twenty percent of people describing themselves as “very religious” also agreed with that statement. Less than a quarter of those surveyed believe that faith is a force for good.
The poll, by Survation for the Huffington Post, found that just eight percent of Britons describe themselves as very religious, whereas more than 60 percent said they were not at all religious. The results suggest that millions of people in the UK who describe themselves as belonging to a faith do not practice it. The last census of England and Wales, taken in 2011, found that 59.3 percent of the population described themselves as Christian, 4.8 percent Muslim, and 0.5 percent Jewish.
One quarter reported to the census that they were of no religion, up from 14.8 percent in 2001; conversely the number of self-proclaimed Christians dropped over the decade from 71.7 percent in 2001.
The results support the well documented secularisation of British society. What is perhaps less expected is the tendency to think of atheists as more moral than theists. One in eight people thought that atheists tend to be more moral, compared with less half that number who thought that atheists were less moral. Fifty-five percent said that atheists are just as likely as theists to be moral people.
“This confirms something I’ve found in my own surveys and which leads me to conclude that religion has become a ‘toxic brand’ in the UK,” said Linda Woodhead, professor of the sociology of religion at Lancaster University. “What we are seeing is not a complete rejection of faith, belief in the divine, or spirituality, though there is some to that, but of institutional religion in the historic forms which are familiar to people.”
She also ascertained a pattern of religion failing to reflect the liberal society, based on tenets of “equality and diversity”, which Britain has become. Whilst placing some of the blame with sex scandals involving religious figures and religious conflict in the middle east, “I’d add religious leaderships’ drift away from the liberal values, equality, tolerance, diversity,” she said, which are “embraced by many of their own followers and often championed by non-religious and atheist people more forcefully.”
In this light, the polls findings can be seen as further evidence of the increasing entrenchment of left wing thought in the minds of the British public and the concurrent abandonment of conservative values.
Edmund Burke, the great 18th Century British statesman commonly thought of as the father of conservatism, was staunch in his belief in religion as a moral force for good.
William F. Byrne, Associate Professor of Government and Politics at St. John’s University (NY) has written of Burke “For Burke, religion was the “first prejudice.” That is, religious presumptions are foundational to virtue, morality, and a good society. Most notably, he emerged as a defender of England’s church establishment, believing that this discouraged “fraud and violence and injustice and tyranny” in government.
“Burke had a deep sense of the sacred, and he understood that it is vital that we recognize that our whims–experienced either singly or collectively–do not set the standards of right and wrong.”
However, the trend may not be set to continue indefinitely. Younger people were more likely to say that they were very religious, with 14.9 percent of those aged 25-34 identifying with that description, against just 3.9 percent of those aged 55-64. And just over half of those aged 25-34 counted themselves as not religious, compared to more than two thirds of 55-64 year olds.
Opinions were more split amongst younger people on whether religion was a force for good or not, with 29.1 percent of 18-24 year olds saying it was, whilst 33.8 percent said it did more harm. 37.1 percent were not sure.
The data was collected between 31st October and 1st November, with a sample size of 2,004 people.