Youth in the United Kingdom are among the least religious in post-Christian Europe, with some 70 percent self-identifying as having “no religion,” according to a new report.
Religion in Europe is “moribund,” said Stephen Bullivant, the author of a report titled Europe’s Young Adults and Religion. “With some notable exceptions, young adults increasingly are not identifying with or practising religion,” said Bullivant, a professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University in London.
“The new default setting is ‘no religion,’ and the few who are religious see themselves as swimming against the tide,” he said.
The report analyzes data from the latest European social survey of 16- to 29-year-olds across 21 nations in Europe, plus Israel.
While British youth are irreligious across the board, the Church of England has suffered particularly noteworthy losses.
Young Muslims in the UK are poised to overtake Anglicans, with the youth population of Britain’s established church only one percentage point ahead of Islam, at 7 percent and 6 percent respectively. Given Muslims’ significantly higher birthrate than that of Anglicans, it shouldn’t be long before more young British self-identify as Muslim than as Anglican.
The number of young Catholics has already passed that of the Church of England, with some ten percent of British between the ages of 16 and 29 professing the Catholic faith.
Not only are UK youth less likely to be affiliated with any religion, they also seldom pray, the report found. Among 16- to 29-year-olds, approximately two-thirds (63 percent) say they “never pray,” another 19 percent say they pray “less than once a week” and the remaining 18 percent say they pray once a week or more.
“Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good – or at least for the next 100 years,” Bullivant said.
While many young Europeans are still baptized, he said, a good number of these “never darken the door of a church again.”
“Cultural religious identities just aren’t being passed on from parents to children,” he said. “It just washes straight off them.”
According to Bullivant, while churches like the Church of England are losing members among the less actively religious, they are holding on to a fervent core of believers.
“In 20 or 30 years’ time, mainstream churches will be smaller, but the few people left will be highly committed,” he said.
In this regard, what is happening in the UK finds parallels in the United States as well.
Analysing recent scholarship, Glenn T. Stanton observed that while moderate religion is slipping in the United States, intense religious belief and practice, especially among Christians, is holding strong and even increasing.
Churches in America, too, will have smaller congregations in the future, but they will be more highly engaged with the faith.
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