The new portrait of a much less Christian population could have profound implications in Britain, as the Church of England is deeply entwined with British traditions and government.
King Charles III May Bring New Approach to ‘Defender of the Faith’
The British monarch, now King Charles III, is the ‘defender of the faith’ and ‘supreme governor of the Church of England’, and 26 church bishops sit in the House of Lords of Parliament, where they pass laws.
Tens of thousands of Anglican churches still dot the landscape of Britain, where ‘pub and parish’ have traditionally been at the heart of village life. But many of these churches are struggling.
The government’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed on Tuesday that 46 per cent of the population in England and Wales (27.5 million people) described themselves as ‘Christian’ in 2021, up from 59 per cent (33.3 million people) in 2011.
“No religion” was the second most common response, rising to 37 percent (22.2 million people) from 25 percent (14.1 million) in 2011. Figures for Scotland will follow later.
“We have left behind the era when many people almost automatically identified as Christians,” the Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell said in a statement to the census.
Cottrell saw the numbers not as a defeat but certainly as a challenge, adding that “other surveys consistently show how the same people are still searching for spiritual truth and wisdom and a set of values to live by.”
He went on to say that “it is no great surprise that the census shows that fewer people in this country identify as Christians than in the past, but it still presents us with a challenge not only to trust that God will bring his kingdom will build on earth. but also to play our part in making Christ known.”
In their census report, the ONS researchers wrote that there were many factors that could contribute to Britain’s changing religious makeup, “such as different patterns of ageing, fertility, mortality and migration.”
Answering the census was voluntary and the question was broad: “what is your religion?” Experts warned that many respondents may have religious views or spiritual beliefs that are not reflected in the survey.
However, the census findings are visible to anyone attending a Sunday service in England. Congregation numbers have fallen in many settings and attendance has been skewed by the elderly. And in major cities, many meetinghouses have been converted into community and art centers, concert halls, and even apartments.
Analysis of Church of England data by the Telegraph newspaper found that 423 churches closed between 2010 and 2019.
The same data shows that 940 churches were closed between 1987 and 2019. The total number of surviving churches was about 15,500, the paper reported.
The census revealed more changes.
There were increases in the number of people describing themselves as Muslim (from 4.9 percent to 6.5 percent) and as Hindu (from 1.5 percent to 1.7 percent). Britain’s new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, is Hindu. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is a Muslim.
Andrew Copson, the CEO of Humanists UK, said in a statement: “These results confirm that the biggest demographic change in England and Wales over the last decade has been the dramatic growth of the non-religious. They mean that the UK is almost certainly one of the least religious countries on earth.”
Copson’s group advocates decoupling religion in Britain, from the House of Lords to the classrooms, where a third of England’s state schools are Christian.
“No state in Europe has such a religious structure as we do in terms of law and public policy, while at the same time having such a non-religious population,” Copson said, adding that the figures “should be a wake-up call.” must be”. call that gives rise to new reconsiderations of the role of religion in society.
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Reflecting those changes, Charles reaffirmed his role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England on his ascension, but also said: “I am bound to respect those who follow other spiritual paths, as well as those who try to live their lives in accordance with secular ideals.”
The falling number of people in England and Wales who claim to be Christian follows wide-ranging inquiries into religious practice in Western Europe, where the Vatican in Rome has served as the heart of the Catholic faith and Germany was the original source of Protestant Christianity .
A 2018 Pew Research Center poll found that while the vast majority of adults in Western Europe say they have been baptized, today 71 percent describe themselves as Christian and 22 percent attend services monthly.