BELIEF in God in the UK continues to lag a long way behind the United States, a new study suggests. In the US, 61 per cent of those surveyed said that they had “no doubt” that God existed; in the UK, the percentage was just 17. In the US, just four per cent said that they were not religious at all: they don’t believe in God, attend religious services, or even identify with a religion; in the UK the percentage was 31.
The figures come in a paper by David Voas and Rodney Ling, to be published in British Social Attitudes: The 26th report, to be released on 27 January. The US figures are based on the American General Social Survey 2008; the UK ones come from the 2008 British Social Attitudes survey, which interviewed 4486 people.
The authors suggest a significant decline in religious practice in the UK. “Over the last quarter of a century, the number of people describing themselves as Christian has dropped from 66 per cent to 50 per cent.”
The Church of England has suffered the biggest fall, they state, from 40 per cent in 1983 to 23 per cent in 2008. Of those who identified themselves as Anglicans in the interviews, fewer than one fifth attend a service once a month or more; half never attend. Some of these make up the category “fuzzy faithful”, who do not act on their stated belief.
The full survey material is not yet available, and Prebendary Lynda Barley, head of research for the Archbishops’ Council, expressed some doubt about the findings. “In surveys about belief, the wording of the question is all-important. If you ask: ‘Do you belong to a Church, the Anglican Church, the Baptist Church, etc.?’ you will get one figure. People in the 21st century are not membership-oriented. The voluntary sector, political parties, all are suffering because people no longer join things, and the Church is caught up in this.
“If, on the other hand, you ask: ‘Do you regard yourself as a Christian, an Anglican, etc.?’ you get a consistently higher figure. This is the form of question asked in the 2001 UK Government Census, and independent surveys continue to confirm its finding that seven people in ten describe themselves as Christian.
“It’s not that there isn’t a decline in religious adherence; but we know that half of people continue to regard themselves as Anglican, and so these new figures appear to overstate that decline.”
Prebendary Barley also suggested that the Anglican decline at the end of the 20th century had virtually halted. “Local church counts of worshippers for the last nine years record 1.7 million Church of England worshippers each month in each year.”
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