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Press: FT’s data guy takes issue with Farage and co.

09 December 2022

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WHAT makes the FT the best paper in Britain is all the articles that it doesn’t publish. This is especially clear when opinion-peg stories come up, such as the Census (News, Press, 2 December). The comment pieces that result could soon be written entirely by computer — though not quite yet: when I asked the newest and most fashionable AI text-generation tool to write me a piece about God in the style of Polly Toynbee, it responded with a few paragraphs that ended “Polly Toynbee believes in God.”

So, it was a great refreshment to read John Burn-Murdoch, the FT’s data guy, on what the Census results actually told us. “Nigel Farage, former leader of the UK Independence party, recorded a hasty video from a union-jack-draped car seat, in which he said that ‘London, Birmingham and Manchester are all now minority-white cities’.

“Conservative commentator Douglas Murray, who has previously described London as having ‘become a foreign country’, echoed Farage in blaming the declining numbers of British Christians on immigration.

“But almost all of these claims are untrue, as even a cursory look at the data reveals.

“Farage and co must have been looking only at those who identify as both British and white. But if identifying as British is the key, why count only white Britons? (I think we know the answer.)”

“The religion claim is even more risible. The argument is that ‘mass immigration’ has hastened Christianity’s decline in Britain. Yet that decline has been driven overwhelmingly by white Britons, less than half of whom now say they are Christian, down from 69 per cent in 2011, a loss of about 7mn.

“If preserving the Christian faith is crucial to ‘saving’ Britain, then we should look to the country’s black population. Seventy-two per cent of this demographic are Christian, half a million more than in 2011. The non-British white community is also worth examining — 60 per cent are Christian, with a million added since the last census.”

This is, of course, a huge shift in the character of British Christianity, and an important religious story in its own right. It’s not good news for the Church of England. But neither does it it stand up the secularisation narrative at all.

The sociologist Eric Kaufmann (Features, 14 December 2018) wrote on UnHerd that “most parishioners in London, where Christianity is holding up best, are not White Brits. Consider the fact that in Brent — one of the two most ethnically diverse London boroughs, where White Britons form just 15% of the population — the number of Christians increased from 129,080 in 2011 to 131,914 in 2021. In Newham, the most diverse, Christianity also rose marginally, from 123,119 in 2011 to 123,746 in 2021. This rise is because of, not in spite of, ethnic change.”

I noticed last week the negligible size of the humanist or atheist sections in the Census, but missed the fact that these small numbers represented a complete collapse from 2011. The numbers of self-identifying humanists and atheists has dropped by 50 per cent, or 20,000, in ten years. When I posted about this on Twitter, the Humanists UK account replied that they had urged their followers to reply with “No religion” rather than calling themselves atheists, and that this message had reached “about 20 million pairs of eyes”.

 

THIS kind of domestic news and analysis almost overwhelmed the reports of Archbishop Welby’s trip to Kyiv (News, 2 December). But not since the Second World War, and perhaps not since the First, has any Archbishop of Canterbury sounded quite so enthusiastic about a war, and so convinced that it is just and must be won — and that this will take a very long time. As it happens, I agree with him. But it is almost certain that he will get no credit whatsoever from the people complaining that the Church does not give a clear moral lead on anything.

 

ON A completely different note, I was greatly struck by a debate in the Stockholm newspaper Dagens Nyheter about whether an intellectual can be a Christian. When I lived there 40 years ago, the question could not even have been asked; but pendulums swing, and Christianity is now apparently the fashionable stance among the intelligentsia.

 

IN OTHER foreign news, Elle Hardy, the Australian journalist who brought out a good book on Pentecostalism last year (Press, 19 November 2021), wrote on UnHerd about the prosperity gospel and its descent from the 19th-century New Thought movement, which gave us Christian Science, via Norman Vincent Peale and the power of positive thinking. The kicker was her contention that the prosperity gospel makes sense in places such as Brazil: “Research in Latin America has found that people who have experienced poverty, violence and addiction have a greater chance of escaping those cycles by joining an evangelical church. In Brazil, researchers found that when the GDP goes down, attendance at evangelical churches increases, and that the support networks available at those churches further support a politics that says people should seek a hand up, and not a hand out.”

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