Is Britain really ceasing to be a Christian country?

The decline in religious belief has become precipitous in recent years

A landmark in national life has just been passed. For the first time in recorded history, those declaring themselves to have no religion have exceeded the number of Christians in Britain. Some 44 per cent of us regard ourselves as Christian, 8 per cent follow another religion and 48 per cent follow none. The decline of Christianity is perhaps the biggest single change in Britain over the past century. For some time, it has been a stretch to describe Britain as a Christian country. We can more accurately be described now as a secular nation with fading Christian institutions.

There is nothing new in the decline of the church, but until recently it had been a slow decline. For many decades it was possible to argue that while Christians were eschewing organised religion, they at least still regarded themselves as having some sort of spiritual life which related to the teachings of Jesus. Children were asked for their Christian name; conversations ended with ‘God bless’. Such phrases are now slipping out of our vocabulary — to wear a cross as jewellery is seen as making a semi-political statement. Christians are finding out what it’s like to live as a minority.

Just 15 years ago, almost three quarters of Britons still regarded themselves as Christians. If this silent majority of private, non-churchgoing believers really did exist, it has undergone a precipitous decline. Five years ago, the number of people professing no religion was only 25 per cent.

Remarkably, the overall decline of religion in Britain has coincided with the arrival of three million migrants who tend to have more religious belief than British Christians. In particular, the visual impact of Islam, most obviously expressed in the proposal for a 9,000-capacity ‘super-mosque’ in east London that was rejected by planners last year, might give the impression that migration has brought a religious revival to Britain. Yet neither the growth of British Islam nor the huge influx of Christian immigrants from Africa and Eastern Europe has spurred a revival in public Christianity.

It is possible that the rise of Islamism has made casual believers less inclined to ally themselves with any kind of organised faith. Say ‘religious’ to many Britons and the next word that pops into their heads is ‘extremist’, or perhaps ‘bigot’ or ‘homophobe’. To the growing population of secularists, religion has become something to be treated with suspicion. Politicians who are religious find their faith used against them. Iain Duncan Smith’s Department of Work and Pensions was known by his critics as the Department of Worship and Prayer, the joke being that his reforms were inspired by a desire to save lives rather than money. In government, to be a Christian can be seen as a personal failing. The ambitious minister keeps his or her faith under wraps. It is unthinkable now that a Prime Minister would do as Mrs Thatcher did on arrival in Downing Street 37 years ago, and quote St Francis of Assisi. All Cameron has dared to say, quoting Boris Johnson, is that his faith comes and goes like the reception of Magic FM in the Chilterns.

The eclipsing of our national religion has deep implications for those who do retain faith, especially those who wish to pass it on to their children. They must now face the reality that they, no less than Muslims, Jews and Hindus, face being treated as oddballs.

As for the church itself, it is no use pretending there is a Christian majority whose non-attendance at church is just down to laziness. If church leaders wish to keep their buildings open, they will have to start from the beginning — with missionary work to recruit parishioners in a now-sceptical country.

Inevitably, the question of what is to be done about our national Christian institutions will arise. Is it appropriate that we are still invited to swear on the Bible in court? (Many new MPs routinely refuse to do this in the Commons.) Is it right that the Lords Spiritual should still have a role in the Upper House, or that church and state should have any formal connection at all? The British regard for tradition will see that such roles are preserved, but for nostalgic reasons. The aesthetics of Christianity — the architecture, the choral singing and so on — still pull in crowds, even if little of the liturgy is inwardly digested.

Christians, for their part, should not automatically associate a decline in religiosity with a rise in immorality. On the contrary, Britons are midway through an extraordinary period of social repair: a decline in teenage pregnancies, divorce and drug abuse, and a rise in civic-mindedness.

We cannot discount the possibility of a Christian revival; the Christian faith specialises in defying the odds. But it seems more likely that Britain will continue to muddle along as a post-Christian country with quaint customs that derive from its history as a deeply religious country. Some will find this sad, others as a sign of progress, but the greater majority will view it with indifference.


2 Comments on Is Britain really ceasing to be a Christian country?

  1. Michael Pearson // August 6, 2016 at 9:37 pm // Reply

    People believe what their taught. There are as many Buddhists as there are Christians, and most never attend a Sunday service. Since the introduction of eastern philosophy, many people who had been subjected to Western organized Religions, have found out that
    a lot of what Lao Tzu, Confucius, Krishna, Mohammed, & . many other prophets had to say, was just as important as what can be found in the Bible. The one thing that baffles me is,
    all of these philosophies are thousands of years old. Things change! As a matter of fact, change is the only constant, and we must learn to change with the times.
    This is not 4,000 years ago. I’ll agree, much of what the Bible has to offer is timeless. But not all that had written that long ago , applies today.
    There’s also a bunch of information which has been released, & discovered recently that cannot be ignored.
    The historical fact that , if not for Constantine , a pagen emperor of Rome,
    who used an insignificant, extremely small & unorganized belief system to
    reunify Rome. A political & wise decision.
    I don’t think Constantine thought his strategic planning would be as successful as it turned out to be.
    These are the things that shake people’s
    faith. The very foundation of Christianity
    was based on , & promoted by a Pagan
    Emperor ( who converted to Christianity by being baptized on his death bed).
    Many people believe, just because they are told to believe. Usually by someone
    they trust.A parent, relative, close friend.
    I call organized Religions ” Un-Subs”.
    Unsubstantiated Belief Systems.
    There’s no tangible proof. Only very old Scriptures. I’ve offen wondered what it is
    that gives these old Stories authenticity.
    Is it because thier old?
    I don’t disbelieve, nor do I believe!
    I don’t know!!!


    • Thanks for your contribution Michael.

      The problem is that Jesus Christ never instituted the organised religion promoted by Constantine. Most people labelling themselves Christians are following man-made doctrines very far from the simple teaching of Christ. Unfortunately many people are deceived as they do not take the time to read the bible.
      Nowadays, many people have their faith shaken because they realised that Constantine mixed the gospel with pagan beliefs. However it is essential to understand that Jesus came to restore the relation between man and God, and not to establish a religion called Christianity, Catholicism or Protestantism…

      I understand your confusion and the fact that you don’t know if you should believe or not. The good news is that God will reveal Himself to you if you search Him with all your heart. You do not need to go to a specific place (church, temple…) but truly search Him in your secret place and you will discover if He is alive or not.

      May God bless and surprise you!


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