Measuring the number of people who are religious is a bit of a tricky job. We can be pretty sure that there are people who don’t believe in God or myths or any supernatural business. We can also be sure that there also people who, say, believe in the literal truth of the Bible, that God has stuck around after the creation business and intervenes in our lives now and then. But what about the rest – the majority of people? Continue reading
The Church of England website Religious Intelligence reports that the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev Graham Dow, (yes he who blamed Britain’s floods this year on pro-gay legislation) is now suggesting that the tragic murder of Liverpool schoolboy Rhys Jones is the direct result of the country’s low religiosity.
In an open letter to his diocese he wrote that
“the Government has highlighted respect as a key issue which our society faces in the hope that this will bring about change. But respect will not come just by talking about it….I was in discussion recently about these issues with someone who declared herself to be an atheist. Her answer to the problem was education. Proper education, she insisted, will direct people in right paths.
Note that he specifies that she was an atheist
When I said to her that she was ignoring the Christian history from which our values have come, I could see her anger was beginning to rise. Many people think like her – that better education will solve the problems.
But that ignored the fundamental Christian truth that we are by nature sinful and need to be changed – on the inside, says Bishop Dow.
And to ignore the Christian faith is to ignore the way to inner change….People do not like to hear that so much of what we cherish in our society has come with our Christian history and that by ignoring Christian faith we are undermining the very values we want to keep.
Not only does this opportunism make the Bishop sound like he’s playing the worst political games with a terrible event but it’s untrue – religious belief actually correlates with high murder rates (not to mention abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published in the Journal of Religion and Society in 2005).
Black History Month has been celebrated across the UK every October for over 30 yearsand serves as a time to highlight and celebrate the achievements of Black communities. Although I am not Black I will be using this opportunity to highlight Black and other humanists with a non-European heritage.
Secular humanism today is very much rooted in Christian European culture and the most famous humanists today and in history – Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, Grayling, Russell, Bradlaugh and Holyoake – are White, male and – with the exception of Harris- fairly old.
But humanist experiences are more diverse than this as we shall explore this month. Let us begin with the picture of religion and belief in the UK. The 2001 Census revealed that 15 per cent of the British population reported having no religion (although subsequent diffenetly worded surveys have revealed the proportion to be much higher). Just over half of all Chinese people (53 per cent), and just under one quarter of people from Mixed ethnic backgrounds (23 per cent), stated they had no religion. Asian, Black African and White Irish people were least likely to have no religious affiliation. Around 1 in 200 Pakistanis and Bangladeshis reported having no religion.
But as we shall see, in the UK and abroad there are plenty of notable Black, Indian, Chinese and other non-European people who are part of the story of humanism..
Religious Composition of Ethnic Groups in the UK April 2001
An old poll from December 2006 I’ve just come across conduced by Harris Poll and the Financial Times into the religious views and beliefs in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the USA. Key results for the UK (sample size 2090):
- Ony 35% believe in any form of God or any type of supreme being (only France was lower with 27%)
- 35% are agnostic and 17% atheist
- 7% Not sure; the largest percentage of all the countries
- 39% do not share the same religious beliefs as either of their parents; the largest percentage of all countries and the only country for which this is higher than those saying they have the same religious beliefs as both of their parents. Suggesting a strong generational shedding of belief.
- 70% people believe in the separation if church and state (although that isn’t defined) the lowest of all the countries. It is probably worth noting the different charcteristics of the different churches in question. It could be that Britain’s rather laid back churches are less intrusive as much as British people being less secular on principle.
- 56% people thought religion should be taught in state schools, 29% saying no. Only Italy was more in favour of religious teaching and less opposed.
- Only 23% thought the EU was predominantly Christian club – the lowest of the European countries and a testament ot the UK’s multifaith credentials?
- Only 10% would object to their child marrying someone of a different faith and 73% would not. France and Spain indicated a slightly higher level of tolerance, both with 7% and 74 respectively
- Worryingly the UK matched France with 39% believing that Islamic veils should be banned in all public places (higher than the other countries polled) but at 48% were ahead of France and Spain in feeling that children should be allowed to wear a religious sign or article of clothing at school which is representative of their beliefs. Taken together these suggest a particular anti-Muslim dimension to British secular thought.
Mark Edmundson writes in the New York Times that while remaining an atheist, Sigmund Freud in his last completed book, ‘Moses and Monotheism’, “began to see the Jewish faith that he was born into as a source of cultural progress in the past and of personal inspiration in the present. Close to his own death, Freud starts to recognize the poetry and promise in religion.”
“He argues that Judaism helped free humanity from bondage to the immediate empirical world, opening up fresh possibilities for human thought and action. He also suggests that faith in God facilitated a turn toward the life within, helping to make a rich life of introspection possible.”