Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Religious Climate

Jenn at Et Tu is taking a survey of the religious climate in different parts of the world. I'm not the first to throw in an English perspective (one commenter only lives a few miles from me, I notice), but I'm going to add mine anyway - everywhere is a little different, and I'm guessing it will interest some of you.

  1. Where do you live? A market town in Bedfordshire, population about 35,000. It is just into the London commuter belt, but it is far enough from London for property prices to be affordable for families.

  2. What is church attendance like in your area? Are there many churches? Do they seem to have active memberships? One Catholic Church, two Church of England, two Methodist (one a small chapel), two Baptist (one a small Strict Baptist chapel), Christian Fellowship, New Life, Quaker and Salvation Army. The Catholic Church has three Sunday Masses, all full - but the Church building is really too small for the size of the town. I think average weekly attendance is about 450. The C of E Church my mother belongs to has a Sunday attendance of about 70 to 100, and I would guess the other is similar. The Baptist and evangelical Churches seem to be quite active. Average weekly Church attendance in the UK is only around 6%, and adding up the figures I don't think it can be much more than that here. However, there is more of a Christian "feel" to the town that the figures would suggest.

  3. Imagine a typical social event in your area. How appropriate would it be if a person were to explicitly acknowledge in casual conversation that he or she is a believing Christian (e.g. make a statement like, "We've been praying about this a lot" or "I've asked God to show me what the right answer is to my dilemma")? Would a statement like that seem perfectly normal or a bit odd? Those statements would definitely be considered odd - people would look at you as if you had two heads. However, it would be quite OK to mention that you were a Church-going Christian, so long as you weren't perceived as trying to push your religion on others.

  4. Imagine a typical neighborhood in your area. If a practicing Christian family moved in, how would they fit in? Would they blend right in or seem out of place? They would blend right in. There certainly isn't any anti-Christian feeling, and people are generally tolerant of religious belief, considering it a private eccentricity.

  5. How many families do you know who have more than two children? Many with three, a few with four, very few with more than that.

  6. What seems to be the dominant belief system of the people in your area? Vague agnosticism.

  7. Do you notice any trends? Less religious belief. More people would describe themselves as atheist than would have been the case twenty years ago. The tradition here has always been that if you had no other religious affiliation you described yourself as C of E. That is changing, with more people saying they have no religion - though the vague feeling that one must be something still exists. Interestingly, the 2001 census showed 71% of the population described themselves as Christian, though other surveys show only 50% or less believe in God. On the same census 0.7% described themselves as Jedi knight, following a campaign to get Jedi knight recognised as an official religion (the theory being that if enough people put it on the census, it would be a fait accompli). There is something to be said for living in a country where (a) it is legal to put Jedi knight as your religion on an official census, and (b) 390,000 people are mad enough to do so. Church attendance is declining (down one-third between 1989 and 2005, with Catholic Mass attendance down one-half). Locally it isn't that noticeable, but that may just be because I have only been attending Mass here for 8 years, and the town is growing which would mask a decline.
If you are a lover of statistics, this article Religion in the United Kingdom: Diversity, Trends and Decline will tell you everything you could possibly want to know.


Dorothy said...

Fascinating, Kathryn. I'd agree with your comments re our small town.

Jennifer F. said...

Wow, this is so interesting -- thank you for yaking the time to write this up!!

Also, the Mr. Linky you filled out on my site accidentally links to your previous post (the Simple Woman's Daybook). Could I get you to fill that out again with another link to this post? I just don't want anyone to miss this thought-provoking post!


Tausign said...

The responses to this survey have been fascinating. I enjoy the narrative far more than dry statistical data. It's so obvious that Christian faithful have been dropping like flies over the last few generations...perhaps this is some form of winnowing of chaff from the wheat. At any rate, I appreciate (and thank God for) Catholic/Christian stalwarts, such as yourself, who are willing to hold the line. Peace and all good.

noe said...

Thanks for your post. I found you through "et tu?" (probably obvious!) and am glad that you shared your corner of the globe and your blog.

matthew archbold said...

A vague agnosticism seems to pervade modern society. Spirituality has taken the place of religious. Hmph. We've got a lot of work to do. Alright, I'll start in America. You take care of England. If that doesn't work then we'll all just sign up to be Jedis.

The Koala Bear Writer said...

Thanks for jumping into the discussion... first, it's been fascinating to hear answers from all over the world, and second, rather sad and interesting to see how similar other parts of the world are to my part. Christianity seems to be in decline around the world. Which should get us thinking about why and what to do about it. :)