(The following short post is an introductory piece that will be included in the next edition of Speak Out magazine due for publication in early June. It will introduce a collection of short pieces about minority religions in Birmingham and a more detailed piece of the British Humanist Association’s recent report into the ‘religion or belief’ equalities strand – click here to read)
The former Labour spin-doctor Alistair Campbell was once famously quoted as saying, “We don’t do God”. In many ways, Campbell may have been speaking on behalf of the British per se: or at least how things might have been because there are signs that some things might be changing.
In today’s Britain, religion and faith are having an increasingly important role. For more than a decade now, commentators have been acknowledging how religion and religious affiliation are having a greater influence on the shaping and determining of both community and personal identities. Since the 1990s for instance, a growing number of people have preferred to define themselves as ‘Muslim’ rather than using national or ethnic markers.
In line with this shift, there has also been a move towards collecting data about religious identity and affiliation. This culminated in the inclusion of a question about religion in the 2001 Census. Whilst some have questioned the accuracy – and usefulness of the data – the Census showed that the vast majority of the population of England & Wales – approximately 72% – identified themselves as Christian. The Census also suggested that 3% of the population are Muslim and 1% Hindu. Around 14% stated that they had ‘No religion’: a population that is greater in number than all the non-Christian population added together.
And whilst many may have been ringing the death toll for religion, in 21st century Britain the situation is very different: a report from 2006 showed that in the past ten years, more churches have opened than new Starbucks outlets; more Britons believe in Heaven today than in the 1970s; 34% of churches are growing in numbers attending; and the number of adult baptisms is growing.
On the other hand, the fear and mistrust of religion continues to rise; Richard Dawkins has books on atheism in the bestseller lists; discrimination on the basis of religion – Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism in particular – continue to grows; and activities such as 7/7 that are perpetuated by individuals claiming to act on behalf of a particular religion cause unrest and harm.
So whilst it might be that we still “Don’t do God”, it might not be too long before we have to start admitting that in fact we do.
This work by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Based on a work at www.chris-allen.co.uk.