Saturday, 23 December 2006

Islamist threat greater than IRA ever posed


Today's Guardian contains a Special Report: Religion in the UK which includes a Guardian commissioned ICM Poll with the headline result that:

82% of those questioned say they see religion as a cause of division and tension between people. Only 16% disagree[!]
When, in the same edition, is Islamist threat greater than IRA ever posed, says police chief, it may not be surprising that we are thinking this way. When this is considered along with
Britain's generally tolerant attitude to religion is underlined by the small proportion who say the country is best described as a Christian one. Only 17% think this. The clear majority, 62%, agree Britain is better described as "a religious country of many faiths".
it makes interesting reading. It seems a large majority do no consider this to be a Christian nation - so why do we still have an established church?
The findings are at odds with attempts by some religious leaders to define the country as one made up of many faith communities.
Although looking at the above statistic I wonder if the best questions were asked in this poll with regard to this point. Was there a choice to say that this was not a religious country at all? Unfortunately there are no links to the actual ICM Poll to know what the full questions were.

Other key data include:
ICM interviewed a random sample of 1,006 adults aged 18+ by telephone between December 12 and 13.
33% of those questioned describing themselves as "a religious person". A clear majority, 63%, say that they are not religious - including more than half of those who describe themselves as Christian.
37% of women saying they are religious, compared with 29% of men
Only 13% of those questioned claimed to visit a place of worship at least once a week, with 43% saying they never attended religious services.
Non-Christians are the most regular attenders - 29% say they attend a religious service at least weekly
Of course various church leaders were trying to weasel this poll away.
But a spokesman for the Church of England denied yesterday that mainstream religion was the source of tension. He also insisted that the "impression of secularism in this country is overrated".
And where is your evidence?
The Right Rev Bishop Dunn, Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, added: "The perception that faith is a cause of division can often be because faith is misused for other uses and other agendas."
Oh really? Now who is responsible for that? Faith, for not teaching people how to reason properly and crippling their ability to develop a mature moral sense? If so is it not surprising that faith can be misused as a result? Or is he referring to abuse from the clergy, itself such as Catholic church in new sex abuse row?

In Devout Poles show Britain how to keep the faith shows that roman catholic congregations are growing due to the higher religiosity of Poles, seeking a sense of their own community here, rather than through any homegrown resurgence, a further confirmation of the falling religiosity in this country of its mainstream faiths.

In their editorial they conclude
It is politicians, though, who create the climate that elevates religion's significance. It is they who assert that it is the "new class", a claim that contrasts unfavourably with the other fashionable cry, for evidence-based policy making. The evidence, not only from our poll but from research done for Downing Street itself, is that people regard language, law and institutions, not religion, as the defining aspects of their Britishness. The government must promote this secularism, not allow policy, even indirectly, that encourages rivalry between different religious communities, in which, as today's poll shows, committed and practising believers are in the minority. A misunderstanding of its significance must be neither motivation for a divisive course of action, nor an excuse for inaction - what might be called the sigh of the oppressed politician.
I could not agree more, with the proviso that one look at all religions consistently and so not leave institutional biases in place, favouring some religions over others and so creating hypocritical if not schizophrenic policies for dealing with them.

This poll was commissioned as part of the Guardian's Special Report: Religion in the UK.
This is includes a useful summary of some statistics that can help orient the above poll results

· 71.6% of respondents to the 2001 census identified themselves as Christian (42 million). One in four Britons attend a service at least once a month.

· The average weekly attendance at Church of England services is 1.2 million. More people attend C of E services than are members of all the political parties. Mass attendance in England and Wales is now 960,000, compared with 1.3 million in 1991.

· In 2001 a poll for Catholic weekly The Tablet showed that despite forming only 11% of the population Catholics make up 26% of all those who regularly attend a religious service. This makes them the largest denominational churchgoing population.

· A Christian Research census in 2005 found that 83% of Christians in England are white and 10% black; in London 44% are black and 14% from other non-white groups.

· Polish migrants have boosted the Catholic Church in Scotland, with congregations increasing by 50,000 since Poland joined the EU in 2004. Of the 400,000 migrants who have arrived in Britain around a third are said to be practising Catholics.

· The total number of monks in England and Wales stands at 1,345, many of whom are in their sixties and seventies. In 2004 just 12 men joined monasteries. Nuns total 1,150. In 1982 100 women entered a convent but by 2004 the number had declined to seven.

· A 2005 survey by Opinion Research Business found that 43% of Britons expected to attend a church service over Christmas, a 10% increase in five years. Statistics released this week show that 2,785,800 worshippers attended C of E Christmas services last year, an increase of 156,500 on 2004.