Analysis: The rise of the nonreligious raises questions for the faithful in a new era of pluralism and diversity.
Remember those math puzzles you used to do as a kid? What’s the next number in this sequence: 2, 5, 11, 23, … ? Or maybe try this one: 2, 4, 10, 28, … ?
Well, I’ve got another one for you: 71, 59, … ?
I’ll admit this one is trickier as you’ve got only two numbers to get going, but if you said “47,” you’d be on the right track.
The true answer is, in fact, 46—that being the percentage of people in England and Wales who, in the 2021 census, ticked the Christian box. Having been 71 percent in 2001 and 59 percent in 2011, it’s now 46 percent. Anyone want to take any guesses for 2031?
The decline in the proportion of adults in England and Wales (and in Scotland and Northern Ireland too) calling themselves Christian should shock no one who hasn’t been on Mars these last two decades.
Nor should the rise of the nonreligious category, reaching 37 percent this time and set to become the biggest single group in the country next time.
The demographic and cultural trends have been pointing in this direction for over half a century. What the census has done is clear up some of the uncertainty that always swirls around polling data, while also giving us a level of granularity that reveals how minority religious groups—Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, and others—have all increased in numbers over the last decade.
At this point, the usual lines of argument from the usual suspects will go forth and multiply. Some religious groups will try to claim that the nonreligious are actually, in fact, religious; they just don’t know it. That won’t wash. People tick the no-religion box for a reason. Nonreligiosity may be complex—but …