The Question of Religion   Leave a comment


The British Humanist Association (BHA) is campaigning to get everyone who is not religious to tick the “No Religion” box in the religion section on the census. Why the need for a campaign? Because there are a lot of ‘cultural’ Christians who label themselves as Christian but don’t actually practice or really believe in it!

The 2011 Census is fast-approaching: the majority of households will have already received their questionnaires through the post and the official “census night” of 27th March (the date of which your answers should reflect the situation of the household on) is less than two weeks away.

In recent decades there can be no doubt that there has been a significant rise in the number of people claiming to have no religion or who belong to non-Christian religions or ‘alternative’ spiritualities (e.g. New Age, Neo-Paganism). This is often said to be due to immigration, conversion, the spread of religious ideas, and more freedom of religious expression and beliefs due to greater emphasis on the importance of tolerance. Some historians believe this occurred due to the growth of pluralism, whilst others such as Grace Davie claim that it is due to the rise of secularism, which leads people to “believe without belonging” (i.e. to be able to separate their religious beliefs from organised religion).

However, this idea of “believing without belonging” doesn’t seem to be something that people in the UK are particularly proud of. It seems as if there are a large number of non-practising Christians who are more than happy to still label themselves as members of the very religion they have now left. During the 2001 Census, 41 million people said they were Christian (that’s more than 72% of the total population) whilst only just over 5% said that they belonged to a non-Christian religious group.

Therefore, the BHA is committed to exposing the truth and getting a more realistic evaluation of the non-religious population present in today’s Britain. The organisation has now stepped-up their campaign by launching a set of 200 bus adverts around the UK earlier this month. Unfortunately for them, it seems that freedom of speech is not as important as the right not to be offended and so the original slogan “If you’re not religious, for God’s sake say so” has become “Not religious? In this year’s census say so!” on the advice of the Committee of Advertising Practice. It’s just not as catchy and attention-grabbing now, and so may well not have the same impact because it doesn’t stick in the mind as easily. The BHA is still using their original poster slogan on its website which the newly-phrased bus adverts direct their audience to. Check out the campaign website here.

Will this census campaign have any effect? I think it will have some effect, but it will not necessarily be confined to the results of the census. The biggest impact will probably be that it gets people talking: it’ll be this census’ equivalent of the “Jedi knights” campaign in 2001 which saw a lot of people writing “Jedi” in the section on religion as they were outraged at this new question being added to the census. These people felt that their religion is such a personal thing that they didn’t want it to be used as a piece of data to monitor the population with.

Quite an amusing idea really that whilst this group of people wanted to retain the personal aspect of their faith, others – like those mentioned at the beginning of this article – are willing to pigeonhole their beliefs into a specific religion. Another interesting thought that pops into my head is that the BHA is telling people to stop associating themselves with a religion they no longer really connect with by categorising themselves into another all-encompassing group: the “non-religious” – is this a contradiction in terms? Well, the BHA claims the reason behind this is so that those people who do not belong to an organised religion will be counted in the same group (awarding this category as large a number as possible), which they hope will lead to more rights and considerations in politics and law for this portion of society.

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Posted 16/03/2011 by thinkmindy in belief, Religion

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