St Barnabas church in Hattersley, northwestern England. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Islam is the fastest growing religion in England and Wales, according to new census data. The number of people identifying with no religion nearly doubled over the last decade while the percentage of people who call themselves Christians has dropped to 59 percent, down from 72 percent 10 years ago, CNSNews.com reports.
The Muslim Council of Britain was pleased with the new data, saying Muslims were playing a "significant part in increasing diversity in Britain."
Of the roughly 56.07 million people counted in the census, 33.24 million described themselves as "Christian" while 2.7 million identified as Muslims, an increase from 3.0 percent to 4.8 percent over a 10-year period. Further, the 2.7 million Muslims in England and Wales make it the second largest religion there. The next largest religions are Hinduism (817,000), Sikhism (423,000), Buddhism (248,000) and Judaism (263,000).
Religious leaders attempted to explain away the trend. "Christianity is no longer a religion of culture, but a religion of decision and commitment," said a spokesman for the Catholic Church.
A spokesman for the Archbishop's Council of the Church of England said "one of the reasons may well be fewer people identifying as ‘Cultural Christians’ i.e. those who have no active involvement with churches and who may previously have identified as Christian for cultural or historical reasons."
CNSNews.com has more background:
Other mainstream and fringe faiths (including pagan, pantheist, wiccan, satanist, druid, “Jedi Knight” and others) lagged far behind, but the number of people declaring themselves to have no religion jumped to 14.4 million, from 7.7 million a decade ago. This means a full one-quarter of people in England and Wales now identify as having no faith.
In the U.S., by contrast, a 2007 Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey found 16.1 percent of respondents identified as “unaffiliated” with any particular religion, while in the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey the figure was 14.9 percent. (The U.S. Census Bureau is prohibited by law from asking questions on faith affiliation on a mandatory basis.)
British secularist groups did not conceal their delight, reiterating predictions that Christians could be in the minority within five years.
Andrew Copson, of the British Humanist Association (BHA), said the new census data proves governments need to realize that religion is growing "decreasingly relevant."
Additionally, Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society said the data “should serve as a warning to the churches that their increasingly conservative attitudes are not playing well with the public at large.”