Religion in Britain

A survey has shown that religious thinking and prayer is widespread in our beloved post-Christian country.  

Twenty million adult Britons (42%) say they pray (outside of church/religious services). One in six adults (18%) prays every day; one in four (26%) prays at least once a week and 13 million adults (27%) pray at least once a month.  Even among those with no religion, around one in eight (12%) pray sometimes. One in three adults in the UK (16 million) agrees with the statement ‘there is a God who watches over me and answers my prayer’. The same number of people agrees that ‘praying makes me feel better’. After praying, people most often feel peaceful and content (38%), strengthened (30%), close to God (22%), reassured/safe (21%), happy/joyful (19%).

One in four people (12 million adults) believe that prayer changes ‘what happens in my life’ and ‘what happens to other people I know’. 6.5 million people (32% of those who pray) have seen the effects of prayer in their own lives. 10 million people (50% of those who pray) believe prayer ‘changes the world’; equivalent to one in five of all UK adults

The 42% of UK adults who pray mainly about family and friends (68%), thank God (41%), pray for guidance (32%), healing (26%) and about worldwide problems e.g. poverty, wars and disasters (25%).  However, young people are less likely than their elders to pray; just a quarter (27%) of 16-24 year olds admit to ever praying. (The full report “Prayer in the UK” is at www.tearfund.org

At the same time a report from the Mental Health Foundation “Keeping the Faith” urges mental health centres to meet patients’ spiritual needs. Patients should be told about available spiritual resources such as churches.  Dr Andrew McCulloch, CEO of the Foundation, said that spirituality was not a substitute for medication, but it could reduce dependency upon it over time.  What a great contrast to the traditional attitude of some mental health practitioners that religion is pathological.  The report states that spirituality is “an expression of an individual’s essential humanity and the wellsprings of how she or he lives their life and deals with the crises that can leave us drowning rather than waving.” 

If these facts depress atheists too much they could seek solace in prayer. I recommend it. Some will say that all this shows religion is a crutch for the inadequate. But it takes some believing that 42% of Britons are inadequate! Could it not be that it isn’t inadequacy that causes religious belief, but rather the reality of God out there, who has created us human beings as, amongst other aspects, spiritual beings? That’s just as valid an interpretation of the data. 

According to the think tank Theos, 73% know the basic Christmas story, the angel appearing to Mary, the birth in Bethlehem, etc. And 48% knew John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin. 22% knew the holy family fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s evil intentions. However, younger people knew less about the facts. One interesting little footnote. Only 5% of atheists could answer all the questions correctly. Could it be that rather a lot of atheists have made up their minds without knowing the facts?  

Which brings me to the greatest atheist nation on earth – China. After 58 years of militant atheistic government and anti-religious persecution 31% of Chinese regard themselves as religious. 40 million are Christians. 50 million Bibles have now been printed by China’s only authorised publisher, Amity Printing. One Bible a second is produced and soon the capacity will be one million Bibles a month. 

PS A fascinating poll (by Ben Schott and Ipsos MORI) on belief and superstition was published recently. It showed that 47% of Britons believe in life after death, 50% believe in heaven, 34% believe in hell and 62% believe we have souls. So the British are not so secular as some would have us believe. The government should remember this when it is under pressure from the secular lobby or militant atheistic fundamentalists. If some 50% of the population hold religious views, this should be taken very seriously and should influence policy. 

The fact is that God does exist, and there is a great deal of evidence to support that belief. Human beings are essentially spiritual, religious beings. The spiritual side may be neglected by many individuals and it may be applied to non-religious purposes. For example, materialism, hobbies and other activities (especially if they become rather obsessive) may become a “religion,” so football is sometimes called a religion. 

The old cliché: “There’s a God-shaped gap in every human being” is true. The gap may be filled with other things, but, as millions have discovered, it is only really (ful)filled by a person inviting Christ into their lives. 

Secularists have often predicted the demise of religion, and they may be tempted to do so in post-Christian Britain today. But, (to quote what someone said about the Church of England), its demise is consistently behind schedule!

© Tony Higton: see conditions for copying on the Home Page