While a minority of British people are religious, most people think Britain is a Christian country
David Cameron risks fostering “alienation” with his characterisation of Britain as a Christian country, according to an open letter in the Daily Telegraph signed by 50 public figures. Responding to comments by the PM that Britain should be “more evangelical” and “confident in its status as a Christian country”, the letter argued that the British people neither identify with Christianity nor hold Christian beliefs, and therefore it is wrong to “exceptionalise” Christianity.
New research from YouGov confirms the nuanced attitude that British people take to this issue.
On the one hand, only a minority, 37%, of British people “regard [themselves] as belonging to” a Christian religion. Half (50%) of the population, including around six in ten under-40s, don’t feel they belong to any religion at all.
Plus, the vast majority (77%) of British adults do not describe themselves as religious. That includes four in ten (40%) who say they are “not religious at all” and another 37% who say they are “not very religious”. Even among over 60s, the group most likely to identify as religious, only 31% do so, including only a negligible 2% who say they are “very religious”.
The data support the letter’s claim that Britain is – today at least – a “largely non-religious society.”
Yet this is only half the picture. At the same time, 55% of the public agree with Mr Cameron’s claim – that ‘Britain is a Christian country’. A third (33%) disagree. 58% also believe that Britain should be a Christian country.
Both questions were also asked two years ago, and views have not changed significantly.
As for the prime minister’s call for Britain to be more confident in its Christian identity? People tend to agree with that too. YouGov presented respondents with the following exerpt of Mr Cameron's original editorial in The Church Times (but made no mention of the PM himself):
I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people's lives.
The British public agree with the statement – by 50% to 35%.