Young people turning their backs on religion

Lord Warner

By Lord Warner

On 25th July the House of Lords debated the contribution of atheists and humanists to UK society. There was a big turnout of atheists and humanists showing their distaste for organised religion through the ages even if they liked cathedrals and church music. I felt quite sorry for the solitary bishop who went out of his way to be nice to humanists. The Minister replying was a much too kind to religion for my taste and felt obliged to defend the Government’s decision, very unusually, to appoint a Minister for Faiths.

Belief is of course a very personal matter and many speakers told their personal stories.  Although I was sent to Sunday
school and sang in a church choir, education soon got religion out of my system. A hefty dose of Darwin, the Crusades, the Inquisition and burning witches plus the implausibility of the Old Testament made me an atheist by my teenage years. The shift to humanism is easy once you abandon the idea of a supernatural force and an afterlife because it is an appealing belief system. What’s not to like about a philosophy that espouses reason, ethics and justice as a basis for human beings to make their own decisions and give meaning and shape to their lives without the need for organised religion imposing rigid creeds? The latest data suggests the younger generations are figuring this out.

The 2011 Census shows 25% of people identifying themselves as non-religious, up from 15% in 2001. Perhaps more significantly people with no religion had a much younger profile with 4 in 10 of those with no religion under 25. The more sophisticated questioning of the British Social Attitudes Survey in 2012 shows an even greater shift away from religion with half the population saying they do not belong to a religion, with this proportion rising to nearly two-thirds of 18-24 year-olds. This shift is significant because as the Survey said: “Getting an accurate picture of the importance of religion in people’s lives matters; not least because it influences the role of religion in policy making
and public life and helps guide the allocation of funding and resources.”

What is happening – almost unnoticed – is that older more religious generations are dying and being replaced by less religious generations. Some of us will be pleased by this and others less so. For Governments and Parliamentarians it
suggests that they should be more cautious about the weight   they give to religious views when changes to public policy are under consideration. Examples of issues this applies to are abortion, assisted dying, faith schools and curriculum content, discrimination issues, employment law and public funding for religious organisations.

For the media they also need to think about this shift away from religion among their viewers, listeners and readers, especially the public broadcasters. Closer to home do we really need so many protected places for bishops in a reformed House of Lords? Perhaps more controversially what are the implications for the monarchy? How can a sovereign be crowned as a defender of the faith or even faiths if the majority of the citizens have no faith at all? Perhaps the BBC should grant a humanist a slot on “Thought for the Day” to air these questions?

8 comments for “Young people turning their backs on religion

  1. Bumble Bee
    26/07/2013 at 6:24 pm

    18-24s may say they don’t believe but they have been schooled by a state which has its own established, and theoretically worldwide, church, so there is not much to worry about there

  2. MilesJSD
    27/07/2013 at 6:15 am

    “The world is in a mess
    Whatever shall I do ?”
    An angel whispers back:
    “Just make a better you”.

    The BBC radio “Brains Trust” Professor Joad used to stop the ‘show’ by briefly contributing
    “It all depends what you mean by _ _ _ _ _”.

    So what did the angel mean by
    (1( ‘make’ ?
    (2) ‘better’ ?
    (3) ‘you’ ?
    Consider also a Bishop of London’s Lent book
    “The Eight Deadlier Sins” in which Hubert Libbey warns us how
    (i) Blindness of Heart
    if not cured leads insidiously into
    (ii) Pride
    (iii) Vainglory
    (iv) Hypocrisy
    and ever worsely down an invisible but not at all frequently unpleasant sort of ‘slippery-slope’ into
    (v) Envy
    then Hatred,
    then actual acts of Malice,
    and finally into
    (viii) utter All-Uncharitableness or Hardness-of-Heart;

    but what is of overshadowing and underlurking concern and relevance here is that this litany ‘evil-brood’ of eight deadlier-than-the-seven-deadly sins, has long been finding its way,
    insidiously-whitewashed, spin-doctored, encoded, and euphemised, very-small-printed too0,
    deeper and deeper into Constitutions, Legislations, Rules-of-Law, and indeed into the various Christian Churches themselves

    (in other words Hubert tells us that we will find in the Church Establishment and among its most religious People not only God’s best but Satan’s worst,
    all dressed hierarchically alike as “God’s good, saved, and chosen people”.

  3. Graham
    27/07/2013 at 12:57 pm

    Well said. I just wish the “big turnout of atheists and humanists” could do something about the increasing interference of religion in education, which seems to be deliberately promoted by this government (presumably for political ideology reasons, to do with privatisation, rather than from religious conscience).

  4. P.Selvaratnam
    28/07/2013 at 4:55 pm

    Hope your views gain strength in the House of Lords.
    There are some people who adhere to principles of love and fairness to fellow beings and do not follow a religion.
    There are some others who ”fervently follow” a religion and cannot show love and fairness to fellow beings.
    Oh, I am shocked to learn the government is thinking of creating a Minister for Faiths.
    The state shouldn’t have to do anything with religion – those who wish to follow a religion may have the freedom to do so. But PLEASE don’t bring in ”religion” into the state apparatus.

    • Bumble Bee
      02/08/2013 at 11:02 am

      The state shouldn’t have to do anything with religion But it always does.
      People always re/turn to the metro-polis for their prayers and the metro-polis is their capital and life blood. The Mother-city.

      The skylines of the world today are many and splendid, not least the one with the amazing “Shard” near its centre. Now there…. are grounds for contemplation and prayer of the mysterious and magical ways of the world, just like the cathedrals of old of the William Golding story and others called “The Spire”. Veneration and worship in the house of God!!

      The house of God today is a rather more splendid construction which can be seen from afar and lived in at close quarters more effectively than ever a cathedral was! The Cathedral spire has been effectivelt replaced
      in the capitalist world.

      There are hundreds, throughout the world vying for the highest, most elegant ,cleverest, building, in praise of Good!

      Every state surrounding such skylines has its religion. Sao Paulo, Sydney, Lagos,
      Paris, Hong Kong, London, Vancouver, LA……
      LA……!!! It is part and parcel of being a state that it does also have a religion bundled in with it!

  5. maude elwes
    29/07/2013 at 11:07 am

    Well, I simply find it hard to believe the statement made in your thread leader regarding young people and religion in favour of old people with a humanist or atheist point of view.

    Now, don’t run away with the notion I’m a follower of any religion. I am not a practicing Christian. Or, a practicing anything.

    However, when Pope Benedict came to the UK, Hyde Park filled with ‘young people’ in order to see him and be blessed by him. How politicians wish they could draw such a crowd. Benedict did this somewhat in the same way the Rolling Stones did.

    Add to that, 3 million people in Rio congregated on Copacabana Beach last weekend for the same reasons. And when journalists interviewed them they were in the main, low and behold, young people who were looking for guidance a connection with leadership and community of spirit.

    I agree that State schools should teach faiths exist and the reason they exist and why they are needed by mankind but not to justify or uphold any particular doctrine. Which includes the wearing of Islamic veils or head scarfs that cover the hair or body and they should insist on proper gym wear for girls, not some strange idea that the body of a girl is somehow sinful and needs to be eliminated from the sight to save the souls of men. Schools should speak openly about what each of the religions have done for followers and to non followers and represent that history with unbiased views. Just as you would with any other historical topic.

    And by the same token, if parents send their children to a faith school, then they are doing so in order for their child to be schooled in the beliefs and practices of that religion and that is their choice. Jewish schools, Church of England schools, Roman Catholic schools and so on, therefore, have a duty to preach and teach their religion to those particular children. However, likewise, they should ‘not’ be allowed to impose on any child abuse of their person, which includes the teaching or promoting of hate as a requirement of obedience.

    And if they do so, they should be closed down at once.

  6. ladytizzy
    29/07/2013 at 4:10 pm

    Lord Harrison: you are uncomfortably close to claiming that those who have identified themselves as non-religious are, in fact, atheist or humanist. A cursory look at the membership of UK organisations, such as the British Humanist Association (BHA), affiliated to the International Humanist and Ethical Union would suggest they have a way to go before asserting their right to represent all those who do not support a religious group.

    You might also wish to reconsider including “…public funding for religious organisations” as an example in your list of issues (¶ 4) since the BHA is a registered charity (notably, the National Secular Society is not).

    “How can a sovereign be crowned as a defender of the faiths…if the majority of the citizens have no faith at all?” You might not agree that faith and religion are separate but are you willing to predict when the majority of HM’s citizens will be godless, and will you include the realms, sovereign states, dependencies etc?

    Lord Harrison & P.Selvaratnam: the correct title of the post that Baroness Warsi holds is Minister for Faith and Communities, different in scope and aims than a Minister of Faiths would suggest.

  7. Bumble Bee
    30/07/2013 at 9:20 pm

    Carthusians withdraw from the world for ever
    to pray to put it all to rights.

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