The Tablet Blog
Census 2011: what the Church can do about the witchesLiz Dodd
14 December 2012, 9:00
One of my housemates was out the evening my household completed the census. Being irreverent 20-somethings we decided to fill some of it in on his behalf and enjoyed creative licence with the question 'What is your religion?'
That our written-in suggestion has not appeared in any published stats I think indicates that we were more original than some of the other 240,000 people who highlighted 'Other Religion' on their census form. We did not subscribe him to the fictional Star Wars 'Jedi' religion, of which there are 176,632 followers. Nor did we interpret his collection of rock music to be indicative of religious conviction (6,242 people stated that their religion was 'Heavy Metal'). No, I can guarantee that our flatmate is a one-off.
The 'Other Religions' category (The Guardian has compiled a useful chart of the written-in submissions here) reveals some interesting trends for connoisseurs of obscure religious movements - or, indeed, of Brits' insincerity and sarcasm when it comes to filling in surveys about themselves.
Jedi Knights and Metal-heads aside, it is interesting to note that a number of people have made genuine, confessional attempts to accurately describe their relationship with mainstream religion. Some 2, 969 people (who would not describe themselves as Christians) state they 'believe in God'. 830 are 'theists' and a further 32,382 people are 'agnostic'.
Some categories are intriguingly obtuse. Some 23,566 people follow a 'mixed religion' - ten thousand more than say they are 'spiritual' - but not 'spiritualists'. A determined 513 call themselves 'free thinkers' and 348 people 'realists' - 850 or so people who think that other forms of religious belief preclude being either.
Meanwhile the New Age has diversified. Only 698 people actually call themselves New Agers, but almost 20,000 subscribe to faiths that sprang from the New Age movement (I'd argue that includes Wicca, Druid, Thelemite etc). I would also argue that many of the 56,620 self-identified pagans would also practise similar strands of spirituality - ditto some of the 1,893 Satanists. Satanism is a difficult 'religion' to analyse: some Satanists might be followers of Anton LaVey's un-religious philosophy and his Church of Satan; some might be 'religious' Satanists; some might just really dislike Christianity. The results are an endless source of joy for obscure religion nerds like me: to understand some of the results I've had to brush up on the core beliefs of Native American peyotism and new religious movements such as Eckankar.
Headlines this week were dominated by the 'big three' major faiths - Christianity (numbers fell), Islam (numbers rose) and Judaism (roughly the same). Yes, the number of self-identified Christians is down and the number of people with no religion is up - but I think that the diversity and creativity of the 'Other Religion' category reveals a far more interesting - and perhaps more accurate - picture of faith in England and Wales than we could have expected. These results reveal a spiritually hungry, spiritually literate population of seekers (with the possible exception of the self-described Jedi and heavy metal followers). Few people are born into Wicca or Thelema - they find it at the end of a spiritual quest and careful research, often involving new media and the internet. The Church needs to ask itself when and how it can appeal, intellectually and spiritually, to this demographic.
Liz Dodd is a news reporter at The Tablet and the author of the CTS booklet Wicca and Witchcraft: Understanding the Danger
18 December 2012 22:48 (2 of 2)
Well at least Portsmouth diocese, presumably with the (previous) Bishop's approval if not at his instigation, have shown some concern for the spiritual wellbeing of their people. Not a glimmer of interest or concern from the Archdiocese of Birmingham. It would be interesting to know what people's experience of their bishop's pastoral concern has been in other dioceses.
18 December 2012 9:04 (1 of 2)
There are of course many things that can be said about the census and statistics, but I think we are in danger of missing the more important behind the less important. And surely for Christians the most important question is about the truth of our faith, truth about who Jesus is and about His Resurrection and what it means for us. If our faith is true, if Jesus is Son of God, and if he rose again on the third day, the results of the census is just a set of numbers describing a particular time period in a particular country. Giving the census numbers too much importance or attention shows a worldly, almost atheistic approach. Let the ungodly glee at the numbers, we are concerned with the truth that numbers cannot describe.