British Teens Trending Away from Religion June 24, 2009

British Teens Trending Away from Religion

I was impressed a couple years ago when I heard that 20% of Americans aged 18-25 had no religious affiliation or were atheist/agnostic.

Apparently, I should have been looking to Britain.

It turns out if you survey British children aged 13-18, the stats are even more favorable for non-theists.

According to a new study of 1000 teenagers (by Penguin books in the UK — I’m not sure the methodology or reliability), this is what was discovered:

  • 60% of them go to church only for weddings/christenings
  • 60% of them don’t think religious studies should be compulsory in schools
  • 59% of them think that religion “has a negative influence on the world”
  • 55% of them are not bothered about religion (Hemant adds: This means they’re essentially apathetic about religion. Thanks, commenters!)
  • 50% of them have never prayed
  • 41% believe nothing happens to your body when you die
  • 30% of them (only 30%!) believe in an afterlife
  • 16% have never been to church
  • 10% of them (only 10%!) think they will be reincarnated as an animal/human

Is this just an isolated case of British awesomeness or a continuing trend toward non-religiosity?

I would love to know the results of a similar study with that age group had it been done in America. I suspect the numbers would not have been as favorable as the ones you see above, but they would’ve been close — a trend we saw occurring with Generation Next.

(Thanks to hoverFrog for the link!)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Mark Lenahan

    “Not bothered” is a bit culture specific I think. Essentially it means apathetic, in that they don’t care about religion and don’t have either a positive or negative view on it. The term has a certain negative connotation though. For example, if the question is: “Do you like coffee?” and the answer is: “I’m not bothered” – this tends to mean the person answering won’t be drinking the coffee.

  • The bit about “not bothered about religion” probably means they’re apathetic about it.

    Hold on a bit…

    41% believe nothing happens to your body when you die

    Wait, what?

    To your body? Uh… biology might disagree…

  • TJ

    55% of them are not bothered about religion (the wording here is strange… I’m not sure how to interpret that)

    Fence sitters. Too cowardly and insecure to make their opinion heard. The kind of people that people in power love. Easily kept in line.

  • Sue DeNimme

    In British idiom, when you say you’re “not bothered about” something, it means you don’t care about it.

  • Erp

    In the context it probably means they aren’t religious but don’t care if other people are religious.

  • Max

    Im very glad to say, that I am a teenage British Athiest. Yay, althouh I was surprised by the figures there are only about 10 students in my year who are athiests out of around 120.

  • Nelson

    The French, by contrast, are extremely bothered about religion. But in a good way – witness the recent push to ban public wearing of burqas, which in Britain is met with blank stares or Obama-style sermons about the need for “tolerance” of faith-based misogyny.

  • Miko

    “60% of them don’t think religious studies should be compulsory in schools”

    To translate this, 40% think it should be compulsory. That’s actually a horrible number. Pick just about any demographic group in the U.S. and you’ll get a better number on that question.

    “41% believe nothing happens to your body when you die”

    So, sounds like science education there is about as bad as it is here.

  • Miko

    @Nelson: Most French policies on religion are based on anti-Arab/Algerian racism translated into anti-Islamic hatred. Concern for women’s rights has nothing to do with it.

    You may think that wearing a burqa is bad and I’ll agree with you, but legislation banning them based on your belief is every bit as misogynistic as legislation requiring them based on fundamentalist belief. The problem isn’t predominantly the burqa but the fact that someone is being forced to wear it, since this suggests that one human has a superior claim to deciding what another human should wear. Banning burqas suffers from the same problem: at the end of the day, what women wear just isn’t your decision.

  • Stephen P

    “60% of them don’t think religious studies should be compulsory in schools”

    To translate this, 40% think it should be compulsory.

    Not necessarily: it may be 60% no, 10% yes and 30% don’t know / don’t care. (Or it may even just be a typo.) The two linked pages are very thin on detail.

    In any case religious studies in most British schools will surely consist of comparative religion rather than indoctrination in any particular religion.

  • valdemar

    59 per cent think religion is a negative influence. Not too apathetic, that. Quite definite, in fact – religion is a bad thing, say teenagers. Good. Makes me proud to be British, and a former teenager.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    British Teens Trending Away from Religion

    Well here’s a more surprising development:

    Republican politicians trending toward heterosexuality in their extramarital affairs

  • KeithLM

    Here’s one example of the phrase “not bothered”

  • KeithLM

    Sorry, didn’t close the tag.

  • These figures will not be surprising to Brits. I don’t think the figures have changed that much since I was a teenager there 30 years ago. We watched with astonishment the rise of the religious right in the US during the 80s and 90s. Clips of televangelists in action, spouting utter nonsense and obviously raking in millions, were ubiquitous on comedy sketch shows, music videos and elsewhere, and I would argue contributed to (or confirmed) our generally negative view of Americans.

    What has changed in the UK, as in the US, is that the decline in membership of traditional churches has coincided with a growth of evangelical churches (not sure if there have been too many defections though) and the evangelicals have been getting more vocal and visible. Despite being a tiny minority they’ve managed to set a lot of the agenda, particularly in education, where creationists have been successfully using the familiar wedge strategy.

    They were helped a lot by Tony Blair, who wisely only revealed that he was a firm believer after he left office (notice the big difference here from the States!).

    Having lived outside the UK for 22 years now, it’s reassuring to see that our basic atheism/agnosticism/apathy hasn’t changed, despite all the efforts of Blair and the vocal minority.

  • I did try to find the details of the study to see the actual questiosn asked but to no avail. If anyone does find them please let me know.

  • Max

    “60% of them don’t think religious studies should be compulsory in schools”

    In British schools short course religious studies is compulasary at GCSE (tests taken by 15-16 year olds) However this is just a study of religions and the name will soon be changed (in most schools) to ‘Thelogy and Philiosophy’ so its not such a bad thing.

  • These figures will not be surprising to Brits.

    These figures are not surprising to me as an Aussie either. From discussions here and elsewhere it is evident to me that Americans aren’t all that aware of the ir/religious situation in the rest of the west. The fundamentalism you rail against is far more unique to your situation than many of you apparently realise.

  • gribblethemunchkin

    As a Brit (though a decade out of my teens) i can say that indeed Religious Studies is comparative religion, focusing on multiple religions, their beliefs, customs and history. It wasn’t compulsory when i did my GCSEs in 1995 but its been a while since then 🙂

    As Jim Turner mentioned, the traditional British Christianity has dwindled greatly but still retains official power (bishops sit in the house of lords for instance) but evangelical churches and islamic groups are flourishing.

    We’ve been caught napping when it comes to creationism. We’ve been such an unreligious nation that the idea of religious zealots trying to force creationism in our schools seemed like the kind of thing that only happens in Kansas so it is a bit of a shock that via academiesits been introduced here.

    The academy idea was one of Blairs, basically some rich person or group (cough…church..cough) puts forward some money towards a new school and then government supplies the rest, the donating group then gets a say in how it is run, usually by sticking religious nonsense in there.

    A user car mogul named Peter Vardy who also happens to be a religious crazy has set up a number of these Vardy academies and they push all kinds of silliness. Its really quite worrying.

  • Englsih

    Basically us English aren’t mucked up in the head and we no all religion is fairy tales and u americans r just thick

  • Sylvianna

    Atheism in Europe is on a completely different level in comparision to the United States.

    Figures, Statistics of all countries, not only regarding teenagers:

  • Vicky

    Im very glad to say, that I am a teenage British Athiest. Yay, althouh I was surprised by the figures there are only about 10 students in my year who are athiests out of around 120.

    WOW! 10 out of 120?
    In my highschool (I live in CT) it seems only 3 or 4* out of 110 students in my graduating class are comfortable enough to admit their atheists.

    * counting myself

  • Aj

    I’m not confident in state schools or the government in the UK teaching comparative religion. Evolution isn’t taught in biology because some students might get offended, so there’s very little hope for an unadulterated study of religion. I’d suspect that they’d take the opportunity to combat criticism of religion and spread their false propaganda.

    From the BBC on the Religious Studies GCSE:

    The idea that life might have evolved was first mentioned as early as the 4th century CE by St Augustine, who wrote that God probably only created very simple life forms and that these developed over time.

    Christians who don’t see any problem with evolution… [goes into detail about this view] This view is perhaps currently the view of the majority of Christians.

    St Auguestine didn’t right anything of the sort. Not only that, but to state he proposed the idea that “life might have evolved” is taking tremedous liberties, given that our modern concepts of evolution are anchored to the words involves. To claim that the majority Christian view is in support of evolution is a factoid, not supported by any evidence, and seems rather calculated.

    Islam is a religion of peace in which fighting and war are seen only as a last resorts…

    One aim of Holy War may be to create a democracy where people are free to live their lives without beliefs and politics being imposed on them. There must be no hatred or vengeance in the fighting…

    That’s not my definition of a religion of peace. The Quran, the history of Muslims, and Muslims around the world beg to differ with this assessment. Is there an Islamic state where beliefs and politics aren’t imposed on people? No, so I guess a “Holy War” for democracy is hypothetical.

    There’s more but these two are the obvious and most common examples of this type of whitewash. Seems more like apologetics for each religion than actually studying religion.

  • Another Brit

    Just to clarify, when I took my GCSEs in 1994, a small minority took the RE GCSE. The rest of us did history or geography instead and had one short RE lesson per week, which was compulsory but did not lead to an exam.

  • Alex

    Those figures sound about the same from when I was at school 8 years ago.

    And the 40% that think RE should be taught are probably endorsing a neutral education about all religions. That’s how it was taught at school and I think as long as it’s not a sales pitch for each and remains neutral it’s fine. It’s not given much class time either, unless you choose to do the GCSE.

    It seems to me that religion is only really practiced with any enthusiasm by people who have immigrated to the country (or are only a couple of generations British).

    I would hope that people misinterpreted the body question and thought it was asking does anything spiritual happen to the body (a soul departing it perhaps). Then again most pupils in my school were as apathetic about science as they were about religion.

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