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The number of non-religious people in Britain has increased on average by a million each year in the last seven years, according to the Annual Population Survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released April 2019.
Eight religion and belief groups dominate Britain (Figure 1). In 2018, the 63.4 million British population was made up of 32.2 million Christians (all denominations), 25.0 million non-religious, 3.4 million Muslims, 1.0 million Hindus, 0.4 million Sikhs, 0.3 million Jewish, 0.2 million Buddhists and 1.0 million from other religions.
The non-religious have grown by almost a half in the last seven years. Now four in ten people are non-religious (Figure 2). In 2011 there were 17.1 million non-religious people in Britain or 28.5% of the population. By 2018 non-religious people had gone up by 7.9 million. This is a 46.0% increase at an average increase of 5.6% (about a million) per annum. In 2018 there were 25.0 million non-religious people or 39.5% of the British population.
1 in 8 or 5.7 million has left the Christian religion in the last seven years (Figure 3). In 2011 there were 37.9 million Christians (all denominations) in Britain or 63.0% of the population. By 2018 Christians (all denominations) numbers had gone down by 5.7 million. This is a 15.1% decrease at an average decrease of 2.3% (about 700,000) per annum. In 2018 there were 32.2 million Christians (all denominations) or 50.8% of the British population.
The Muslim population has grown by 616,000 to 3.4 million in the last seven years (Figure 4 & 6). In 2011 there were 2.8 million Muslims in Britain or 4.6% of the population. By 2018 Muslim numbers had gone up by 0.6 million. This is a 22.2% increase at an average increase of 2.9% (about 75,000) per annum. In 2018 there were 3.4 million Muslims or 5.3% of the British population.
The ‘any other religion’ group has grown by 295,000 in the last seven years (Figure 5 & 6). In 2011 there were 0.7 million in the ‘any other religions’ group in Britain or 1.1% of the population. By 2018 the ‘any other religions’ group had grown by 0.3 million. This is a 43.1% increase at an average increase of 5.4% (about 40,000) per annum. In 2018 there were 1.0 million in the ‘any other religions’ group or 1.6% of the British population.
From 2011 to 2018, Christians (all denominations) numbers fell by 15.1%,
Sikhs fell by 0.1% and Buddhists fell by 16.7%. The non-religious grew by 46.0%, Muslims grew by 22.2%, Jewish grew by 16.8% and Hindus grew by 12.5%.
Chris Street, Atheism UK President commented ‘non-religious Brits have increased by nearly a half over the past seven years. This year-on-year increase was the largest in 2018. However, in the UK, entrenched religious privileges still promote government-funded religious schools, compulsory collective worship in all schools and the twenty-six Church of England bishops with votes in the House of Lords. If the trend in April 2019 ONS figures continues, the non-religious in Britain will outnumber Christians of all denominations by 2023 (Figure 5).’
Sources: Office for National Statistics (April 2019) &
Atheism UK calls on the Government to take notice of the ONS figures by better representing non-religious people in fairer government policies that represent everyone, regardless of religion or belief.
Atheism UK was founded over a decade ago in March 2009. We challenge religious faith and privilege.
I have been an atheist since the age of 13. There was no Damascene moment to it. One day I realised that I did not believe in god any longer. It was the end of a personal journey that had started out in fervent Catholic devotion from the moment I took my First Holy Communion, fuelled by regular attendance to Sunday mass, daily evening prayers before going to sleep and regular engagement in confession. However, for many reasons, I lost my faith, never to return. Just like that.
To mark such a momentous occasion there was a short announcement in the only appropriate forum at the time: the family dinner table. My revelation was greeted with a dismissive eye roll from my mother, complete indifference from my siblings and one of my father’s undefined grunts which meant anything from “Ok”, “you must be having a laugh”, “Good”, “What’s on telly?” or “No”. Interpreting my father’s moods was a bizarre game of chicken that taught me to be brave – yet cautious – to expect the unexpected, never shy away from a fight – unless it could not be won – and always think outside the box. These skills have been invaluable in the last 20 years working as an asylum and immigration lawyer in the UK.
The timing of my revelation was critical. Had I been born a few years earlier the situation would have been completely different. I was born in the early 1970s, in Franco’s Spain, where pretty much all babies had to be baptised by legal imperative. Luckily for me I have no recollection of Francoism. El Caudillo died before I could understand what was going on around me.
My atheism would have been very dangerous under Franco. My father – also an atheist – would have been much more vocal in his response to my revelation, to the point of verbalising some actual words. He would have told me to keep quiet and never, ever share my thoughts with anyone unless I wanted to end up in prison. My father had witnessed Catholic priests abuse the great power bestowed upon them by the Franco regime. He grew up at a time when those who did not show up for Sunday mass mysteriously disappeared without a trace. Everyone knew not to ask any questions to avoid suffering the same fate. I have no doubt that I would have found it intolerable to live in a society so dominated by a religion I could not follow. I have no doubt I would have desperately sought a way to escape.
Being an outspoken free thinker in the society I grew up in did not put my life in danger. I may have been perceived as being weird and annoying which resulted in having less (but more select) friends. My family did not disown me. The authorities had no interest in me and I was not ostracised or persecuted by my local community. I was not discriminated against by anyone because of my atheism.
Unfortunately this is a privilege that is not afforded to many atheists and free thinkers around the world. Millions are born in repressive societies where religion and politics are indivisibly merged together. These are societies where women have fewer rights than men, where nobody can be religiously indifferent and individuality and non-observance of the status quo can literally get you killed. Just like LGBTI individuals from homophobic countries, free thinkers and atheists born in religiously autocratic regimes face the agonising choice of either conforming, following the herd and living a lie or leaving their home, culture and families, everything they have ever known, in order to start out from scratch in a strange land where they would be able to be themselves without having to pretend to be someone they are not.
Over the years I have had the enormous privilege of successfully representing a large number of atheists from different countries. I am stunned at the extraordinarily high personal price paid by many of my clients as a result of their free thinking. As a fellow atheist, I understand their journey from believer to non-believer. I know it is a process with a beginning, a middle and an end. However, I cannot in any way relate to the pain my clients have endured as a result of their atheism such as not being able to visit their countries of origin, having been disowned by their families and lifelong friends, feeling isolated and sometimes suicidal.
And that is before they make a formal asylum application to seek protection. This is a process that can feel like the legal equivalent of a full body cavity search; intrusive, adversarial and unsympathetic; marred by a culture of disbelief; sometimes inhumane.
As a lawyer I strive to protect my clients as much as possible, advising them as to what they can expect from the process, spending many hours going through their evidence with them to present the best possible case, strengthening their claims with relevant country information, making full use of my legal toolkit to persuade the decision-maker that atheist asylum applicants are not making up their claims to stay here and work, to be given a council flat and benefits, that these applicants would be at risk of imprisonment, death or both if they are sent them back home just because they can no longer make themselves follow a religion they believe to be a fantasy and cannot abide by the rules imposed by it. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it cannot go back in.
Not all of my atheist clients have had a difficult time securing asylum in the UK. This is very much the luck of the draw. In my experience once my client negotiates the potential Orwellian situations that arise at the Asylum Screening Unit, if the case is well prepared in my experience there is a reasonable chance of securing a grant of asylum on application. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts sometimes the decision-makers do not read or engage with all the evidence painstakingly prepared in support of our cases. In those situations, we can find ourselves in front of an Immigration Judge who is independent of the Home Office. This comes at a very substantial financial and emotional cost.
Over the course of my career I have worked on a wide variety of asylum cases which I have very much enjoyed. However, I cannot help but having a soft spot for atheist clients. Every single time I work in these cases I find something relatable on a personal level. I very much hope to be able to continue doing this work for many years to come.
Ana González BAContinue reading “The Dangers of Being a Devout Atheist”
Exeter University Debating Society has invited Atheism UK to their November 2018 debate. Chris Street, Atheism UK President will argue in favour of the motion: “This House would not tolerate religious fundamentalism”.
Atheism UK members and supporters are welcome to make their suggestions for arguments in favour of the motion.
Please leave your comments below (or email) by Thursday 1st November 2018.
Chris Street, President of Atheism UK notes the flurry of reports about schools in the past three months. Report subjects range from inequality, religion and belief, relationship and sex, racial discrimination, national plans for RE and cheating to get in.
Our friends at Atheist Alliance International (AAI) plan to introduce a
Universal Declaration of Atheist Rights….
The Danger of Religion: Faith-based thinking is inherently dangerous, such as in thinking “everything happens for a reason”, says Alcuin (Rad Doherty) in our forum. Rad is an Atheism UK fully paid up member and forum moderator. He is also our most prolific forum contributor (with over 800 posts). Rad’s aim is to “undermine superstition in the UK” and he is a:
“Non-believer in favour of an inclusive, humanist (small h) society. One which values critical thinking and is based on secular principles such as ‘one law for all’, democracy and freedom of speech and expression.”
Alcuin concludes his July 22nd 2018 forum post “all superstitions are inherently harmful”:
By James A. Haught
Young seekers of truth go through a phase of wondering whether life has any discernible meaning. Why are we here? Why does the universe exist? Is there a purpose to it all? This is the ultimate question, overarching all others.
By James A. Haught
I’m quite aware that my turn is approaching. The realization hovers in my mind like a frequent companion.
My first wife died ten years ago. Dozens, hundreds, of my longtime friends and colleagues likewise came to the end of their journeys. They number so many that I keep a “Gone” list in my computer to help me remember them all. Before long, it will be my turn to join the list.