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Religious and Social Attitudes of UK Christians in 2011

Published:14 February 2012
Fieldwork:1 - 7 April 2011
Source:Ipsos MORI / Richard Dawkins Foundation
Keywords:Christianity, Faith, Race, Religion, RFC
(Click on keywords to find related Research)

A poll carried out by Ipsos MORI for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (UK) in the week after the 2011 Census focused on the beliefs, attitudes and practices of UK adults who say they were recorded as Christian in the 2011 Census (or would have recorded themselves as Christian had they answered the question). 

Attitudes

UK Christians are overwhelmingly secular in their attitudes on a range of issues from gay rights to religion in public life, according to new research.

Religion and government

  • Three quarters (74%) strongly agree or tend to agree that religion should not have special influence on public policy, with only one in eight (12%) thinking that it should. 
  • More oppose than support the idea of the UK having an official state religion, with nearly half (46%) against and only a third (32%) in favour.  The same pattern is repeated with the question of seats being reserved for Church of England bishops in the House of Lords: 32% of respondents oppose, with only 25% in favour.
  • There is overwhelming support for religion being a private, not public, matter. Asked how strongly they support the statement that governments should not interfere in religion, 79% strongly agree or tend to agree, with only 8% strongly disagreeing or tending to disagree. 

Education

  • While Christians are more likely to support than oppose state-funded faith schools, this support is reduced when non-Christian faiths schools are included.  Less than half (45%) support state-funded faith schools for any religion, whether Christian or non-Christian, while just over half (53%) are in favour of state-funded schools for any Christian denomination.
  • Less than a quarter (23%) think religious education in state-funded schools should teach pupils to believe in a religion: 15% think it should teach pupils to believe in Christianity and 8% to believe whatever faith the school subscribes to.  Most (57%) think state-funded schools should teach knowledge about the world’s main faiths even-handedly, without any bias towards any particular religion, and without trying to inculcate belief.
  • More Christians oppose (38%) than support (31%) the teaching of 6-day creationism in state-funded school science lessons. 
  • The current law in England and Wales requiring state schools to hold a daily act of broadly Christian worship is not strongly supported either, with almost as many Christians opposing to it (36%) as in favour (39%).

Other attitudes

  • Six in ten respondents (61%) agree that homosexuals should have the same legal rights in all aspects of their lives as heterosexuals, and those who disapprove of sexual relations between two adults of the same sex (29%) are greatly outnumbered by those who do not (46%). 
  • Less than a quarter (23%) believe that sex between a man and a woman is only acceptable within marriage.
  • There is strong support for an adult woman’s right to have an abortion within the legal time limit, with more than three in five (62%) in favour and only one in five (20%) against. 
  • Three in five (59%) Christians support the legalisation of assisted suicide in the case of terminally ill adult patients where certain safeguards are in place, with only one in five (21%) opposing it.
  • Despite the fact that 60% of respondents claim that Christianity is very or fairly important in their lives, this does not appear to be strongly reflected in practice. Seven in ten (69%) say that Christianity has had, or would have, no or not very much influence in their choice of marriage partner, and even more (81%) say it has no or not very much influence on whom they socialise with.

Practice

When asked why they think of themselves as Christian, the research found that fewer than three in ten (28%) say one of the reasons is that they believe in the teachings of Christianity. People are much more likely to consider themselves to be Christian because they were christened or baptised into the religion (72%) or because their parents were members of the religion (38%) than because of personal belief. 

The research sought to measure a number of Christian practices, including regular reading of the Bible and prayer outside church services, to see how prevalent these were amongst respondents self-identifying as Christian.  Among the results, we find that:

  • The majority (60%) have not read any part of the Bible, independently and from choice, for at least a year.
  • Over a third (37%) have never or almost never prayed outside a church service, with a further 6% saying they pray independently and from choice less than once a year.
  • Only a quarter (26%) say they completely believe in the power of prayer, with one in five (21%) saying they either do not really believe in it or do not believe in it at all.

The low level of religious belief and practice is reflected in church attendance. Apart from special occasions such as weddings, funerals and baptisms, half (49%) had not attended a church service in the previous 12 months.  One in six (16%) have not attended for more than ten years, and a further one in eight (12%) have never attended at all.  One in six (17%) attends once a week or more.

When asked where they seek most guidance in questions of right and wrong, only one in ten (10%) said it was from religious teachings or beliefs, with over half (54%) preferring to draw on their own inner moral sense.

Half (54%) of the self-identifying Christians describe their view of God in Christian terms, with the others using the term in the sense of the laws of nature (13%), some form of supernatural intelligence (10%), or whatever caused the universe (9%). Six per cent do not believe in God at all.

Just a third (32%) believe Jesus was physically resurrected, with one in five (18%) not believing in the resurrection even in a spiritual sense; half (49%) do not think of Jesus as the Son of God, with one in twenty-five (4%) doubting he existed at all.

Asked to select which one statement best describes what being a Christian means to them personally, 40% chose 'I try to be a good person' and around a quarter (26%) chose ‘It's how I was brought up'.  Around one in six (16%) selected the statement ‘I have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour' and less than one in ten (7%) chose 'I believe in the teachings of Jesus'.

Overall, the findings suggest that the number of UK adults self-identifying as Christian has fallen significantly since the 2001 Census.  This research found that at the time of the 2011 Census, just over half (54%) the public thought of themselves as Christian, compared with almost three-quarters (72%) in the 2001 Census. 

Technical note

Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 2,107 adults aged 15+ across the United Kingdom. From this sample, a total of 1,136 adults defined themselves as Christians. Interviews were conducted face-to-face over the period 1st April to 7th April, 2011. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.
 

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