A recent study of religious trends in the UK caught my eye last week. It indicates that more and more people identify as having no religion rather than sticking to any form of Christianity. This study was done by Stephen Bullivant, a senior lecturer of theology and ethics at St. Mary's Catholic University.
The study states that "The number of people who say they have no religion is rapidly escalating and significantly outweighs the Christian population in England and Wales." The percentage of people who identified as non-religious reached 48.5 percent in 2014, nearly double the figure of 25 percent in the 2011 census. People who identify themselves as Christian – Anglicans, Catholics and other denominations – made up 43.8 percent of the population.
This should come as no surprise to church members and ministers who can't help but notice the dwindling numbers in their congregations, particularly in the traditional Catholic denominations. Many churches are facing the prospects of amalgamating or shutting down.
The trends are similar in other countries, including Canada (where I'm from). 25 percent of Canadians, or 7.8 million people, identified themselves as non-religious in the 2011 census. This was a significant increase from the 16.5 percent from the 2001 census, and 12 percent who identified as non-religious back in 1991.
A 2012 survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life identified the ratio of Americans unaffiliated to churches or institutions at just under 20 percent. It also discovered that more than a quarter of American adults have left their faith in favor of another religion or abandoning religion. The UK study also indicated that the churches have not been active in recruiting new members, which could also be leading to their demise. We live in a world of increasing rational thought, well publicized church scandals, the beliefs of new immigrants, and changing social attitudes which have led to legalizing same sex marriages and a woman's right to choose. If the church cannot adapt to changing times and evolving cultures, it will get left behind as more and more people, especially younger people, look elsewhere for a sense of communion and succour.
The evidence seems to show the church is dying, or at least on life support. Does religion still have a place in our modern society? Does it have the same level of influence in our day-to-day lives? Can an institution be relevant when it won't allow its women to be priests. Are there other doctrines we can follow that define a moral, compassionate society without religion (I'm a Humanist myself).
You could say that religion provides a set of guidelines and principles in how to live our lives with meaning, yet so much harm and violence has been committed in the name of God – the Crusades, the Inquisition, terrorism in Palestine, and so much carnage that it is difficult to maintain that belief in God guarantees morality. It would seem to be intolerant to claim that only people with religion are moral, and that those who are not religious are amoral or less righteous. I believe in a compassionate society, one that is based on caring and compassion. I think most people believe in the same thing. I think more people, however, are coming to the conclusion that it does not need to be based upon a fear or love of God, nor obedience to commandments or a book written thousands of years ago, but rather on an internalized, innate sense of right and wrong.