Claud Cockburn claimed that the dullest Times headline ever written was: “Small earthquake in Chile. Not many dead.” For us, last week, the dullest headline might have been “Proportion of Christians in England unchanged.”
Not that we would have noticed it because the big headline from the same National Statistics survey told us that only one per cent of the UK population styled themselves as gay or lesbian. (You can see the survey, and its methodology, here).
But it’s the religious statistics which interest me. I know that it’s dangerous to compare two different surveys but both this one and the 2001 national census record Christians at around 70 per cent of our population. The second ranking denomination is Muslim, at around four per cent – an increase of 35 per cent since 2001). Taking “don’t knows” and “decline to answers” together, the non-religious remain at around 20 per cent.
This is no cause for triumphalism. The proportion of Christians who have an active belief, let alone an active practice, is very much smaller. We can say no more than that 70 per cent of our population most naturally recognise themselves as Christians by culture.
But that in itself is important. While we should have full respect for the beliefs and cultures of the minority religions (and indeed often be prepared to learn from them) we remain, by a large majority, a Christian culture. We, and our masters in Parliament, might well bear that in mind, and give it due weight.
The More or Less programme on Radio 4 (use iPlayer) on October 1 (today) starts with a good discussion on the survey and its validity.