Christianity has declined sharply over the past decade, according to the census returns. Numbers who choose to call themselves Christians fell by more than four million. The collapse in belief in the religion which has been central to the history of the country for 1,500 years means that fewer than six out of ten, or 59 per cent, now describe themselves as Christian. A decade ago nearly three quarters, 72 per cent, did so. The diminishing number of Christians is mirrored by a rapid growth in those who profess no religious affiliation. A quarter of the population, 14.1 million, now say they have no religion, nearly double the 7.7 million who said the same thing in the 2001 census.
The growth religion in England and Wales is Islam, the census returns showed. Over a decade, numbers of Muslims have gone up from around 1.5 million to 2.7 million, and almost one in 20 of the population is now a Muslim. The lowest level of Christian belief is in London, where fewer than half the population, 48 per cent, now say they are Christian. Returns showed the most Christian district is Knowsley on Merseyside, where more than four out of ten say they are Christian. More than a third of people in the London borough of Tower Hamlets are Muslim. Norwich is the most Godless place in Britain, with 42.5 per cent of its population professing no religion. Around 177,000 people claim to be Jedi – the ‘faith’ made famous in the Star Wars films – though this number is down on the 2001 figure by more than a half. And 6,242 people subscribe to the Heavy Metal religion, set up in 2010 by the Rock music magazine, Metal Hammer. Other alternative religions included 56,620 Pagans, 39,061 Spiritualists, and 2,418 Scientologists
MPs have overwhelmingly voted in favour of treating all churches as charities, after a small Christian group was denied charitable status. Peter Bone, a Tory backbencher, launched his attempt to change the law after the Charity Commission gave charitable status to pagan groups, including druids, but denied it to a small church hall in Devon. Around 166 MPs were in support of Mr Bone’s efforts to introduce a Bill on the issue, with just seven voting against. Mr Bone told the House of Commons that it is necessary to toughen up the law to protect other Christian groups, such as the Salvation Army, and even the Church of England. He said, ‘The repercussions of such a ruling could have a disastrous effect on religious institutions and the excellent work they do in the charity sector. Is Judaism, the Catholic Church, or even the Church of England itself going to come under pressure to prove their public benefit?’ The Tory MP will not actually succeed in getting the law changed unless the Government decides to back the idea at a later stage in its progress through the House of Commons. It comes after fifty-three MPs, including four members of the Government, wrote to The Daily Telegraph demanding that ministers take action.
Last month the Charity Commission cited a ruling that religion was not always for the public benefit when it denied the status to the Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive), which runs the church hall concerned. Describing it as ‘an important test case’, the MPs asked, ‘Why have the Christian Brethren been singled out in this way? There should be an urgent review into how this decision was made and whether there was a level playing field’. The letter to the newspaper was organised by Rob Halfon, a Tory MP and member of the Commons public administration committee. Four ministerial aides – Paul Maynard, John Glen, David Burrowes, and Daniel Kawczynski, also signed it. The Plymouth Brethren’s 16,000 believers try to remain apart from the outside world, and have been in a lengthy fight with the watchdog. A spokesman for the Charity Commission said, ‘Public benefit is and always has been a requirement of charities advancing religion, as it is for all other charitable purposes’. He said that the case was best considered by a tribunal and that the commission was ‘mindful’ of the costs, which it tried to minimise.