I was amused today to see the results of the latest ICM poll on religion in The Guardian — amused because it gels with my general feel for the people around me, and amused because it flies in the face of the political discourse flooding the news media these days.
63% of the UK population define themselves as "not religious" — even among people who identify as "Christian", this is more of an ethnic or cultural definition than a spiritual one. Religious identity is strongest among the elderly and women; 43% of the population never attend religious services of any kind, which is pretty impressive if you consider the potential of weddings, funerals, christenings, and school services to suck in by-standers. Only 13% visit a place of worship every week (and about triple that figure among minority religions).
Oh, and 82% of the UK population see religion as a cause of division and tension between people.
Trying to come up with a response, a Church of England spokesman said the "impression of secularism in this country is overrated".
Yeah, right. You speak for an organization that has an audience draw 40% that of a Terry Pratchett mini-series on Sky TV. Doctor Who has a 4:1 lead over the C of E in regular audience terms. Maybe we should give Russell T. Davis four seats in the House of Lords?
What makes this most poignant is that over the past six years there's been an increasing trend towards politicians admitting their superstition in public as if it's something to be proud of. We've got an Education Minister who's a member of Opus Dei, a Prime Minister who's some kind of high church god-bothering believer and thinks praying with his allies is a substitute for realpolitik and rationality, and waiting in the wings as his successor is a dour presbyterian. They've been egged on by the ascendancy of apocalyptic nonsense in America, where it's impossible to get ahead in politics without holding regular conference calls with an imaginary friend — especially if your name is George W. Bush and you're trying to stroke th evangelical base — and where secularism is a swear word to a large subset of the population. They've even been trying to infiltrate their beliefs into public life, promoting the role of "faith schools" — religious brainwashing incubators — in education, talking about reviewing the law on abortion despite a clear public consensus (68% consider it an electoral non-issue, according to ICM; only 14% want the law changed to make obtaining an abortion harder). But they don't represent us. And if they go much further down that route, they're going to reap an electoral whirlwind, because this nation is, at heart, sensible and moderate ... and pulpit-bashing went out of fashion a century ago, and is now seen for what it is: a sign of dangerous detachment from reality.