Class and religion in the UK

October 6, 2009

Interesting article in the Guardian today on the results of a Theos survey of religion in the UK, focussing (as the English tend to do) on class:

Last year we at Theos, the public theology thinktank, commissioned a large survey (2,000+ respondents) looking into attitudes to evolution, a/theism and a whole host of related topics.

One of the questions, adapted from an earlier BBC/ICM survey, asked people not simply what they believed (about God) but whether they had changed their mind, and by cross-tabulating these results with standard demographic questions, we can get a reasonably detailed picture of the class composition of atheism and theism in the UK.

The results can be read here but in summary the study found that lifelong theists (“I have always believed in God”) are disproportionately from lower socio-economic grades (DE: semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers or those unemployed or on state benefits), whereas lifelong atheists (“I have never believed in God”) are disproportionately from upper social grades (AB: higher or intermediate managerial or administrative professionals).

No surprise there. The default position in the UK (and seemingly in humans themselves) has long been belief in God, so you would expect theism to be a mass movement and atheism a more select one.

What is interesting – and surprising – is that “converts” to theism (“I believe in God now but have not always done so”) are disproportionately from upper and upper-middle social grades (ABC1: as above plus supervisory, clerical, junior managerial or administrative professionals), whereas “converts” to atheism (“I used to believe in God but I no longer do so”) are disproportionately from lower social grades (DE).

I’m not suprised by the first bit.  I’m reminded of Gibbon’s phrase that in Roman times religion was thought by the philosophers to be false, by the common people as true and by the rulers as useful; a phrase which probably applies to the English settlement better than it did to the Romans. The cultured despisers still despise.

I am suprised by the second bit.  It is just that class correlated with education and more educated people are more likely to change their belief systems?  But if so, why?  I don’t have that much faith in our education systems; and I don’t think I know anyone who has converted to Christianity for intellectual reasons—indeed conversion quite possibly isn’t a rational process.

Religion isn’t philosophy, but atheism can be; one can become an atheist by a purely rational intellectual decision that there isn’t convincing evidence of the existence of God—although admittedly much of the atheism found online confuses a epistemological rejection of Christianity with a moral one.

I wonder what the takehome message is.

And I wonder where those converts are.  Are they here?  Or here?  Or are they at home by themselves?


One Response to “Class and religion in the UK”

  1. Classified Says:

    Reply post : “Class and religion in the UK”

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