Britons losing religious beliefs

ALMOST half of Britons doubt the existence of God or are confirmed atheists, research has found.

The think-tank, Theos, has found that most of those who say they are Christians do not practise their religion.

And as the country's supermarkets fill up with chocolate eggs, it appears that many do not believe in the fundamentals of the Easter story.

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The Scottish Atheist Council welcomed the Theos findings and said they showed being a non-believer was no longer socially unacceptable.

A leading theology professor said they reflected previous research which showed that in countries where religion was part of public life, such as Britain, it was less a feature of personal lives.

The survey found that 23 per cent of Britons, and 19 per cent of Scots, considered themselves atheists. And 25 per cent of Britons and 32 per cent of Scots are not sure if they believe in God.

The Church of Scotland claimed the sample north of the Border was too small to draw conclusions.

However, Fred Drummond, the Evangelical Alliance's national director for Scotland, said he thought it was "a fair reflection of the nation" and that society was becoming increasingly spiritual but not necessarily religious.

He said: "It's encouraging that churches are much more open to looking for some meaning to life, but not always equating that to Christian faith.

"It's a general discussion about spirituality and spiritual life, and it must be more than what we have at present, but it doesn't necessarily relate to a firm belief in religion."

He said the modern world's problems were a factor in declining faith, with individuals holding far fewer certainties.

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He said that unlike 30 years ago, religion was no longer "one size fits all".

Professor Larry Hurtado, of Glasgow University's school of divinity, said religion had gone through phases of popularity, with atheism common in the 17th century, followed by a major resurgence of faith in the 19th century.

"Now we seem to be heading back into another trough period," he said.

"Among the chattering classes, religion is pass, except for getting your kid done or getting a church when you want to get wedded, but in other areas of society you'll find fairly significant pockets of quite intensive religious faith and activity."

He added: "Religion is very much a part of the official culture – bishops in the House of Lords and so on."

Alan Holmes, of the Scottish Atheist Council, said it was positive that so many respondents admitted having doubts. "It's saying it's OK to not subscribe to previous beliefs of the culture," he said. "Looking at the news, traditionally, the religious minorities have had absolutely disproportionate influence.

The vocal majority in religious groups tends to be the extreme element."

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: "In reality twice as many Scots go to Church each weekend as go to the cinema, and five times as many as attend a football match."

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He said that each week an average of 600,000 attended church, of whom 200,000 were Catholic.

The current number of communicant members of the Church of Scotland is 504,000 – down from more than 1 million in 1976.

The poll, by ComRes for Theo, found that just 30 per cent of Brits accept the traditional Christian belief in the bodily resurrection of Christ. Almost the same again believe he rose in spirit.

More than half of respondents said they believe in some kind of existence after death. Only 9 per cent said they believe in a personal physical resurrection.

Two in five said they believe that Jesus was the son of God and nearly half that he was a holy prophet. More than one in eight (13 per cent) believe he never existed.

On the question of Easter's significance, 43 per cent of the public believe that the Easter story is about Jesus dying for the sins of the world while 26 per cent think it has no meaning.