Scots ditch religion in ever great numbers, and embrace humanist ceremonies instead

FOLLOWING a recent survey which shows that Scotland is increasingly turning its nose up at religion,  comes a report that secular weddings are on the rise.

The Humanist Society of Scotland said that its celebrants officiated at about 3,000 weddings last year – and it predicts they will become more popular than Church of Scotland weddings in as little as two years.

This photo of a non-religious Scots wedding is featured on the Humanist Society Scotland's website

This photo of a non-religious Scots wedding is featured on the Humanist Society Scotland’s website

A similar trend would be on the cards for the rest of the UK if only the ceremonies were legally recognised, says  the British Humanist Association (BHA). That happened  in Scotland in 2005, when there were fewer than 100 ceremonies, but the country is now one of few in the world where non-religious weddings are allowed. The others are Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway and certain states of the USA.

Said  Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the BHA:

It’s a great shame because people want them and there’s no real argument against them.

He hopes the law will soon change. In the meantime, humanist couples may marry at a registry office and then have a humanist ceremony some time afterwards (or just have the ceremony and to hell with legal recognition).

About 800 couples do this a year in England and Wales. The BHA’s growing membership, meanwhile, stands at 30,000.

A humanist wedding – like a funeral – can be anything the folk involved want it to be – but without any religious claptrap. There are no prescribed rituals.

Explained Copson:

Ceremonies are designed to be extremely personalised and meaningful. They’re a celebration of a relationship in front of family and friends. They’re not religious but look for meaning instead in people.

Earlier, the National Secular Society reported that Scotland, “once one of the more pious parts of the British Isles”, is rapidly becoming secularised.

Referring to a poll to commissioned for the Sunday Times and Real Radio Scotland, over the past decade the number of Scots saying they belong to a Christian faith has fallen from almost two-thirds (65 percent), as recorded in the 2001 census, to 55 percent.

Over the same period, the number of those who follow no religion has risen from 28 percent to 39 percent.

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said:

These figures indicate a growing national trend towards secularisation. And even then the results of the Scottish poll are likely to be underestimates of the extent of it. When the Scottish census figures are released later this year, we expect to see similar levels of decline in religious identity.

Sanderson referred to the well-established phenomenon of people overstating their religious beliefs and loyalties; a recent poll in England showed implied attendance double the actual figures taken from church statistics. He also pointed to the response to another poll conducted on behalf of the Chef and Brewer pub chain about how people spent their Sundays.

Fifteen per cent claimed that they “usually went to a place of worship”. Terry Sanderson said:

Even the churches wouldn’t try to claim that. Their own head counts show less than half of that number actually show up at church on a normal Sunday.

He continues to be puzzled by the way people still often felt the need to exaggerate their religious adherence when questioned by pollsters.

So why do people feel the need to say they go to church when they don’t? It seems to be another indication of the religious indoctrination we have all undergone, which leaves many of us still feeling guilty about admitting we couldn’t really care less about the church and are bored by it.

Hat tip: Agent Cormac and Barriejohn

21 responses to “Scots ditch religion in ever great numbers, and embrace humanist ceremonies instead”

  1. Canada Dave says:

    In Canada here I have been twice wed in civil ceremonies and will leave directions that upon my demise there is to be no mention of any deity by anyone during the “last service”.

    In the posting Barriejohn refers to above it is stated that….

    “Christianity is still at the root of our country and we have been marginalised too many times.”

    There have been many forms of religion in Britain and elsewhere prior to the introduction of the jesus cult.
    The group that brought the man nailed to two wood timbers was just better organized….they too will go the way of the DoDo….it will just take time.

  2. Angela_K says:

    It is not just that some people are making false claims to be religious, the major religions always overstate their numbers and still include those who were baptised but have abandoned religion. This gives a false impression to the Government that the UK is more religious that it actually is and as an excuse to grant the religious more privileges.

  3. Michael Glass says:

    In 2011, 70.1% of marriages in Australia were civil weddings. See

  4. Broga says:

    Angela_K: Regarding false claims the BBC, tacitly and explicity, behaves, at great cost to all licence payers, as if the entire country was Christian. Much of Sunday is so programmed towards the religious minority that it is a dead zone on the BBC. And they stuff vicars and little religious homilies in whereever the can the rest of the week.

  5. the Woggler says:

    I attended a humanist wedding in Scotland last year and can thoroughly recommend them for anybody thinking of tying the knot. The ceremony was about the bride and groom, their families and friends, and the great sky ghost didn’t get a look in.

  6. Broga says:

    @the Woggler: I can make the same comments about my mother’s humanist funeral. Relatives who loved her all spoke for a few minutes. It worked really well. No clergy.

  7. Stephen Mynett says:

    A Scottish friend died a week or so back. He was always a great character and had planned his own funeral. The coffin was brought in while Nellie the Elephant was played, the only communal song was Auld Lang Syne and the service ended with the Ken Dodd song Happiness.
    It was a great send off and had none of the misery of many religious services.

  8. charlie says:

    Being married by a priest/minister does not make the marriage any more valid or long lasting than a humanist wedding. Same for a funeral, the dead is just as dead regardless who says what at the funeral. My will says NO religious ceremony allowed. Those who wish to pray may do so SILENTLY to themselves. I also have funds set aside for a nice party for those who attend my funeral. I want all to be happy that I no longer have to contend with the chronic pain I have had since the injury to my spine and spinal cord.
    My Dad said that we humans do it all wrong, we are happy when a baby is born and cry when a person dies. We should be happy at death as the person no longer suffers and feel a bit sad for the birth as that poor child is going to have to deal with this world we have left/made for them.

  9. charlie says:

    P.S to my last. YES, I did cry when Dad dies, same when my daughter and later my wife from brain cancer. I will cry when my current wife dies if she dies before me. Why? Because I love them and miss or will miss them.
    I do feel a bit sad at a birth as the world the child will have to make his/her way in is a nastier place than it was in 1947 when I came onto the scene. What a mess they will have to deal with. I do enjoy the grandchildren my wife has and even her two great grandchildren, but wish we were leaving a nicer planet for them to grow up in.

  10. Broga says:

    @charlie: I agree so much with comments having just got another grandchild. I wonder about the world he will grow into: over populated, polluted and beset by superstition. Regarding marriage, we were married in a Registry Office and 45 years later are still together – happily I’m glad to say. We can look around, certainly with no feeling of pleasure, at so many friends married in church and since divorced. At the time one religious relative told us we could not be regarded as married and without the blessing of the church would not last.

  11. ZombieHunter says:

    When my granda passed away three years ago he had a humanist funeral and it was nice because it was just about him and his life and the impact he had on everyone around him.

    Compared to the catholic service my uncle had with all the crap about “God’s plan for us” (after he died a slow and painful death from cancer, some plan eh) the more personal humanist ceremony was a nice send off 🙂

  12. Matt Westwood says:

    Excuse me, what? I had a completely secular wedding in the local Town Hall of my town back in 2003. Such was its secularity that when we were asked for the music we wanted, we were told that because of the fact that it was the town hall, we would not be *allowed* to use music that was of a religious nature.

    We did all the things you do at weddings: dressed up in posh clothes, recited vows, did the parade up the aisle and the giving away of the bride by the father, the whole bit.

    A few months later a couple of friends of ours did exactly the same thing, in a different town hall.

    So what’s all that about “… on the cards for the rest of the UK if only the ceremonies were legally recognised …”? Someone explain?

  13. Lazy Susan says:

    My wife & I married in Morningside Registry Office, Edinburgh, in 1980, and were married until she died of cancer a few years ago. She left her body to science (as I have mine) so there was no body for a funeral. I organised a party in a local park for all her friends and relatives. Everyone brought something to eat; I provided music and a marquee and a place for people to pin up photos or other memorabilia. It was a good day. The whole thing was invented: I knew there would be no church service so I just had to make it up as I went along. My best helper was a woman who counts herself a devoted Christian. She was not in the least bothered by my unconventional approach. A good friend.

  14. OurSally says:

    My aunt-in-law died a few years ago. A very pi Catholic, she had planned (and paid for) her entire funeral, chosen the coffin, headstone, notice in the paper, hymns, menu in the restaurant – everything. She also made a long list of who got what of all her belongings.
    I was greatly impressed, and sat down to do the same. The plan starts with “no priest shall earn money from my death”. I am actually a bit sad I won’t be there to watch the fun, actually.

  15. Matt Westwood says:

    @OurSally: It occurs to me that your aunt-in-law’s is similar to that of a wedding – except that you generally plan the actual date of the latter …

  16. Marky Mark says:

    Charlie said:
    (I also have funds set aside for a nice party for those who attend my funeral.)
    …I’ll go!
    Not that I wish it upon you, it is because you have the right idea.

  17. Ian says:

    Matt, I think what is meant is that the ‘legality bit’ has to be carried out in an ‘authorised ie licensed place’ by a ‘licensed indivisual’ and humanist ceremonies, although they can be carried out by a clebrant they are not classed as a marriage that is recognised in law.

  18. Don says:

    I recently attended the funerals of two uncles about a year apart. Both were in their eighties, had fought in WW2 and were what I thought of while growing up as ‘proper men’. One had been a postman in the Lake District, a fell runner and a smallholder, the other had started as a miner and moved up through the old NCB. Both made a point of being smartly turned out on a Sunday and double-smart on Remembrance Day.

    I lost touch to the extent that we might meet on family occasions once every couple of years. I was quite surprised to find that both had specified that there was to be no religious element at their funerals. (They weren’t brothers.) At some point these traditional, pillar-of-the-community, practical, chapel-going men had cut their ties with religion without fuss (they didn’t do fuss) and had taken the trouble to leave written instructions that there was to be no religious element, just secular music and friends and family speaking of memories of happy times.

    My old mum, just turned 90, who used to insist I went to chapel as a kid and be respectful of any form of clergy has, for the last 20 years, dismissed religion as ‘a load of nonsense’ and being a clergyman as ‘no job for a proper man’. Talking about her childhood Sundays with a morning service & Sunday school and the rest of the day in sombre dullness she said ‘We didn’t know any better in those days.’

    These old people did not ‘lose’ their religion because they had read Dawkins or Dennet or Hitchens, or because of the internet. They just gradually concluded that they didn’t want anything to do with it and quietly dropped it. I don’t know whether or not my uncles were atheists – we never talked about it – but I now know that in their latter years they wanted religion to be no part of their lives or deaths.

  19. RedXIII says:

    Way to go Scotland! I hope more can be said for other countries as time goes by.