Religion has become a ‘toxic brand’ in UK
Commenting on a new belief survey in the UK, British academic Linda Woodhead said that religion has become ‘a toxic brand’ in the country.
The exclusive poll for the HuffPost UK reveals that just 8 percent of Britons describe themselves as very religious, while more than 60 percent said they were not religious at all.
Significantly, more than half of Britons believe that religion does more harm than good, with less than a quarter believing faith is a force for good.
Even 20 percent of Britons who described themselves as being “very religious” said religion was harmful to society, and a quarter said atheists were more likely to be moral individuals than religious people.
In fact, one in eight Britons said atheists tend to be more moral, compared to just 6 percent who say atheists are less moral, challenging widely held beliefs that religion is one of the last remaining bastions of British morality.
The strong evidence of a British society which is largely secular and multicultural has led to some call for a rethink of the role of religion in public life.
Linda Woodhead, professor of the sociology of religion at Lancaster University, said it was “striking” to see the number of people professing no religion.
This confirms something I’ve found in my own surveys and which leads me to conclude that religion has become a ‘toxic brand’ in the UK. What we are seeing is not a complete rejection of faith, belief in the divine, or spirituality, though there is some to that, but of institutional religion in the historic forms which are familiar to people.
Woodhead said the reasons for a retreat from religion are “numerous”, from sex scandals involving Catholic priests and rabbis, to conflict in the Middle East and Islamist terror attack.
I’d add religious leaderships’ drift away from the liberal values, equality, tolerance, diversity, [which is] embraced by many of their own followers and often championed by non-religious and atheist people more forcefully.
Andrew Copson, above, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association added:
This survey just confirms what we know is the common sense of people in Britain today – that whether you are religious or not has very little to do with your morality.
Most people understand that morality and good personal and social values are not tied to religious belief systems, but are the result of our common heritage and experience as human beings: social animals that care for each other and are kind to others because we understand that they are human too.
Not only that, people understand that religious beliefs themselves can be harmful to morality: encouraging intolerance, inflexibility and the doing of harm in the name of a greater good. We only need to look around us to perceive that fact.
Copson said there were “lessons” for what role religion should continue to play in public life.
It is unsustainable for religious leaders, politicians and others to seek to make the idea of Britain as a ‘Christian country’ the basis of our national character.
We need an inclusive shared society and an end to the privilege of religious institutions that allows a third of our state schools to be controlled by religious groups, unelected clerics to sit in our Parliament, and discriminatory religious organisations to provide what should be secular public services.