Monday, 28 February 2011


There is a census on the way in the UK, and there are arguments around the net focussing on the question about religion.

Last time, 72% of the population of the UK ticked the box that said "Christian".

However, there are not 45 million people in church every Sunday.

Obviously, people are ticking the box because they think they ought to, or out of habit.

We need a better set of options, to get a better picture of British religiosity.

I propose:
  • Actively Christian
  • Christian by upbringing only
  • Actively Jewish
  • Jewish by upbringing only
  • Actively Muslim
  • Muslim by upbringing only

Along with ...
  • Atheist
  • Humanist
  • Atheist/Humanist
  • Don't care about religion
  • Other ____________
This will give a much more realistic picture of British religiosity because it will force people to actually think about their answer. They won't sit and think, "Well, I'm not a Muslim, and I'm not Jewish, and I kind of think there's a god, so I'll tick Christian". Instead, they will have to be a bit more honest with themselves.

The answers would be fascinating ...


  1. Interesting proposal. I don't know that this format is very conducive to good answers on such a complicated subject, however..."What religion are you?" can be such a complicated question to answer. For one thing, I don't know that one can say "You are not religion X!" if we're asking THEM what they consider themselves to be.

    Where's I-believe-but-don't-practice-it? (subtly different from "raised in religion X) Where's agnostic? Where's "hopelessly confused/don't know"? Where's "passively believe"? Where's spiritual without religion? I think at some point you bump up against the limitation of using a checkbox to measure what can be essentially unquantifiable. Except for the edge cases, the extreme ends of the pole, religious beliefs don't fit well in boxes, let alone the much too broad question of "What religion are you?". Same as when trying to measure people's political affiliations, personality, intelligence, emotions, etc.

    I do think greater specificity would produce interesting results, and less general is better, though.

  2. A.

    The only way a census can be realistically analysed is if it is all tick-the-box questions, and no tick-box selection can please everybody.

    If the whole thing could be analysed by human beings, then the question would be a simple two-parter: Do you have a religious faith? If so, please describe it.

  3. This is why the 2010 Census in the US just booted the question of religion entirely... although there was rumor before the census form was even released that said Christianity would be given as a single response, as opposed to the usual divisions of Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, Orthodox, Evangelical, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, etc. which royally pissed off all the conservative Christians. I think it's a wise governing body that can see coming and cancel a question that will brew more of a storm in the asking than the data is worth in the aftermath.

  4. @ Ku,

    We're still waiting to see the exact wording of the UK census.

    The religion question is relatively new over here.