Where Goes Britain, Iran not far Behind
This past week on November 29, Britain's Office for National Statistics released the 2021 Census data. While the report included everything from community statistics to education and population, I pulled up the information about religion. Their statistical bulletins on any of these topics are online for anyone with an internet connection and a printer.
There were six main points that the bulletin tried to convey.
The religion question in the census was voluntary. However, 94 percent of the population answered the question versus 93 percent in 2011.
For the first time recorded, less than half of the population (46.2 percent or 27.5 million people) described themselves as "Christian," a decline of almost six million people since 2011. Despite the decrease, "Christian" remained the dominant religion compared to all other religions.
"No religion" was the second largest category, increasing to over eight million people since 2011.
The "Muslim" category increased to 6.5 percent from 4.9 percent, an increase of 1.2 million people. The "Hindu" category also increased but is still considered a marginal religion. The minority religions increased a nominal percentage but few in significant numbers of people.
The area of Wales represented the most significant increase in "No Religion" and the biggest decline in "Christians" compared to England.
London remains the country's most religiously diverse region, with over a quarter (25.3 percent) of urban residents reporting a religion other than "Christian."
All these points are interesting, but item number two and number three seem overwhelming: a population drop of six million out of a total population of fifty-four million quit being Christians and moved to have no religion. That's 11 percent of the population over a decade or almost 2 percent yearly. For social scientists in America or Europe, that's a jaw-dropping number. However, academicians and scholars have been predicting this collapse in England for the last 50 years. In the previous 30 years, attendance at mainstream churches halved. A little over 20 years ago, a book, The Death of Christian Britain by Callum Brown at the University of Glasgow, predicted this malaise. While Christianity in England has been ill for some time, Islam, as practiced in Iran, has many of the same symptoms.
In Britain, the main denomination of Christianity is the Church of England (12 percent of the population), Roman Catholic (7 percent), Protestant (3.25 percent), and other denominations (13 percent). In 1534, The Roman Catholic Church was usurped by King Henry VIII, who converted the English people to Anglican Protestantism. The Anglicans remained dominant in Britain throughout the 18th century. Most of the parishioner loss has come from the Church of England and some from the Roman Catholic Church.
Institutionally, the Church of England is a state-sponsored church afforded influence and privileges that are out of kilter, with the falling proportion of people identifying as Christian. For example, between 4,000 and 5,000 state schools in England are operated by the Church of England. Anglican bishops sit and vote in the House of Lords, one of the national legislative branches in England. A significant share of public broadcasting is devoted to Christian programs. The Archbishop of Canterbury presides over any state or royal burials and coronations. Technically, the King or Queen of England is the head of the Church of England.
Similarities Between England and Iran
First, Iran is a theocracy. A theocracy is a form of government in which God is recognized as the state's supreme civil ruler. The ayatollah in Iran is God's representative in the flesh, much like the King of England is to the Church of England and the pope is to the Catholic Church. Iran is the only other country like England that reserves seats in its legislature for clerics. All the schools in Iran are state-sponsored. All of the radio and television broadcasting is state approved. The similarities are spooky for the cultures to be so different. Now that we have identified that both countries have similar ecumenical structures let's determine what happened to England to cause such fallout of faith.
The Decline of Christianity in England
Some of the declines in Christianity were due to death. As I identified in my forthcoming book Muslim Mechanics, Christians are prevalent in the higher developed countries with higher incomes, educations, and older populations. The recent pandemic didn't help, but probably the majority of those elderly who died were Christians. These deaths alone would not account for the massive drop in Christians. Most social historians in Britain blame the decline on the Baby Boomers' failure to pass the faith down to their children. Baby Boomers lost their religion in the 1960s due to the sexual revolution and recreational drugs. Their children were the beneficiaries of this faithless upbringing. As the Baby Boomers die off, their children select the "no religion" category.
A recent court case in London typifies this situation. A Christian street preacher faced charges of violating the Public Order Act by engaging in "threatening," "abusive," and "insulting" speech by telling a lesbian couple that homosexuals will not "inherit the kingdom of heaven," as described in the Bible. In his defense, his attorney wrote that "there are references in the Bible which are no longer appropriate in modern society. In other words, the Bible no longer has merit for how today's people live. The court agreed and dismissed the case against the preacher.
The Decline of Islam in Iran
Compared to other Muslim countries, Iran is more liberal than Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or even Syria. They allow some rock and roll music, and women can drive, hold jobs, and even get university educations. The main participants in the current protests going on in Iran are women. In Islam, women are honored as child bearers and the soul of the home. Home economics is a massive task in undeveloped economies, but in countries with developed economies, that role becomes less critical as fewer children are raised. Iran is at that crossroads where their youth are becoming detached from the traditional parts of the family. Iran enjoys western style media, social media, and products made possible with Western technology. Their youth are now where Britain was in the 1960s. For Britain, it took 50 years to see the demise of Christianity. Unless Iran recognizes this trend, the decline of Islamic belief might happen sooner rather than later.