Religious Concepts

A Nation’s Decline in Faith and Belief – Is there Still a Ray of Hope?

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Bilal Atkinson, Hartlepool UK

On 29th November 2022, the UK Office for National Statistics released the Census 2021 data on ethnicity, religion, national identity and language. The data revealed that England and Wales are no longer majority Christian countries, with a fall of 13 percentage points – from 59% in 2011 to 46.2% in 2021. The 2021 survey, carried out on March 21st, was filled out by more than 24 million households across England and Wales. The proportion of people in England and Wales identifying as Christian has dropped below 50% for the first time. Less than half of the population (46.2%, 27.5 million people) described themselves as ‘Christian’, a 13.1 percentage point decrease from 59.3% (33.3 million) in 2011 The percentage of people saying they had no religion jumped from around a quarter in 2011 (25.2%) to over a third in 2021 (37.2%).[1]

The Church in Crisis?

While the UK has a state religion – the Church of England – and the head of state, the British monarch, is also Supreme Governor of the Church of England, the Archbishop of York is quoted as saying that the country had ‘left behind the era when many people almost automatically identified as Christian.’ The Most Rev. Stephen Cottrell said: ‘It’s not a great surprise that the census shows fewer people in this country identifying as Christian than in the past.’ [2]

Professor Andrew Davies, of the University of Birmingham, expresses similar views: ‘There was a time when to be British meant to be Christian – when you were almost automatically listed as “Church of England” on hospital admission forms unless you specifically provided another identifier.

Those days are clearly long gone – it’s now entirely socially acceptable for Brits to say that they have no religious commitment without them being thought of as in some way morally deficient or excluded from opportunities in public life.'[3]

As much as some people, especially practising Christians, may have been shocked at the release of these statistics, but it should not have come as such a surprise for many, including myself, a former practising Christian, who accepted Islam as my religion in the 1980’s.

Historians agree that in the late 1940s Britain was a predominantly Christian nation, with its religiosity reinforced by the wartime experience. Peter Forster found that in answering pollsters the English reported an overwhelming belief in the truth of Christianity, a high respect for it, and a strong association between it and moral behaviour.[4]

Changes in Social Norms and their Effect on Spirituality

As a young boy I completed the process of being confirmed into the Church of England in 1960 and used to attend church every Sunday. The Church was almost full on every occasion, by young and old, rich and poor. People in the village used to respect each other and most were morally upright and ‘God-fearing’, although this may not have been so obvious in major towns and cities.

Schoolchildren had to walk to school as their parents did not own cars.  In those days very few people owned their own houses, a television, refrigerator or telephone, which are very commonplace and seen as essential necessities nowadays.

As the years progressed, so did the nation’s social and secular habits, as all the ‘necessities of life’ became more abundant and affordable. Television adverts played a big role in drawing people’s attention to a materialistic lifestyle and creating desires for a better life and more luxuries.

As the social life moved up a gear, the spiritual life of the ordinary man seemed to be left behind. Missionaries continued their activities in Africa and Asiatic countries, but not in their own Western countries, at a time when they were needed the most. So much so that by the time the 1960’s arrived, a social, economic and moral trend began the erosion of the Christian teachings.

In the mid to late 1960’s, so called ‘popular music’ spread like wildfire and some of the musicians became ‘pop idols’ and worshipped by their adoring fans. More and more people were able to purchase cars and go on foreign holidays.

The Americans placed a man on the moon in the 1960s. That was just the beginning of an expansion in technology that drew young people to the emerging wonders of computers, and later, the internet.

Unfortunately, with the advancement of materialism, religion and spirituality started to deteriorate at a face pace. As materialism advanced, so did the need for ways to satiate people’s desires and passions. By the 1970s, alcohol and drug use became widespread, drug and alcohol-related crimes increased. Moreover, people’s health also deteriorated because of alcohol and drug abuse. 

The cancerous growth of immorality was festering as many magazines and other publications as well as television and the cinema, portrayed nudity and sexually explicit settings. So called soft pornography was generally thought to be a harmless form of pleasure. The number of sexual offences and child abuse cases began to increase. The revolution in attitudes has had many different causes and has aroused many moral responses.

Up to the 1950’s, divorce was looked upon as distasteful, a stigma, and not in keeping with the Christian tradition. During the marriage ceremony the couple pledged before God that they would honour each other and that only death would part them. The rate of divorce now in this country is on the increase and the custom of marriage is rapidly abating as couples now consider themselves as partners without the need of wedlock, religious or otherwise.

British social and political historian Brian Harrison reports that the forces of secularisation grew rapidly, and by the 1990s Protestantism cast a thin shadow of its 1945 strength. Compared to Western Europe, Britain stood at the lower end of attendance at religious services, and near the top in people claiming, ‘no religion’. While 80% of Britons in 1950 said they were Christians, only 64% did so in 2000.

Brian Harrison states:

‘By every measure (number of churches, number of parish clergy, church attendance, Easter Day communicants, number of church marriages, membership as a proportion of the adult population) the Church of England was in decline after 1970. In 1985 there were only half as many parish clergy as in 1900.’[5]

The recent 2021 Census follows a YouGov – Christianity study in the UK from 27th to 30th November 2020.

The total sample size was 2,169 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 27th-30th November 2020 and the survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 16+). Some of the facts to emerge from this study are:

28% of Britons believe that Jesus (as) was ‘the son of God’. 41%, however, say Jesus (as) was a historical figure and 15% think he was a fictional character.

27% of Britons say they believe in ‘a god’ whilst 41% neither believe in ‘a god’ nor in a ‘higher power’.

52% consider the story of the birth of Jesus Christ (as) to be historically inaccurate, whilst 31% think it’s accurate. Among British Christians, 27% say they don’t believe in the accuracy of the Christmas story.

Just 4% of Britons who celebrate Christmas do so in a religious manner, whilst for 61% it is a completely secular event.

Nearly nine in ten Britons say they celebrate Christmas – a Christmas far removed from being a religious event, to a secular and very materialistic celebration.

With that being said, the advancement in technology and certain changes in the way we operate have actually been of immense benefit to the world of religion, aiding in the dissemination of religious teachings, and in bringing people closer than ever before. Nevertheless, with the world becoming more accepting of concepts and views that are either frowned upon by the church or deemed outright sinful, there remains a clash of what is considered as socially acceptable. It is not only the change social norms which is distancing people from Christianity though: rather – and perhaps more importantly – it is evident that Christian doctrines such as the trinity, atonement and inherited sin, are also driving them away. This is partly due to them being deemed illogical, with unsatisfactory answers given when they are questioned about, or they are simply in contradiction with modern science and established facts. Hence, all of this collectively seems to be making people disillusioned with Christianity altogether.

What does the Latest Census really Tell Us about the State of Religion in Britain?

One third of state schools in Britain are faith schools, and all state schools must by law hold daily acts of Christian collective worship.

Over a period of 16 years, I have been able to speak to over 18,000 schoolchildren regarding the basic teachings of Islam and in so doing I usually relate to them the prophets of God, such as Moses (as) and Muhammad (sa), who were given God’s commandments. When I ask which prophet was given the Ten Commandments, very few children are able to identify Moses (as) as the answer. Those who do are usually from the Catholic faith.

Sadly, churches are closing due to lack of attendance. The majority of congregations are mostly elderly people although there are some churches who are able to attract more younger patrons but these are few and far between.

Although the spiritual needs of people have been constant throughout time, time and time again, people of all religions, past and present, reject the pure teachings of their faith and mould them to suit the individual needs of the time.

When children attend school, they are generally well behaved when the teacher is in the classroom, but once the teacher leaves the classroom, the children, as a rule, start to become boisterous and misbehave until the teacher returns.

The same can be said for the whole of mankind. God, in His infinite mercy, has sent prophets from the time of Adam (as) to the present era; some brought laws and others taught and practised those laws, and most people followed and complied. Morality increased, truth and justice and a benevolent society was formed as well as a strong belief and worship of the One God and Creator of all.

In Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus (as) said, ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.

After the demise of a prophet, people eventually become spiritually leaderless and fall foul of the religious laws and become corrupted. Throughout recorded history, God has always sent another prophet to bring people back to the right path and from darkness and corruption to truth and light.

Nowadays, most people do not trust politicians or other spiritual or secular people to lead them. As the result of the recent census, many don’t believe in God and tend to believe that the secular life is the only way forward. This is evident not only in the population of the UK, but it also seems to be the trend amongst many people throughout the world.

As far as Christianity is concerned, Jesus Christ (as) was asked by an expert in the law, ‘“Teacher, he asked, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus (as) replied, “What is written in the Law. How do you read it?” He answered. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and, Love your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus (as) said, “You have answered correctly, Do this and you will live.”’[6]

This is the very basic message and advice that all prophets gave to their people. Firstly, believe in and worship the One God and secondly, do good to your neighbour as you would like him to do good to you. In a nutshell, if people sincerely followed this advice, the troubles surrounding the world will disappear and as Jesus (as) said, you will live, that is, live in peace and harmony.

A Spiritual and Religious Revolution

Although the census shows that there has been a significant decline in the number of those who describe themselves as Christians, it has also shown an increase in those who adhere to other faiths, most notably in Islam. According to the census, there were increases in the number of people who described themselves as ‘Muslim’ (3.9 million, 6.5% in 2021, up from 2.7 million, 4.9% in 2011).

As a Muslim, this is no surprise for me, for I certainly believe that the universal teachings of Islam, which are for all times, has played a major role in this. Perhaps it is because Islamic teachings are not limited to mere tales of the past, nor are they in contradiction with science and logic. Furthermore, I believe that 570 years after the demise of Jesus (as), Almighty God, as promised in the scriptures, raised another law-bearing prophet whose name is Muhammad (sa). He was sent for the whole of mankind and not just any particular nation or people. 

Although he was given the final laws and commandments which were formed into the Holy Qur’an, his basic message and advice to the people of the world was the same as any other prophet. For instance the Holy Qur’an states:

‘And worship Allah and associate naught with Him, and show kindness to parents, and to kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbour that is a kinsman and the neighbour that is a stranger, and the companion by your side and the wayfarer and those whom you right hands possess. Surely, Allah loves not the proud and the boastful.’[7]

The Qur’an enjoins a Muslim to make his kindness so comprehensive as to include in its scope the whole of mankind, from parents who are the nearest, to strangers who are the farthest removed. A person who does not carry out these divine commandments contained in this verse is condemned as ‘proud and boastful’ because instead of doing good to others and being kind to them, he looks down upon them and behaves arrogantly. The very act of abstaining from being kind to one’s fellow human beings, whether relations or neighbours or strangers, is an act of pride condemned by Islam.

Unfortunately, when people turn away from God and his prophets they follow a path that ultimately leads to destruction. At this moment in time, the population of the world is in a precarious position in that immorality, corruption, mental illness, persecution, injustice and deadly wars to name a few, are predominant. In this day and age it appears that some of the world leaders have little or no faith in God, and because they hold great power, they arrogantly believe they can inflict pain and suffering, intentionally or unintentionally, on their fellow human beings without repercussions or accountability.

The Prophet Muhammad (sa) prophesied, through inference, that the Promised Messiah was to appear at the start of Islam’s fourteenth century. Jesus (as) came at the beginning of the fourteenth century after Moses (as), and the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, to which I belong, was established in 1889 by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), who appeared at the beginning of Islam’s fourteenth century.

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) later claimed to be the long awaited and prophesied Mahdi and Promised Messiah, subservient to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa), as Jesus Christ (as), the Messiah, was to Prophet Moses (as).

Like all prophets he brought the same divine message to bring people back to the recognition of God and to establish peace and good will for all of mankind.

After his demise in 1908, the system of Khilafat (successorship) was established and the present Khalifah (Caliph) is His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba). He is the Fifth Khalifah of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Elected to this lifelong position on 22nd April 2003, he serves as the worldwide spiritual and administrative head of an international religious organisation with membership exceeding tens of millions spread across over 200 nations and territories.

Many people are openly and silently wishing for someone to lead them to a state of peace and trust. Someone to be totally honest and truthful and who dispenses justice to all without fear or favour. This is not a Utopian wish, as this person, his Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba), at this moment in time, resides in the UK.

His Holiness (aba) is the world’s leading Muslim figure promoting peace and interreligious harmony. Through his sermons, lectures, books, and personal meetings, His Holiness (aba) has continually advocated the worship of God Almighty and serving humanity. He also continually advocates for the establishment of universal human rights, a just society and a separation of religion and state.

Since being elected Khalifah, His Holiness (aba) has led a worldwide campaign to convey the peaceful message of Islam, through all forms of print and digital media. Under his leadership, national branches of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have launched campaigns that reflect the true and peaceful teachings of Islam. These campaigns have received worldwide media coverage and demonstrate that Islam champions peace, loyalty to one’s country of residence and service to humanity.

His Holiness (aba) has travelled globally to promote and facilitate service to humanity. He regularly meets presidents, prime ministers, other heads of state, parliamentarians and ambassadors of state.

Every week, His Holiness (aba) delivers a Friday Sermon in which he addresses all members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community worldwide. The sermon is broadcast globally live on MTA International, an Ahmadi Muslim satellite television station established in 1994, and translated into various languages. MTA International is also streamed live on and YouTube. The Friday Sermon is available in over 18 languages in video on demand format.

His Holiness (aba) uses his sermons to counsel Ahmadi Muslims about various issues of importance. He is not a secular or political leader; he is a divinely inspired religious leader supported by the Ever-Living and Omnipotent God Who has power over all things and Who continues to watch over us.

Nevertheless, it appears from the 2021 Census that the foundation on which Christianity stands appears to be eroding quite rapidly in the UK in that its citizens are leaving behind, as the Archbishop of York stated, ‘an era where many people almost automatically identified as Christian.’ When man changes or contravenes the rules of God to suit the needs of the time and in contradiction to those rules and commands, in the end, his efforts are bound to fail.

In regard to the universal religion of Islam, God Himself states in the Holy Qur’an that He will be its guardian, meaning that no man, in whatever era, will be able to change the rules and regulations that Almighty God has created for the whole of mankind for all time. Among all revealed scriptures, the Holy Qur’an alone has remained completely immune from all interpolation or tampering with it.[8]

As mentioned earlier, Almighty God has been sending prophets and their successors to guide mankind to the path of peace and to the true purpose of their existence. May He continue to do so. Ameen.

It is important to therefore note that despite the dramatic growth of irreligiousness in the UK, the essence of faith will always remain, so long as people continue to adhere to the core teachings sent to the world by the prophets. As we move away from them and fail to display morality – as is the case in many parts of the world today – then the downwards spiral will affect all religions, not just Christianity.  Nevertheless, religion still plays a pivotal role in the lives of billions across the globe, and to avoid the current decline therein, you have to have…a little faith.


[1] “Religion, England and Wales: Census 2021,” Office for National Statistics (ONS), Released 29th November 2022. Accessed: January 3, 2023.

[2] Ian Jones, Jemma Crew, Ellie Kemp, “Less than half of UK population are Christian for first time ever, census data says,” Manchester Evening News, November 29, 2022.

[3] Andrew Davies, Professor of Public Religion, Birmingham University.

[4] Peter G. Forster, “Secularization in the English Context: Some Conceptual and Empirical Problems,” Sociological Review, 1972, 20: 153–68.

[5] Brian Harrison, Finding a Role? The United Kingdom 1970-1990 (UK: Oxford University Press, 2012), 371–72.

[6] The Bible, Luke 10:25-28.

[7] The Holy Qur’an, 4:37.

[8] The Holy Qur’an, 15:10.