Professor Voas concludes that it would be more meaningful to allocate people to one of seven categories:
- Non-religious (28% of the 1970-born cohort): Does not have a religion or believe in either God or life after death.
- Unorthodox non-religious (21%): Does not have a religion or does not attend services. Believes in God or life after death but not both.
- Actively religious (15%): Has a religion and believes in God and life after death. Attends services.
- Non-practising religious (14%): Has a religion and believes in God and life after death. Does not attend services.
- Non-identifying believers (10%): Does not have a religion, but believes in God and life after death.
- Nominally religious (7%): Identifies with a religion. But believes in neither God nor life after death.
- Unorthodox religious (5%): Has a religion and attends services at least occasionally. Believes in God but not life after death (or, in a few cases, vice versa).
It's a fascinating spectrum, and a reminder that the UK doesn't have a simple Christian/atheist binary option (if it ever did). On first sight it reminded me of the current political opinion polls, a spectrum of identities with no one block claiming a significant or decisive percentage.
What I'd love to see is some way of tracking how people end up at these points. The research suggests that the stronger your religious upbringing, the more likely you are to have a faith now, and be practicing it. No surprise there. But how do you end up as an agnostic who believes in God and life after death. Or a Christian who doesn't believe in either?
It's a reminder that we can't pigeon hole people, everyone's faith is part of their life story, not everyone in church will believe the same thing, nor will everyone at a Richard Dawkins book signing. People need to be listened to, rather than lumped together,
The report also notes that men are much less likely to identify with a faith than women. Another challenge. Given that Jesus started with a bunch of blokes, the church has to ask itself what we've lost of authentic Christianity that the majority of men don't see Jesus as any of their business, or themselves as any of His.