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17/12/2012

More Census Geekery (for Unitarians)

I always actively try to approach human communities by seeking to establish what various groups hold in common - it is all too easy to reduce groups of people we don't know to a series of observations, often misplaced, about how they are unlike ourselves. And in framing these differences, we also tend to judge ourselves as better (or worse) which is equally misplaced - not to mention potentially destructive.

On this basis, it is worth noting that according to the UK Census 2011, approximately 73% of Britons identify with a 'mainstream' faith, and approximately 65% have an Abrahamic theist-rooted faith.  Whether those within this literally believe Jesus ascended to heaven via a Star Trek style transporter beam or Muhammed rode there on a magical horse or Enoch walked there with God (presumably) via a worm hole is not known, nor knowable. On top of the 73%, you could probably count another 1 - 2% in terms of those who identify with the 'minority of the minority' faiths, plus there will be some who adopted the 'Mind Your Own' position in relation to the religion question. 

The point is, the majority of Britons hold a sense of a God in common, the vast majority hold a sense of some kind of underlying / overriding divinity or greater meaning to life in common.

However, if you flip the things-we-hold-in-common approach around, it is also interesting to see in particular the diversity, and peculiarities, of the 240,000 responses outside of those identifying with the main Abrahamic and Dharmic religions. The Guardian has produced an interesting, if not slightly geeky, breakdown of the smaller religious groups which includes the following responses:

- 23,500 Mixed Religion
- 500 Free Thinkers
- 1,200 Deists
- 800 Theists + a further 2,900 who state 'Believe in God'
- 1,900 Individualists ('Own Belief System')
- 900 Universalists + a further 400 who state 'Church of All Religion'

The reason these stand out for me are, speaking as someone who for a long time affiliated with the Unitarian & Free Christian denomination, is that this can be roughly interpreted as a clear 32,000 people who may find the current form of British Unitarianism which mixes liberal Judeao-Christian faith with a more universalistic 'all big religions are ultimately the same' approach appealing - aside from out-and-out liberal-minded Christians of course (an initially unintentional double entendre but one I am now proud of). There are also 14,000 who identify as 'Spiritual' which might be an added potential recruiting ground as most of these will likely have a Judeao-Christian upbringing.

If you consider the 'Earth-centred spirituality' responses, you add potentially another 75,000  - a quick totalling of those who identified as Pagan, Druid, Animism and Wiccan etc. Although I would argue firstly, that these are less compatible with Unitarianism in terms of it being a faith deeply rooted in monotheist theology (particularly if you have actively rejected this upbringing) and secondly, why potentially be a competing minority voice in one group when you could form a relatively unified group of your own (and much larger)? The Pagan Federation seems a more natural home. There are also 2,300 Pantheists which could be linked in with this group or those more Judeao-Christian leanings, depending on whether they are truly Pantheist or more Panentheist.

There will also be a not insignificant number within the 25% of 'no religon' responses that are nonetheless receptive to faith. Research undertaken by the Theos think tank titled 'Post-religious Britain: The faith of the faithless?' highlights 23% of self-identifying atheists believe in a human soul, 15% in life after death, 20% in the supernatural power of ancestors, 7% in angels - it is probable many individuals responding to this research answered yes to a few of these so we cannot add these up and say a majority of atheists believe in the supernatural. But it does perhaps throw water on the celebratory fires of more militant, purist atheists. And it does suggest these agnostic 'no religion'  types might also find the Unitarian church naturally appealing.

The final group worth a mention - and which now find voice under the umbrella of the Unitarian denomination, particularly so in the United States - are Humanists who come in at 15,000 on the UK Census 2011. Again though, as with Pagan-types, I find it hard to see how they can peaceably fit with the church - at least given the anti-religion, primarily anti-Christian, tendencies of the British Humanist Association. It might be they would be better served and put to service joining this organisation's 28,000 members (I admit to smiling at the Church of England's mischievous reference to the BHA at the end of their official response to the UK Census 2011).

It's all just a thought really in terms of British Unitarianism re-finding its way and maintaining enough growth to survive their predicted extinction. And inevitably written with a pinch of salt if you consider these surveys were the result of simple tick box exercises rather than explanation or discussion.

I have yet to work out what the immediate potential market for the Quakers is. Maybe the Jedi Knights would be the first ones to look at, as talk of 'The Force' seems similar(ish) to how some Quakers talk of 'The Light' and 'The Spirit' - although I see this impersonal 'sacred electricity' God as a limiting notion rather than one to be fostered, preferring to view God as 'transpersonal' or 'metapersonal'; That is, a God consisting of some personal aspects we can relate to, and more abstract, mysterious aspects which the human mind struggles to understand.

Finally, I am not sure how the 6,000 'Heavy Metal' disciples fit in. I am not sure the Unitarian churches I have visited would cope with a praise band, let alone a hardcore rock band... And of course, the silence-loving Quakers are effectively their arch-enemy!

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