Jesus Test and Other News


The Jesus test

Jesus Christ is not often dragged into the contemporary British political arena, but, when He is, people tend to ask what He would do or think about a current situation (or, in a few cases, even claim to know what His views are). In what the company describes as a ‘new thought experiment’, YouGov probed the British public on how they imagined Jesus would react to four political issues of the present day: immigration, same-sex marriage, (re)nationalization of the railways, and the reintroduction of the death penalty for murder. Interviews were conducted online on 24-25 November 2014 with 1,890 adults aged 18 and over.  

Needless to say, many respondents found the task impossible, with between 34% and 56% stating that they did not know what position Jesus would have taken on each issue (rising to 39% to 58% for those professing no religion). On railway nationalization, the views imputed to Jesus were much the same as those expressed by Britons overall in another survey, perhaps indicating that interviewees might have been simply playing back their own attitudes, not recognizing this as a moral/religious issue at all. On same-sex marriage, a plurality (35%) thought Jesus would have supported it, albeit this was a lower level of endorsement (by 19 points) than was found among the electorate at large last year. This difference presumably reflects popular knowledge of opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage by the major Christian Churches and the assumption that this must be rooted in Christ’s teaching.  

On the remaining two questions, Jesus and the public were apparently at loggerheads. Thus, whereas 32% more believed that Jesus would oppose than approve the reintroduction of the death penalty (49% versus 17%), in August 2014 YouGov discovered a 6% margin (45% versus 39%) for the contrary position among electors. The gap was even wider when it came to immigration, with 76% of Britons quizzed by YouGov this month wanting to see tighter controls, including (for some) the cessation of all immigration. Jesus, on the other hand, was felt to favour fewer or no restrictions on immigration (39%) compared with 15% who judged Him as supporting tighter controls.  

In a blog accompanying the survey, dated 26 November, YouGov rationalized it thus: ‘Comparing the views that people hold themselves with what they imagine Jesus would think suggests interesting insights as to how virtuous, or at least Christian, they consider their own political views to be.’ The blog has sparked a lively debate, with some comments being fairly dismissive of the whole venture, such as ‘one of the most idiotic surveys of YouGov … ever!’ or ‘most ridiculous set of questions I’ve ever been asked on YouGov’. The blog, incorporating a link to the full data tables including breaks by religious affiliation as well as standard demographics, is at:

There is also an appraisal and analysis of the poll in a blog on the May2015 website, which concludes: ‘What would Jesus do? If we offer an opinion, it’s likely to be shaped by our own’. This can be found at:

Some BRIN readers will doubtless be sceptical about the worth of such an investigation, and its value is certainly diminished by the high proportion of ‘don’t knows’. On balance, one reading of the data might be that they rather indicate people form their political opinions without much reference to religious factors. 

Pope Francis on the European Union

Talking of religion and politics, Pope Francis seems to have set the cat among the pigeons by a speech to the European Parliament on 25 November 2014 in which he made several forthright remarks about the current state of the European Union (EU), which he likened to a grandmother who was no longer fertile and vibrant. In a poll for The Times Redbox on 26-27 November 2014, YouGov asked 1,970 Britons whether they thought the Pope had spoken the truth about the EU and whether he had been right to express his opinion at all. Overall, 62% felt that what he had said about the EU was true (rising to 73% of Conservatives, 71% of UKIP voters, and 74% of over-60s), while 54% defended his right to speak out (against 22% who judged him in the wrong, with 24% undecided). Data tables are at:

Islamic State

The autumn has seen a marked diminution of interest on the part of pollsters and their clients in surveying public attitudes to the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. But on 25 November 2014 ICM Research released the topline findings from a new multinational poll which had been commissioned by the Russian news agency Rossiya Segodnya. Based on telephone interviews between 7 and 11 November, including 1,002 in Britain, it revealed an appreciably greater appetite for their country’s participation in military intervention against IS among Britons than the French or, more especially, Germans. The Anglo-German difference is especially striking, given that the identical proportion (two-thirds) in each nation agreed that European involvement in military action against IS would increase the threat posed by radical Islamism in Europe, whereas only 45% of the French shared this view. Results are summarized below, while data tables are at:

% supporting country’s involvement in




Airstrikes against IS




Ground operations against IS












Also pertinent to the above is another recent poll, not previously reported on BRIN, by ComRes for ITV News on 24-26 October 2014, 2,004 Britons being interviewed online. This showed that a plurality (49%) agreed that the rise of IS was probably a direct result of British and American military involvement in the Middle East, with 26% dissenting and the identical proportion undecided. At the same time, 42% believed that Afghanistan would face a similar fate to Iraq and Syria under IS unless international forces remained in the country. Data tables are at:

Youth social action

Two-fifths of UK young persons aged 10-20 have participated in some meaningful form of social action (defined as ‘practical action in the service of others to create positive change’) during the past 12 months, but the proportion is slightly higher among those who profess a religion (43%) than those who do not (37%). The headline appears in Youth Social Action in the UK, 2014, which was published on 24 November 2014, and based on research undertaken by Ipsos MORI for the Cabinet Office and Step up to Serve. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with 2,038 young persons between 11 and 22 September 2014. The report is available at:

Liking the Church of England

YouGov Profiles, a new interactive segmentation and media planning tool, enables profiles to be built of people who ‘like’ a particular brand, person, or thing, showing what differentiates them from their natural ‘comparison set’ in terms of demographics, lifestyle, personality, brands, favourite entertainments, online activity, and media consumption. Statistical relationships between those who ‘like’ the brand, person, or thing in question and the ‘comparison set’ are expressed as ‘Z scores’, under 1 being weak, from 1 to 2 medium, and 2 and above strong. The source database comprises information gathered from YouGov’s 200,000-strong UK survey panel. The profiler can be searched at:

You may well struggle to extract data about specific religious groups, either because the sub-sample is rather small (for instance, there are only 104 individuals who ‘like’ the Catholic Church) or because there is nothing directly relevant; thus, keying in ‘atheists’ generates data for panel members who ‘like’ The Ruts (music artist), The Mist (film), and The Rats (novel). Moreover, any profiles recovered should not be interpreted as an approximation of a national cross-section of the group concerned. As YouGov explains, what is revealed is ‘the quintessential, rather than the average, member of that group’. BRIN strongly recommends that you read the FAQs before starting to use the tool; these are at:

By way of illustration, we can take the Church of England, whose YouGov profile features in the latest edition of the Church Times (28 November 2014, p. 4), based on the 1,187 individuals who said they ‘like’ that Church. Although certain of their attributes and behaviours are predictable, and consistent with what is known from other research, in some respects they are, as the Church Times puts it, ‘off-beam’, including an unexplained preponderance in the Midlands and North-West. Still, if you want to amuse yourself by finding out what some ‘Anglicans’ eat, where they shop, what they watch on television, which newspapers they read, and so forth – all in relation to their ‘comparison set’ – then go to:

Cathedral statistics

Cathedral Statistics, 2013 was published by the Church of England’s Research and Statistics Department on 24 November 2014, comprising 13 tables, 12 figures, explanatory notes, and commentary. It includes comparative data back to 2003, albeit methodological changes significantly impact comparisons for Holy Week and Advent. The finding headlined by the Church was the increase in midweek attendances at cathedrals since 2003 (doubling in the case of adults), although Sunday congregations have remained more stable during the past decade. Easter attendances and communicants were slightly down on 2012 levels, those for Christmas somewhat improved, but turnout at both these festivals is notoriously variable, influenced by their timing (whether Easter is early or late, the day of the week on which Christmas falls) and the state of the weather. Visitor numbers rose to 10,248,000 (but were still less than in 2003), to which Westminster Abbey added another 2,000,000. The report, which is the subject of a sober editorial in the current issue of the Church Times (‘these figures offer challenges as well as reassurance to cathedrals’, 28 November 2014, p. 14) can be read at:


The latest issue (No. 36, December 2014) of FutureFirst, the bimonthly bulletin of Brierley Consultancy, has just been published. As usual, packed into its six A4 pages are sundry news stories about recent socio-religious research, this time including a couple of pieces with BRIN connections. Research by David Voas into the factors promoting or inhibiting growth in the Church of England is summarized in ‘Anglican Growth’, on pp. 1 and 4, while Clive Field writes on p. 6 about ‘Attitudes to Church and Clergy in Britain’ (based on his recent article in Contemporary British History). Peter Brierley also has an analysis on p. 3 of the YouGov poll of Anglican clergy conducted for Linda Woodhead this summer; he especially highlights gender variations within theological positions. New subscriptions to FutureFirst cost just £20 per calendar year; contact for more information.   

Advent calendars

Today (30 November 2014) is the first Sunday in Advent, but research by the Church of England Newspaper (28 November 2014, p. 1) has revealed that only 31 (3%) of the 976 Advent calendars on sale in stores on London’s Oxford Street had a religious theme. The dominant images were of One Direction, Hello Kitty, Frozen, and Santa Claus. 

Religion in the First World War

The secondary literature on religion and the First World War in Britain has disproportionately focused on ‘trench religion’, the faith of the fighting men and the experiences of their chaplains. Using statistical evidence, wherever possible, Clive Field takes a look at the domestic front in a new article entitled ‘Keeping the Spiritual Home Fires Burning: Religious Belonging in Britain during the First World War’, War & Society, Vol. 33, No. 4, October 2014, pp. 244-68. He shows that church attendance rose briefly at the start of the war but fell away thereafter in the Protestant tradition, accelerating a pre-existing trend, which was not reversed after 1918. The disruption caused by the war to the everyday life of organized religion, Field suggests, probably accounted for the decrease, rather more than loss of faith. Church membership also declined during the war in the Anglican and mainstream Free Churches, albeit not for other denominations and faiths, but it temporarily revived after the war. This was not the case for non-member adherents and Sunday scholars whose reduction was more continuous. Access options for the article are outlined at:


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