National Well-Being and Other News

Today’s round-up features another poll on attitudes to Islamism post-Woolwich, in continuation of last Sunday’s blog entry. However, our lead story reports new data which contribute to the ongoing debate about whether religion promotes physical and mental well-being.

National well-being

Religious affiliation helps explain variances in personal well-being in the UK, but its unique contribution is small (in the case of things done in life being perceived as worthwhile and feeling of happiness yesterday) or very small (for satisfaction with life nowadays and feeling of anxiety yesterday), albeit it is still statistically significant. Self-reported health consistently makes the largest difference across all four indicators of well-being, measured on a scale from 0 to 10.

This is according to a report published by the Office for National Statistics on 30 May 2013, and based on regression analysis of the Annual Population Survey from April 2011 to March 2012, for which 165,000 adults aged 16 and over were interviewed. Sebnem Oguz, Salah Merad, and Dawn Snape, Measuring National Well-Being: What Matters Most to Personal Well-Being? can be found at:

and the regression tables at:

To quote the report (p. 16), ‘other things being equal, respondents who said that they have a religious affiliation rate their levels of “happiness yesterday”, “life satisfaction”, and “worthwhile” higher on average than people who said they do not have a religious affiliation. Specifically, those with a religious affiliation rate their “life satisfaction” 0.1 points higher, “worthwhile” 0.2 points higher, and “happiness yesterday” 0.2 points higher on average than those who do not have a religious affiliation. All these differences would be considered small. There is also a very small … difference between the two groups in ratings for “anxiety yesterday”. Those with a religious affiliation give higher ratings for their anxiety levels.’

The individual coefficients for those reporting any religious affiliation were: ‘life satisfaction’ 0.132; ‘worthwhile’ 0.206; ‘happiness yesterday’ 0.169; and ‘anxiety yesterday’ 0.067. The authors concede that religious affiliation is but one test of religiosity and that their analysis ‘can only be considered a first look at the well-being of those who say that they have a religion compared to those who do not’. They also acknowledge that previous studies have been somewhat inconclusive about the relationship between faith and well-being, some revealing a positive and others a negative impact.

Curbing Muslim radicals

A majority of the British public supports curbs on disseminating the views of Muslim radicals in the wake of the brutal murder on the streets of Woolwich on 22 May of Drummer Lee Rigby at the hands of two alleged Islamist terrorists. This is according to a YouGov poll published today and commissioned by The Sunday Times. The sample comprised 1,879 adults aged 18 and over interviewed online on 30 and 31 May 2013, and the data tables are at:

Most Britons (53%) were critical of the BBC for interviewing, and thus giving a platform to, Anjem Choudary on ‘Newsnight’ following the Woolwich murder. Choudary holds radical views and is the former spokesperson of al-Muhajiroun and Islam4UK, both of which organizations are now banned. Especially critical of the BBC were Conservative and UKIP voters (69% and 72% respectively) and the over-60s (66%). About one-third (32%) defended the BBC on the grounds that all views should be aired and the broadcast had afforded an opportunity to hold Choudary to account; Liberal Democrats (53%) particularly took this line.

Still more (59%, including 76% of Conservatives, 81% of UKIP supporters, and 72% of over-60s) supported a legal ban on named Muslim radicals, such as Choudary, appearing on television or radio, with 24% opposed (most notably Liberal Democrats on 48%). However, a plurality (49%) thought such a ban would be ineffective in preventing their message reaching people who might be radicalized by them, with 38% arguing that it would be effective (Conservatives being most optimistic, on 52%).

Opinion was even more strongly in favour of important internet sites such as Google and Youtube refusing to host or link to videos and websites encouraging extremist views. Three-quarters (76%, rising to 89% of over-60s) agreed with this suggestion, with only 11% against. Moreover, a majority (57%) believed that such refusal by the likes of Google and Youtube would be effective at stopping the message of the Muslim radicals, including just over two-thirds of Conservatives, UKIP voters, and the over-60s, with 30% disagreeing.

On the other hand, 56% (and 65% of Liberal Democrats) considered that banning extremist Muslim preachers from broadcast and online media would not in practice help the fight against terrorism, even if it did make us feel better. Against this were 36% who contended that a ban would reduce exposure to radical messages, UKIP voters (46%) and Conservatives and the over-60s (44% each) being most confident.

The number thinking that ‘a large proportion of British Muslims feel no sense of loyalty to this country and are prepared to condone or even carry out acts of terrorism’ was two points more than a week ago (16% versus 14%, with 32% for UKIP supporters). However, the prevailing opinion (60%) in both surveys was that the great majority of Muslims are peaceful and law-abiding with a dangerous minority being alienated.

Books, Bible, and Twitter

New research commissioned and partly released by the Bible Society on 31 May 2013 compares and contrasts the attitudes and practices of Christians (regular lay churchgoers and church leaders) and the general population with regard to books, the Bible, and social media. Two online surveys were conducted: one by Christian Research of 2,294 UK Christians (disproportionately Protestants and church leaders) between 26 April and 3 May 2013; the other by ComRes of 1,935 English and Welsh adults aged 18 and over between 26 and 28 March 2013. The Bible Society’s press release and the Christian Research and ComRes tables will be found respectively at:

Only 1% of Christians confessed that they never read a book in their own time against 7% of adults as a whole (and 10% of those professing no religion, perhaps reflecting their younger age profile). Christians were simultaneously more likely than adults to prefer reading a physical book (79% versus 69%) and to favour using an e-reader (16% versus 14%). As for all adults, the preference of Christians for the physical book steadily increased with age, reaching 91% for the over-75s. Christians preferred the artefact still more (83%) when it came to reading the Bible on their own, compared with 17% who opted for an e-version of the scriptures.

The same proportion (28%) of both churchgoing Christians and the whole population confessed to ignorance about Twitter, albeit there was a gap of 6% between those professing some religion (31%) and none (25%). Churchgoers (47%) were more likely than all adults (32%) to view Twitter as a mixed blessing, at once holding the power to do tremendous good and inflict immense damage, but they were less likely to condemn it as egocentric and destructive of human relationships (9% against 12%) or to dismiss it as a passing trend (7% against 14%). The remaining 8% of practising Christians rated Twitter a great innovation and builder of dialogue and community (all adults 14%).

Bible questions were only reported for the English and Welsh national sample, buried in the cross-breaks. The majority (54%) of respondents admitted to never reading the Bible privately outside a church context, with 9% claiming to read it at least monthly and 7% at least weekly. Three-tenths appeared to entertain negative or neutral opinions of the Bible, 26% describing it as a credal document, 19% as a cultural asset, and 17% as inspiration-led.

Margaret Thatcher’s funeral

Baroness Thatcher’s funeral service at St Paul’s Cathedral on 17 April 2013 was the third most-requested live television programme on the BBC iPlayer since the latter launched on 25 December 2007. It attracted 832,280 live-stream requests, compared with 1,013,036 such requests for the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games and 958,681 for day 11 coverage of the Games. A further 163,000 people requested the funeral service as a catch-up rather than live. According to the BBC, one reason the funeral was so popular as a real-time experience was because it took place during mid-week when many viewers were likely to have watched it on their work computers.


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