Things Unseen and Other News

The latest report from Theos heads the list of seven religious statistical news stories today, comprising a further attempt by the think-tank to explore the spiritual hinterland which lays beyond institutional religion and to counter the picture of unrelenting secularization of British society.

Things unseen

‘For all that formalised religious belief and institutionalised religious belonging has declined over recent decades, the British have not become a nation of atheists or materialists. On the contrary, a spiritual current runs as, if not more, powerfully through the nation than it once did.’ So begins the latest report from the Theos think-tank, The Spirit of Things Unseen: Belief in Post-Religious Britain, published on 17 September 2013 alongside the data tables from the ComRes poll which underpins it (2,036 Britons aged 18 and over being interviewed online on 4 and 5 September 2013). The research, which was sponsored by CTVC as background for a new podcast venture, develops arguments originally advanced by Theos in its 2012 report The Faith of the Faithless (which covered England alone).

The Spirit of Things Unseen (28pp.) can be viewed at:

and the data tables (34pp., including breaks by gender, age, social grade, employment sector, region, religious affiliation, and educational attainment) at:

Headline findings are:

  • 77% agree that there are things in life that cannot be explained through science or other means
  • 34% believe that people’s thoughts can be influenced by spiritual forces, 27% events in the human world can be so influenced, and 23% events in the natural world
  • 59% believe in one or more of the following spiritual beings: God as a universal life force (30%), spirits (30%), angels (25%), the devil (14%), God as a personal being (13%), a higher spiritual being that cannot be called God (12%), demons (10%), or Jinns (3%) – 30% are sceptics
  • 76% believe in one or more of the following: the soul (39%), life after death (32%), heaven (26%), reincarnation (16%), hell (13%), or the power of deceased ancestors (13%)
  • 39% have undergone one or more of the following: tarot card reading (23%), star signs reading (17%), reflexology session (12%), Reiki session (8%), aura reading (6%), healing with crystals (5%), or Ayurveda session (1%)
  • 11% have visited a spiritual or faith healer or a religious leader who specializes in praying for the sick
  • 38% believe that prayer can heal people (but 50% do not)
  • 17% consider prayer to be effectual in bringing about change, 51% in creating a sense of peace, while 17% feel that prayer does not work in any way
  • 55% pray sometimes (21% at least weekly, 34% occasionally), and the rest not at all
  • 17% perceive miracles as the result of divine intervention in nature and 42% as unusual events that cannot be explained by science, while 30% say they do not exist and are simply examples of coincidence or luck
  • 16% have either personally experienced, or know somebody who has experienced, a miracle

Analysis by religion mostly shows that, while the religious often give the most spiritual responses, smaller but still significant numbers of the avowedly non-religious do so, also. This is particularly so in the case of ‘alternative’ practices, where there is no real difference between the religious and non-religious. On the other hand, there is a wide gap between the two groups when it comes to ‘traditional’ practices, such as prayer. Neither is it the elderly who consistently and disproportionately opt for spiritual answers. Women tend to be more spiritual in their replies than men.

The spiritual beings and beliefs questions do not seem wholly satisfactory, being too compressed. More generally, it could be argued that Theos might have been better served by replicating at least a few questions from earlier surveys, which would have had the advantage of facilitating comparisons over time. As it is, the hint (dropped several times in the report) that what is essentially a single survey snapshot might suggest that Britain is actually becoming more spiritual is evidentially unproven and thus unconvincing. As such, the debate about the current and future religious state of the nation seems set to run and run.

Storm in a bed and breakfast cup

The long-running legal case of husband and wife Peter and Hazelmary Bull versus Martin Hall and Steve Preddy moved to the Supreme Court on 9 and 10 October 2013, more than five years after the incident which gave rise to it. The Bulls are devout Christians and owners of a B&B in Cornwall, who had refused a double room to Hall and Preddy (a homosexual couple in a civil partnership), on grounds of religious conscience. A County Court in 2011 had originally found the Bulls in breach of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 and awarded damages to Hall and Preddy. A subsequent appeal by the Bulls to the Court of Appeal was dismissed last year. No date has yet been fixed for a hand-down of judgment by the Supreme Court.

To coincide with the Supreme Court phase of the case, Lancaster University issued a press release on 9 October 2013 reporting the findings of two questions about the case which had been added to the second of the YouGov surveys commissioned by Professor Linda Woodhead for the 2013 Westminster Faith Debates, 4,018 Britons having been interviewed online on 5-13 June 2013. The ‘bad news’ in this poll for the Bulls is that a majority of adults (57%) do not believe that B&B owners should be allowed to discriminate against guests on the basis of the latters’ sexual orientation, and this includes a majority or plurality of all major religious groups (for example, 52% of Anglicans and 51% of Catholics). Even the most certain believers in God are anti-discrimination (49%), although 53% of weekly churchgoers are pro-discrimination. The better news for the Bulls is that a plurality (49% against 40%) think it wrong that they were ordered to pay damages. Lancaster’s press release, which has been covered by the Church Times (11 October 2013, p. 6) and The Tablet (12 October 2013, p. 28) is at:

Contemporary British Jewry

‘British Jews place a premium on communal belonging, albeit without an excess of piety or religiosity. They hold conservative political loyalties balanced by some liberal social views.’ So conclude sociologists Professor Linda Woodhead and Professor Steven Cohen in their analysis of the 318 self-identifying British Jews interviewed for the two YouGov polls which Woodhead commissioned for this year’s Westminster Faith Debates, with online fieldwork on 25-30 January and 5-13 June 2013. Their article, ‘Who do we think we are? Here are the facts’, contains comparisons with other religious groups in Britain and with American Jews. It was published in the print edition (p. 2) of the Jewish Chronicle for 11 October 2013 and in the online edition at:

Clergy stress

Stress among the clergy has been the subject of serious sociological and psychological study for over a quarter of a century, one of the earliest empirical surveys being Ben Fletcher’s Clergy under Stress (1990). In preparation for its Building Resilience symposium (in London on 15 October and York on 17 October 2013), St Luke’s Healthcare for the Clergy commissioned Christian Research to poll 492 ordained UK clergy in August 2013, some results being published in a press release on 23 September 2013. It is assumed (but not explicitly stated) that respondents were members of Christian’s Research’s online panel, Resonate. Asked how they felt in themselves, 37% of clergy replied ‘positive and energized’, 50% said they had more good days than bad, but 12% admitted to struggling or barely coping. Although 58% had rarely or never considered giving up their role in the Church, 33% had done so occasionally, and 8% often or very frequently. Over half (53%) had never received training to understand or manage stress, with all but 23% willing to take up one or more resources to help in this regard. For further details, follow the ‘Building Resilience symposium press release’ link at:

Bishops’ office and working costs

On 7 October 2013 the Church Commissioners published a 13-page report on the office and working costs of the Church of England’s 113 diocesan and suffragan bishops for the year ending 31 December 2012. They amounted to £18.1 million, representing an increase of 6% over the 2011 figure. Staff were the biggest single expenditure (50%), albeit their costs grew by less than average (4%). Costs are itemized for each individual bishop, as they have been for the past 12 years, 28 of them (among them the two archbishops) actually returning a lower figure in 2012 than for 2011. On the other hand, expenditure by the Bishops of Leicester and Southwark was up in cash terms by over £50,000. Additional to these office and working costs, stipends and employer’s national insurance and pension contributions for bishops came to £5.5 million, with a further £4.7 million spent on maintaining the houses, office premises, and gardens of the archbishops and diocesan bishops (including Lambeth Palace). The grand total of central expenditure on Church of England bishops in 2012 was, therefore, £28.3 million, but this still excludes the housing costs of suffragan bishops, which are met by dioceses. The report is available at:

Scottish Methodist lay preachers

Right from its origins in the eighteenth century, Methodism has been dependent upon the voluntary efforts of local (lay) preachers to conduct many of its worship services, and this remains the case today. Indeed, in Scotland the proportion of services at which they officiated rose from 31% in 1996 to 39% in 2010, partly in reflection of a 31% reduction in ordained ministers in Scotland over the same period. These Scottish local preachers (both ‘fully accredited’ and ‘on trial’) are increasingly women, 39% in 1996 and 47% in 2010. They are also a progressively elderly group, with mean ages of 55 in 1996 and 64 in 2011, and with a corresponding fall in the number in full-time paid employment. In line with society, formal education levels of local preachers continue to improve, those with first or higher degrees growing from 47% in 1996 to 58% in 2011. In addition to taking preaching appointments, local preachers hold other offices in Methodism (especially church council member), while their principal leisure pursuits are reading, sport, walking, music, and gardening. These details are taken from John Sawkins, ‘Methodist Local Preachers in Scotland: Characteristics and Deployment, 1996 and 2011’, Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society, Vol. 59, No. 3, October 2013, pp. 89-101.

Quaker membership statistics

Finally, an ‘overdue’ item. The 2013 Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain took place on 24-27 May, and one of the sequence of ‘documents in advance’ was a 12-page ‘tabular statement’ of membership for the year ending 31 December 2012. In total there were 478 local meetings with 13,906 members, of whom 37.4% were men, 62.3% women, and 0.3% children under 16. Member incomings during the year numbered 535, of which 66.5% were by application and 33.5% by certificate (i.e. transfer from Britain or another Yearly Meeting). Outgoings amounted to 726 (191 more than incomings), of which 33.1% were through termination of membership, 44.6% by death, and 22.3% by certificate. The Quaker death rate for the year was 23 per 1,000, well above the national average, and thus suggesting an ageing membership. Besides members, there were 8,681 attenders and 2,004 children recognized as connected with Quaker meetings but not in membership. On p. 11 will be found a record of Britain Yearly Meeting membership, disaggregated by sex, quinquennially from 1935 to 1970 and annually thereafter. Membership has not fallen so severely as for other historic Free Churches, only by 28.0% over these 77 years. The tabular statement is at:


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