Saturday, 5 March 2011

Not religious?

The British Humanist Association is apparently running an advertising campaign to encourage people to declare themselves as having no religious faith, rather than ticking the box and putting the ubiquitious "Religion: Church of England" response just because they were christened 46 years ago.I am not terribly interested in the census, and apparently the Government are planning for this to be the last time they conduct one (hurrrah!) but I am actually pretty much in favour of the honest and direct approach commended by the BHA.

The trouble is that questionnaires only tell you so much. I am reminded of one I was given by my son's  Roman  Catholic Primary school which asked me if I was  "Roman Catholic" "Muslim", "Jewish" "Atheist/ Agnostic" or "Other."  I was perplexed as to know quite how to answer this. I asked the receptionist who didn't understand, but suggested I ticked "other", I duly ticked this and wrote down "Christian" in the space provided. 
"We want to know which  specific religion you are", explained the Receptionist politely.
"But the Church of England is not a religion", I explained, "it is a denomination."
I remained "other" and "Christian".

 The BHA wanted to urge us:"If you're not religious, for God's sake say so"  but that was deemed  offensive by the Committee of Advertising Practice, and so the slogan was changed to "Not religious? Then say so."So now I have another problem: I am a Christian, but  by my understanding I'm really not very religious.
And I have met some people who define their faith in very interesting ways, I've even met one who feels he is  a postmodern evangelical Christian Sikh  as he was born into a Sikh family and feels the faith runs in his bloodstream, converted to Christianity, is evangelical but believes multiple perspectives have validity.

Looks like they'll need some categories saying "other", or maybe just one that says "bloody-minded."


  1. Like you, the more categories there are to choose from, the less drawn I am to any.
    For me it appears to be a crosss between "bloody minded" and confused . com!

    I am more than ever inclined to the view, that it matters not a jot how you describe your own brand of religion, so long as you believe in something.

  2. I sincerely hope this isn’t the last census! They are jolly useful.

    In that dark period of my life, when I was a committed (and perhaps should have been ‘Committed’) as an Evangelical, I remember our house group (which met in the Brudenells, probably about the same time as you were studying somewhere near by – who knows I could have Evangelised you outside the Skyrack one bitter Saturday evening!) I remember my house group getting very hot under the collar about the treatment of James Anderton, the then head of Greater Manchester Police and an openly, conservative Christian, who was being vilified in the media for his moralising stance. His comment at the time of the first wave of AIDS’ deaths in Britain was that homosexuals were ‘swirling in a cesspit of their own making’. A charming man! As I had been on the receiving end of Anderton’s ‘anti-gay’ campaign only a few years earlier, as he had instigated a scheme where police officers searched you and took your name and address before allowing you to enter a gay club in Manchester; I was hardly sympathetic to the mood of the house-group, concerning this vile man. What I found ironic about the house-group’s concern and care for Anderton’s predicament, was that as a rule the general thinking of the house-group was that Catholics were misguided individuals and Catholicism hardly, if at all, counted as Christianity. James Anderton was, of course, a Roman Catholic and yet here was the house-group bleating its moral indignation for someone who, on other occasions, would be pitied by the house-group for not ‘finding’ the ‘true’ religion of Evangelical Christianity.

    Jump forward to a few months ago, when I happened to call in a large Evangelical Christian bookshop on Holborn Viaduct (I was there as part of my research, I wouldn’t buy anything from such a place!) and I happened to notice a bank of bookshelves with the legend ‘Other word religions’ printed above it. There were books on Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Wicca and of course ‘Roman Catholicism’!

    Religious taxonomy, is a difficult area indeed, and often raises more questions than it answers!!


  3. That's so funny. I also have known evangelicals who thought catholics weren't really christians. And, as I say, my son's school seemed to think Catholicism was the only type of Christianity (certainly they did think it was the only real type!)A neighbour whose kids went to the school said she was a catholic and an atheist. I did query this and she was fairly indignant, explaining that she had been baptised and brought up a catholic and so would always be one whether she had a personal belief or not and was sending her kids to that school, "so they will know they are catholics."
    Weird, but then no weirder than a lot of us, I suppose.

    So, it was you who evangelised me outside the Skyrack then - you've a lot to answer for;)

  4. Another interesting example is the Benedictine Year Book (a sort of trade directory for monks and nuns) which lists all the Benedictine communities in Britain & Ireland (inc. the Anglican ones). The book always opens with several pages of obituaries of nuns & monks who have passed on. It is not uncommon to find many who joined RC communities were coverts to Catholicism and you find out about this because the author of the obituary notes: ‘Sr Benedicta-Mary was baptised into The Church in 1932’ or the like. The fact person could have been an Anglican, Baptist or Methodist is not matter – they only joined The Church (sometimes prefixed as ‘The True Church’) when they became Roman Catholics.

    Ps 133 vs 1?


  5. Occurs to me that I could do a post about thinking other christians aren't christians. I am not sure the Catholics are worse than the Evangelicals in this respect, it might be more "official" in RC-dom though.