Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Lies, Damned Lies And Statistics

New government research* released last week has found that non-religious people are just as likely as religious people to participate in society. Contrary to what is often endorsed by mainstream press and supported by government policy, religious people are not more likely to be active in the community and Christians are less likely than others to mix with people from different backgrounds and beliefs. These findings are further evidence against the mistaken idea that is increasingly advanced by religious leaders and Government representatives of the 'Big Society' agenda.

The research found that in terms of civic engagement and formal volunteering in 2010-2011, there is almost no difference in participation between those with no religion (56%) and Christians (58%) – a continuing trend since 2007. The proportion of Hindus and Muslims participating in civic engagement and formal volunteering is the lowest of all religion or belief groups, at 44% respectively. Overall, there seems to be no significant difference between participation between those with and those with no religion.

However, also released recently was research commissioned by the Catholic Church focusing on the effect of the Pope’s visit on the public. Although widely reported as favorable for the Church, this research shows that the Papal visit had little effect on people’s own personal spiritual values. When asked the question ‘Did the Pope's visit put you more in touch or less in touch with your own personal spiritual values?’ 4% of people responded that they were more in touch, with 91% stating that there was no change. What was not so commonly reported is the 4% of people said that the pope’s visit put them less in touch with their own personal spiritual values. While few media outlets reported findings from the Government’s research positively in relation to atheism, the findings from the Church’s survey were reported in statements like those in The Independent that “Opinion poll findings released by the Roman Catholic Church show there has been a rise in the level of religious belief in this country following last year's papal visit.”

For humanists, it is important that we continue to promote our contribution to society, and ensure that as a collective group we are recognised for the roles we take in the community in order to ensure equal representation and treatment in the media, society, and in the law.

*The Citizenship Survey: April 2010 - March 2011, was published by the Department for Communities and Local Government on 22 September 2011.