In Brief

Belief in God plunges after torrid year

Atheism surges as Brits stop saving a prayer for a higher power

Forget believing in Santa – the tumultuous events of 2016 appear to have left Britons unable to believe in God. 

A YouGov poll for the Times has shown a four-point decline in the percentage of people who believe in a higher power, from 32 per cent in February last year to 28 per cent now. 

The drop suggests a far sharper decrease than in previous years, the Times says. Britons' belief in God has long been in decline, but at a rate of about one per cent a year, the newspaper reports, citing a different question used by the British Attitudes Survey in 1991, which found half the population thought there was a god.  

By 2008 the number of believers had fallen to about 35 per cent, suggesting a roughly one per cent decline per annum. 

Meanwhile the proportion of atheists – people who say they do not actively believe in any kind of god – has risen from 33 per cent to 38 per cent.

The Times says a year of "election surprises, conflict, a refugee crisis and terrorism" appear to have "significantly… dented the public's faith in a god".

Although the newspaper conceded there was no direct line between Brexit and the rising proportion of atheists, it did find 45 per cent of respondents who were "remainers" were atheists, against 35 per cent of those who voted to leave the EU. 

Neither did the poll of 1,595 adults make any causal link between falling numbers of the faithful and 2016 events including the election of Donald Trump, the EU referendum and the ongoing troubles in the Middle East.

For those seeking fuller churches, believers are most strongly concentrated in the Midlands and Wales – while the godless are most numerous in London and northern England. Last Christmas, 2.5 million people went to Anglican church services.

Worryingly for religious leaders seeking a future faithful, the young are most likely to be atheists: 46 per cent of the 18-24 age group said there is no god, against 43 per cent of 25 to 49-year-olds, 38 per cent of 50 to 64-year-olds and 25 per cent of the 65 and over demographic.

A similar YouGov poll last year found that while half of people said they considered themselves Christian, Jewish or Muslim, only 32 per cent actually believed in a god, "suggesting a sense of belonging was cultural rather than religious" says The Times.

Still, as beer brewers have found, there might be hope in a more "craft" approach. Although the number of big-denomination churches – Catholic, Anglican and Methodist – has fallen over the last six years, independent churches are surging. Pentecostal denominations have been particularly successful, as have mosques, the survey found. 

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