“These figures don’t come as any real surprise,” Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and sociology of religion at St. Mary's University, Twickenham, told CNA Dec. 1. “In fact, the census figures put the number of Christians significantly higher than do many other, high-quality social surveys done in Britain.”
Bullivant has studied religious affiliation and disaffiliation in the U.K. and the U.S. He is the author of the 2022 book “Non-Verts: The Making of Ex-Christian America,” from Oxford University Press.
One key driver of change, he said, is that older generations more likely to identify as Christian have died, and young adults more likely to identify with no religion have taken their place.
“As ever, a lot of complex factors contribute to these big, headline figures,” Bullivant continued. “But probably the biggest factor is the gradual, generational evaporation of Christianity over a period of decades. It used to be the case that Anglicanism was the default setting for English and Welsh people, unless you had a particular reason to be something else. But we've long ago now — certainly for anyone born in the last few decades — shifted to a position where having ‘no religion’ is now the default, unless you have a particular reason to be something else.”
This change from a broad culture of “default Christianity” also changes the culture within Christian communities.
“Of course, in the long run, it means that the only Christians left are those who have to ‘own’ it,” Bullivant said. “And that’s certainly something we’re starting to see with, say, Catholic or Evangelical young adults. If they’re at Church in their late teens or early 20s, they’re there for a reason — and of course, the other young adults they meet there are, too. Ultimately, they’re the kinds of countercultural groups — ‘creative minorities’ as Pope Benedict likes to call them — where you might hope to see some kind of counter-trends starting to appear.”