17 Million British Humanists

(Numbers in brackets below refer to endnotes)

In the 2001 census 7 out of 10 people ticked the ‘Christian’ box but, with church attendance now below 7% (1) and under 1 in 3 marriages taking place in church (2), this figure was clearly more about cultural identity than religious belief (3).

Today an Ipsos MORI poll has shown that 36% of people – equivalent to around 17 million adults – are in fact humanists in their basic outlook.

They:

– feel scientific & other evidence provides the best way to understand the universe (rather than feeling that religious beliefs are needed for a ‘complete understanding’)

– believe that ‘right and wrong’ can be explained by human nature alone, and does not necessarily require religious teachings, and

– base their judgments of right and wrong on ‘the effects on people and the consequences for society and the world’.

Humanism is a non-religious ethical outlook on life and these answers summarise its key beliefs (click here for more details on Humanism today)

These are the key figures from the poll (the detailed results and further analysis are given here , along with analysis of the Ipsos MORI poll on how many people believe religious groups and leaders have too much influence on Government ):

– Overall, faced with the choice, 62% said ‘scientific & other evidence provides the best way to understand the universe’ against 22% who felt ‘religious beliefs are needed for a complete understanding of the universe’.

– Similarly, 62% chose ‘Human nature by itself gives us an understanding of what is right and wrong’, against 27% who said ‘People need religious teachings in order to understand what is right and wrong’.

– In the last question, faced with three choices, 65% said that what is right and wrong ‘depends on the effects on people and the consequences for society and the world’. The rest split almost equally between two profoundly un-Humanist views: 15% said right and wrong were ‘basically just a matter of personal preference’ and 13% said what was right and wrong was ‘unchanging and should never be challenged’.

Thirty-six percent chose all three of the Humanist answers, and another 30% chose two out of three. Only 13% chose none of them.

41% believe this is our only life

Another question found that 41% endorsed the strong statement: ‘This life is the only life we have and death is the end of our personal existence’. Fractionally more – 45% – preferred the broad view that ‘when we die we go on and still exist in another way’. Of those choosing all three of the ‘Humanist’ answers, 54% said this was our only life, against 38% who believed in some sort of continued existence. And of those seeing this as our only life, 79% chose two or all three of the ‘Humanist’ answers to the other questions. (Interestingly, 22% of those who endorsed the need for religion in answers to other questions also said this was our only life.)

Commentary (for more click here )

Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association said, ‘Britain is basically a humanist country, and this poll shows it. We have always been aware that many people who do not identify themselves as humanists, and this includes quite a few people who do not know what Humanism is, live their lives by what one might describe as humanist principles. People who join the Association often tell us that they have been humanists all their lives, or for the last 20 years or so, but didn’t know it.   But it is very encouraging to find that 36% of the British population are not simply non-religious, but actually humanist in their outlook and their morality, and that very many others don’t feel they need religion to understand the universe, or to guide their moral decisions. These people may not belong to the Humanist Association, may not have even heard of Humanism, but they share our attitudes and we speak for them in our campaigns.’

For further commentary on the results of the poll from Ms Stinson and from BHA Vice Presidents Claire Rayner, Baroness Whitaker and Richard Norman, along with analysis of the Ipsos MORI poll on how many people believe religious groups and leaders have too much influence on Government , click here

ENDNOTES

(1) Religious Trends 5: 2005/06, table 2.21

(2) 68% of marriages in 2004 were civil ceremonies – National Statistics (3) For example it was asked in a context of ethnicity and the question was ‘What is your religion?’, rather than ‘Do you have a religion and if so what is it?’

NOTES TO EDITORS

The British Humanist Association(BHA) represents and supports the non-religious. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.

For further comment, contact:

Hanne Stinson by email or on 07764 947249

Andrew Copson by email or on 07855 380633

John Leaman (Ipsos MORI) by email or on 020 7347 3000

The following supporters of the British Humanist Association are also available for comment:

Susan Blackmore by email

A C Grayling by email