In the last census, over 390 000 people claimed they belong to the Jedi religion: about 13 000 more than those who self-identified as Jewish.
As the 2011 census arrives on our doorsteps, many different ‘religions’ are vying for the attention of the sceptical: a brief scroll through Facebook groups reveals 35 000 fans of ‘Heavy Metal’ as the religion of choice; however you might feel more at home with ‘Dumbledore’s Army’ (514 fans) or ‘Pokemon Master’ (444 fans) as your religion.
We strongly urge all those who are not religious to resist the temptation of giving a jovial response, and to tick ‘No Religion’ on the census. It is true that some ‘religions’ which are obviously tongue-in-cheek are filed under ‘No Religion’ by the Office of National Statistics – but that is not guaranteed. Even more important, there are further bodies who use the census data, and who have a great deal to gain by distorting the nature of the data. Unless we present a united front under ‘No religion’, it will always be possible for religious organizations to disaggregate the data to their advantage.
Consider, for example, a recent article by the Christian Institute: a socially conservative Christian group. They used the 2001 census data as follows:
According to the last census, for every one atheist/humanist in England and Wales there were 2,037 people who identified themselves as Christian.
The number of atheists and humanists in the 2001 Census in England and Wales was only 18,654, while those who said they were Christian in England and Wales numbered 38 million – 71 per cent of the population.
While this is factually correct, it fails to account for the other 8,577,834 who self-identified as not having a religion. The data, when presented truthfully, show the non-religious to be the second biggest group of respondents after Christians: rather than 1:2,037 (as quoted above), the ratio of non-religious to Christians measured in the last census is 1:4.8. Of course, for this year’s census, we expect that ratio to be more like 1:1!
We want to make sure that this sort of cherry picking of census data is much harder to do. If all those who are not religious tick ‘No Religion’, we will send out a clear, unified message to policy makers that cannot be misconstrued or distorted. And this really does matter – remember that over the last decade, the census data statistics on religion have been used to justify an increase in the number of state maintained faith schools, to keep the unelected Bishops in the House of Lords, and to justify pouring state funds into religious organisations.
As faith plays an ever increasing role in public services and government, it is vital that the non-religious stand up together to be counted in this month’s census.