Percentage of who identify with each group
||0 up to 11.25
||11.25 up to 22.5
||22.5 up to 33.75
||33.75 up to 45
||45 up to 56.25
||56.25 up to 67.5
||67.5 up to 78.75
||78.75 up to 90
Back to The Changing Face of Wales
More and more people in Wales give religion the thumbs-down
ONE of the biggest trends revealed by the latest census figures is the increase in those who say they are not religious, with debate about whether this means people in Wales are turning their back on faith or just organised religion.
In 2001, four wards had more than a third of people who said they had no religion; now it is 275, with five wards where half the people said they had no religion.
Every ward in Wales has seen a drop in the proportion of people identifying themselves as Christian and a rise in the proportion of people who said they have no religion – making it a widespread trend.
The Bishop of Monmouth, Dominic Walker said he thought the decline was due to people no longer having the social convention of going to church, as people have other things to do with their free time.
He said: “I think alongside this there’s a decline in other kinds of community and being part of the community. People don’t take newspapers as they used to do.
“A lot of organisations are experiencing a lack of commitment. Whenever I meet groups that are involved in charity they say they can’t get people to get involved.
“I think churches are very aware that we can no longer sit back and expect people to come in. we have to engage with the community. Church is often one of the social organisations that can create community.
“People do still seem to have a spiritual side, (a belief in God). They’re saying organised religion is not for them and to some extent, I don’t blame them. Organised religion can be very dull; it can also be very exciting.
“Many of our parishes are very good at getting engaged with the local community. When that happens, we begin to see growth but they have to learn to serve the local community through love, rather than to get people in.”
However, others feel the decline in people saying they are Christian is a result of a younger generation growing up not believing in God.
The areas with the highest levels of people saying they had no religion are in Rhondda Cynon Taf, with Glyncoch seeing the biggest rise from 28% to 50% in 10 years.
Rev David Carr, from the Glyncoch Full Gospel Christian Fellowship, said: “Maerdy, Ferndale, that type of area, young people especially, there’s a younger generation that doesn’t believe in God. It’s not that they’re being awkward, they don’t know to believe in God, they think that’s the way it is. For 90% (of people) throughout the world believe in God – [here] we’re in the minority, not the majority.
“My belief is that has to have a knock-on effect. If believing in God is a good thing, then not believing in God is a bad thing. It has to have a
knock-on effect on family breakdown, and health and all sorts of things.
“Perhaps 10 years ago, if you talked to an older generation, they would have been quite horrified that their children didn’t believe in God. Generations have come along now, it’s almost the done thing not to believe in God.”
He said the church is used in community programmes, and runs outreach programmes and social events to reach out to people, adding that community programmes in the church mean people get talking to church members and some have started coming to services, with many turning to God when they hit a crisis.
He said: “As Christians we believe in the power of prayer. We’ve had revivals in Wales in the past that have been famous around the world, even now we have ministers from America coming over to see the history of Welsh revivals.
“There’s a lot of people praying for Wales, certainly in America and in nations around the world, that’s got to be a good thing. We have to have faith the trend is changing, otherwise we’d give up.”
Maerdy, in Rhondda Cynon Taf, is the area with the highest proportion of people with no religion at 52%.
Despite this members of the community fought a high-profile battle to save All Saints Church, when the Church of Wales announced plans to close the building as it needed £400,000 worth of repairs.
Residents staged a sit-in before having to concede defeat, citing problems in raising the cash needed to take over the church and amid plans for bigger parishes.
Maerdy resident Steve Matthews, 62, who is self-employed, was surprised by the figures showing low levels of religious belief in the village, saying most of the people he knows would still class themselves as Church of England.
He said: “It’s a mining community, most people that work in the pit, they would have been religious, they used to go to church, the old mining families.
“I believe in religion, saying that, I don’t go to church. It’s a matter of believing what’s right and wrong.”
While the number of Christians may be declining, the number of Muslims in Wales has doubled, from 22,000 to 45,000 in 10 years.
Saleem Kidwai, secretary of the Muslim Council for Wales, said the increase was a combination of people, who are already Muslim, moving to Wales and an increase in the number of people converting or identifying as Muslim.
He said the visibility of Islam in the media has made people who grew up in Muslim families want to be more committed to their faith and has encouraged others to consider converting.
He said: “The people who are converting because they have been what they were before, they’ve tried everything, they have their own reasons. But people see it as good, it’s got some logic, it’s got some science, it’s got some commitment, something that other faiths might be changing.”
He suggested that moves by organised religions to make themselves more relevant might be putting people off, suggesting that many may be looking for certainty and fixed rules.
Alan Rogers, from the National Secular Society in Wales, said: “There may be some temporary reduction in the rate of fall due to incoming residents. The arrival of Polish Catholics or Asian Muslims and Hindus being the most recent examples but the trend in religious belief is relentlessly downward.
“I cannot escape the conclusion that this is due to the availability of more rational explanations for the origins of the universe and life on Earth and the disasters which afflict people. Belief in supernatural miracles is inconsistent with a rational scientific understanding of the world and religions depend upon such belief.
“The census can, of course, only ask a relatively simple question but the fall in Church attendance supports the evidence from the census.
“I think political parties which have tended to cultivate (or at least avoid offending) the “religious vote” will need to reconsider their position and plan the making and presentation of policy more on the assumption of a secular electorate not bound by the dogma and prejudices of organised religion.”