by Freddie Sayers
Thursday, 30
September 2021
Factcheck
17:39

BBC News reports a non-existent religious revival

A poll suggested a boom in religiosity among young people — but it's not true
by Freddie Sayers
Young people aren’t that excited about religion. Credit: Getty

An opinion poll result written up prominently on the BBC News website this week caused quite a stir.

Young people more likely to pray than over 55s – survey” ran the headline, with data and commentary provided by the respected international polling company Savanta ComRes. The astonishing results suggest that 51% of British 18-34 year olds pray at least once a month, compared to 24% of over 55 year olds; and that fully 49% of the youngest age group attend a place of worship every month, compared to just 16% of over 55 year olds.

How surprising! There was I thinking that we were in a rapidly secularising society, with most people (52%) now claiming they have no religion whatsoever, and only 1% of the youngest age group describing themselves as Anglican, according to the most recent British Social Attitudes survey.

I wasn’t the only one to find it remarkable — commentators as far afield as the United States began weighing in. “Fascinating,” wrote top conservative David French, “young people in Britain are praying more and attending worship more than the older folks.” “Lots of people have been predicting a religious revival,” remarked Substack superstar Bari Weiss — “maybe it’s already here?”

So is there some undercover religious movement sweeping the country? Are the shy Christians the new shy Tories or shy Trumpers, eluding pollsters until they erupt into mass silent protest? Or it can be explained by the British Muslim community, which is known to be more religious?

I am sorry to say it is none of these things. It is just a dud poll. Horribly, wildly, embarrassingly inaccurate; totally unrelated to the real world. Fake news, if you will, carried and amplified by the national broadcaster.

Neither the quantum nor the trend (that young are more religious than old) are even close to being true.

The charity that commissioned the opinion poll from Savanta ComRes, the Eternal Wall of Answered Prayer — who certainly cannot be blamed for the mess — was kind enough to provide me with the full data tables, and I studied them looking for answers.

Certainly, an overwhelming majority of the Muslim respondents (71%) said they pray at least once a month — but they only represented around 5% of the sample, so that is not the answer to this conundrum. The “Christian” respondents came in with an unconvincingly high score of 35% praying at least once a month, and they represented more than half the sample. Given only 38% of the population back in 2018 described themselves as Christian and less than half of those describe themselves as ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ religious, this seems horribly off kilter.

YouGov was also intrigued as to the odd result, and ran the same question with exactly the same wording this past week, the results of which I can exclusively share here.

Suffice to say, these are rather closer to the truth, and sit in line with the BSA polling over recent decades as well as the experience of actually living in Britain in 2021.

YouGov found that 7%, not 51%, of 18-24 year olds report praying at least once a month, and 7%, not 49%, of 18-24 year olds attend a service of worship once a month. Among the whole British population, 14% of people say they pray once a month or more, not 36% as Savanta ComRes reported; and 8% attend a church service of some kind, not 31%. I’ve pasted the results in comparison below if you’re interested in the details. The error is so massive, and flies so much against common sense, as to demand the question: how did Savanta ComRes allow it to be released?

The truth is that we still live in an overwhelmingly, and increasingly, secular society and the young people get less interested in religion by the day.

And wildly inaccurate polls are still regularly produced, and credulously reported by the BBC.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
34 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Niobe Hunter
Niobe Hunter
1 year ago

How was the survey administered? If it was self selecting ( answering a Twitter/ Facebook post, or even worse an invitation through faith groups) it should go straight into the bin, because only the interested contribute.
there is a serious problem with most market/opinion research, which I saw developing over the thirty five years I worked in and with it: over saturation. People are polled so often that they lose interest in participating. I suspect that this problem has been enhanced by the rise in chugging ( selling or asking for subscriptions posing as research) and telephone and internet scamming that people’s willingness to engage face to face with market research, pre Covid of course, has declined to vanishing.
Even telephone research conducted by a real human interviewer has become far less successful at delivering a reasonable number of interviews per hour . And, of course, employing real people to ask the questions is a lot more expensive than Survey Monkey
This does matter, because people tend to lie or fudge far less face to face, or even voice to voice, than when just ticking a box, on paper or on line. Self completion questionnaires rely completely on the honesty of the respondent, even down to their identification of the basic demographics. I could tell you I was a 22 year old man and you would just have to take my word for it – and analyse the data in line with misinformation.
of course this only explains poor data, not why some numpty at the BBC didn’t bother to read what they were given and exercise a little critical judgement and enquiry.

Last edited 1 year ago by Niobe Hunter
William Murphy
William Murphy
1 year ago
Reply to  Niobe Hunter

SurveyMonkey …yes, my diocese used SM for a poll in 2014. I repeatedly pointed out that the results were worthless, as there was nothing to stop a zealot or organised groups of zealots submitting multiple replies, covering their tracks with VPNs.

William Morris
William Morris
1 year ago

Good stuff Mr. Sayers. This kind of sceptical, actually-bothering-to-lift-a-finger journalism is part of why I subscribed to UnHerd.

I notice the Beeb’s yet to publish any kind of update or correction. So presumably thousands if not millions of people are still misinformed. Fine, absolutely fine…

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
1 year ago

Thank you, thank you & thank you Freddy. I too read that report in BBC and was nonplussed.
I do think there are more meditational apps available and are increasingly popular like Headspace and Calm among the young but I could not believe the young are getting more religious.
Typical BBC poor journalism. The most alarming is their own version of “Fact check” . It’s hilarious that they pass the verdicts on facts like last week they fact checked Kier Starmer claims during Labour conference. They concluded -after some muddled explanation- most were true. Bravo.
I am not saying they were not true but to be so brazen as to validate or invalidate claims based on their own internal interpretation is basically ….. not a fact check. Unfortunately most of the population reads poor journalism like this, has no time for critical thinking and believe that the trash being dished out must be true.

George Glashan
George Glashan
1 year ago

The BBC rebranded “fact check” to Reality Check. Not content with policing which facts are fit for you to know , now they are just going to tell you how you should be experiencing reality. They are beyond parody, i suspect the only reason they don’t sincerely call themselves the Ministry of Truth is they are worried the estate of Orwell has it copyrighted.

Graeme Dent
Graeme Dent
1 year ago

The most surprising thing from all of this is that some people still take notice of ‘BBC news’….

Fran Martinez
Fran Martinez
1 year ago

It is very sad to see that the BBC does not even bother to check the basic soundness of the polls that it shows. They should have done the work you did Freddie, but they didn’t and won’t.

Graeme Laws
Graeme Laws
1 year ago

Mr Sayers has simply done what the BBC journalist should have done. Then there would be an editor, who should have queried the story. Plain, simple incompetence, the hallmark of the BBC.

Brooke Walford
Brooke Walford
1 year ago

This is why social science is a misnomer.

James Joyce
James Joyce
1 year ago

Let’s talk about polling: polling companies produce a product that is valuable to them. Somehow our data–the results of the poll–is useful to someone, and someone must pay, right? Follow the money.
But why should anyone cooperate with polling, especially cooperate for free? I just don’t get it. I have been called repeatedly for political polls (US swing state) among other things, and they inevitably start off with a series of quick questions, which normal politeness in many circumstances dictates one answer the question. Not so fast.
Depending on my mood, I might say–Hey, I’m happy to answer your questions, but before we start, I have a question of my own: are you (the pollster) being paid for your time? Typically, the pollster attempts to deflect, asking the initial question again. Hang on. Are you being paid for your time? Sometimes they hang up, sometimes they engage. If they engage, I again repeat my willingness to cooperate, and ask if I will be paid for my time. No. OK, I respond, this arrangement does not seem fair to me, does it seem fair to you? You’re being paid for your time, I’m not being paid for my time, nonetheless, I am obligated to answer? No, I’m not. Usually the pollster realizes that I’m not playing the game, so the conversation ends.
Back to polling, writ large. Why cooperate? How do individuals gain, how does society gain? It’s a scam. When the polling is off, for some reason or another, it is often treated as a national crisis. Why? Isn’t polling illegal in France for a period, maybe 2 weeks, before elections? Doesn’t that make more sense? Isn’t the actual election the only poll that counts?
Finally, it is not surprising that a completely woke BBC publishes fake news. BBC is in steep decline, a shadow of its former self, and I would encourage those who can to 1. make complaints about fairness and 2. not pay the license fee. Brits should rise up in protest at being forced to pay for the propaganda arm of the extreme, radical left. Same with NPR in the US, though there is no license fee, and they get very little in taxes. Still, the correct number for government funding for BBC and NPR should be zero.

Niobe Hunter
Niobe Hunter
1 year ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Exit polls are particularly horrible. No one should be allowed to ask you how you have voted.
some political parties ( especially the Illiberal Democrats) position people inside polling stations before you vote, trying to find out your voting intentions; one of them locally actually had a list with voters names on it.
when I queried this with the chap in charge, he told me that it was perfectly legal, although he personally deplored it. I challenged the woman in question, and pointed out to her that people in this country have died for the principle of the secret ballot. I don’t suppose it did any good, but some things are worth fighting for.

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
1 year ago

Why is it impossible to attend church once a month?
The British public want to celebrate Christmas and they don’t want mass-immigration, yet when it comes to the mild task of attending church once a month (and thus protecting our culture), they can’t be bothered.

Last edited 1 year ago by Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
1 year ago

How does going to church limit mass immigration?

George Stone
George Stone
1 year ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

Because one prays to god for it of course!

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago

Mainly because I don’t believe in the religion is why I can’t be bothered.
I have respect for the church and the work it’s always done helping those in need, I appreciate that the Christian ideals have largely shaped our society and if we all behaved by the morals set out in the bible the world would be a far nicer place. I’m sometimes envious of worshippers because it must be nice to believe there’s life after death rather than being tossed into the ground and forgotten about.
However unfortunately if I ultimately don’t believe it to be true I’m not going to spend my Sundays in a freezing cold church listening to the vicar drone on about some faraway lands

Last edited 1 year ago by Billy Bob
Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

An interesting response. The minister at my church was recently drinking with a friend in a local pub and they got talking with another drinker. When one of them asked why he didn’t go to church, he replied, ‘The church is full of hypocrites,’ and was told, ‘there is always room for one more.’
I think most of use are hypocrites in one area or another but you are definitely not a hypocrite about church attendance!

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
1 year ago

The author reads like a man with a very secular dog in the fight. I will agree that Christianity is very weak in the west in general and Britain in particular. It doesn’t help that the current pope is a humanist. But as a secularist, he doesn’t seem to understand the nature of religion. He tries to explain it in human terms, assuming he understands it as a socio-psycological phenomenon which has run its course. He might be surprised by the reality. I, for instance, am a committed and believing Catholic, but I rarely pray. Many are similar, even those in religious orders. Praying is a difficult thing. Most of all, he’s totally imbibed the leftist assumption — like all too many — that there’s a “progression” of things, that society evolves a certain way and it is inevitable. If, like Christians, you believe that NOTHING is inevitable, then you’re more religious than you realise.

Last edited 1 year ago by Francis MacGabhann
robert stowells
robert stowells
1 year ago

On the secular side you could perhaps include Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which might be recognised on both sides and which does point to a progression towards self-actualisation. I like the Maslow tool as a useful reference in that it arrives at what could in many aspects be termed spiritual or enlightened conclusions regarding the self-actualisation state but does so from an approach of what could be put forward as scientific observation.
Also I do not consider that a sort of second coming is required for religious revival as it is all out there on the internet for those that have the eyes to see and who tread carefully so really it is already in progress in the soundest possible way and a challenge to all of us.

Penelope Lane
Penelope Lane
1 year ago
Reply to  Freddie Sayers

There is a fundamental problem here with inadequate terminology. This goes well beyond any competence or otherwise of the BBC or individual pollsters.
The term religion is a limited and limiting subset of a broader and deeper umbrella term, spirituality.
Consciousness/conscience is indeed evolving, and today’s older generation may be the last for whom the term religion is adequate to encompass their choices, conservative Muslims notwithstanding.
Young people have indeed deserted traditional Christian churches in droves, consistently now for the entire post-war period, but it would be a mistake to conclude that they are therefore more secular. Some are. Many, however, are neither religious nor secular, but may properly see themselves as spiritual. Of these, many may legitimately be regarded as deeply spiritual in a committed way.
But these younger people have been deprived of an adequate, respected language in which to express themselves. They have been rendered silent not only through the efforts of the cadres of Dawkinite atheistic orthodoxy and secular scientistic eye-blink psychology, but also, and probably in greater measure, by the constricting effects of the dogmatic theology of traditional churches.
Lacking a modern language in which to speak sincerely in a heartfelt way about following and practising a non-religious spiritual path, youth turns to the metaphysically weak, inadequate concepts available to it. How, for example, would Greta Thunberg answer the “religion” question in censuses or polls?
The advent of tub-thumping youth-targeting Pentecostalism provides no answer, since it notoriously fails to attract anyone who can actually think, reason or engage in self-analysis, substituting a spectral “Jesus”, invoked via hand-waving, appropriate sighs and the occasional fainting fit, for the risen Christ.
Nor does the plethora of expensive, positive-thinking self-help gurus offer anything real. Simply doing “yoga” or “meditation” or “qigong/tai-chi” in a deracinated way also fails to answer properly to youth’s needs.
How many people in the modern West know that it is possible to be a fully committed Christian outside of the Christian religion? How many are aware of the significant and ever-growing numbers of especially young people who are directly encountering the Christ? “Having an unexpected Christ experience” one might say, although the noxious idea of consumerist possession creeps in when it is expressed in this way.
Dr Rudolf Steiner was a high initiate in the Western spiritual tradition who brought in new spiritual teachings. They are Christian in the sense that they are centred in the Christ Being of Universal Love, and they are expressly designed to help those souls who:
—have inwardly outgrown traditional religion, finding it limiting, suffocating and irrelevant if not damaging
—find secularism/atheism/agnosticism unsatisfying in a vague way, like eating processed food for breakfast and finding you’re still hungry
—stand in desperate need of a serious next step—a full, ethical, modern spiritual path encompassing a complete metaphysics, cosmology and modern practice leading to personal initiation.
As an older person, born immediately post-war and brought up in strict atheism (I had to try and read the Bible under the bedclothes with a torch at night to escape the vigilant eye of my father)—a person who came quite unexpectedly to an experience with the Christ in midlife, I subsequently found Steiner to be the only one who could explain adequately what had happened to me, and then point the way forward on a path that actually bore fruit. For that, I am eternally grateful! My experiences place me in a minority for my generation, but because of them, I have been graced with relatively good understanding of the problems our young people now face.
So how do I answer census questions and pollsters? It depends on the time I have available and my mood. Sometimes I write, “n.a.”. Other times I put “other”. I have been tempted to scrawl “Piss off!” In a stroke of pure brilliance, I once said “Christ-follower but not Christian religion”. Other attempts have been “Highly spiritual”, “Follow a spiritual path”, “What do you mean?” and “Would you please repeat the question?”
I have been trying for some time to get this advance, this update in conceptual understanding, across to the powers-that-be at the Guardian, so far signally without success. There appears to be a hard core of convinced secularists at that august institution who are immoveable in their beliefs: “secular humanism” is their theology, and they are seemingly impervious to any suggestion that “secular” might not embrace the full spectrum of what it means to be “human”. Now I’m investigating the core beliefs of Unherd.
So thankyou, Mr Sayers, for a truly important article. The right question at the right time!
But now I need to know more: How would you answer the “religion” question? And why? Your answer is important for all of those young ones out there. Are you willing to take this a step deeper?
I have found your interviews on podcasts to be exceptionally fair minded and objective, while at the same time penetrating. So I think you have much more to offer on this specific topic. Over to you…

Niobe Hunter
Niobe Hunter
1 year ago
Reply to  Penelope Lane

There a good many of us Christians without a church around.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  Penelope Lane

Faith is as relevant as belief and spirituality.

Niobe Hunter
Niobe Hunter
1 year ago
Reply to  Freddie Sayers

Though of course the ‘evidence’ for it being ‘ bogus’ is equally dubious, in that the responses are not validated, and the respondents are self identified.

Iris C
Iris C
1 year ago

Prayer seems to work! The whole world were praying for the children marooned in a cave for twelve days without food and little water. They all survived. Don’t you think that is a modern-day miracle? There has always been a belief that prayer works which is why there were closed nunneries and monasteries which concentrated on prayer. Of course, it can never be proved as working but it is worth thinking about.

Jerry Mee-Crowbin
Jerry Mee-Crowbin
1 year ago
Reply to  Iris C

I wonder how many prayed in the Nazi death camps.

Dapple Grey
Dapple Grey
1 year ago

Maybe they did the poll on the aeroplane which crashed into the Hudson River with no loss of life.
Apparently there were no atheists on board when the plane started its descent.

Iris C
Iris C
1 year ago

I had to smile when I read that the religious poll was considered to be “a dud poll” because, in my opinion, all polls should be viewed with scepticism.
When I was a local government councillor and OIC wanted a poll conducted to justify a controversial policy, the facial expression of the poll representative present indicated that the result would be as requited, no doubt through manipulating the questions asked and the selection of those polled. In fact, it was a case of “he who pays the piper calls the tune”.
As to the upsurge of religion, I wish there was a revival because society is stronger and happier if it has a set of principles with with most people agree.
To me, it would be good if Christianity could be revitalised to focus on the symbolism and philosophical messages implicit in Jesus’s reaching and life, making Christian belief and spirituality relevant in today’s world. God as Father (head of the family) and Jesus as his son who will inherit his father’s kingdom, would resonate with the simple people who were listening to his words and, of course, back then, what went on in the heavens above was full of mystery.
I listen to all the religious slots on radio and television but I don’t go to church any more because it no longer gets to me..

Penelope Lane
Penelope Lane
1 year ago
Reply to  Iris C

God as Father (head of the family) and Jesus as his son who will inherit his father’s kingdom
I don’t go to church any more because it no longer gets to me..
You, and many others… try this:
The inner teaching of the marriage at Cana in Galilee, which Jesus attended, is about the extending of the Christ teaching beyond the limits of the blood, beyond inherited tribal/familial relations. Galilee was seeing an intermixing of the blood of different peoples; that is why a marriage there carried such meaning.
The Old Testament gives Jehovah’s (the Father’s) teaching of inherited bloodlines and the importance of human relations created thereby. The New Testament gives the acts of the Christ (the Son) in bringing that mode of relating a stage further, to embrace humanity beyond the boundaries of one’s tribe, to all humanity worldwide.
Problem is, the modern churches don’t seem to teach this stuff explicitly.
The idea is not to reject familial/tribal blood ties, but to transcend them to something spiritually higher. A both-and, not an either/or, a challenge to us all.
In evolutionary terms, the later is based in the earlier. Sometimes, however, progressing spiritually means you have to break with blood ties—for example, Dr Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s experiences. The resistance to change, the fixed old inward-looking boundaries and allegiances of her birth-tribe, proved not to be susceptible to any degree of broadening during Dr Ali’s childhood. So she had to flee. Many women fled to nunneries not so long ago in the West in order to escape similar preemptive restrictions limiting them to family and tribe. The difference today is that chastity and celibacy are no longer the sole alternatives to breeding duties for women.
In a quieter way, many young ones today in the modern West, whose parents are simply incapable of understanding them, are experiencing the same challenge. So we do our best, but ultimately, we are exhorted to progress spiritually, to develop ourselves and move on.
Hope this might be a little bit useful. Take care…

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
1 year ago

BBC in lazy-journalism-and-downright-lies shocker.

robert stowells
robert stowells
1 year ago

I do not believe that it is “religion” that will return or if it does it would be for another final throw and, if so, might be paired with a authoritarian regime. If we do avoid the authoritarian “dark night” then perhaps a revival could be a broader dissemination of those inner teachings which were taught, for instance, to the disciples by Jesus as being suitable for their ears (which perhaps broader humanity is now ready for) and which are said to appear as the common inner teachings across many or all religions or esoteric spiritual systems but I do not believe that it would be called “religion”.

Last edited 1 year ago by robert stowells
Penelope Lane
Penelope Lane
1 year ago

Total agreement, and thankyou for such a perceptive comment.
I have posted a detailed reply on just this issue to Freddie Sayers’ later post. Do please check it out.

Last edited 1 year ago by Penelope Lane
Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
1 year ago

Religion kills anything it touches stone cold dead, either physically or spiritually; often both. Whereas the label ‘christian’ has been misappropriated by all manner of false prophets, malcontents etc we may find the class of non-traditional church attending Bible-believing true Christians have a faith, bound to an old Book – not a religion – and that faith is as vibrant and exciting as anything the ‘woke’ hiphopping germ sharing secular world has to offer. Prayer is the manifestation of that faith, exercised in a rational, experiential manner that pollsters misinterpret and gleefully misrepresent. And blind, biased bbc laps it up. Sad.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  Marcia McGrail

I agree; religion can often mean jumping through hoops!

Denis O'Riordan
Denis O'Riordan
1 year ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

There was only a handful of women including His mother on Calvary. Religion is not about statistics but about bearing witness to our faith in Jesus Christ.