"In one regard for religion, there has been a perfect storm since the last census," said Nick Spencer, research director at the UK theology think tank, Theos, who cites “proximate causes” including 9/11, the 2005 terror attacks on London, and a US Republican presidency "that was associated, rightly or wrongly, with the religious right and was quite unpopular.”
“So you had that association of politics and religion, and of course you had the rise of the extremely popular new atheist movement," he continues. "All of these things combined to give religion a bad name.”
While he says that such factors are important, Spencer places greater emphasis on the role of a longer-term trends, which are impacting not just established British religions but on other entities such as political parties.
“We have a growing skepticism, bordering on cynicism, towards any institution in Britain, with the monarchy, or the queen in particular, perhaps being the only exception. We don't do institutions and we are still disinclined to embrace big systems. That said, it's complex. In the same way that we don't join political parties, we might be prepared to campaign on single issues, we might not want to join religions groups, though we might engage in personal spiritual activity.”
Conservative voices, as well as those further to the right, meanwhile, sought to draw links between the apparent decline in British Christianity and the other headline from the census – a rise in the number of foreign-born residents in England and Wales which now means that around one in eight inhabitants were born outside of the UK.