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Survey of Religious Opinion, North London 2011

In the week 17-23 July, Shalom Ministries undertook a survey of religious opinion in North London in cooperation with Childs Hill Baptist Church, Mortimer Close, NW2 2JY (www.childshill.com) and Wilton Community Church, N10 1LT (www.wiltonchurch.org.uk).

The questions in the survey ranged from belief in God to whether it was possible to know what happened after death.

The survey produced some interesting results. For example, 80% of respondents said they believed in a “God”, a result that would disappoint atheists and humanists who want the UK to be a “God-Free Zone”.

Almost half of those who believed in a deity thought that God was “Personal”. Eleven percent thought God was “Impersonal” and almost a third didn’t know if God was a “He” or an “It”. The great problem with believing in an impersonal “god” is that a river never rises higher than its source. If we are personal and our creator impersonal, the river has run uphill; the creature has become greater than the Creator. If that is so, why do we from time to time instinctively feel the need of help from a “higher power” and pray. An impersonal Force is not a “higher power. Our Creator may be more than “Personal” but he cannot be less.

Sixty percent of respondents said there was a difference between “Faith” and “Religion”, and at the end of the week the survey took place, that opinion was confirmed. The Friday after the survey was undertaken, Anders Behring Breivik went on a killing spree that claimed the lives of almost 100 people. He was, said the BBC, a “fundamentalist Christian”. Breivik’s “Christianity”, it turned out, was purely cultural. In a 1,500 page manifesto, Breivik revealed he was not particularly religious; he had a “religion” of sorts but no “faith”. And what faith he did have was not in the Messiah (Christ) who taught his followers to love their enemies and prayed for the forgiveness of those who were nailing him to a cross.

More people (over a third) thought “religion” was the cause of the world’s problems rather than the solution (about a quarter thought religion was the solution) and about a third didn’t know. The question was a difficult one because there are so many religions. If a religion teaches that it is the duty of believers to kill infidels, it is unlikely to be a solution to the world’s problems (unless you view infidels as the problem!). A religion that teaches you should love God with all your being and love others as you love yourself, if followed, would solve all the world’s problems.

What should determine our choice of religion? Nine percent said “Tradition”; 11% said “Reason”; 23% said “Birth” and half the respondents said “Personal Preference”. But is following a “religion" a choice as bland as choosing a brand of coffee or breakfast cereal? In a sense, it’s the most important choice in life. While there are similarities between all the religions – such a belief in a Higher Power, prayer and doing charitable deeds, for example – there are also great differences. Of one thing you can be certain: either all religions are false or only one is true; they are either all man-made or one is God’s revealed truth. Birth, Tradition and Personal Preference are insufficient guides to the Truth.

Think about it: if there is a “True Religion”, it will differ from all the others at significant points. Apart from pure Buddhism, which is atheistic, other religions believe in many gods or one God. The Bible reveals a God who is three and yet one. Who could have dreamed up that mind blowing concept! All religions, apart from branches of Satanism, teach that salvation is achieved through self effort: keep all the rules and you will make it to heaven. The Bible teaches that salvation is the result of God’s mercy alone. We find eternal life through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus alone, by faith alone. In a sense, you could have Judaism without Moses, Moses was just a prophet chosen by God. God could have chosen anyone else in Israel to be the mediator of his covenant with Israel. The message is more important than the messenger.

You could have Islam without Mohammed; he was just the teacher of Islamic doctrine. For Muslims, the Qur’an is more important than the man who wrote it. Anyone else could have taught what he did.

Jesus is different. Without him there could be no Christianity. It is not the teachings of Jesus that are “the way, the truth and the life” but Jesus himself.

Forty-three percent of respondents identified their religions background as “Christian”. The rest were almost evenly divided between “Jewish”, “Muslim”, “Hindu”, “Other” or “None”. The number of Jewish respondents was slightly higher than the rest (14%). With such a high number of respondents identifying their background as “Christian”, it was surprising to see how “unchristian” most of the answers were.

The next four questions related to religious books and, in particular, the Bible. A quarter of those questioned thought their holy book was “completely true”. Seven percent said “Mostly true”, while 21% said “Partly true”. Interestingly, 11% thought their religious book was “Myth and Legend”.

16% read their holy books a great deal, while over a third never read them at all.

14% of those questioned thought the Bible was “Completely true”, while 23% thought it was “Partly true”. Thirty-eight percent of respondents declined to comment.

16% of those who took part in the survey had read the entire Bible, 11% had read “Just the Hebrew Scriptures” (Old Testament), 18% had read “a lot” of the Bible, almost a third had read “a little” and 23% had read “none” of the Bible.

Even though one fifth of those questioned thought their holy books were “completely true”, most appeared to have doubts about at least some parts of their religious texts. The problem with having a religious text you can trust absolutely, of course, is that once you allow for errors in the “word of God” (whoever that God may be and whichever holy book it may be), it raises the question of the truth of one’s religion as a whole. What parts of the holy book are true and what parts are in error? How do you differentiate between truth and error? How can you be sure there are not more errors yet to be uncovered? The truth claims of any religion stand or fall on the reliability of its basic documents. If the Bible is in error, Judaism and Christianity fall; if the Qur’an is flawed, so is the religion based on it.

Opinions about Jesus varied. Considering that so many respondents came from a “Christian” background, the answers to the question were alarming. Seven percent of those questioned were of the opinion that Jesus was a “Mythical figure”; Fourteen percent thought he was a “Prophet” while 2% opted for a “False Prophet”. Eleven percent believed no one could know anything about him because he lived so long ago. Sixteen percent thought he was “The Messiah”, whereas the majority (30%) said he was a “Great Teacher”.

Considering that 55% of those questioned had hardly read the Bible and another 11% had not read the New Testament, it’s surprising that almost a third of respondents could think of Jesus as a great Teacher; a great Teacher no one listens to! But that’s the thing to say isn’t it?

It is worth bearing in mind a comment by the author of the Narnia Chronicles, C S Lewis. In his classic defence of the Christian faith, Mere Christianity, he demonstrated the impossibility of Jesus just being a “Great Teacher”:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”

The final question was: “Is it possible to know where we go after we die?”

More than a quarter of those questioned thought it was possible to know what happens after death but just less than a third said “No”. Fourteen percent didn’t know but twice that number wished they did know.

What kind of religious belief gives no certainty for the next life? Isn’t that what “religion” is supposed to be about? So long as a religion teaches that eternal life is achieved by “good deeds”, no one can ever be sure they have earned enough Brownie points to attain eternal bliss. The message of Jesus the Messiah is Good News because although it reveals what we all secretly acknowledge – that none of us are good enough to attain eternal life – it also tells us that eternal life can be received as a free gift on the basis of what Jesus the Messiah achieved for us.

To see the results click on the link below.


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