The strange connection between Brexit and lukewarm religion

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Your correspondent was chatting the other day with a young home furnishing salesman, representing a company in the north of England whose market is mainly British. He proved that he was a strong believer in Brexit, tough if necessary, and the reason he gave was a little unexpected. As he saw things, the country was reviving the age of Henry VIII, who renounced the authority of the Pope in 1534, declared himself head of the church and laid the foundations of Anglicanism. “The king went for a complete rest, and England soon began to do better than anywhere else in Europe. It will be the same after Brexit.”

Not all Brexit voters would frame their case in religious-historical terms, but English nostalgia has long been a weakness for the Tudor age: a time when Anglican heroes were burned by the Catholic Queen Mary, and William Shakespeare (between pinning plots from Italian cities like Verona and Venice) praised his country as a “sceptred island” that stood proudly apart from the continent, ” a precious jewel, set in the sea of ​​silver”.

All that may help to explain one of the findings from an interesting and interesting piece of research by two religious scholars that shows a strong correlation between identifying as Anglican (almost ) and supports Brexit. Their findings are detailed in a blog for the London School of Economics and in more detail in a journal, Religion, State, and Society.

As pointed out by one of them, Linda Woodhead from Lancaster University, polls suggest that 66% of Anglicans voted Leave in the 2016 referendum, but in the country as a whole, the percentage was not of Leave only 52%.

Ms Woodhead goes on to ask whether Anglicanism is an independent variable in supporting Brexit. As she admits, the correlation may simply be because Brexit voters and Church of England supporters share some other characteristics, such as being older and living next door outside London. But upon examination, the evidence suggests that adherence to authentic Anglicanism is indeed an independent factor. Within each category of sex, age, economic status and location, being Anglican was strongly associated with a Leave conviction.

So does that mean the more Anglican you are, the more you think about Brexit? Instead of the opposite, it turns out. Indeed, that is where the scholars’ arguments become more interesting. On the basis of earlier research, Ms Woodhead believes that relatively committed Anglicans – those who attend church at least once a month – are less committed to Brexit than those who are unaffiliated. to the looser church (although the pious are still balanced in the Leave. camp). She cites one poll in which 55% of Anglicans who attend church at least monthly said they wanted to leave the EU, compared to 69% of those who consider themselves not to. not so strong.

Her co-author, Greg Smith of the William Temple Foundation, a religious research group, comes up with an even more surprising conclusion by criticizing the results of a survey of evangelicals, Christians who strongly believe in the power of Jesus Christ’s example of redemption. humanity from the consequences of sin. This is a category that transcends Anglicans, but mostly adheres to churches with simpler forms of worship.

Among the evangelicals, Mr. Smith notes, there is a clear majority for Britain to remain in the European Union, although one subgroup, the Pentecostalists, continues to -Leave way. The choice to Remain applies to evangelicals in all parts of the country, all genders and all age groups.

As the two authors note, this is in stark contrast to voting patterns in the United States, where the protectionist nature of Donald Trump has attracted the support of around 80% of white evangelicals. As they put it:

In the United Kingdom… it was religious “cool” Anglicans who made the difference [in the Brexit vote] rather than evangelicals who were committed by faith, but in the United States it was the other way around: it was committed, church-going Christians – above all evangelicals – who made the difference [in the Trump victory].

Of course any comparison is also insulted by the fact that church attendance is much more frequent in America than in Britain; four out of ten Americans say they attend church regularly compared to less than one out of ten Britons. But evangelicalism is no small force in Britain: the Evangelical Alliance, an umbrella group, believes it speaks for around 2m people.

To explain their findings, the scholars note that among self-proclaimed but lukewarm Anglicans, reasons for adhering to the faith have much to do with culture and sentiment and little to do with religion. . In one poll asking people why they considered themselves Anglican, the top three answers had nothing to do with God: the religion was considered “part of English culture”, “voice ethical in society” and “part of our heritage”.

As the authors note, this reflects that sentiment

The Church of England is inseparable from the development of the English nation, monarchy, language, people, culture and more: they have evolved over five centuries. Until recently, the Church of England was only English.

This deeply conservative tradition, the authors argue, contrasts with a nonconformist tradition that is more international in outlook and closer to the political center.

To put it another way, the legacy of King Henry VIII, and his determination to assert English independence in both politics and religion (which was largely unchanged in his time) look unstable and fierce.

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