The Church of England have released a poll they claim shows the vast majority of people believe in the power of prayer, when it does no such thing. There is nothing at all wrong with ICM’s actual polling, which asks people “Irrespective of whether you currently pray or not, if you were to pray for something at the moment, What would it be for?” (emphasis is mine). A perfectly reasonable question, asking people what they would pray for, if they were the sort of person who did pray.

However, the Church of England have gone rather rogue in interpreting the results, deciding that everyone who gave an answer to ICM’s hypothetical question of what people would pray for if they prayed must therefore believe in prayer – putting out a press release claiming that “Four out of five British adults believe in the power of prayer”. The Telegraph has gone on a similar flight of fancy, declaring “Six out of seven people still believe that prayers can be answered despite a dramatic drop in formal religious observance, a study has found.”

In a population where only around half of people believe in a god at all, any claim that 80% of people believe prayer works should ring alarm bells anyway. For the record the last poll I can find that actually asked whether people believed that prayer worked was by YouGov for the Sun in 2012. That found 31% of people believed that prayer worked in some way (that is they thought prayers were heard by God, or were physically answered in some other way), compared to 45% who did not and 25% who weren’t sure.

Hat tip to Alex Hern at the New Statesman for spotting it – his own mockery is here.

Meanwhile this morning’s YouGov poll for the Sun had topline figures of CON 30%, LAB 41%, LDEM 13%, UKIP 11%. The thirteen points for the Liberal Democrats is the highest that YouGov have shown them since November 2010. While all the usual caveats about individual polls apply, it is indicitative of a broader underlying trend – since the end of last year there has been a definite uptick in levels of Lib Dem support in YouGov’s daily polling. Last autumn YouGov were typically showing them at 8-10%, in recent weeks they have typically been showing them at around 11-12%.

317 Responses to “No, 80% of people do NOT “believe in prayer””

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  1. Howard

    I know. I was just roping you in as you did the FPT thingy.

    As it happens (not that my opinion is worth a ha’penny toss) I am generally in favour of a pooling of sovereignty in Europe. And I won’t and don’t get I to arcane debates on that topic. That is a century-long debate.

    The problem I have here is a very specific one on this specific topic. It is that the population of Cyprus is effectively being denied a say in the path that it should take. I strongly suspect that, given a choice between an EZ bailout and a consequent Greece-style perma-Depression, or the immediate pain of a default and Cypr-exit with the possibility of an Iceland-style recovery, the Cypriots would choose the latter. But that would be catastrophic for the EZ and effectively, they have been denied that choice.

    That worries me greatly.

  2. reginald

    Saying religion should not be subject to humour for reasons of “good citizenship” is the first step on a rather nasty, slippery step. My view is that, especially in a largely agnostic country, it is already treated far too reverentially by the media.

  3. step/slope

  4. Lefty
    I am no longer allowed by Paul Croft to use smileys
    – but they are there in spirit, although use of that expression itself is probably deprecated by he who must be obeyed.

    I agree with you, by the way, except that the fault lies solely with the Cyprus government for trying to run a banana republic in the EU. Blaming the EU (EZ, ECB, IMF) for what has occurred is like blaming the police for criminals’ activities. The blame lies solely with the criminals.

    However, if one proposes a tightening up so that rules cannot be broken, we are told that this is interfering in sovereignty or such like. For instance, the City must be allowed the freedom to function.

    Whoops, I’m debating with you, slaps wrist.

  5. Paulcroft
    An interesting view. Whether or not arrogant humour, as I have noted on before, is something that is good in any relation (religion, politics, etc) is a view I would question.

  6. Tony Deans
    I don’t disagree with your hypothesis that the Church of England are dwindling but I would not agree that this is entirely due to the ‘rising brand’ of aetheism. I see a lot of evidense to suggest that this dwindling is almost equally caused by the rising numbers in smaller churches as it is caused by aetheism.

  7. @Howard – I would actually also agree that Cyprus has itself to blame, but that doesn’t alter the fact that elements of the solution are misguided.

    It’s clear that Cyprus built it’s economy on the basis of attracting hot money, not so much via lax rules, but by a willingness to allow lax application of such rules as did exist. There seems to be have complicity from the political elites as well as the financial and legal sectors, and this carries over into over reliance on a financial sector that looks strong, but is fundamentally built on shaky foundations, and created grave distortions to the mainstream economy as well.

    There are all kinds of reasons for rectifying this situation, and for quite a while, the EU has insisted that the solution is a one off, in respect of these unusual circumstances. Yesterday they changed their approach to this, and it is this, primarily, that is a fundamental miscalculation, not the actual steps taken in Cyprus.

    Another intriguing point arises out of this. The EU is built upon fundamental assumptions of the free movement of goods and people. In Cyprus, they have just agreed significant restrictions on the movement of money.

    I’m no expert on this, and I assume this is legal, but it appears to breach a fundamental article of the EU. This raises the question about in what other circumstances should and could free movement be restricted.

    With a new city the size of Southampton required in the UK every year to accommodate our rapidly expanding population, some would argue that we face a population emergency, and therefore we should be permitted to restrict EU inward migration.

    It certainly appears that the EU rule book is again re written to suit what Brussels wants, when it wants it. If we could have this flexibility applied more widely, the results would be particularly interesting.

  8. Alec

    I ‘ve just returned from twatching the News but I won’t dispute anything you said because I don’t have the facts at my disposal to do so (yet).

    I did say I would report any instant polls on Dijsselbloem in NL (or elsewhere).

    A very large ‘poll’ (I am still checking whether it is voodoo) of 13000 found 62% backed D for the way in which Cyprus was dealt with. 51% is recorded as in favour of hitting the largest savers (over 100,000).

    54% think there are still problems of this nature to come and the number who trust the euro for the future has reduced from 42% TO 32%.

    I will check n this ‘poll”s credentials and remove the quotes if sound.

  9. I’ve checked it out. If you think you can read Dutch or use the translate button, it looks kosher.

    This is the link.

    and look at the last para in italics where the sampling and weighting are spelt out.

    If the link does not work, here is the method in that para which you could put into your translator app.

    Over het onderzoek

    Aan het onderzoek deden 13.000 leden van het EenVandaag Opiniepanel mee. Het onderzoek vond plaats op 26 maart 2013. Het EenVandaag Opiniepanel bestaat uit ruim 45.000 mensen. Zij beantwoorden vragenlijsten op basis van een online onderzoek. De uitslag van de peilingen onder het EenVandaag Opiniepanel zijn na weging representatief voor zes variabelen, namelijk leeftijd, geslacht, opleiding, burgerlijke staat, spreiding over het land en politieke voorkeur gemeten naar de Tweede Kamerverkiezingen van 2012. Panelleden krijgen ongeveer één keer per week een uitnodiging om aan een peiling mee te doen. Op de meeste onderzoeken respondeert 60 tot 70 procent van de panelleden.

    A panel of 45000 – very impressive.

  10. Reginad

    You’ve lost me but not to worry: your initial post quoted my “holier than thou” comment as though I meant it seriously – and was then used as “evidence” that I am arrogant. I then explained that it was clearly a joke but that apparently that made no difference as jokes are frowned on when they are about religion.

    My own view is that describing someone you don’t know and have never met, in such an insulting way and on the basis of some tongue-in-cheek remarks, mixed in with some very sincerely held, serious views is a lot worse than anything I have just posted.

  11. I’ve discovered that one can better not put the ‘less than greater than’ around a link as it comes out blank (see above post).

  12. Paul, you really do need those smileys you know. (smiley)

  13. @Howard – that’s very interesting poll stuff. It’s absolutely no surprise that northern Europeans support a solution that removes from them or limits the responsibility of paying for crises elsewhere in the Eurozone – that’s a given. The fall in confidence in the Euro is much more interesting however, but as we don’t when it is compared to, its a bit hard to make too much of what looks a surprisingly low figure.

    However, on one level, the entire poll just helps to point out my concerns over the Euro. It’s a single, but the people who live within don’t really accept that, or at least appreciate what a single currency should mean. You have agreed to fix your interests with the interests of everyone else within the union, and so you should have a responsibility for monetary affairs throughout the union.

    Northern Europeans have conveniently forgotten this in these bad times, although they also forgot about it in the good times, when they did very well out of the system. It’s a sow’s ear, but they haven’t conceptually managed to craft the purse from it.

  14. Prayer…..

    There is an interesting subject for objective reflection.

    Newman in Gerontius sees prayer essentially as a dialogue between two conscientious minds, one leeser; one infinitely greater; a dialogue where deeper acquaintance with and knowledge of God makes one more conscious of a desire to love (and praise) Him….I guess rather akin to a growing friendship or even to falling in Love…when you wax lyrical about your partner’s wondrous virtues to anyone who will listen to you.

    Prayer for most of this consumerist society either passes itself off in ritual words like the Our Father etc which may bestow some trappings of comfort or sentiments of nobility to a public occasion like wedding or a funeral or most commonly these days in treating God a bit like a celestial slot machine in a heavenly Las Vegas who eventually pays out if you ask Him nicely by putting in a few prayers in the appropriate place in the ethereal machinery.

    But it’s easy to sneer at the simple beliefs of others whilst overlooking the simple truths about oneself.

    At its best in wise minds God can be more than our idea of better; He can represent in our actions towards others the best in each of us. And to pray He does, even if God seems merely to be another consumable construct in our age of endless consumption, is better than believing we are not capable of being better towards each other than we are.

    For in our minds there is something bigger than the sum of our parts and that is what makes us special and consciously different. It doesn’t mean we are destined to rise to the occasion but at least we are aware that life is an occasion worth the effort of rising to….

    Rising to occasions: that’s a good metaphor for Easter…..

  15. Alec
    You are correct that the EU Treaties (the first actually) envisage a free movement of goods and labour. Also capital must have free movement.

    The interesting thing about the latter is that it is not the free movement of capital within the EU that appears to have caused issues, but the worldwide free movement. Prof. Paul Krugman has written an article about this, which I think I cited a while back.

    On free movement of labour, the immigration issues in the UK are fundamentally to do with something that cannot be undone. The vast majority (almost totality) of EU immigrants are performing as the Treaty hoped. They have to do so, otherwise there is nothing for them here.

    The immigration issue is a social one. I have no idea how poor Damilola Taylor or Victoria Climbie or any of their their relations ended up here (they were not asylum seekers) and under what rights they did so, but despite all the horror and righteous disgust flying around, I defy you to find a journalist who dealt with that and investigated how they could stay here (to we here at Chez H), an obvious issue.

    Without those latter home-grown issues, I am very doubtful indeed whether the issue of EU immigrants would have amounted to a bag of beans (possibly seasonally in the Anglian cabbage picking areas). Again no in-depth analysis from our journalists, for whom I have unbridled contempt. for their lack of graft (or their editors).

  16. Alec
    I have a reply in auto mod (did not wish you to think I was being discourteous). It’ll emerge when Anthony has dined perhaps.

  17. @”But it’s easy to sneer at the simple beliefs of others whilst overlooking the simple truths about oneself.”

    Very nicely put John.

  18. Good grief! Why is disagreeing with someone always called “sneering” by those with whom you have a different point of view?

    Please grow up and debate ideas rationally – or even, occasionally perhaps, humorously.

    [groaning thing for Howard]


    Anyway am off now and praying for an England victory.

  19. @ P Croft.
    “[Religion] is already treated far too reverentially by the media.”

    Agreed. We are always being asked to Respect other people’s religious views. I tolerate their views, but I don’t respect them: in the same way I would tolerate but not respect someone who told me that red London buses ply a busy trade on the dark side of the moon.
    I railed against emoticons: finally they were removed. Prayers sometimes take a long time to be answered.

  20. Guardian reporting that DT is to go behind a semi paywall soon.

    While not a fan of the Daily Telegraph I do go on the website quite a bit (even if just to see what the UKIPers are saying- normally ‘Vote UKIP’). They do have some interesting articles and it does give me a bit of balance to my leftie views so will be sorry to see this happen- not enough to put my hand in my pocket though.

    I dread the day when it’s only the BBC website you can go to for free news.

  21. Well I am a Catholic and pray but I think Scotland’s current squad is beyond even Gods help.

    As my friend said about the news a few days back.

    They have found three pitches at an ancient site in Peru that date back 1,000 yards .. and one might even be the one Scotland last won a match on”


  22. Howard

    I know that the implied wonky things were there. I’ve never used them me self, but they are usually implied in most of my posts. Funny that other folk rarely see them…

    Anyway. I take a somewhat different slant in the fault thing.

    1) it’s kind of irrelevant. As in, the fault has already happened. Now, Germany may well want to have a policy of exemplary punishment pour encourager les autres, but then we’re back to economics as morality rather than economics as a practical means of influencing the future.

    2) If Cyprus ran amok, they did so within a system that allowed them to do so. Equal curses on Cyprus for not playing the game, and the rule makers for not better organising the rules to prevent such behaviour bit seems to me that architects of a system whose only control on irresponsible behaviour is appealing to people to be responsible have been irresponsible. Especially when the collapse of their half-baked, ill-controlled system would plunge half a billion people into penury.

  23. Even as a Conservative voter, I am gutted at the news that David Miliband is stepping down as an MP and leaving politics.

    To think that ordinary Labour Party members wanted him as their leader, but of course the unions put in what they thought was the slightly lefter candidate. If I was a Labour man, I would be holding the unions responsible for Labour losing such a good politician. When you look at the shadow cabinet, can you really say he isn’t head and shoulders above the lot of them?

    Sad day for Labour in my view.

  24. Christianity hasn’t been spoken for much. It is interesting how, in history, prayerful Christians have prevailed. Examples of this are Robert the Bruce before Bannockburn, Lord Nelson before Trafalgar and suchlike. Maybe, for the aetheists, just coincidence. It is also interesting how Biblical prophesies seem to have a habit of coming about. One that immediately springs to mind is Ezekiel’s prophesy concerning Israel. It speaks of the Princes of Tubal rising in anger against Israel. As the Princes of Tubal speak of the peoples of Iran, Russia and parts of Syria this seems a remarkable ‘coincidense’. The fact that Ezekiel’s prophesies, in this connection, are estimated, by the Bible translators of King James I, to be taking place around the year 2020 also provides an interesting ‘coincidense’.

  25. RICHO,

    Apparently he is going to International Rescue…. In New York, not Tracey Island!


  26. Paulcroft
    From what I have read in your posts I didn’t think you would take offence so easily. My views are simple and clear on the matter of religion. For some people (not myself) this subject can be deeply painful when somebody thoughtlessly displays views so utterly uncomprehensive. I have seen a Hindu friend (I am not a Hindu) come near to an asylum due to what may seem like joking and light comments from university peers. Your views, I decipher, are largely due to ignorance in such matters and in this light I would exchange the word ‘arrogant’ for ‘ignorant’ and put your bull-headed views to that.

  27. While Paulcroft, Reginald, John and so on battle on as to the matter of prayer, I would like to add another perspective, which, as far as I know, hasn’t been noted on. That is the remarkable correlation there is between prayerful Christians (especially in battle) and their successes. I am thinking in particular of Robert the Bruce before Bannockburn and Lord Nelson before Trafalgar. This is what the aetheists would call a ‘coincidense’ or a prayer that has had a ‘placebo effect’, I suppose.

    Now that may be the case but what I find more interesting is the amount of remarkable ‘coincidences’ there are in Christianity. Biblical prophesies are one example. Take, for instance, the prophet Ezekiel; this prophet speaks in his book of the Bible as to the princes of Tubal rising against Israel. Some of King James I’s translators managed to predict, using other Biblical references, that this prophesy would take place around the year 2020. A remarkable coincidense considering Tubal speaks of Iran, Syria and Russia. None of which are particularly friendly with Israel right now.

    This may be another remarkable ‘coincidence’ but alongside other examples it seems an awful lot of ‘coincidences’.

  28. Sorry it seems my pal Randall has put the content of our conversation earlier on here already. I didn’t notcice. Sorry Randall.

  29. Reginald

    You really are extremely rude aren’t you?

    Yet again I have absolutely no idea what you are on about. “Uncomprehensive” ??? What does that mean?

    Like many others I don’t believe in the existence of any god anywhere. Like many others I see much of religion, both in the past where actual priests were put to death for preaching in their own language instead of bloody Latin, and in the present even more frighteningly, so that people fear for their lives if they say a wrong word and countless numbers are massacred on a daily basis for being just very, VERY slightly different in their own take on a particular brand of religion..

    Monty Python’s union parody summed it up brilliantly in “The Life of Brian”.

    Also, probably like everybody else, I have friends and relatives who are religious in a very gentle C of E way and who gain much from their beliefs. Whilst I would never question them on this that does not alter the fact that there is absolutely no evidence to sustain those beliefs.

    Why you feel I wouldn’t take offence at being called “arrogant”, “ignorant” and “bull-headed” by someone who doesn’t know me I, once again, have no idea. You might bear in mind that there are two particants in the written word – the writer and the reader. I know precisely what I mean and what I feel: perhaps your blinkered interpretations say more about you than me?

  30. Prayer – maybe this poll isn’t quite so unrealistic as people think.
    Not all people may pray regularly, but what do people do in times of extreme pressure?? I wonder.

    A couple of years ago, a friend, who for most of his life refused to beleive that there was God, got serious cancer. He was about 50. Just before he died, he was restless. Someone else who was present read some Scriptures from the Bible to him, then moments before he died, his restlessness ceased. He said ‘I’ve prayed, and I no longer feel my pain.’

    Makes you wonder.

  31. Gilbert Chesterton meets Stephen Hawking and Lao Tzu in a bar:

    We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.

    One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star.

    To realize that you do not understand is a virtue; Not to realize that you do not understand is a defect.

  32. It seems necessary also to add that this thread is ABOUT “prayer” and included a link with a sardonic take on it at the top. Why one should not be permitted to comment on the actual subject is beyond me.

  33. Paul Croft

    I thought you were watching the football (quite exciting actually, I am).

    I don’t think that English is ‘Reginald”s first language. Perhaps that may explain things.

  34. I’d just like to weigh in & say: Paul Croft is sometimes daft as a brush but I have never thought he was arrogant, ignorant or bull headed.

  35. BB

    I realize I don’t understand your post: is that a virtue?

    I’ve already said that I am at one with Shakespeare that there are more things in heaven and earth etc.

    As a musician, I am fascinated by the idea of the “essential” self ,and the dichotomy between the conflicting ideas that, in order to survive at all when we are young we require nurturing, but that that very act also conditions us so that we may never “find” our self as we grow.

  36. Interesting to see if D Milliband has indeed resigned as an MP. I never really got quite why people thought he was the next big thing, as I never really saw anything much in his record to distinguish him, but his inability or unwillingness to subsume his personal disappointment and work solidly for the party benefit may well sum up more about what he was about than anything else he did.

    Having said that, it’s possibly that I’m being a bit unfair, and that he took a judgement that taking a high profile party role would offer the media the chance to focus on the brothers as the story, rather than Ed the leader. I’m not sure about this though, as genuine, fulsome and wholehearted support for his brother would easily scotch most of this.

  37. David Miliband moving to New York is being spun as ‘a blow’ to Ed Miliband. Actually, it’s confirmation that David & the Party expect Ed to stay leader & form a government in 2015. David is not willing to wait 8 years for his chance to lead so is leaving to pursue other interests.

  38. Alec
    My post came out – (if you are still interested).

  39. Howard

    Mah forst language is Geordie the noo, nah worrah mean layke bonnie lad man Howie???

    Well, I can do the accent quite well after forty years up here anyway



    “daft as a brush”

    Moi?? Bleedin’ cheek!

    But thankyou: [my Mum thought I was lovely.]

  40. Shev11,
    I too will miss reading the telegraph online,mainly because I find Dan Hodges
    Blog rather amusing,particularly the way he always sticks the knife into EM
    Whatever the subject of the blog.

  41. Alec

    To be fair to him the situation would be very difficult. Had he not already held the highest offices of state apart from PM then maybe you could criticise but, of course, he has done.

  42. Alec
    I agree with Amber.

    I can’t see any future for David here for a decade (‘Dave’ sounds even more ridiculous than ‘Dave’ Cameron now, – see how the media machine works?).

    He is only 48 though, so has time on his side. It’s funny how none of these people think of becoming, say, a grocer, or something.

    I suppose you have to be caught in bed with someone not acceptable, to end up in genuine sackcloth and ashes doing charity work.

  43. @Howard – saw the outed post and can’t disagree with it. I wasn’t saying that EU migration was a big problem, more that the way the EU operates is by a set of agreed rules, until Brussels wish to do something the rules don’t allow.

  44. Amber,

    ” David is not willing to wait 8 years for his chance to lead so is leaving to pursue other interests.”

    Equally he might have decided that the Labour government will be so boxed in financially that in the next eight years he wouldn’t be able to do anything worthwhile.


  45. @Alec

    Fwiw this from June 2011, probably not fullsome/genuine enough for some though:

    “I have moved on from the leadership election and so should everyone else…
    Ed won, I stand fully behind him and so should everyone else…
    I called for unity last October and I repeat that now…
    The rest is soap opera of which I want no part and the public have no interest.”

    I doubt he has any ambition to be leader now… especially not after this:


    Even more endearing than the banana picture imo.

  46. Paul
    Just heard Southgate’s opinion on the match, so articulate and incisive (to total incredulity of the people alongside him). Blimey, how did he survive the changing rooms? I’ll bet he didn’t read the Guardian like Graham Le Saux, or Robbie Fowler would have mooned him, too, as he did on live TV in a match.

    I know Amber is bemused at this point but I thank her for her indulgence.

    It’s British political culture and pardon me while I cry.

  47. IRC has roots going back to those persecuted by Hitler.

    Seems a good fit for him.

    I wish him well-it’s a more purposeful occupation.

  48. HOWARD

    @”I don’t think that English is ‘Reginald”s first language. Perhaps that may explain things.”

    @”Just heard Southgate’s opinion on the match, so articulate and incisive (to total incredulity of the people alongside him). Blimey, how did he survive the changing rooms?”

    Two more for the Liberal Democrat Guide to Snobbish Condescension .

  49. Insulting people seems popular tonight.

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