Author’s note. This article was first published in July 2012. Updated comments from the ABS appear at the end further confirming the thrust of my thesis.
In his book “Losing My Religion” Bishop Tom Frame (he is the Priest that conducted the services after the Bali bombings) concludes that “Unless there is a turnaround in the fortunes of all community organizations by 2025 the Christian Church will be a marginal player in Australian life with a few remaining remnants. When the Christian affiliation of the population drops below 50 per cent, projected to happen around 2030, those identifying as Christians will be found in four main clusters. The Roman Catholic Church will continue to exercise sufficient discipline among its people to resist the mutating of popular culture. The Pentecostal/Charismatic churches will flourish in the larger cities, form communities within communities and become more sect like.”
He goes on to say that: “Those churches that do not present an attractive and credible alternative to popular culture will disappear. Left leaning cause driven liberal Protestant Churches that lack doctrinal rigor and are preoccupied with the promotion of social justice and cultural inclusion will be the first to go.”
The conclusions he draws would appear to be backed up by the results of the recent five yearly Australian census, which showed a remarkable increase of 30% in unbelief. In fact, five of the eight states and territories now have more unbelievers than believers. In country areas, Christian churches are closing at a rapid rate and this is attributable to a number of factors including an ageing population. Much research has been done over many years into the decline of belief and church attendance in Australia.
Early on, the motor car was thought to be a cause because it opened society to other forms of recreation. Later television and the advent of the Sunday night movie were blamed for the demise of Sunday evening services. Today only around 7% of the population regularly attends Sunday services. Of these many are what I call culture or recreational church goers who don’t have a particularly strong belief,but attend because it forms part of their social circle or they play (or sing) in a band where they get opportunities they would not otherwise. Therefore, when these people are deducted from the 7% there is very little real belief.
However, the main reason for the decline in belief I would suggest is the fact that children are now better educated than their parents. Today’s generation questions everything. Coupled with a simple access to information on the internet it is now easy too reason and question traditional problematic belief. Young people are able to type any question about biblical belief into Google and then apply with an inquiring mind their own reason and logic.
In addition, the problem for the enlightened young in a technology driven society is the lack of demonstrably hard evidence to corroborate the existence of a personal God. For example, if you were to type in “virgin birth” then do some research, you are likely after considering the evidence conclude that no such event took place or at best, it is highly unlikely that it did. Alternatively, you could type in “contradictions of the bible” and if you are a reasoned person, you could only conclude that the book is unreliable as history and is lacking in factual content. That is not to say that it is not an important work in terms of literature or philosophy.
The young have also become impatient with religions inability or failure to remedy human suffering and put an end to social equality. If anything, it tends to exacerbate these problems. Moreover, of course the young find it difficult to fathom how the moral problems of today can be solved by refereeing to a moral landscape thousands of a year old, which was written by humans with intellectually inferior brains than the advanced minds of today. They are being asked to accept a set of rules that assume that the world they live in has never progressed scientifically or socially. They conclude that religion (and its God) is a man- made concept and it has been an historical monumental failure.
So in Australia given that the census (taken every five years) continues on its downward spiral and Bishop Frame is correct in his assumptions we could expect that within 15 or 20 years the Christian church will no longer exist.
Although this piece focuses on Australian faith it is worth noting that recent surveys in the US see for the first time a decline in belief in people under 30. This also backs up my reasoning on the impact of education outside of traditional sources.
The demarcation between Church and state.
In Australia, we have always taken secularism seriously and although Catholics were once aligned with the left of politics, that association no longer exists. If religion puts its nose, too far into the political arena it is gently told to but out. However, with the likelihood next year of the election of Tony Abbott we will have a Prime Minister unafraid to inflict his Catholic beliefs upon an unwary electorate.
He takes his Catholicism seriously. His past spontaneous outbursts about his daughters virginity, his fear of homosexuality, his opposition to abortion, his veto (as Health Minister) of the RU486 drug, his views on euthanasia, his opposition to same sex marriage and stem cell research all give confirmation to a dogma more attune to Rome than the changing moral landscape of Australia.
Andrew Robb, Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey, Kevin Andrews and other Catholics will constitute a distinctive and coherent group in an Abbott ministry and to quote former PM Malcolm Fraser “Well, they are different. They are not Australians; they owe their loyalty to the Pope”. Abbott has personified church ties with politics through his relationship with the man he has called his confessor, Cardinal George Pell. Pell is of average intellect with an almost obsessive relationship to Rome. He sees the upholding of Church tradition and its survival as being more important than his flock and his protection of the church in cases of child abuse is offensive to most people.
What then comes into question is Abbott’s inability to distinguish between faith, politics, and the rapid decline in belief. As a democracy, we respect the right of organizations including the church to hold views that represent their beliefs and to promote their ideas. However, these views should always be in proportion to the influence and size of the organization it seeks to represent because primarily we are a secular democracy and no one should forget it.
Survey on religion. Some recent research.
AUSTRALIANS see spirituality as quite separate from religion, with the former much more widely accepted, according to the results of a national survey to be released in Melbourne today.
What they really dislike is celebrities endorsing religion, stories of healing and miracles, and doctrines about homosexuality and hell.
Commissioned by Olive Tree media, the survey of 1094 people shows that while Australians are generally open to spirituality, they feel they are unlikely to find it in church.
Olive Tree director Karl Faase, who is releasing the report at a forum of 70 religious leaders, said the survey sought to identify the ”blocker issues” that turned people off faith.
The obstacle that annoys Australians most is the celebrity endorsements of religion so common in the United States – 70 per cent said they were repelled by it, questioning the motives behind it. Claims of miraculous stories (58 per cent) also repelled non-believers.
The biggest problems Australians have with the church is abuse by the clergy (cited by 91 per cent), hypocrisy and judging others (both 88 per cent) religious wars (83 per cent) and issues around money (87 per cent).
When it comes to church teachings, the main objections are its ideas about homosexuality (69 per cent), hell and condemnation (66 per cent), and the role of women and suffering (both 60 per cent). But 52 per cent were open to philosophical discussion and debating ideas; 54 per cent were impressed by people who lived out a genuine faith, and 60 per cent acknowledged a personal trauma or significant life change might change their attitude to religion.
About 40 per cent of Australians consider themselves Christian, compared with the 2006 census response of 64 per cent, the survey shows. Another 10 per cent identify with other religions; 19 per cent call themselves spiritual but not religious, and 31 per cent identify as having no religion or spiritual belief. Of those who identify with a religion, about half say they don’t actively practise it.
The 2011census showed the following breakdown .
No religion 4,796,787
Uniting Church 1,065,795
Presbyterian and Reformed 599,515
People professing to have no religion have moved past Anglicans to become the second-largest grouping after Catholics in the 2011 Census.
Almost 4.8 million people said they had no religion, up 29 per cent from 2006, but the number of people not answering the question dropped by 2 per cent. This suggested that more people were claiming a religious identity (including no religion), said Monash University sociology professor Gary Bouma.
The total Christian population is 13.2 million, or 61 per cent, down three percentage points. Catholics have dropped half a percentage point to 25.3 or 5.4 million, Anglicans are down 1.6 percentage points to 3.7 million, while the Uniting Church is down to 5 per cent, or 1.1 million people.
Minority religions all showed strong growth, particularly Hindus, whose numbers nearly doubled to 276,000, from 0.7% to 1.3%. Buddhists have risen from 2.1 per cent to 2.5 per cent, Muslims from 1.7 per cent to 2.2 per cent. Professor Bouma said Hindu growth was due to migration, and the recent Muslim growth was due to continued migration from south Asia and a high birth rate.
‘‘The rise in ‘no religion’ continues its historic trend, even in the face of an apparent small rise in claiming a religious identity. So polarisation is increasing,’’ Professor Bouma said.
In five of eight states and territories, no religion provides the largest group. In Victoria and Queensland it is second, behind Catholics, and in NSW it is third, also behind Anglicans.
An interesting development is in the groups coming next in each state and capital city. In Sydney, Muslims have passed Eastern Orthodox into fourth place with 4.7 per cent, but for the state of NSW Islam is fifth, following the Uniting Church.
In Melbourne the Eastern Orthodox are fourth (5.5 per cent) and Buddhists fifth (4 per cent), while statewide in Victoria the Uniting Church leapfrogs the Orthodox into fourth.
In all other states and capital cities the Uniting Church is fourth. In Queensland and Brisbane, Presbyterians take fifth spot. In Western Australia undefined Christians have replaced Presbyterians in fifth position but in both Perth and Canberra it is Buddhists who have displaced Presbyterians. Presbyterians keep fifth place in Tasmania, including Hobart.
In Adelaide Orthodox Christians take fifth spot, while for the whole state Lutherans are fifth, as they are in Darwin and the Northern Territory.
UPDATED COMMENTS DECEMBER 2013
In the past 100 years, the number of Australians reporting on the national census that they have “no religion” has jumped from one in 250 in 1911 to more than one in five in 2011.
In addition, many of those who nominate a religious affiliation do not actively participate in religious activities.
The latest Australian ¬Bureau of Statistics social trends report provides the first in-depth look at the 2011 census data on religion.
“Rates of reporting no religion have been steadily rising, and Australia is not alone in this – rates are also rising for countries like New Zealand, England and Wales, Canada, the United States and Ireland,” said ABS Director of Social and Progress Reporting Fiona Dowsley.
While 4.8 million, or 22 per cent, of Australians reported “no religion” in the 2011 census, 25 per cent nominated as Catholic, and 17 per cent as ¬Anglicans.
On present trends, “no religion” will be the most popular response by the next census.
About half of those reporting no religious belief are less than 30 years old.
Almost a third of 22 to 24- year-olds reported no religion, and about one in five children under 15 live in a home where one or both parents reported no religion.
The ranks of non-believers also increases with higher education, with almost a third of those older than 19 with postgraduate qualifications reporting no religion compared with one in five of those with only a school education.
Since the specific instruction of writing “none” if a ¬person has no religion was added to the census in 1971, the number of people reporting no religion has increased an average of four percentage points a decade, with the sharpest rise – 6.8 percentage points – taking place in the past decade.
The Atheist Foundation of Australia encouraged people to report “no religion” on their 2011 census forms.
But Australia’s rising rate of non-believers also reflects ¬global trends.
The ABS report found that the rising numbers of non-¬believers mirrors a steady decline in people reporting Christian beliefs, while those professing other beliefs, including Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism, were on the rise.
The fall in Christian beliefs has driven an increase in civil marriages, with seven in 10 marriages now conducted by a civil celebrant.
The report found non-¬believers are slightly less likely to do volunteer work (17 per cent) than people with Christian beliefs (20 per cent) but more likely than those with other beliefs (14 per cent).
The 2010 General Social Survey found that only 15 per cent of men and 22 per cent of women had actively participated in a religious or spiritual group.
Categories: Social Justice