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The August Census – Much Ado about Nothing

By Janine Gebert

The Census will happen next month, August 9. Given many of us still feel blistered by the anthems of self-interest surrounding the election, and the deal dust is still settling, this might seem somewhere between onerous and annoying. Now normally I have an allergy to comparison, but stiffen the sinews because the Census is even more important. In the recent election most of us voted for the agendas of candidates we hardly know. In the Census we vote for our own. How we respond decides future funding, resource allocation, public policy, city planning and even who and what gets public media time and attention. It translates what we say we value into the realities of goods and services.

Personal information collected is always confidential. The Census question about a person’s religion has always been optional, but most Australians choose to mark a box. It was historically assumed that most Australians had a Christian religion of one denomination or another. The Census question itself reflected this assumption and was a leading one, asking What is the person’s religion?” There was no recognition that some people do not embrace a ‘God’ at all and some have a personal rather than the doctrinal one definitively outlined in the Nicene Creed. So for a long time the census designers had the same approach to nonbelievers as some religions have to sex. The position was not an option.

This Census, however, ‘No Religion’ is in the missionary position – up there at the top of the question options. This is a further significant advancement in the understanding that Australians now hold a range of views, and Gods, and some are godless, and thankfully free to be so. Being an atheist still carries the death penalty in thirteen countries.

We are all born atheist and most of us are indoctrinated as children to the religion and tribal dynamics of our parents. As an adult atheist I have little in common with most other atheists, except the belief that no credible evidence exists for a supernatural being. Not held captive to any doctrine of dogma, atheists have a range of social and political views. Some are pro-life some pro-choice, some support voluntary euthanasia, some don’t. The word ‘fundamental’ therefore can only be applied to us in ignorance. We share nothing to be fundamental about. Except perhaps keeping religion separate from politics, which is why atheists are such a threat to authoritarian regimes.

Two things, however, are universally offensive to atheists. Being told we believe in nothing. And being told we cannot be moral without a ‘God’.

Religion largely evolved as an antidote to not feeling special in face of the massive indifference of the universe. The Bible was written as several books over a period of several hundred years by self-appointed men who still believed the world was flat. Technologies to prevent diseases, and women from endless childbirths were centuries away.

So not believing in Bronze Age myths marketed as fact, does not mean I believe in ‘nothing’. I believe in the power of knowledge and science. I believe there is sufficient evidence to show that most of us are designed by nature to be caring and supportive of others, as our very survival depends on it. As for eternal life, Atheists believe in it, seasoned with science. Our atoms continue forever. They will help form other things in an evolutionary reenactment more meaningful that any fragile ego or fairy story.

The morality question in revealing. The Bible has been one of the greatest weapons of mass destruction on earth. The Dark Ages were when religion ruled much of the world. Religion has caused wars, famine, poverty, ethnic cleansing, and slavery of other humans. Inhibiting social reform is endemic to religion and in this country it has railed against almost every major social reform including ending the White Australia Policy, rape in marriage, contraception, votes for women and the First Australians and now marriage equality.

The power of Christianity in Australia has become so entrenched that its outrageous privileges go largely unchallenged. Which brings me to the issue of tax avoidance. And why we need to be very careful with the religious census question. For an organization to avoid paying tax in Australia they have simply to state they believe in a supernatural being, which includes aliens as Scientology is embraced within this definition.

Rallying devotees to greed is the robust foreplay of the churches, which results in massive wealth no way intended for the masses. We ALL pay for those that PRAY. The Australian Christian Lobby receives massive funding. The Chaplaincy in Schools Program, which largely evangalises Christianity, is funded to the tune of $243.8 million over four years. Latest figures show $7.7 billion is voluntarily gifted by taxpayers for Christian education, including over I billion to schools that still teach Creationism. It is generally agreed that if churches were taxed for their non-charitable works and holding we would have around $20 billion a year extra for hospitals and other crucial services. Religions THINK they can avoid death. They KNOW they can avoid taxes.

Atheists generally don’t evangelize. Reason does that for us. But this Census it might be time to consider rearranging the cognitive furniture and to disguard an ancient loyalty program. If you don’t believe in, or are uncertain about a god, or simply do not want your taxes used to privilege or preference a particular religion, please mark the ‘No Religion’ box this Census. And this is serious people business. Describing yourself as a Jedi or similar might seem funny but it relegates you to the “Not Defined” category, giving your response the same status as a vegan at a meat lovers convention – zilch.

So this Census let’s all be honest about the religion question. Let’s inform the Government of our diversity on this issue and the need for non-discriminatory policy and planning. Let’s make a real stand for a fair go for all, including the faith free.

Also by Janine Gebert:

Whose life is it anyway?


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  1. Kaye Lee

    Not only are we indoctrinated as children, we go through weird ceremonies promising our newborns to the church.

    “As for eternal life”, I would go beyond just the molecules and say that people live on through the influence they have had on others and on society. One small act of kindness reverberates around the world like ripples in a pond.

  2. leonetwo

    Bugger questions on religion.

    This census asks us to provide personal information that will be kept and used for’cross-checking’, then retained for years.

    I find that far more worrying and upsetting than a question about religion, and I won’t be completing the census this year because I’m not interested in handing over that information to a government dominated by right wing nutters with agendas.

    Stop focusing on trivia, start looking at the big issues instead.

  3. Sean Sweeney

    While i really enjoy the work the aim network does, this article strikes me as more of a rebels cry than the clear and crisp facts you’re known for.
    I used to be like you, was never forced to believe in a religion and felt anyone who did was just a sheep who was forced to believe when they were little, and that they lacked the capacity to grasp the clearly superior science of how the world was made. I rebeled against christianity and its ilk, studied multiple religions from all over the globe to see how full of shit they were, and embraced the scientific method.
    But then i actually met some people who were religious, and fell in love with a christian, and couldn’t help but reevaluate most of what i knew about christianity. I had my doubts, and when i didn’t have doubts i had anger at it all, but ultimately i came to the conclusion that it wasn’t all bullshit and science isn’t always right 100% of the time.
    I’m now a christian, much to the suprise of everyone who’s ever met me, and would only ask that you consider the possibility that there is a God out there, and try to come to know even a single true believer in the faith. Yes, religion has caused many issues over iur history, but that doesn’t mean it’s the root of all evils, it just means we as humans are violent and chaotic being who enjoy hurting each other.
    I’m not trying to convert you or anything, and i was honestly scared to write this because of the huge amount of backlash I’m opening myself up to from the internet, i just wanted to let you know that the established christian families aren’t all there is, and it’s possible for intelligent individuals to find God.

  4. Freethinker

    In the question of religion I will put Flying Spaghetti Monster just to see how many are out there.

  5. wam

    mum and dad were ‘mixed’ and dad came home a commo. Mum, as usual, won and I copped a fair whack(straps and canes on the bum and hands and rulers on knuckles) of indoctrination and I was a less than pious little shit at sunday school. By grade 7, the inability of the leaders to give any answers to ‘why’ beyond ‘faith’ extinguished any belief beyond there has to be a beginning let’s call it god then some smartarse teacher showed me mobius bang big byebye god. Since then every religious discussion proves that religion is by men for men. QED
    I did a few stints at the census bloody hard yacka. I.had a fling with jedi but have a great concern about Ilam not being shia/sunni they are killing each other, as the catholics and protestants of a few years ago, so numbers and locations are important

  6. Michael Taylor

    “Start looking at the big issues instead”.

    I thought we had a fairly good track record of that. 🙂

  7. Kaye Lee


    I love my family dearly too and many of them are devout Catholics. They are very good people in every sense of the word and I will fight for their right to believe what they wish to. Pax vobiscum 🙂

    I do, however, think that it is time that religious bodies started paying tax on their profitable businesses and something towards rates for their enormous property portfolio.

    They own private schools which are corporate enterprises, private hospitals, aged care facilities, and a raft of commercial businesses from wineries to insurance companies to turf-laying firms.

    Sanitarium is the best known religious corporation — wholly owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, with a 2010 turnover of $550 million and a staff of more than 1500. All tax-exempt.

    Church exemptions include: income tax, GST, FBT, payroll tax, council rates, state government taxes, land tax, and local government taxes. In addition religions have exemptions from anti-discrimination laws and other statutes.

    I also think the church is exerting an unrepresentative influence on legislation with conservative governments. You have a right to follow your beliefs but not to impose them.

  8. Osiris

    @Janine Gebet: “The Bible has been one of the greatest weapons of mass destruction on earth.”

    I disagree. Humans who interpret the Bible to suit their purposes are the greatest weapons of mass destruction on earth.

    “Religion has caused wars, famine, poverty, ethnic cleansing, and slavery of other humans.”

    Again, I disagree. Humans who interpret religion to suit their purposes have caused wars, famine, poverty, ethnic cleansing, and slavery of other humans. And I mean the other main religions, not just Christianity. You might have issues with organized religions that run like corporations and where hypocrisy is endemic. I have issues with that too. But to say that the Bible and religion causes people to act a certain way is absurd.

    We aren’t robots, we all have a choice and act accordingly. We also believe in something; some people believe in money and power while others believe in equality and loving kindness. Many people say that they believe in God, but their actions consistently disprove their words. And of course the blame doesn’t rest with religion or God; – the blame rests with people and their chosen behaviour. And wherever you find people you’ll find corruption in different degrees because nothing and nobody is perfect in this world. But you’ll also find goodness or kindness, maybe not in its perfect form either, but enough to understand that the possibilities for improvements are endless, and that they are there for everyone, – we just need to choose them.

  9. cornlegend

    I inadvertantly stumbled upon a right religious looney American web site ages ago and made the comment they were all troppo and I was an atheist.
    I got swamped, but kept the best responses for posterity ,

    “You can’t be an atheist because there is nothing romantic about that kind of certainty.”

    “Everyone knows there is a god, and that the god is described in the Bible. People only deny
    this so they can live debauched lives of merriment and revelry.”

    “You’re a very naughty man, and God is going to send you to Hell.”

    “You can’t be an atheist because you don’t have any evidence for your atheism and they can’t
    logically prove there is no God”

  10. Matters Not

    no credible evidence exists for a supernatural being

    Really? Doesn’t the sun rise each and every day? Is that just down to chance? And who brings (or doesn’t) the ‘rains’ we pray for. And who causes the floods and cyclones? And … who is driving the bus as it were?

    Why is it that there’s been so many ‘gods’ and so many religions over the centuries and yet they have a very short half-life? Surely the ‘Truth’ reigns supreme? On the other hand, maybe, it is the ‘we’ (or at least some of us) who ‘create’ the many and varied ‘gods’ and having done so, give all types of ‘meanings’ to our own creations that subsequently enslave so many of us.

    As for me, I know nothing. Now if I ‘found’ religion then maybe I could pass the buck to someone else when it comes to (moral) and other decision making. Now that’s a thought. Perhaps it was god inspired?

    Perhaps it matters not.

  11. Jack Russell

    Those who can be made to believe absurdities can also be made to commit atrocities.

  12. Jaquix

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article. It all needs to be said. Australia has become far too generous in its tax exemptions, and religious organisations are taking full advantage of it. Time for serious reappraisal.

  13. Terry2

    No sooner have we put our pencils down on the election than we will raise them again on the census, then, a few weeks later, we will be called upon to raise them once again to make determinations about how some of our fellow citizens may live their lives within our society.

    Democracy, a strange creature.

  14. townsvilleblog

    For the first time in my adulthood I will state that I am Roman Catholic.

  15. townsvilleblog

    Jaquix I couldn’t agree more with your comment.

  16. Kaye Lee

    “it may be argued in the final analysis to be a matter of false economy”

    I have no problem with exempting the money churches spend on charitable works though I question whether “Advancing religion” should be considered a charitable purpose.

  17. gee

    i object to the census, i find it invasive and i don’t trust the way the government intends to use the information. I particularly object to the compulsory nature of it and this years retention of identifying data. i will only be answering the questions i choose to, and only on paper, after much, “i’m busy today”, “can you come back next week”, “i lost the form”, “i thought i posted it” etc etc.

  18. Hotspringer

    Recently I received e-mails from various acquaintances exhorting me to enter “christian” on the census, as there will be a million muslims putting down “islam” and we will end up with sharia law. I do not understand how otherwise intelligent people can believe such crap and replied telling them so. Our society suffers much more from christian influence than islamic. As any rational person should, I will describe myself as having “no religion”.

  19. Terry2

    i’m hoping that they will include a provision for “Other” or “Don’t Know”

  20. Sir ScotchMistery

    @Gee – yep. I’ll be doing it on paper.

    @Matters Not – Science – the sun rises because we just keep going round in circles.

    @Leonetwo – totally correct. The data matching and maintenance is the real issue. I don’t give a flying phuque where the “religion” question is. It has NO place in a census, but okay, it works to tell us that less of us are sheep today, than was the case in the 60’s. The real issue is that data and the fact they are putting data and names together for the first time.

    I’ll go camping I think and have a paper to fill out when I get to it.

  21. Kaye Lee


    They actually changed the definition of charity effective Jan 1, 2014 so they can’t have forgotten.

    Another interesting aspect is that, whilst calling for a body to regulate unions, they still want to abolish the charity regulator which the vast majority of charities, the Catholic Church excluded (Pell wants them gone), want kept.

    It even says “CAUTION: The Federal Coalition expressed plans to decommission the ACNC as part of their election platform. However, the Government has not prioritised unwinding the ACNC, therefore the regulator continues to operate.”

  22. Michael Taylor

    Actually, the census can be very important. We had to try and explain that to Aboriginal communities where the responses had always been poor. Government funding hadn’t been going in to these communities because, well, according the the census hardly anybody lived there. In reality the community was large, but they hadn’t been filling in the census.

  23. Michael Taylor

    PS: that was in the days when governments provided services and funding for Aboriginal communities. It stopped, of course, in September 2013.

  24. diannaart

    Thank you for article, Janine Gebert.

    I have been convinced of the importance of an accurate measure of religious and non-religious and I promise not to enter Jedi Knight any more. 🙁

    To those who are religious, I am happy you have found a way to cope with life. I have a way to cope that is mindful of the interconnectedness of everything, as Kaye Lee said; a single act has a ripple effect. I just don’t want to contribute to other people’s religious beliefs with my taxes.

    As for the use of private information by government – if people don’t want to complete the census, our government and big business already know a lot about us – this information is not voluntary nor is it complete. If census rebels are comfortable with that profile of themselves, so it goes…

  25. Ross

    Question to church: Where on the evolutionary tree did man become man and therefore able to accept god’s grace. At which point in time did those to the left, sorry you miss out, those to the right you get to ascend to heaven for all eternity. Did Neanderthals make it to heaven? Discuss, show all working.

    Answer: Don’t ask silly questions, just put your money in the plate and make sure you tick Christian on the census. Remember, God is watching you.

  26. TuffGuy

    I have no issues with the census, or their questions, because I have nothing to hide. My biggest issue regarding my private details is the fact that companies demand your information (almost everything you do requires handing over some details) and then go off and sell them to other companies. I would like to know when someone pass a law making this legal. How can they make money from my personal details which they demanded I give them? Should I not expect some form of compensation, like copyright???
    As to the issue of religion I have always been happily athiest. I still recall being forced to church at school for easter and Xmas and stuff, I hated it. When you think about it most of the major conflicts through history have been based around or caused by religion. How many religious people are paedophiles? Religious fanatics are the worst people on the planet, in the name of religion or their god they will literally do anything. If religion is so peaceful why do so many run around killing people or blowing them up? Does their God condone this behaviour? Does their God tell them to have sex with children, to cut people’s heads off, to blow people up?
    What chance have we got with a government full of bible bashers? Abbott was only too happy to run way over to the other side of the world to blow people up!

  27. Osiris

    @TuffGuy: “How can they make money from my personal details which they demanded I give them?”

    Because we don’t live in a democracy. The politicians are bribed to do the bidding of the plutocrats and both are the enemies of the majority.

    “When you think about it most of the major conflicts through history have been based around or caused by religion.”

    Conflicts might have been based around religion, mainly by people who interpret the Bible to suit their purposes, but they were never caused by religion. It’s like saying the knife caused someone’s death, not the person wielding it.

    “How many religious people are paedophiles?”

    None. Whoever commits these crimes is not a Christian or religious, never mind what s/he might say. A Christian would obey the Golden Rule in his/her everyday life and what sets Christians apart from the hypocrites is that they walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

    “If religion is so peaceful why do so many run around killing people or blowing them up? Does their God condone this behaviour? Does their God tell them to have sex with children, to cut people’s heads off, to blow people up?”

    Religion has nothing to do with people running around killing and blowing others up. Atheists like to make it out that this is so, but of course it’s just an excuse that they prefer to fall back on because they are unwilling to take responsibility for their actions. Better to blame it on God and religion. As if people are robots and have no free will to act as they choose. And if they follow a wrong doctrine because that’s what they identify with more readily, then that too, according to them is God’s fault. God and the devil are principles of good and evil, and humans have the free will to choose between the two and therefore must bear the consequences of their actions. As you sow so shall you reap. And you reap more than you sow. These are the karmic influences we all fall under because there is justice in the universe. It’s sometimes slow, but it never fails to execute justice.

    So bear in mind that the rock a person uses to bash someone’s head in is not the cause of evil. Evil resides in the hearts of people, not in the Bible or religion. But you seem to know very little about God or the Bible; even though you have much to say about it.

    For a start, God is the spirit of goodness and loving kindness and everyone who chooses to practice the Golden Rule is a true Christian, not those that give it lip service only. In fact those that commit atrocities are the enemies of God and all the living beings on earth. And to say that God doesn’t exist and cannot be proven is another fallacy atheists like you and Janine Gebert like to disseminate. Be careful because “Condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance” Albert Einstein.

  28. silkworm

    “Whoever commits these crimes is not a Christian or religious, never mind what s/he might say. A Christian would obey the Golden Rule in his/her everyday life and what sets Christians apart from the hypocrites is that they walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”

    Ah yes, the No True Scotsman fallacy.

    “… you seem to know very little about God…”

    What’s there to know?

  29. Osiris

    @silkworm: “Ah yes, the No True Scotsman fallacy.”

    “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” Matthew 7:15-20.

    “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:24.

    Silkworm quote: “What’s there to know?”

    “By this the children of God and the children of the devil can be distinguished: Anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” 1 John 3:10.

    “The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8.

    “Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” John 10:37-38.

  30. dave s

    According to the 2011 census, 476,291 people, or 2.2% of the total Australian population, were Muslims. This made Islam the fourth largest religious grouping, after all forms of Christianity (61.1%),

    Subject: The 2016 Australian Census
    As you may or may not realise, the next Australian Census will be taken in
    one month’s time on Tuesday, 9th August, 2016.
    For the first time this year there will be a “No Religion” option. Please
    be careful how you answer this question. Bear in mind that although many
    Australians have no religion these days, the Muslim population in Australia
    will all declare that they are Muslim and this fact will be counted to
    ascertain what type of country we are in regard to religion.
    Even though you may now have no religion, please consider entering the
    religion you were christened or born into, when answering this question.
    Otherwise in time Australia will officially be declared to be a Muslim
    country – because the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census will reflect
    this. Just imagine the repercussions if that were to happen.
    For Australia’s future please pass this message on to your family members
    and friends.
    Thank you,

    scary ?

    its positive to declare ” no religion “

  31. patrickhgormley

    Some people need to realise that to tick Christian or Roman Catholic on the census form is to become guilty by association of the lies and harms propagated by that faith. I am not happy with the pope saying all religions are peaceful for that is not true. And he knows it. If Islamic State is not truly Muslim it is still a religion for it honours a violent god. And we must remember that Catholicism through most of its history officially endorsed violence and killing witches.And Jesus had no problem saying the Bible was written by God despite all the violence and hate it commands in God’s name. Religion and moral relativism are the two biggest causes of trouble in the world. But we must not forget that Christianity is relativist though it condemns relativism. I mean if Jesus could make it right one year to stone adulteresses and make it wrong now that is relativism. If man makes religions the religions are not inherently peaceful and cannot be for man is not inherently peaceful. And if religion remedies human evil with prayers and rites and doctrines and sacraments that have no real power the religion is to blame for religious violence (even if it objects to it) in the same way a quack is to blame for his patient’s sickness.

    Osiris above wrote, “Conflicts might have been based around religion, mainly by people who interpret the Bible to suit their purposes, but they were never caused by religion. It’s like saying the knife caused someone’s death, not the person wielding it”. So did Jesus twist the Bible then when he attacked people in the Temple? Christians are okay with a God who violently destroys people eg in the flood and they expect us to believe that their God opposes violence? He might hate it but he uses it. Do research and see how the likes of top Bible scholars such as William Lane Craig defend the brutal laws of God in the Bible today.

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