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Day to Day Politics: The Future of Faith in Australia.

Thursday 30 March 2017

Author’s note: I update this post on a fairly regular basis as I will do when the results of the last census are released on 27 June.. However, I recently came across an article by American writer Sam Eaton. A Christian himself, he claims that:

”59 Percent of Millennials Raised in a Church Have Dropped Out.

Only 4 percent of the Millennial Generation are Bible-Based Believers. This means that 96 percent of Millennials likely don’t live out the teachings of the Bible, value the morals of Christianity and probably won’t be found in a church.”

According to a recent study church attendances and impressions of the church are the lowest in recent history, and most drastic among millennials described as 22- to 35-year-olds.

  • Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending a church is important or worthwhile (an all-time low).
  • 59 percent of millennials raised in a church have dropped out.
  • 35 percent of millennials have an anti-church stance, believing the church does more harm than good.
  • Millennials are the least likely age group of anyone to attend church (by far).

You can read the full article here. Although it is an American based study it supports my thesis that the Church is rapidly dying.

I would be interested in your thoughts.

The Future of Christian Faith in Australia.

Monday 21 March 2016

Author’s note:

Right wing Christian Politicians together with the Australian Christian Lobby (a group outside of mainstreamed Christian practice) seem to be greatly influencing Australian politics. An influence some say is disproportionate to their standing in society.

I contend that Christianity has minimal support in Australia and even that is dwindling rapidly.

I posted an article similar to this one in July 2012 and I updated it in December 2013and again in 2015 with statistics from the ABS. At the conclusion of this version you will find a survey from Roy Morgan which further confirms the thrust of my thesis.

2015

Further to the above an article by Barney Zwartz (Senior Fellow of the Center for Public Christianity) was recently posted on the John Menadue-Pearls and Irritations blog that is insightful on this subject. I provide a link and some comments on selected passages.

In his engaging and most thoughtful 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 only 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.”

Conclusions

The conclusions he draws would appear to be backed up by the results of the last five yearly Australian census, which showed a remarkable increase of 30 per cent 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 aging population. Much research has been done over many years into the decline of belief and church attendance in Australia.

Reasons

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 per cent of the population regularly attends Sunday services. Of these many are what I call cultural 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 to 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.

Enlightened Young

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 inequality. 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 years old, and written by humans with intellectually inferior brains than the advanced scientific 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 has been a 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. Most major social problems in the US occur in the most evangelical religious and under educated states.

The demarcation between Church and state. ”Politics”

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 put its nose, too far into the political arena it was gently told to but out. However, with Tony Abbott we have a Prime Minister unafraid to perpetrate his, or his own interpretation of Catholic beliefs on an unwary electorate. Certainly not those of the current Pope Francis.

”We encounter certain rather selfish lifestyles, marked by an opulence which is no longer sustainable and frequently indifferent to the world around us, and especially to the poorest of the poor. To our dismay we see technical and economic questions dominating political debate, to the detriment of genuine concern for human beings. Men and women risk being reduced to mere cogs in a machine that treats them as items of consumption to be exploited.”

The decision to sack highly credentialed social workers, doing excellent work in high schools and replace them with accredited Chaplains is outrageous. And now it seems that taxpayer funds are to be used to fund the training of Priests in religious institutions. Simply unheard of in a secular society.

Quoting Stephen Tardrew:

”The placement of Chaplains in schools is a direct attempt to undermine science, propositional logic and a contemporary scientific basis for ethics. Our country is being forced back into the dark ages of witchcraft and magical, mythological incoherence by a group of insane ideologues whose only claim to knowledge is their ability to be susceptible to irrationality; an inability to think logically; a propensity to be driven by fear; and a compulsion to harm and blame those who are less well off than themselves”

Abbott 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 old Vatican doctrine than the changing moral landscape of Australia.

Andrew Robb, Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey, Kevin Andrews and other Catholics constituted a distinctive and coherent group in the 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 (now in Rome). 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 promote their ideas. However, these views should always be in perspective, and take into account the influence and size of the organization they represent. It should not be forgotten that we are primarily a secular democracy.

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 practice it.

The 2011 census showed the following breakdown. Catholics 5,439,268 No religion 4,796,787 Anglican 3,679,907 Uniting Church 1,065,795 Presbyterian and Reformed 599,515 Hindu 275,535 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 state-wide in Victoria the Uniting Church leapfrog 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.

UPDATE 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.

Roy Morgan Research April 2014

Easter Sunday may celebrate Christ rising, but the proportion of Australians who identify as Christian is falling fast, down over 8 percentage points in the last two years. If the current downward trend were to continue, Christians will soon be in the minority in Australia, the latest research from Roy Morgan shows.

In late 2011, Christians outnumbered the non-religious by over two to one: 60.9 per cent of Australians 14+ (11.4 million) said they belonged to a Christian denomination compared with 29.2 per cent (5.5 million) who said they had no religious affiliation—each near their respective proportional averages since 2009.

But in the latest quarter October to December 2013, 52.6 per cent of Australians (10.2 million) are Christian, while 37.6 per cent (7.3 million) have no religion—halving the gap to 15 percentage points. Proportion of Australians 14+ who say they are a Christian denomination or No Religion Source: Roy Morgan Research, January 2009 to December 2013, rolling quarters.

If the recent trend continues, fewer than 50 per cent of Australians may be self-identifying as Christian by this time next year.

Another 8.3 per cent of Australians (1.6 million) currently identify with a non-Christian religion, only slightly above the long-term average of 7.6 per cent since 2009. A small percentage of Australians (<2% each quarter) opt not to reveal any religious affiliation. Norman Morris, Industry Communications Director – Roy Morgan Research, says:

”By Easter next year, it could well be the first time that the majority of Australians don’t affiliate with Christianity.”

”These results are not necessarily about belief, per se, but rather our changing attitudes to religious affiliation. The decline in the proportion of Australians who say they are Christian—whether Catholic, Anglican or another denomination—coupled with a similarly sized increase in the number who tell us they have no religion, could reflect a growing level of genuine atheism or agnosticism, or instead simply a shift away from identifying with organised Christianity, despite ongoing theistic faith. Likely, it is a combination of both.”

”Either way, many factors could be contributing to the fall in the number of Christian adherents in Australia. For example, some morally conservative religious doctrines may be contrasting with progressive attitudes toward personal issues such as abortion, societal issues such as same-sex marriage, and global issues such as the use of condoms in the fight against the HIV pandemic.”

“The recent trend also coincides with the public pressure for, launch of and media attention given to the Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse which has, as one focus, alleged crimes by religiously affiliated personnel and cover-ups by church organisations.”

Barney Zwartz (His comments are in italics, mine are in bold).

1 I do not doubt that the number of Christians in Australia’s Census – down to 61 per cent in 2011 from 86 per cent in 1971 – will continue to decline. A large proportion of that 61 per cent are cultural Christians, and as church attendance falls, so will cultural identity

In the next census the question ”What religion are you?” will be number one on the list. It should further decrease those who say they are Christian. Past census has provided a missing assumption because only 8 per cent practice their faith.

2 For example, as an ever-larger proportion of the population lives alone and looks for connections, churches stand out more strongly as an option. Other institutions that served this role, such as sporting clubs or niche groups, are often in sharper decline than the churches. This is shown in an interesting new trend: where a few decades ago people were converted and then went to church, today new members come to church for social connection and other reasons, and then (may) become Christians.

I see no evidence of this and no research is provided to support this view.

3 The churches will have fewer nominal attendees, so that members are more committed. As they continue their good works, but without much of the moralising of the recent past, the faith will become more attractive.

This rather misses the point that those left to continue the good fight are the elderly and are not being replaced. If it were not for the rise in life expectancy the problem would be worse.

4 In his Short History of Christianity, Geoffrey Blainey suggests that rather than dying out, Christianity is set to keep evolving and moving, declining and re-emerging, just as it always has. It’s a faith that has repeatedly reinvented itself, and while no revival is permanent, neither has been any decline.

It is true to say that the Christian faith has reinvented itself and that there have been many revivals throughout the centuries. However none has faced the advancement in education, technology and science that the world has forged.

Conclusion: When I have posted this in the past it has attracted a number of irate Christian folk accusing me of a bias against their faith. The purpose of its publishing is simply to convey some facts on a subject that interests many people.

My thought for the day.

”When asked as to my belief or otherwise in religion, or indeed my tendency toward atheism. I can only say that I am in a perpetual state of observation which is the very basis of science or fact”

 


15 comments

  1. Möbius Ecko

    Good article. Will reread it a couple more times but my initial thoughts are that like most things that are dying, there are thrashings and lash outs as they die. The coal industry is but one other example of this.

    So as certain Christian churches/sects, die, they are lashing out and are attempting to indoctrinate the young before they lose them. Gaining political influence is but one arm thrashing around attempting to get a purchase before the body goes under. Some of the more radical Christian sects are actually growing whilst the main churches die, and this is another sign of deterioration of the religion.

    I fully expect that the churches will become more desperately demanding of governments the further they dwindle. They will also attempt to get more hardened Christians into politics as a way of influencing government and expanding indoctrination programs, and to obtain subsidies to shore up their dwindling revenue.

  2. Kaye Lee

    Civil celebrants have overseen the majority of marriages since 1999 and the proportion of marriage ceremonies overseen by a civil celebrant increased again to 74.9 per cent of all marriages in 2015.

  3. Lord John

    Are you sure your not an Agnostic old boy?

  4. Harquebus

    Religions can only survive by abusing the innocent trust of children and indoctrinating brainwashing them. Disgusting behavior that should be condemned.

    “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.” — Aristotle

    “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.” — Abraham Lincoln

    Cheers.

  5. Zathras

    As their numbers fall, various groups make increasingly outrageous claims that drive more yet people away.

    For example in the USA, using taxpayers funds to build a Noah’s Ark Theme Park is one thing but to then categorically state that dinosaurs were also on the Ark and that Roman gladiators battled them in arenas for sport stretches credibility to new levels.

    It would take a certain type of gullibility to win over new converts to old religions based on such claims, yet on the fringes both the Flat-Earthers and the Young-Earthers seem to be increasing in numbers.

    These people – the Christian Taliban – are an influential political power base which is a problem for everybody.

  6. Shogan

    Everything has a use by date & just like the FiZZA, the church is yet to realise that that date has passed.

  7. Ross

    Once upon a time the church was dominant, today it’s science.
    The church says believe what I say but offers no proof.
    Science says here is what I think and offers proof.

  8. Jaquix

    Id like the census to include a question as to how often a person has attended a church service in the last 12 months. Simple question. Weddings, christenings etc to be excluded. I think it was Christopher Hitchens who said that “Religion gets too much respect”. Thats the case in Australia and nobody so far has been game to call them to account. I hoipe the next government starts taking baby steps to dismantling the huge tax giveaways they enjoy, completely out of proportion to the population. In my area there are huge religious buildings sprawling all over the place, including childcare (get them young for maximum brainwashing) and aged care. That money should go to facilities for all.Australians to benefit from, not the tiny %.

  9. Vikingduk

    Onward Christian paedophiles
    Marching off to rape
    In our love of jebus
    We’ll root those Rugrats rotten

    The extinction of this bullshit construct that is organised religion is well overdue.

  10. Simmo

    The part about as people have freedom to access more information (aka the internet) they make their own informed decisions pretty much sums it up. The church has been obfuscating and telling stories for their own benefit since time began. People are waking up and its about time too. The church/religion is a redundant concept and I for one am looking forward to disappearing.

  11. Win jeavons

    Perhaps it is time for the church to die so we can re discover what Jesus really meant!

  12. @RosemaryJ36

    What is critically important, in a period when compassion, empathy and humanity seem non-existent, is that we need to be developing an ethical system to replace religion. Do as you would be done by, helping others, being truthful most of the time (the occasional lie to help someone save face is OK!) and generally behaving in a way that maximises everyone’s wellbeing and minimises discomfort as far as possible should be the aim. And you do not need a god, church, mosque, synagogue or temple to achieve that – just goodwill!

  13. Alan Baird

    Well! Some of those comments were quite offensive. But I got over them. Hitchens may be dead, sorry, “have passed”, but that undue respect due to religion is well observed. Most of the world today is STILL remarking on what damn fine clothes the Emperor is wearing despite quite offensive dangly bits showing blatantly, especially to the sexually abused and religiously disabused. Blind Freddy, Deaf Damian and Dead Christopher can see that.

  14. silkworm

    It’s a fair but sad thought that the more progressive churches will die off before the more conservative ones.

    The real thing that keeps religious belief going is that kids are indoctrinated into it by the religious schools and scripture classes in public schools. If it weren’t for these the churches would be dying off at an even faster rate.

  15. Alan Baird

    Little Johnnie Howard left the churches their best chance to get in early with the kids and some of them may well be gulled into a form of belief. Funnily enough, it was the act of forcing me to go to Sunday School and then church that sent me exactly in the opposite direction. By 14 I was already arguing with the reverend gentleman and that was the end of attendance. When you don’t want to go, “Te Deum” on the order of service looks a lot like “tedium” and the beach beckons seductively. I was annoyed with Julia Gillard when she did nothing about getting rid of the economically expensive “priests in schools scheme”, despite labelling herself an atheist. There are still far too many “soft on religion” types in the ALP, mostly Catholics, some pretty dogged in attitudes. Any religion in schools should be strictly on an “opt in” basis, and NOT the usual reverse, the “come up with an excuse (on a note from mum) to not do religion” basis. It needs to be recognised that religion is a human invention that can be uninvented. No need for doctrinal-political action to do this of course… just let it die on the vine, but remain ready to be critical of any attempt at foisting it on kids, especially in public schools. ANY shackling of yourself to a religion should be the choice of adults. The only thing that should be compulsory is some form of ethics and that is the nearest to god-bothering we need approach.

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