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Weddings

December 14th, 2006

An interesting piece by Tim Colebatch about new data on weddings showing that only 40 per cent of weddings are now religious ceremonies. This, rather than answers to Census questions, is probably a good representation of the level of religious belief in Australia. Apart from cases where the parties have strongly conflicting religious beliefs, and choose a civil ceremony as a compromise, it’s hard to imagine a serious religious believer not wanting a religious ceremony for marriage. On the other hand, I doubt that many convinced non-believers these days would go for a church rather than a civil ceremony, given the range of options on offer.

Another interesting feature of the article is the assumption (probably accurate) that this trend is entirely driven by brides – the word “groom” doesn’t even appear.

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  1. Michael Nielsen
    December 14th, 2006 at 09:21 | #1

    Anecdotally, I’ve been to a few weddings which were religious in nature, at the request of the parents, despite both bride and groom being atheists or agnostics.

  2. FDB
    December 14th, 2006 at 15:46 | #2

    Yes, I’d say 40% would be an overstatement of the level of religiosity for that reason, Michael.

    Although this could be counteracted by secular weddings between couples of different faiths.

  3. wilful
    December 14th, 2006 at 17:47 | #3

    The only religions person at our wedding was our celebrant. The bugger kept trying to slip god stuff into our vows!

    Dunno about it being driven by the bride – I’m far more militantly atheist than her.

  4. rabee
    December 14th, 2006 at 22:11 | #4

    my family has had four weddings. In all the couples were of different faith/sect/religion. each had two religious ceremonies to placate both sets of parents. i wonder if that counts as eight weddings. (even a lesbian couple had two religious ceremonies)

    I don’t know of any “mixed” couples who have had just one religious or purely secular ceremony.
    mind you all the oldies we know chanced to be totally nuts.

    my sister is getting married next week to a guy from the same sect/religion (nonsense) as us and they are having a civil ceremony

  5. December 14th, 2006 at 23:06 | #5

    “it’s hard to imagine a serious religious believer not wanting a religious ceremony for marriage”

    Conversely, I’m told that churches will usually not conduct marriages these days unless one or both of the future spouses is a member of the congregation, and often both of them will have to discuss their religious beliefs and their intentions to practice in future with the head of the parish before the wedding. (I’m speaking of Catholic and Anglican congregations here, I can’t speak of other Christian churches or other religions, and even this is anecdotal.)

    So the number of celebrant marriages is probably a good indicator of the level of religious belief as it manifests in organised practice, but it would be interesting to know how many of that 60% of couples having non-religious ceremonies have some religious belief but discovered that a church wedding is difficult to organise for non-parishoners.

  6. Aidan
    December 15th, 2006 at 11:04 | #6

    Mary,

    They may have these rules and guidelines but it is quite possible to comply
    but not be actively religious. My brother-in-law was married in an Anglican
    church despite not being baptised. They attended a couple of meetings with
    the priest and job done.

    Having been brought up Anglican, with a grandfather who was an Anglican
    priest, the last thing I would want to do would be to get married in a
    church (so I didn’t). My brother-in-law didn’t have that attachment, so
    didn’t see the problem.

    I think it is similar to non-believers sending their kids to Catholic
    schools. I find that really odd, but they seem to be ambivalent about
    the religious aspect or think it subservient to the perceived positives
    from a ‘private’ education.

  7. Martin
    December 15th, 2006 at 13:40 | #7

    I suspect religious belief also correlates with formal marriage (rather than de facto partnerships), and at a younger age.

  8. Razor
    December 15th, 2006 at 14:42 | #8

    As a fully paid up Athiest who married an Agnostic I am very happy to say that I got married in a church. Lovely venue, kept the parents happy (they were paying after all) – much cheaper than a Civil Celebrant.

  9. Lily
    December 15th, 2006 at 15:31 | #9

    Interesting observation, never really thought about it that way before.

    My sister and brother in law married in a church ceremony, although neither of them are religious. They did it because the church was beautiful and romantic, they loved the atmosphere and the photographer loved the wonderful backgrounds for their photos (very nice, too).

    Also, there is at least one very picturesque church in Sydney, which hosted several Japanese weddings every Saturday some years ago, and may still do – I no longer live nearby so can’t say. The happy couples were booked in by a particular tour company which hired the Church from the local congregation and then rolled the wedding party up in horse drawn carriages followed by fleets of photographers.

    For many people the whole ‘church’ thing is just background visual for the ‘big day’.

  10. December 16th, 2006 at 06:45 | #10

    Next area of interest…how’s the baptism business going these days?
    Suppose though, those figures would be a bit harder to find and might be subject to fudging upwards.

  11. December 16th, 2006 at 06:58 | #11

    Pr Q says:

    This, rather than answers to Census questions, is probably a good representation of the level of religious belief in Australia. Apart from cases where the parties have strongly conflicting religious beliefs, and choose a civil ceremony as a compromise, it’s hard to imagine a serious religious believer not wanting a religious ceremony for marriage.

    THe ratio of religious to non-religious marriages is one form of revealed preference about religious belief. A more reliable index of the strength of religious sentiment is the ratio of children being enrolled in religiously denominated schools. Children, we are forever being solemnly informed, are the future. The ratio of religiously educated kids seems to be on an upward curve, as SMH reports.

    A new religious school opens somewhere in NSW every six weeks. This phenomenon, however, is not merely about religion. Non-believers are moving their children out of state schools to be educated alongside the children of the devout and religiously ambivalent.

    NSW is leading this spiritual revival in non-government education. Some 330,000 students, or 30 per cent of the state’s total, attend religious schools. And most denominations plan to open more schools in a wide arc on Sydney’s fringe and along the coast from Nowra to Tweed Heads.

    Enrolments in NSW’s 904 non-government schools grew by 15 per cent between 1996 and 2002 against the national average of 13.3 per cent.

    The National Council of Independent Schools Associations says 94 per cent of independent schools have a religious affiliation, while Catholic schools account for 20 per cent of all enrolments.

    As Phillip Heath, president of Australian Anglican Schools, sees it, parents are flocking to religious education for “the package” that provides “a moral and ethical educational framework”.

    The Decline of the Wets does not depend on anything as evanescent as flunctuating belief in God or preferences for celebrants or liturgies. It does imply a rise in social adherence to religiously sanctified moral codes. This is evidently happening as educational philosophies gradually move away from fashionable constructivism of the Wets towards traditional conservatism of the Dries.

  12. jquiggin
    December 16th, 2006 at 08:46 | #12

    School choice is not a useful indicator of religious belief or even religious interest, except in relation to a handful of evangelical schools. Do you really think people send their kids to Grammar so they will grow up as good Anglicans?

  13. December 16th, 2006 at 11:18 | #13

    jquiggin Says: December 16th, 2006 at 8:46 am

    School choice is not a useful indicator of religious belief or even religious interest, except in relation to a handful of evangelical schools. Do you really think people send their kids to Grammar so they will grow up as good Anglicans?

    I doubt very much if any kind of normal social choice is a useful indicator of religious belief. Very few religious people even know, let alone care, about specific doctrines. Much as most atheists would be unfamiliar with Russell’s critique of theology.

    I dont take seriously the nominal professions of professions of faith by anyone – agnostic, gnostic or religious. I take a functionalist Weberian approach to religious institutions. Churches provide a moral guidance service which is independent of their (largely ignored) theological superstructure.

    The fact that religious schools are beating out religious schools in the competition for new student enrollments tells me that churches are prevailing in the Culture Wars where the instructional rubber hits the institutional road. Religious institutions seem to be winning the Culture War in educational practice, even as they lose it in scientific theory.

    The specific content of religious doctrine seems to be irrelevant. Ideology is, in any case, mostly window dressing in the status competition. This goes double for those modern day Pharisees, the ostentatiously politically correct.

    Most people dont give a fig about theology, they just want their children to be brought up to be nice, smart and to obey the rules. In that sense I agree with you that people dont send their kids to good religious schools to propagate a specific faith. But a specific faith does get propagated because of its association with a good religious school.

    The internalisaton of moral values is a critical part of childhood development. Parents prefer religious education mostly because churches function as inculcators of moral values. Non-religious schools are at a disadvantage because they tend to be value-free and seem to be infested with the discredited Blank Slate educational philosophy.

  14. still working it out
    December 16th, 2006 at 13:03 | #14

    “In all the couples were of different faith/sect/religion. each had two religious ceremonies to placate both sets of parents. i wonder if that counts as eight weddings.”

    “it’s hard to imagine a serious religious believer not wanting a religious ceremony for marriage”

    I got married about a month ago. I am not religious myself, but my family is muslim and my wife is Catholic. We had two ceromonies. One non-official muslim one, and a much bigger official civil one. It might seem strange that the Catholic in the marriage would be happy with a civil wedding but in this case you have to distingish between church and religion. My wife and her family are so disenchanted with the Catholic church that they don’t strongly associate it with their belief in god. This may be a major driver of secular weddings.

    “Another interesting feature of the article is the assumption (probably accurate) that this trend is entirely driven by brides – the word “groomâ€? doesn’t even appear.”

    In my experience this is not really accurate. The family actually seems to be at least as powerful driver of this decision as the bride. The odd fact that the agnostic in the marriage ended up being the one having the religous ceremony was entirely driven by the family.

  15. wilful
    December 16th, 2006 at 15:48 | #15

    I reckon Jack’s thesis is utter rubbish, driven by a desire to score some obscure culture wars point. Cheaper church schools are well priced in the marketplace for a private education – that’s all. My wiccan sister is sending her atheist daughter to a church school nxt year, because it’s got an academic reputation no more no less. I went to a Grammar school for the snob value, certainly not for any more profound values. My kids could well go to a church school, but they’ll have the sense not to worry about the RS, and they will get their values around the kitchen table thnk you very much.

  16. December 16th, 2006 at 17:22 | #16

    wilful Says: December 16th, 2006 at 3:48 pm

    My wiccan sister is sending her atheist daughter to a church school nxt year…they will get their values around the kitchen table thnk you very much.

    They have my deepest sympathy.

  17. jquiggin
    December 16th, 2006 at 17:39 | #17

    Jack, please be civil.

  18. wilful
    December 16th, 2006 at 17:49 | #18

    Thanks for the sympathy, I shall pass it on, I do realise that church schools can be truly quite dreadful, but I don’t think she’ll be too scarred, she’s tough enough, and the school isn’t too awful.

  19. December 17th, 2006 at 10:02 | #19

    I apologise wilful. I sometimes channel Bob Menzies when responding to hecklers. Time to dismount the high horse.

  20. derrida derider
    December 18th, 2006 at 19:44 | #20

    Actually, Jack, that was the wittiest (not to mention the most concise) post I’ve seen from you in a long time. Dismount that high horse more often.

    But it’s interesting what people think is important for kids. You said “Most people … just want their children to be brought up to be nice, smart and to *obey* the rules“. Personally I’d rather my kids *challenge* unreasonable rules – there’s too much, not too little, deference to authority these days.

  21. February 17th, 2007 at 10:54 | #21

    Very much enjoy the posts. The numbers are significantly different than here in the United States where religon plays a part in upward of 80% of all ceremonies.

  22. February 19th, 2007 at 18:46 | #22

    Of course, the real question is what proportion of divorces involve religion. :)

  23. Amy McArthur
    February 20th, 2007 at 17:24 | #23

    “An interesting piece by Tim Colebatch about new data on weddings showing that only 40 per cent of weddings are now religious ceremonies. This, rather than answers to Census questions, is probably a good representation of the level of religious belief in Australia.”

    Been to a funeral lately? Perhaps if we based our assessment of religious levels in society today on religious funeral ceremonies we would reach a completely different conclusion from those drawn here.

    It is all about how you choose the evidence you wish to make your point, gentlemen.

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