I’ve been on holiday over Easter, going to the National Folk Festival in Canberra, which is why I haven’t posted for a while. One thing that struck me during my break was the Easter editorial in the Oz. In place of the usual vague pieties, it was a full-scale blast of Christianism, demanding that Australians respect the specifically Christian nature of the holiday. This was followed up by Nikki Savva (not someone who has ever struck me as showing any religious feeling) denouncing Bill Shorten for desecrating this sacred holiday with mundane politics.

The underlying assumption is that Australia is a Christian (and, implicitly, white Christian) country and should remain so. This of a piece with the general upsurge of Trumpism, which can be explained, in large measure, as a as a reaction by white Christians against the loss of their assumed position as the social norm.

Understood this way, Trumpism looks like a lost cause in Australia. To be sure, the 2011 Census data showed a majority of nominal Christians (61 per cent), but that seems likely to be quite a bit lower for the 2016 Census, given the combined impact of Demography (older Christians being replaced by secular young people and non-Christian immigrants), Disaffiliation (people consciously abandoning previous Christian affilation) and the Default effect of making “No Religion” the first option available rather than a residual category as in the past.

To check my impressions on this, I found the McCrindle blog reporting survey results which showed, among other things that
* around 22 per cent of Australian adults attend church at least annually, and around 14 per cent do so regularly
* around 38 per cent answer positively to the statement “I consider myself a Christian,”
* If “spiritual, but not any main religion” is added to the usual Census options, around 44 per cent of people would claim a Christian affiliation.
* Australians have positive views of Christians in general, but mostly negative views of “Born Again”, “Evangelical” and especially “Fundamentalist” Christians,

In the past, this kind of division would have been uncorrelated with party politics. But as the Oz illustrates that has obviously ceased to be true, here as in the US.

To finish off, a bit of a contest. Nominate, to the nearest tenth of a per cent, the proportion of Australians (adults and children) giving a Christian affiliation in the 2016 Census . I’m going for 53.2 per cent. I’d guess that the 2021 Census will be the first in which nominal Christians are a minority.

40 thoughts on “Easter

  1. If living in Turkey during Eid, would you object to Turkish editorials complaining about secularisation of the festival? Or is it OK for Turks to try and preserve their cultural traditions because Islam is still the dominant religion? What about ethnic Tibetans? Now that Hans are the overwhelming majority of the population, are ethnic Tibetans “Trumpists” if they try to preserve the cultural meaning of their holy days?

    (To avoid some types of objections, I’m an athesit who laughs at the flying spaghetting monster.)

  2. The Guardian did its bit too in this vein recently.

    This article’s author then with SFA in the way of citations and an air of patronizing certainty proceeds to say absolutely Yes JC was true based on very little information that hasnt been shown to be suspect and potentially touched up by the Church fathers over the centuries. He then proceeds to damn in passing all skeptics.

    So who was this unbiased objective commentator? The bottom had the answer… “Simon Gathercole is Reader in New Testament Studies at the University of Cambridge” Hmmm.

    Sadly Simon seemed to miss the plethors of points the sceptics make repeatedly, like when you look at the central documents not only are they problematic and contradictory, you dont even get a sense of human being somewhere but more a oracle pumping out sound bites albiet a bit more interesting that ‘make my day’ or ‘I’ll be back’. A nice summary of how thin the evidence on a real Jesus is here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sources_for_the_historicity_of_Jesus#Key_sources

    And this is before you ask how the Theocrats of Nicea under severe pressure to keep a dying Empire intact could select the 4 canonical Gospels in an unbiased way from all the other apocrypha and gnostic texts (though they did keep a couple I’ll admit – John’s Gospel and unreadable (unless you are stoned) Revelations – (written by someone starving or suffering ergot poisoning?)

    This is in contrast to Paul who as many commentators point out is all too human with his righteousness, pedantry, homophobia, misogyny etc . Curious how we got his coherent stuff intact while JC’s stuff comes in reworked stacato?

  3. @John

    If you read the linked post, you’ll see me mentioning Erdogan as pursuing an Islamist version of Trumpism. To spell it out, I’m against any form of state establishment of religion, and against attempts to pressure people into conforming to a particular religion such as Christianity or Islam (or atheism for that matter).

    Since you’ve asked, are you OK with the (successful) attempts by Indonesian Islamists to force a Christian mayor out of office, and with similar developments in Turkey? Your comment implies that you are, and your pre-emptive statement that you are an atheist doesn’t help you any.

  4. As with Christmas, it sticks in the gullet when Christians argue for more respect in our society for “their” festival, when the festivals in question were taken, pretty much holus-bolus, from existing pagan festivals. Easter, for goodness sakes, even follows a pagan lunar calendar!

    These people have no shame whatsoever.

  5. I’ve deleted this comment, on the basis that a comment saying “Why do you care enough about this topic to comment on it” is self-refuting. Please, nothing more like this. More generally, your commenting style is overly aggressive. Please tone it down – JQ

  6. The general sentiment is as follows: there is a predominant feeling that we should vigorously fight for the right of Muslims to practice their religion in Australia whilst also shielding them from any criticism rational or otherwise. We are certainly not permitted to mock them for their beliefs. It is however open duck shooting season on Christians. I am happy for the latter to occur but not for the double standard.

  7. Andrew, I haven’t noticed, “…a predominant feeling that we should vigorously fight for the rights of Muslims to practice their religion in Australia.”

    But I did notice a poll last year that said 49% of Australians want a ban on Muslim immigration.

    Do you think that poll was wrong?

    Or are you just really stretching the meaning of “predominant feeling” to cover 51% of people not wanting a ban on immigrants based on their supernatural beliefs?

  8. Is it just me or did everyone think “blasphemy” was a joke from a Monty Python movie. How is this still a thing in the world? This mental illness called religion sure does get mad if anyone points out its absurdity.

  9. @Andrew

    I guess that explains why Turnbull’s new citizenship test includes so many questions directed at un-Australian beliefs stereotypically attributed to Christians, such as tolerance for abuse by members of the clergy.

  10. John…where did I suggest that the culture, institutional or otherwise, should not be exposed to withering criticism where it merits this. I am simply pointing out a double standard. In a truly open society, all belief systems should be exposed to criticism and indeed mockery. Neither Islam nor Christianity get a free pass. Too often people feel constrained to criticize Islam and when they do they are too readily labelled as prejudiced at best.

  11. @Andrew

    Where, I assume “mainstream” excludes commercial TV, talk radio and the majority of newspapers (obviously, those owned by Murdoch, but also, I think the AFR)?

    I certainly see plenty of criticism of Islam from these sources (and, as noted, from the national government), supported by the claim of the current AG that “people have a right to be bigots”. Can you point to examples of the criticisms of Christianity that you see as so disproportionate?

  12. At the moment I am in Jakarta for the first time and my impression here is that the people are much less Islamic than I expected . In the big malls only about 20% (maybe less)of women wear scarves . In the very poor (slum) areas it looks a bit more ; maybe 30% but again probably less .The mall has a big lingerie shop with huge pictures of sexyily dressed models. There are plenty of headscarf s back home in the Sunshine mall .Speaking to them ,if at all, the people only seem nominally Muslim in a tribal kind of way to me . Mainly just for births, deaths and marriages .They even seem to be getting over their fear of dogs ! But Islamic power just ousted the Christian mayor here .So it seems Islam is a top down rather than bottom up thing .As education and affluence rapidly destroys Christian belief in Australia so will they erode Islam here . However when they feel threatened people might still defend a religion in a tribal kind of way . Visitors to Jakarta from hardline countries must immediately think Westernisation is a big threat. Finally – Libertarians should come here to see what a city looks like after all the public spaces have been sold .

  13. Where I live (Lakemba) I’m going to guess about 25% Muslim, 30% Christian, 10% Hindu, and 45% no/refuse/wtf. For the nation as a whole I’m going to pick… 49.93% Christian, because I’m an optimist and I enjoyed the geek jokes at the March for Science (even though it’s April). So many geek jokes.

  14. Andrew, I haven’t noticed the mainstream media vigorously fighting for the right of Muslims to practice their superstitions in Australia. Personally, I’ve noticed the opposite. But maybe that’s just me.

    But when you say:

    ” I am simply pointing out a double standard. In a truly open society, all belief systems should be exposed to criticism and indeed mockery.”

    Maybe you don’t understand how criticism works in the real world? People tend to criticize things they have experience of. With perhaps 61% of Australians identifying as Christian with only 2.2% identifying as Islamic, I would expect there to be a lot more criticism of Christianity than Islam in this country because there are so many more Christians.

    Personally, I’ve met people using Christian superstition to justify bigotry and to lie about geology and biology in this country, but I’ve never personally met a person using Islamic superstition to do the same. This doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but in my experience they are severely outnumbered.

    And as for mockery, well, nothing kills a joke more than having to explain it. It’s only really possible to mock things people know about. For example, if I say Jesus Christ cheats at hide and seek, most people in Australia will get that even if they have to think about it for a while. But if I say Muslims make the best astronauts because they’re so used to orbiting an asteroid, most people just won’t get it.

  15. And speaking as one who is sometimes inclined to be pedantic when little good purpose is served by it, and has come to regret it, I regard J-D’s posting style as suffering from the same flaw, but with a worse heat/light balance.

    He (?) probably intends no more than to self-amuse but more on substance and less on style would improve his output, IMO.

  16. @Andrew

    In a truly open society, all belief systems should be exposed to criticism and indeed mockery. Neither Islam nor Christianity get a free pass. Too often people feel constrained to criticize Islam and when they do they are too readily labelled as prejudiced at best.

    Ronald’s response above is sound and worth noting, but one might add too that you conflate two quite distinct (albeit overlapping) things — ‘Islam’ and being identifiably Muslim and fail to take account of the latter’s power/status within the polity in Australia.

    A religion’s doctrines and practices should absolutely be the subject of evaluation and critique, and if that includes mockery, then so be it. Yet just as not all words and claims carry their cultural meaning in static form with them wherever they go, so to criticism of religious ideas is not the same wherever it appears.

    Despite their declining numbers Christians remain normative in Australian society. They compose at least a substantial plurality of the populace and perhaps 95% of our government bodies. No criticism of them prefigures sectarian violence or exclusion from work, housing, public life or a focus on them for surveillance. If some ostensible Christian commits a criminal act, letters don’t pour into newspapers demanding that Christians specifically condemn whatever it was that was done. They get to condemn stuff as Australians.

    Moreover, people generally aren’t recognisable in the street as Christians. With the exception of a couple of sects, there is no specifically ‘Christian’ form of dress. This renders them essentially invisible within the culture. Muslims however, are often identifiable by their dress and sometimes even merely on the basis of their skin tone — even though the assumption may be unfounded.

    And finally, I’d be surprised if the distinctions between the significant currents in Islam or its history or the relations of these to cultural practice were known well by even 0.1% of the non-Muslim population.

    In this context one must have a care to the prospective harm done to those identifying as Muslims by commentary which is no more than somewhat misleading — or which could be misread by those who are existentially fearful. So while one has the right to speak as one thinks apt about Islam, responsible folk will set intellectual the bar a lot higher when speaking of Islam, if only because the primary civic responsibility we all have when doing public discourse is to foster inclusive, equitable collaboration amongst all of our fellows. Neither Christianity nor Christians here are at risk of exclusion, but Muslims certainly are, as were once Asians, Greeks, Italians and Irish Catholics, and as Aboriginals still are.

    The problem with your ‘plague on both/all religious houses’ then is equivalence that is false for want of respect to the ceteris paribus rule. All things that are relevant are not the same. Speaking out is a right, but a duty attaches because the right is bound up with notions of active and positive citizenship and community. When speaking out fails to subverts community or fails to contribute then the responsible amongst us will bite our tongues until we can manage better.

    I hope that helps.

  17. @Moz of Yarramulla
    Hate to say it, but you’re way off:

    “The religious makeup of Lakemba [as of 2011] is 51.8% Islam, 13.4% Catholic, 8.3% Religious affiliation not stated, 6.2% Eastern Orthodox, 5.3% No religion, 4.3% Buddhism, 2.1% Hinduism, 2.0% Anglican, 1.4% Uniting Church, 0.8% Presbyterian and Reformed.”

    So that’s 21.0% Christian and 13.6% no/refuse/wtf. Google “lakemba nsw religion”.
    For the “Christian proportion” question, I’m nominating 58.3%.

    From the Census data going back to 1961, when 88.3% identified as Christian, I derived a trend line which showed the proportion dropping by 2.8% between each Census. I suspect it will drop by more than that this time, given that “no religion” was placed at the top of the list for the first time.

  18. Too often people feel constrained to criticize Islam and when they do they are too readily labelled as prejudiced at best.

    Andrew: the thing about being a bigot is that it’s close to impossible to know you’re a bigot. Because bigotry is irrational by-definition and your irrational choices appear to you to be rationally based. You might think a criticism is rational and reasonably based, but that could just be the irrationality [=bigotry] talking: you don’t/can’t know, because you’re trapped within your own brain.

    It is actually possible to work out where your bigotries are, but you can’t do it by introspection: you need to get some referents outside your head, to ground a baseline and get a firmer grasp of the difference between “what you think is reasonable” and “what is reasonable”. Or: you need to talk to people, particularly people who don’t share your prejudices, and you need to be open to what they tell you even if it doesn’t agree with your self-view.

    [It’s just an a-fortiori effect of the fact that if you’re acting in reasonable-good-faith, then the mistakes you do make ipso-facto appear to you to be reasonable. Getting past that is actually pretty hard, and it’s something you have to learn/be taught how to do.]

  19. Hi John,
    Although I am a believer in a divine power, I am no supporter of organised religion. Like Yanis Varoufakis who is an atheist, I think we should show respect for all religions and non-believers alike. As far as I can recall Hinduism is the fastest growing religion in Australia. Hope you enjoyed the Folk festival.

  20. It’s simply The Australian at it again, supporting those who uphold Christian values as if they are in some sort of wider struggle for western “civilisation”. You know the socialists are so complacent that they will allow ” them” to teach your son to be gay and subject you daughter to FGM. Perrottet the NSW deputy premier sums it up when he refers to our Judeo-Christian heritage as core to Australian culture (along with the flag, ANZAC day, no SSM) but everything else should be subject to radical innovation – that includes your job, wages and conditions and the sale of the state titles office. In any case The Australian is getting nuttier and angrier every day.

  21. I find it odd that posts on religion so often attract posts on whether Jesus was an actual historical person – something that is naturally of interest to christians, but not, I would have thought, atheists, who surely believe that christianity is unfounded as a deistic religion whether Jesus lived or not.

  22. ChrisB, Jesus Christ is like a superstar in Australia. When people hit their thumb with a hammer he’s often the first thing that comes to mind.

  23. JohnI :
    Hate to say it, but you’re way off:

    Don’t be sad, the requirement was to guess and I did. An educated guess was an option I chose to avoid in the name of respect for religion 🙂

    On respect, I’m with Mal Webb: “Respect can’t be demanded, it has to be inspired”. Act like a decent person and I’ll respect you, but demand that I respect your nasty actions and I’ll respond with scorn.

  24. I have been surprised recently, digging into the sordid backstreets of twitter, to find *so much* violent anti-islam hate spewing from US fundamentalist christian sources there. It is very closely aligned with trumpism and other general hateism but, but with the added fervor of holy war. A lot of the twitter bots seemed to be programmed with this message. Someone is pushing it very hard over there.

  25. @John
    The fool hath said in his heart “There is no spaghetti monster”.
    By the way what do athesits believe in, Dog?

  26. Fran Barlow said ‘Despite their declining numbers Christians remain normative in Australian society. They compose at least a substantial plurality of the populace and perhaps 95% of our government bodies’.
    Christians are certainly not 95% of our government bodies. Among intellectuals, Christians and other believers are a distinct minority. Among journalists an even smaller minority. The secularists have won the intellectual battle. I, as a Christian, am pleased that Christianity is no longer the defacto state religion, as a state religion is very bad for the practice of authentic spiritual beliefs, and this has been demonstrated by Zionism, Islamic states, Christian states etc. The Australian is just mimicking some American attitudes, and the ideas expressed in the editorial get very little traction here, even among Christians. There has always been a correlation in Australia between devout religious beliefs and conservative political beliefs, especially among religious fundamentalists, and I’m not sure it has got worse in recent decades.

  27. Lindsay, I looked up the meaning of the word “believe” and got two definitions:

    1. Accept that (something) is true, especially without proof.

    2. Hold (something) as an opinion; think.

    So going by those definitions, an atheist could presumably believe any number of things except the existence of gods.

  28. John, I am going to go for 50.1% of Australians putting down a Christian affiliation on the 2016 Census. I think putting no religion first will have a large effect. Also, as the more social skilled people who can make friends elsewhere leave organized religious groups it tends to leave behind people who find it difficult to play well with others and that can hasten the disintegration of social groups.

    But the main reason I am going for 50.1% is because I want to point out that is the minimum amount required a majority and not 40% as Betsy DeVos, the US Secretary for Education, apparently thinks.

  29. I think most participants in contests as this one underestimate volatility, so I reckon I’ve a better chance of being the unique winner by picking something at the tail of the distribution. As I also agree that the ballot questionnaire order will have a sizeable effect, I’m choosing real low rather than real high.


  30. @John Goss

    Don’t nearly all of them place a hand on the bible when affirming their oath? How many take secular affirmations? Genuine question.

    Gillard was sometimes touted as an atheist but she once self-described as a non-practising Baptist.

  31. “If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.” Hume – “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.”

    Hume has overstated his case, mainly I think, for rhetorical effect. The major religious dogmas are, in most key parts, mutually contradictory. Therefore, if one is right, all the others are wrong. If one dogma is right, then determining which one is right is impossible for mortal humans to do. None of the central claims of these dogmas are empirically testable by mortal humans. Revealed dogma (revelation) on tha fase of it suffers from the circular proof fallacy. “The revelation is correct.” “How do we know?” “It says so in revelation.” But this flaw does not absolutely prove it false. However, a broad education in comparative religion and philosophy could not but convince a clear thinker that he or she ought to be very sceptical about all religious claims. In criticizing Bishop Berkeley’s Idealism (an elegant philosophical argument which I greatly admire by the way) I have written;

    “Whether our world is consistent because of brute fact substance or processual existence and the laws inherent in the interactions of such or whether it is consistent because of the spiritual generation and command of God, is something human mind or consciousness can never discern, never differentiate between. If “chemicals” interact consistently and are consistent under observation because they are immanently dependable materials or processes with immanently dependable laws of interaction or if they are not chemicals but spiritual ideas imparted as sensations with transcendentally dependable (generated directly by God) laws of interaction, the minds and experiments of men could never detect the difference. “A difference which makes no difference is not a difference” as the saying goes; at least it makes no difference when it comes to practical outcomes. To the consciousness of man, the practical, detectable outcome would be empirically the same.

    In any case, if one is a Deist or Theist via a priori supposition (acceptance of an orthodox dogma), why limit an Omnipotent God to prosaic category consistency? Why must the ultimate “Truth” be Dualism XOR Idealism (for example)? With an omnipotent God, mutually exclusive propositions, mutually exclusive logics and mutually exclusive ontological categories could be mutually and simultaneously possible and made existent. Thus with or from God, matter (substance) could both exist and not exist. Both ontologies could be true and not true at the same time and at all times. For mortal minds, Berkeley’s Idealist conceptions, if true, would still be both philosophically and pragmatically indistinguishable from Dualism or Physicalism if all was “under God”.”

  32. Thanks John … It’s good to know that parliament isn’t quite as religious as I thought.

  33. @Fran Barlow

    From the 2011 census, here’s the breakdown of responses for the occupation group “legislators” (n = 1,992), with those for all Australian citizens shown in brackets:

    Buddhism 1.05% (2.11%), Christianity 70.23% (65.62%), Hinduism 0.15%* (0.78%), Islam 0.85% (1.93%), Judaism 1.10% (0.49%), other religions 0.75% (0.60%), no religion 22.14% (23.16%), supplementary codes** 0.80% (0.85%), not stated 2.91% (4.45%).

    And these are the percentages for legislators who work for the federal government (n = 219):

    Buddhism 0.00%*, Christianity 73.52%, Hinduism 0.00%*, Islam 0.00%*, Judaism 1.83%*, other religions 0.0%*, no religion 22.37%, supplementary codes** 0.00%*, not stated 2.28%.

    * Keep in mind the ABS’s random perturbation of cell counts (and other errors) when considering these percentages as they correspond to counts of five or fewer respondents.

    ** Examples of supplementary codes include not defined, new age, and theism.

  34. Percentages for legislators who work for the federal government (n = 219)….
    Christianity 73.52%….

    That is what they SAY they are. I would not put much stock in these protestations. People can lie, even to themselves. In any case, “Christianity” these days is such a broad church. It encompasses a wide variety, the major proportions of which are “Sunday Christians”, “Lip-Service Christians” and selfish, punitive, judgemental fundamentalist Christians. The serious Christians who practice charity and forgiveness seem to be in a decided minority. To be fair, charitable and forgiving atheists and agnostics are probably an equally low percentage.

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