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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.


  6. @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.

  7. “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”.”

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

  9. @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.

  10. 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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