When the latest Australian Census data was released last month, one of the headline-grabbing shifts was that less than 50 per cent of Australians aligned themselves with Christianity, and a growing number of people (39 per cent) considered themselves non-religious.
At face value, it may seem we’re becoming a more secular society or that Christianity’s relevance is on the decline, but NCLS Research Director Dr Ruth Powell told Hope 103.2 that’s too narrow a conclusion to make from the data.
People are “disconnecting from the institution of religion”, Ruth said.
In part, that’s because church and church attendance isn’t as embedded into culture as it was in the 20th century, but also because “religious institutions have not done well in the eyes of society – particularly around the Royal Commission for Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse”.
However, the rise in “non-religious” affiliation doesn’t mean people have stopped believing in God, or aren’t open to spiritual experiences.
The rise in “non-religious” affiliation doesn’t mean people have stopped believing in God, or aren’t open to spiritual experiences.
“Religious identity is not as important [but] that doesn’t mean they’re atheist,” Ruth said.
According to NCLS’ own national survey which was conducted at the same time as the Census, “55 per cent of Australians believe in God or some kind of higher power, six in 10 have had a mystical or supernatural experience, six in 10 pray or meditate – and three in 10 Australians say they do that weekly”, she said.
“So [Australians] are practicing religious, spiritual practices.
“Even people who say ‘I’m not religious’ may be going to church every week, and are very committed to their faith [but] don’t want to be connected with the institution.”
Despite the data not being as black and white as some may see it the labelling of Christianity now as a “minority” religion within Australia, has the potential to raise concerns within faith-based communities.
How will Christian views, and Christians, be represented in a mainstream society that could argue they’re less significant?
“I think it probably depends on how Christians conduct themselves,” Ruth said.
“In the commentary that’s being written about the Census right now, there are [Christians] who are concerned about it, and there are others who’ve already accepted [the decline in Christianity] is true, and has bene true for a while.
“There’s, in a sense, no surprise here that we’re not identifying as a Christian nation. We’re not the kings of the castle, and we haven’t been for a while.
“But no one should resign from [sharing] their Christian values and saying ‘I’m shaped by this, did you know in our history we’ve been shaped by this, this is important and this is why’.
“A posture of humility would be helpful at this stage, but just get on with [living your faith].
“A posture of humility would be helpful at this stage, but just get on with [living your faith],” – NCLS Research Director Dr Ruth Powell
“Christianity has been in the minority in many times in history, in many places, and that’s not stopped the influence of being salt, and light and changing the world.”
Listen to Dr Ruth Powell’s full interview with Laura Bennett in the player above.
This article is supplied thanks to Hope 103.2, written by Laura Bennett