REPORT ON FAITH AND BELIEF IN AUSTRALIA SHEDS LIGHT ON PERCEPTIONS
Earlier this year, Australian social researchers, McCrindle, published a national study on religion, spirituality and worldview trends entitled ‘Faith and Belief in Australia’. It was commissioned “to investigate faith and to understand perceptions, opinions, and attitudes towards Christianity.” The research involved a nationally representative survey of 1024 Australians, focus groups with non-Christians and data analysis from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. ‘Faith and Belief in Australia’ (FBA) brings the state-of-affairs of Christianity and the Church in Australia into sharper focus by asking questions with greater specificity than those found in the census. For example, whereas the 2011 census asked ‘What is your religion?’, FBA asked “What religion do you currently practise or identify with?”
It did this in an effort to distinguish between those with only a nominal attachment to a religious tradition, and those who actively identified with it. The research showed that 45 per cent of Australians still identify as a Christian at this higher threshold. These numbers were further broken down to reveal that 38 per cent would actually call themselves ‘Christian’. In terms of regular church attendance, 15 per cent of all Australians attend at least monthly. One third of Australians claim to have no religion, while one in seven claim to be ‘spiritual’ but not ‘religious’. The survey is helpful vis-a-vis orienting the Church’s efforts at evangelisation. The nation is a mission field, with one third of Australian’s having no religious or spiritual bent. A slightly lesser amount (28 per cent) report knowing “little or nothing about Jesus’ life”. Nearly 1.5 million Australian adults do not know a single Christian.
Sharing the Gospel within the Australian context brings with it a number of particular challenges. One quarter of all Australians describe themselves as being negatively disposed towards Christianity, thanks in part to the child sexual abuse scandals, a perception that the Church is too moralistic and legalistic, and a dislike of church-related money matters, among other things. The Church’s teaching on homosexuality was found to be the most significant hurdle in terms of cultural engagement, with two thirds of Australians claiming that it acts as a deterrent concerning their interest in Christianity. A similar number had difficulty reconciling the existence of hell with a belief in a loving God. Of the reasons given by non-religious respondents as to why they shun religion, one in two cited a preference for a “scientific and rational, ‘evidence-based'” belief system and 18 per cent believed religion “is a crutch for the weak” (males being almost twice as likely to take this view).
Nevertheless, the study provided clues about the best means of engaging those who are either unfamiliar with, or sceptical of, faith in Christ. Non-Christians revealed that “the greatest attraction to investigating spirituality and religion is observing people who live out a genuine faith” and one in ten of them report being “very interested/quite open” to changing their religious view subject to them being presented with “the right circumstances and evidence.” Personal conversations are the key to provoking thought about spirituality and religion. To conclude, ‘Faith and Belief in Australia’ not only gives us a clearer snapshot into how the faith is faring across our nation, it spotlights a variety of challenges and opportunities regarding how we go about introducing the good news into people’s lives.
It calls us to conversion, it challenges us to find new ways of articulating the goodness and value of the moral law, it demands that we heal the perceived disconnect between faith and reason, which is proving to be a stumbling block for many. I call to mind the words of Pope John Paul II who wrote, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth” may we in our words and deeds bear witness to the fact that the two go hand-in-hand. Lastly, a key takeaway for the report comes from the gospel of Matthew “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 5:16)
CHINESE LOBBY GROUP FORMED TO OPPOSE SAFE SCHOOLS PROGRAM
The Australian Chinese community has founded a not-for-profit group to mobilise against the Safe Schools program. Co-founder and Sydney GP Pansy Lai was behind a petition to the NSW government that last year gathered 17,500 signatures from Australian Chinese community members opposed to Safe Schools. Dr Lai said she was overwhelmed by the response to her petition and had been inspired to form the Australian Chinese for Families Association(ACF) which she has launched. “I didn’t realise until I did the petition just how many people there are out there who are really concerned about Safe Schools,” she said. “After we lodged the NSW petition, parents from other states got into contact with us, wanting to know what they can do to tell the government they don’t want their children being taught this inappropriate program.
“These are normal, everyday Australian Chinese parents and grandparents. There are no politicians among us.” The group also opposed same-sex marriage. Dr Lai said as a GP specialising in paediatrics, she opposed Safe Schools, which is designed to prevent the bullying of homosexual and transgender children, because it was “not scientific or evidence-based”. “It’s really important to take into account that these children are still underage,” she said. “This would be fine in a university program, but schoolchildren should be a politics-free zone,” she said. “The other thing that is important is parental consent. If children are going to be taught something that goes against their parents’ values, parents need to be informed and given a choice.”
Dr Lai said she believed her group, which already has several hundred members, represented a large proportion of the Australian Chinese community. “We’ve got people from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Southeast Asia,” she said. “We definitely represent a large Chinese community, not only in NSW but nationwide.” Dr Lai said although she was Christian, the organisation was “definitely not” a Christian organisation, and was open to members of all religions and none: “ACF is going to be a voice for many concerned Chinese Australians, and a platform for us to share resources and petitions for our community.” The establishment of ACF came as the Parliamentary Friendship Group for LGBTIQ Australians launched multicultural resources developed in consultation with Chinese, Arabic, Vietnamese, Hindi, Italian, Spanish, Greek and Korean-speaking communities.
WHY THE YES CAMPAIGN’S NO CONSEQUENCES MANTRA WAS JUST THAT
It’s now a week since we learned the result of the marriage plebiscite. While there is understandable disappointment, there is also optimism about the future. We now have an accurate diagnostic of the moral health of the nation. The pathology of bad ideas is more serious than we thought but now we know. This will inform our action going forward. Our immediate focus is on the Parliamentary battle for freedom of speech, religion and parents’ rights to be protected. The Yes campaign said no-one else’s freedoms would be affected, no doubt influencing the voting intentions of many who voted Yes. Now that the result is out and the Parliamentary phase to legislate same-sex marriage has begun, it is clear that the Yes side has no intention of allowing freedom of speech, adequate protection for freedom of religion and freedom for parents to absent their children from radical LGBTIQ sex education in schools.
This is deeply disappointing and the Yes campaign have been given a leave pass from most of the media. I have spoken to leaders from the Islamic and Christian school movements who are deeply concerned that their schools will not be able to provide parents the education they expect in the values of their religions. The seriousness of what has occurred cannot be underestimated. Whether charities will lose their tax exemptions, schools will keep their funding and ministers will be able to teach that marriage is one man and one woman without being dragged before a commission is all in the balance and not assured as I write this. It remains to be seen if the Prime Minister will make good his declaration that he believes in freedom of religion more than same-sex marriage. With the Senate still dealing with the legislation, next week will be crucial in determining whether or not Australia remains a free and pluralist society.
Source: by Lyle Shelton Australian Christian Lobby