Losing our religion... and our perspective?

Census data revealed today tells us that for the first time, Australians who do not identify with any religion are the biggest “religious” group in the country.  They are, of course, not a singular group like other religions because they are made up of atheists, agnostics, people without any particular faith (but who are not necessarily a-theistic), people who do not identify with an organised religion but nonetheless hold a belief in God or some other supernatural being and others.  The 29.6% of Australians who make up the “no religion” category do not share a set of beliefs or practices, so they are much more diverse than the data suggests.

Even so, the numbers are quite shocking, and even more so if you look at the younger generations.  According to the census, less than half of those under the age of 35 identify as Christians.

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics

[Note: these numbers do not add to 100% because the religion question is optional, and a number of people choose not to answer it.]

Absent some massive change, then the more than 50% of this age group who are not Christian will raise their children in either no or non-Christian faith.  They will not have them baptised, introduce them to Bible stories, or teach them to pray.  The gap between Christian and non-Christian, not only in numbers but in practice, will only widen.

Most of the stories from today which are reporting on this phenomenon focus on how the “nones” have overtaken the Catholics for the first time since the census began asking the question.  It seems there is a little gloating happening, not just from the Atheist Foundation of Australia which seems to see it as some type of victory for the a-theistic – rather than the non-theistic – cause, but also from those commentators who want to speculate that maybe it’s because of the Royal Commission or those teachings of the Church that they find distasteful.

It would be easy for us to get distracted by all of this, and to buy in to the game that it is a competition between “us” and “them.”

But what we really need to focus on, I think, is that 29.6 per cent of Australians marking “no religion” equates to 7.2 million of our brothers and sisters who do not know God (and by extension, do not know the experience of His love.) 

If these same people raise their children without the knowledge of God, it means that Gospel stories like the Parable of the Prodigal Son, or the story of Jesus’ response to the woman caught in adultery which are so familiar to us that we cannot remember the first time we heard them, will be completely foreign to future generations, who will not understand that mercy is offered to them, even in their darkest times.

The most alarming thing about these statistics is not that we somehow “lost” to the atheists, or that some will use these figures to try to push religious faith further and further from the public square, but that there are so many of those around us who, despite encountering Christians in their daily lives, somehow have still not encountered Christ.

We want this to change not so we can “win” in the next census, but because we want those around us to know the joy of the Christian life.  We want it to change because we know how much better life is when we know God.  And we want it to change because if it doesn’t, then we are failing in our mission as disciples.  Let’s these census results be a wake up call to all of us, and encourage us to recommit ourselves to spreading the Gospel.

Monica Doumit, catholicTalk contributor


Tuesday, 27 June 2017 08:24 Written by 


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in CathTalk blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of all members of that of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.