Aussies surprisingly nonreligious

November 24, 2011 • 7:52 am

Rejoice, Brother Blackford, for you live in a nation that, according to a new survey, is surprisingly godless.

Based on the reports about resurgent creationism and goddiness in Australian schools, I was prepared to think that Australia lies somewhere between the U.S. and England in the degree of religiosity.  But a new “Australian Communities Report,” a survey of 1094 adults commissioned by Olive Tree Media, seems to show the country nearly as atheistic as Scandinavia. Equally surprising, Olive Tree Media appears to be a religious outfit that produces Christian-based media.

Here’s a summary of the report from The Age, a daily newspaper from Melbourne:

Olive Tree director Karl Faase, who is releasing the report at a forum of 70 religious leaders, said the survey sought to identify the ”blocker issues” that turned people off faith.

The obstacle that annoys Australians most is the celebrity endorsements of religion so common in the United States – 70 per cent said they were repelled by it, questioning the motives behind it. Claims of miraculous stories (58 per cent) also repelled non-believers.

The biggest problems Australians have with the church is abuse by the clergy (cited by 91 per cent), hypocrisy and judging others (both 88 per cent) religious wars (83 per cent) and issues around money (87 per cent).

When it comes to church teachings, the main objections are its ideas about homosexuality (69 per cent), hell and condemnation (66 per cent), and the role of women and suffering (both 60 per cent). But 52 per cent were open to philosophical discussion and debating ideas; 54 per cent were impressed by people who lived out a genuine faith, and 60 per cent acknowledged a personal trauma or significant life change might change their attitude to religion.

About 40 per cent of Australians consider themselves Christian, compared with the 2006 census response of 64 per cent, the survey shows. Another 10 per cent identify with other religions; 19 per cent call themselves spiritual but not religious, and 31 per cent identify as having no religion or spiritual belief. Of those who identify with a religion, about half say they don’t actively practise it.

This is all pretty heartening, especially the 24% drop in self-identified Christians in only five years. Perhaps Aussie readers can weigh in about whether they’ve noticed such a striking change.  And 31% with no religion or spiritual belief? That compares very favorably with the least religious countries of Europe.

Sadly, you can’t see the entire report without purchasing it (here), but Olive Tree has provided a nice pdf file of figures showing the results. Here are a few screenshots (click to enlarge):

Here’s a five-minute video of the first presentation of the report’s results:

Advance Australia fair!

h/t: Marella

111 thoughts on “Aussies surprisingly nonreligious

  1. Having been born and raised down under, I can assure you that Australians are deeply religious.

    You only have to go visit the beach any Sunday morning, and you will find them there worshiping the sun, the waves, etc. And you will find them on other days, not just Sunday, though there may be less people on days when the boss wants them to actually show up at work.

    I would have to guess that the reported 24% drop in self-identified Christians is mostly a sign that Australians today are more willing to be open about it.

    I’m inclined to suspect that Americans are almost as irreligious as Australians, but the social taboos inhibit them from admitting it.

    1. I’m inclined to suspect that Americans are almost as irreligious as Australians, but the social taboos inhibit them from admitting it.

      I do think that there are social restrictions in the US on being overtly non-religious (for example, I think that Obama is essentially a non-believer, but can’t say that). However, I disagree that the level of actual non-belief is anywhere near that of the Australian poll results.

    2. eh, certainly peer pressure inhibits people from openly saying they’re atheists in a public sphere. But this is in (presumably anonymous?) surveys.
      Unless we assume that the people responding to this survey have not thought much about what they believe(something I accept could be true) then surely they can say they have no belief in gods even while going to church, temple or synagogue.

      Seems to me that the influence of peer pressure to make people who really are atheists claim they’re not, would be fairly weak. At least in surveys that aren’t broadcasting their answers to their peers.

      1. I guess we could also look at church attendance which isn’t high (will have to get the data). And then to differentiate between those who have a vague notion of ‘something’, versus those who committed to a dogma.

    3. So, how do you explain the politicians disgusting need to advance the USian christian agenda soaked with legislative ideology that only makes sense if the christians actually believe their jebus christ is crackers?

    4. As someone who was born and bred in Australia and now lives in the saintly U.S., I can assure that Americans are most definitely NOT as irreligious as Australians!

      Australians just would not put up with the sea of religious billboards covering areas in the U.S. Bible Belt. Most Americans would brand Australians as Commie Atheists after being exposed to an average Year 10 Biology Class.

      One thing we learned very quickly on setting foot in this part of the world: the U.S. national marketing department does a magnificent job of persuading naive un-travelled Australians that is it nothing like what it is.

      For example, one of the main reasons why the Australian drive for a Republic failed is that a significant portion of the Australian population wanted to be able to vote directly for a President, just like they do in the United States. Ha ha ha. It doesn’t happen like that at all. The reality (hidden from the masses who believe the US propaganda) is that the few U.S. citizens who can or bother to vote (which excludes all those who cannot take a day off work on Voting Tuesdays to travel to a not very accessible polling booth) merely indicate to the their State which representative they would like to be given the change to vote on their behalf for a Presidential candidate chosen by their preferred party. The State is under no obligation to send that particular representative to the President Choosing Committee and the representative is under no obligation to vote for the President that they said they would. This undemocratic arrangement was what resulted in George W. Bush being elected instead of Al Gore, the popular candidate.

      If you have not had the opportunity to live in the U.S. for six or more months, do not assume that you know what really happens over here, or what Americans really do or think. The U.S. propaganda machine is much stronger than you think – even in spite of the internet.

      1. Hi there, Rosmary.
        I’m from Westlake, Ohio, USA.
        I am a regular voter,so maybe I am one of “the few U.S. citizens who can or bother to vote (which excludes all those who cannot take a day off work on Voting Tuesdays to travel to a not very accessible polling booth)” to whom you refer.

        The location where I cast my vote is in a local elementary school. The kids are lucky, because they get the day off, but someone from the school organizes a bake sale, and there are usually coffee and some pastries, cupcakes or cookies, to nibble on before or after I vote. The polls are open from around 6:30 am until 7:00 pm. I usually vote on my way to work, as the school is a few blocks from where I get on the freeway for my 45 minute commute to work. Sometimes I vote after work, if necessary. The polls are often ‘manned’ by local retirees. There are always other voters there when I go.
        We also are able to vote by absentee ballot, which can be obtained within a few weeks of the voting day, and must be mailed or delivered by a certain date/time before the voting day.

        There are numerous polling locations throughout my city and the greater metropolitan area. People can also vote at the County Board of Elections, and many do. Churches, civic groups, nursing and retirement homes, etc.,often organize transportation for the elderly and disabled to their local or county polling place. And, as I mentioned above, anyone can apply to vote by mail, or “absentee.”

        (As you live in the “saintly US” you no doubt know this information, but I write also for those who don’t live here.)

        I don’t know why we hold elections on Tuesdays (guess I should do a little digging), and there has been discussion of making the voting day a holiday or holding it on Sunday, e.g.., but people who want to vote can vote in the USA. I’ve always voted; my parents voted into their old age.

        Anyway, those are my comments. It’s fun to read what Australians have to say about Americans.

        Oh, I consider myself a “cultural Catholic.” That is, I was raised Catholic and appreciate the formative aspect it played in my life as far as ethics, values, and attitudes toward the difficulties faced in life…but I’m a bit out of “practice.”

        1. Well, it sounds like voting is not a problem for you. It is for a lot of others, though. Perhaps not the ones in your area.

          I am comparing the U.S. system with the Australian system where voting is compulsory and the Electoral Commission are responsible for ensuring that everyone who is on the voting roll CAN vote, regardless of their political preference, age, health, physical ability, remoteness, occupation and so on. Mobile voting stations go to hospitals and all over the Outback. Voting is on Saturday and there are polling booths all over the place. It is MUCH easier to vote in the U.S.A., regardless of things that would be quite an obstacle in the U.S.A.

          I hadn’t appreciated the effects of compulsory voting until I moved to the US. Since everyone MUST vote lobby groups that rely on voter turnout just don’t work in Australia. Politicians are also forced to take more note of people who are poor, ill and physically disadvantaged (because they ALL vote).

          The “instant run-off” system for the House of Representatives (normal government) means that minorities have more say.

          The proportional voting for the Senate allows even fringe groups to have a say. That can backfire when neither of the two major parties has enough Members to make a Majority. In these circumstances, conservative religious groups can hold the balance of power and hold the general population to ransom. OTOH, these groups do not generally have anything like the power that they have in the USA to effect government policy and practice.

  2. If only we didn’t have a self-proclaimed atheist prime minister (Julia Gillard) who was so keen to court the shrill but diminishing religious vote. She’s been paying out money to put chaplains in schools, to celebrate the creation of a Catholic saint (employee of the month, I call ’em) and generally kiss the hem of cardinal George Pell, and make sectarian promises to the Australian Christian Lobby (who are akin to the US Catholic League).

    1. She is a disappointment I must say. Her opposition to gay marriage is bizarre. How can a woman who has lived in a de-facto relationship for ages say that she believes in the sanctity of marriage? Especially since she’s an atheist and doesn’t believe in sanctity either.

      1. Julliard is using the “tradition” argument, but she knows full-well it’s a conservative Christian dog-whistle. She might not jibe with their dogma but a vote’s a vote, regardless of who casts it.

        1. While it’s not a given that they’re winning votes for this, they are definitely losing votes to the Greens. Safe Labor seats are now becoming marginal for the first time in a generation or more in core areas.

      2. I think that’s nothing compared to her self-loathing homosexual MP who is absolutely set against homosexual marriage.

        1. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our politicians actually reflected their constituents’ generally secular outlook, instead of pandering constantly to the conservative/reactionary religious minority? Sadly, I can’t see that happening any time soon.

          Aussie politics also seems to attract a disproportionate number of devout religionists. In the case of the right-wing parties, this isn’t surprising, but I feel it’s a little unusual that Labor is under the sway of conservative Christ-worshippers such as Kevin Rudd and Tony Burke.

          While these features persist, religion with play a pernicious role in Australian politics, regardless of how secular and irreligious our society is.

    2. The godless can be dolts as well; there is no fundamental principle limiting stupidity and incompetence to the religious.

  3. I’m an aussie. 24% in 5 years makes me incredibly suspicious that it’s more a case of the survey being not particularly consistent.

    For a real 24% turnaround in attitudes like that, there would have to have been some very large events to have occurred, and there hasn’t been.

    I do fully suspect that the recent census will show a significant decrease in the number of people identifying themselves as christian, but that will be because of the campaign teaching people what the census question actually means, that if you don’t really believe in god, not to put down “christian”.

    But any survey which is of good enough quality, and asks the right questions about what people really believe would not show such a decrease in religiousity in 5 years. I wish it were true, but I doubt it is.

    1. I think it’s more that people weren’t telling the truth in the earlier survey. At the last census we had a campaign to get people to tell the truth about what they believe on the forms rather than just putting down whatever they were brought up in even if they don’t still believe it, because that’s what a lot of people did. I have even done it myself and I am a life long atheist who was never even baptised.

    2. The difference may have nothing to do with less religiosity over 5 years – it may be due to with the way the survey questions were phrased. In the Australian census the question is asked in a way that may bias respondents towards selecting a religion. Rather than asking if you are religious then giving you religion brands to choose if you are, it asks something like: ‘what is your religion?’. This is a leading question. And on the census form it then lists the main religions to choose from with tick boxes, then below that there is the ‘Other’ section with several lines where you can write in a different religion. Below that, if you’re looking really carefully, there’s a ‘No religion’ tick box.
      So many people will probably have looked at the religion options and have ticked Christian, because they might have been brought up Christian, and they’re definitely not Muslims or Jews etc.
      This is why, as other commenters have already pointed out, there was a campaign at the last census (data not released yet) saying that if you aren’t religious tick the ‘no religion’ box – don’t tick Christian just because you’re ancestrally Christian (or didn’t notice the no religion box tucked down the bottom).
      So if the second survey phrased the question differently it may have got a different percentage of non-believers. And if the tick ‘no religion’ campaign was successful, then this coming census may show a drop in religious people in Australia – but it may just be due to people answering the question more accurately.

      1. How about a campaign to get the ordering of the choices changed and/or what justification was used for the ordering on the survey you have described?

        The proper order might be to have the first choice as a decision between “Sickos, christians, other loons” OR “no religion”. If they pick the disgusting option they would descend into a list of loony christian and other sicko options.

    3. Is a sample of only 1094 people big enough? Perhaps we need to wait till the results of the recent census are published.

      1. A sample of a thousand, if randomly selected, is large enough to fairly reliably estimate the corresponding population percentages to within about 3%.

        The difficulty is the ‘randomly selected’, but reputable survey companies have various techniques to at least get semi-useful approximations to that.

        1. The essential questions are:
          1. Is the data culled from a sample that was collected in such a way that it could reasonably be considered to representative of the total population?
          2. Is the statistical analysis appropriate for the size of the sample and its relative randomness?
          3. Was the question asked in a non-leading manner?

          I have not seen the original paper and I do not know the answers to this.

          I would want to know the same thing about the latest census data. It would certainly fulfil the first criteria (representative sample, it would probably fulfil the second criteria (valid and appropriate statistical analysis) but I am skeptical about its ability to meet the third criteria (non-leading questions).

  4. One of the reasons I live here is because we don’t have to be religious to be a part of daily life. I feel like a fish out of water in the USA when it comes to “god”.

    I don’t think it has dropped that much in 5 years and most peole who identify as “spiritual” really do not believe either, in my experience. They simply feel saying they are an atheist is too harsh and feel there is a softer approach.

    So really you could say 50% don’t believe.

    I’s agree with all the reasons given for not believing to!

    As for Julia – I strongly disagree witht he chaplains idea and have written several posts against the Victorian isse of religious classes in public schools and am a member of the campaign to eradicate it.

  5. America’s South skews the survey results in this country. Subtract the Southern states, and the religiosity of the rest of the country would fall more in line with the levels in other developed nations.

    I get the impression that secular world views have started to gain ground in the South, however. I grew up in Tulsa in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and I remember it as a fundamentalist, rapture-ready place. Now Tulsa has a thriving atheist organization or two, made possible through social media so that nonbelievers can find one another. From hindsight I wish I could have joined an atheist group in my teens just so I would have some relatively people to talk to.

  6. At the risk of being accused of pedantry, when you say “between the US and England” I think you really mean “between the US and the UK”

    England is one of the countries that makes up the UK, which includes Scotland, Wales and N Ireland. If you’re referring to a survey that is England specific, then fair enough, but all too often, US citizens use “England” and “The UK” as interchangeable, and they are not.

    Please have a heart for us poor Celts.

    1. To be even more pedantic, only the welsh and northern irish catholics are really celts in any meaningful sense.

      Scots and northern irish protestants (who are basically scots) are pretty much just as german as the english are.

      1. In terms of current language use that might be about correct, but historically that’s not true. Bede, writing around 700, commented “there are in Britain today five languages and four nations: English, British, Scots and Picts …” (The fifth language was Latin.)

        On the other hand I suspect there has been more interbreeding between English and Scots over the last few centuries than many Scots would care to admit.

        1. In fact that illustrates my point. At the time Bede wrote most of the southeast of what we now call scotland was english. It was only after the viking invasions destroyed northumbria that this came under the rule of the scot/pict kingdom. The fact that Scots is descended from Old English, not from the language of the scottish (who of course were irish) ruling class, suggests the likely demographic makeup.

    2. WolframAlpha has trouble with it too. If you want a statistic about England rather than Britain or the UK, you really have to beat it over the head.

  7. If I’m reading that right, 40% of Aussies identify themselves as Christian, but half of those are only “cultural Christians.” That means only one in five Aussies is a true-believing Christian. If true, that’s really quite heartening.

    And the non-stop arrogance of the Jesus salescritters in the story is quite a thing to witness. They’re so sure of themselves that it never occurs to them to stop and realize that the principle reason nobody takes them seriously is because they’re peddling childish faery tales to provide cover for their criminal predilections.

    Now, if only we could import some of this Aussie rationality, instead of that godawful canned piss that’s sold here labeled as “beer”….



      1. Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of how Richard Dawkins identifies himself. He certainly doesn’t buy any of the bullshit, but he enjoys singing carols at Christmastime, is wowed by the great cathedrals, gets a kick out of reading some of the Biblical poetry, that sort of thing.

        If I had to guess, I’d bet that those 20% of Aussies who’re non-believing Christians admire the pop-culture Jesus who loves thy neighbor and healed the sick. I can guarantee you they’ve never even heard of the “bring them before me and slay them” parable. And chances are excellent they’ve never read the Sermon on the Mount with the self-mutilate or burn in Hell for thinking of pretty women line, and if they’ve ever heard the “I come not to bring peace but a sword” quote, they’ve dismissed it as some sort of arcane alternate theological something-or-mumble.


  8. At the risk of being accused of pedantry, when you say “between the US and England” I think you really mean “between the US and the UK”

    Perhaps he meant “Great Britain”…

        1. Well there it gets even more complicated as the Manx along with other BLOBs (Bits Left Over in Britain) aren’t in the UK either.

  9. The % who take issue with the notion that there ever even was a Jesus might be the best figure to follow. The current 17% seems impressive.

      1. I don’t understand how it’s “that far.” When you don’t believe he’s magic, you’re already blaspheming as much as you can.

        Besides, most people I know that are atheists casually take that position — as in, they don’t say so just to piss people off. It’s just that once you’ve accepted it all as myth, it just makes more sense to throw it all out rather than trying to pick out the kernel of truth.

        1. I don’t understand how it’s “that far.”

          “That far” in that it has historically been the case that most atheists have not challenged the historical aspects of Jesus, just the supernatural bits. That, fortunately, is changing however, as indicated by this survey.

        2. I’m an atheist and the fact I don’t go “that far” is because it’s not improbable that an anti-roman Rabbi called Joshua existed in first century Palestine. The fact that Jesus could have existed doesn’t mean that he was divine or that the Christian God exists in the same way the fact that Muhammad existed makes real the nasty Allah.

          1. … it’s not improbable that an anti-roman Rabbi called Joshua existed in first century Palestine.

            Indeed it’s not, but did he have anything at all to do with the gospel stories? There are quite a few people around called Harold Potter, but that doesn’t make J.K.Rowling’s creation any less fictional.

            I haven’t fully made up my mind on this one, but if you look at the manner and timing of the development of the gospels, it does seem pretty unlikely that they are based on a real Jesus/Joshua/Yeshua of Nazareth living in the first third of the first century. Particularly as there seems to be serious doubt that Nazareth even existed then.

      2. I wonder what the % is compared to the Methodists and Unitarians – many of those I had met in the past would laugh if you spoke about Jesus as if he really existed.

    1. That caught my eye, too. I was under the impression that nobody but some of us hard-core atheists had twigged to that fact. But if over one in six Aussies realize that he’s just another mythical figure like Thor or Quetzalcoatl, then Christianity is already dead and all that’s left is for the twitching body to realize what’s happened.


  10. Why are Aussies less religious:
    “No worries, mate.”

    There are very few problems in the world that cannot be solved with that simple phrase.

    I think the older faithful is becoming a smaller demographic, and the younger are more educated and open to questioning the myths that we are sold as facts. The exposure that Richard Dawkins gets when he comes here is generally positive in the media, and the media is quite capable to question the status-quo. I suspect the increase is more to do with people being open about lack of belief, and the aforementioned Dawkins has a lot to do with that: It’s OK to be an atheist.

    I don’t know why the Scandinavian countries get all the positive social democracy comparisons. After all, Australia is on par or better in some social respects to our northern friends. And we have nicer beaches 8)

    1. >blockquote>I don’t know why the Scandinavian countries get all the positive social democracy comparisons

      I can think of two reasons:

      1. The Scandinavians are more vocal (read ‘cocky’) about it.
      2. Australia, for most non-Australians, is still the ‘far-from-my-bed’ show: A big empty sand lot down there with Antarctica somewhere.

      1. I know, most of the rest of the world does not hear about Australia unless part of the wildlife eats a tourist or something.

        Drop Bears especially. Use of copious amounts of Vegemite wards them off though.

  11. Umm… one of the questions under the heading “Reasonable acceptance of the miraculous” is “Jesus died on the cross” with 53% believing it.

    Given that crucifixion was a common method of execution by the Romans, and Roman Empire efficiency, I would not regard it as a miracle that the execution was successful. Category error?

    1. The part that got me was the “partly believe” category. Um, excuse me? You “partly believe” he was born of a virgin? I’m reminded of a scene in “Life of Brian”:

      Brian: You mean…you were raped?
      Mandy: Um…at first, yeah.

  12. Sorry to be a bit of a pooper, but this may be simply a case of a media outfit that makes money printing Christian stuff telling its potential customers they need to put more of it about.

    Could be genuine, but I always take self-serving survey results with a pinch of salt. And believe me, I’ve seen a few…

    1. I agree. The first thought that came to mind was “here’s some lyin’ for Jezus to fire up everyone about how persecuted they are and how they’ve got to redouble their effort to bring Jezus around to fill everyone’s perforated interventricular septum.”

  13. I’m afraid I don’t believe that there would really be a 24% drop in just five years. Even in the most secular parts of Europe the drop has been gradual, or at least over the timespan of a generation or two. It sounds like some sort of sampling error.

    1. While it is certainly a large shift that bears some skepticism, I could see it with all the scandals. Essentially you’d have a bunch of ‘in name only’ Christians switching categories without actually switching core beliefs.

      That is, until recently, they felt the appellation ‘Christian,’ even if they really didn’t believe as a Christian could have social/emotional benefit. Kind of like atheist Catholics, or Jews, that still self-identify as Catholic or Jewish.

  14. Equally surprising, Olive Tree Media appears to be a religious outfit that produces Christian-based media.

    I don’t know why… Olives, olive trees, olive oil and the Mount of Olives all figure in the bible…

  15. Australia? Those god-botherers? You want atheism, nau mai, haere mai ki Aotearoa nei – come to New Zealand!

    We’ve had non-stop atheist Prime Ministers since 1999 (election tomorrow and both the front runners are atheists). Unfortunately our census figures date from 2006, but unbelief is rising.

    More to the point, the Catholic Church has a powerful influence on Australian politics that it doesn’t have here.

    1. I would agree about the influence of Catholics, particularly in the cabinet. Just from watching Q&A you can see there is a amazing degree of religiosity high-up in the Labour government. Why do you think Gillard is so coy about same-sex marriage? Also extremely disappointed with Gillard hypocrisy with her atheism, but at least it is better than Rudd’s church door-stopping.

      1. Hi Kiwis

        I get the impression there are prportionally more kiwis that follow WEIT. Am I wrong?

        “God defend New Zealand”

        Cognitive dissonance!

        1. If you meant John Key of NZ, he’s generally belived to be an atheist, but he’s first and foremost a politician:

          LISA Do you believe in God John?
          JOHN That’s an interesting question do I believe in God. I don’t believe in life after death.
          LISA Do you believe in God?
          JOHN Well I don’t believe in life after death, I don’t know how you’d define it really.
          LISA Are you agnostic, are you atheist?
          JOHN Well if your asking me if I’m religious it depends how you define religion, I look at religion as doing the right thing, I don’t define that as someone that goes to church necessarily on a Sunday, I mean I go to church a lot with the kids but I wouldn’t describe it as something that I – I’m not a heavy believer, my mother was Jewish which technically makes me Jewish, yeah I probably see it in a slightly more relaxed way.

          Agenda, April 29, 2006

          1. In other words, John Key is probably de facto atheist but, quite typical of him, he doesn’t want to commit himself to anything that might lose him votes. Not that it would lose any politician many votes in NZ, it would be considered intrusive and in rather bad taste for the media – or indeed political opponents – to make an issue of anyone’s religion or lack of. It’d be a sure vote loser for anyone who brought it up. I note that this exchange was in a personal interview on a show called Agenda, “Agenda is New Zealand’s most influential political interview show” (from their website. Can’t say I ever noticed them. I’d sort of assumed Key was probably lukewarm Jewish faith, without ever hearing much about it. I believe Helen Clark, the last PM, was explicitly atheist but again, nobody made much of it.)

            1. Oh, and John Key’s predecessor in the National Party, Don Brash, was ‘outed’ as having had secret conversations with the Select Brethren, who had funded some anti-Green propaganda in the previous election. This is believed to have played a large part in costing him the election. John Key was at some pains to deny all knowledge of this. I think most people here in NZ (including the religious) want religion and politics kept separate. Yes I do think we’re lucky in that respect.

  16. It would be nice if I could believe that, but I am now living in Canberra and am kind of puzzled by some of the things I see here. Tons of sectarian schools, even a Catholic university. A kind of paramilitary fundamentalist Christian organization holding its meeting proudly in public. And, perhaps most annoying of all, somebody has very systematically destroyed all mentions of “x million years ago” on ALL information signs in the National Botanic Gardens. I have heard the same thing happens around Uluru with such distressing regularity that they have stopped putting any mention of deep time onto the signs in the National Park. This kind of stuff would be inconceivable in my home country, and Germany is less irreligious than Scandinavia.

    Then again, nearly all my colleagues appear to be atheists or at least indifferent to religion, but then again, guess what my job is…

    1. “Then again, nearly all my colleagues appear to be atheists or at least indifferent to religion, but then again, guess what my job is…”


    2. The first time I saw the sign pointing to the Catholic Uni I almost drove off the road. I so wonder why my Uni hasn’t got an exchange program with them…or not.

      I was going to say ANU School of Earth Sciences but now I have to go with Sigmund’s guess of Vicar

  17. Peter Jensen, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney actually had the gall to say that Christianity is a ‘communication’ faith, they believe in the power of the word. Yeah. I remember the long, riveting debates during the Crusades. The better argument won.

    Translation faith? ‘Furthermore, we are a translation faith. That is to say we don’t just have our Bible and leave it in Greek and Hebrew, we [sic] translate. We’ve always translated.”

    That’s an awful of lot of historical revision in so short a space. One might even think he’s exceptionally poorly educated, or a liar. It used to be like a BIG DEAL in which language one read one’s Bible. Let me see if I can track down a quote by Stephen Fry in an debate a few years ago. The intelligence squared debate; he had a nice delivery.

    I suppose better spoken than written. Alas, the point is made.

    “Just imagine in this square mile how many people were burned for reading the Bible in English. And one of the principle burners and torturers of those who tried to read the Bible in English here in London was Thomas More. Now, that’s a long time ago, it’s not relevant. Except, that it was only last century that Thomas More was made a saint and it was only in the year 2000 that the last pope, the Pole, he made Thomas More the Patron Saint of Politicians. This is a man who put people on the rack for daring to own a Bible in English. He tortured them for owning a Bible in their own language. The idea that the Catholic church exists to disseminate the word of the Lord is nonsense.”

    1. It just occurred to me that Peter Jensen was the first speaker in the Intelligence Squared debate involving Jane Caro and Russell Blackford. This one I found particularly tedious and nonsensical as I recall of my live-action write up on the debate. He couldn’t even stay on topic, as I wrote at the time, “When he says atheists are wrong, he doesn’t mean completely wrong – far from it. We’re just ‘basically wrong’, and tonight’s debate is about the problems with atheism. [ed note: No, the debate is that we’re wrong, not that we have problems.]”

      And a couple of choice lines:

      Atheists (contemporary, not dead ones) seem to him like flat Earthers. We look at the universe and say it can be fairly explained on materialistic principles. [Um, does he disagree that it can be?]

      We’re simplistic, seeing only gray on gray in this world of grandieur.

      Galileo and Occam, we forget, are really ‘theirs’ and not ‘ours’. [that is Christians, not atheists]

      My personal favorite: Evolution is an idolatrous explanation of all things. We confuse mechanism for agency.

      Christianity is a self correcting mechanism by its objective, absolute standards. [Presumably, this includes the objectively morally correct position on slave-holding.]

      Yes. Yes. Yes. I worked hard to erase his memory, but I see he and our senator Shumer have a trait in common. They both have the same danger zone, which is to stand between them and a camera.

  18. I noticed Jensen’s outright lies about translation of the bible.

    There’s something interesting to note here. The number one “blocker”, as they call it, is “Church abuse”. I think they mean child abuse, and they are using weasel words to not say it.

    Furthermore, McCrindle called it “the legacy issue”. I very much doubt that child abuse is over and done with, in the past, or history. We are still learning on a daily basis of new abuses, and the Catholic Church has not yet been held accountable for their protection of child-raping priests which enabled more abuse as priests were moved to new pastures.

  19. As Ben Goren pointed out, the truth or falsity of Christianity is never questioned in this survey or in their analysis of the results.

    Could it be that a large percentage of Aussies has concluded that Christianity is a load of bollocks? The survey measures “warmth” towards Christianity and the positive categories (from their point of view) are all couched in terms of belief: “I believe this”, etc, whereas the negative categories are “I have issues” and “I’m opposed”. What if somebody simply doesn’t believe in their dogma? What if somebody is a Cultural Christian, and happily participates in the rituals whilst believing that they are built on false premises?

    Also I note the study misrepresented openness toward changing religious worldview. 51% were “not open at all” and there were 4 other categories of increasing openness. The conclusion was “but almost half are to some extent ‘open'” but I don’t see it that way. Out of a possible 49%, 31% classed themselves as “slightly open”. I guess those are the people who would want extraordinary evidence, even if they don’t think in those terms. It’s evidence which isn’t going to be forthcoming. I think the numbers should be weighted by probability – closer to 17% open than 49%.

  20. Another curious thing. Jensen bemoans the “monumental intellectual collapse” of christian faith 40 years ago. What an extraordinary thing to say. Does he think they became stupid? Did apologetics forget their arguments, or did the arguments themselves become ineffective.

    Imagine if a scientist had said that due to an unknown reason, scientific knowledge had gone backwards and for some reason we now know less than we did 40 years ago. Perhaps it is possible in some future dystopia or after a nuclear war, but that’s not us. Think back to 1971 if you can, and consider what we’ve got now in terms of technology and social progress compared to 40 years ago. We’re living in the future. We’ve got the Internet to thank for a lot of that. We still have a long way to go on many social matters though.

    I think the arguments of 40 years ago are less effective for at least a couple of reasons. One is that society has changed, and religion is seen as not relevant. It’s easy to spot the misogyny and barbarity, the ancient prejudices against homosexuals, jews, other creeds. Also people have become better at spotting scams. At least in Australia, as the survey analysis said, people are turned off by celebrity endorsements of religion. We know it’s a scam and we’re not buying it.

  21. I just had a look at the Australian Bureau of Statistics website, and it says the results of the 2011 census will be available from June 2012. So we will have to wait and see, should be fun tho.

    No Worries.

  22. Being born and raised in Melbourne, I can’t say I’ve noticed an enormous change in the last 5 years. But definitely a subtle one. You are more likely now to meet people who will openly admit they aren’t religious – when I was a kid and growing up you just didn’t.

    From a personal viewpoint I always had doubts, but like most people I went along with parents, friends, cultural upbringing (I was even an altar boy at school). Now that I freely admit I don’t believe in the nonsense of religion, I have to be honest it feels incredibly empowering, especially on an intellectual level.

    (I’m blaming you partly for this Jerry – as WEIT is one of the best science books I’ve ever read) 🙂

    I would say like the US and UK there would be a lot of closet atheists – privately they don’t believe in God but they’re too scared to upset family members or social peers. Let’s just hope those numbers keep increasing.

    As a new father of a gorgeous baby girl, I can’t wait to explain to her in time the wonders of nature. And even better, without relying on foolish supernatural explanations. Evolution is more than spectacular enough.

  23. Bravo for Australians!

    I’ve seen multiple recent documentaries on cults in Australia so it seems that there is still a lot of problems with “faith in faith”.

    But I can’t tell if this is a big problem in Australia or if there is just more media exposing such things.!

    I know that Australia has been infected with American import religions such as Scientology and Mormonism.

    But Australia is on it’s way to atheism: (Canada appears on the list too.)

    This gives me hope for the US. From my perspective most religions have culty tendencies and all religions started as cults. Rational thought is the key to undoing “faith in faith” and the superstitions that result.

  24. I don’t find this very surprising, but then I do work in the physics dept of a university (in Australia). We have one or two token believers here.

    I find a lot of the religious noise coming from the US strange (that’d be mostly christian and right wing).

    Australians are, of course, a very pragmatic and rational lot, and only take serious issues seriously. They are sport, sex, poking fun at others, and beating England, Sth Africa and New Zealand (roughly in that order.

    Our attitudes towards the US have mellowed since we became the first nation to win the Americas Cup off you. And of course next time you go to war somewhere you’ll probably find Oz has announced we’re right with you before you announce any intention to mobilise.

    Ustraya – it’s the biggest aircraft carrier the US has.

    1. .. beating England, Sth Africa and New Zealand (roughly in that order.

      I thought India was supposed to be the Aussie final frontier, at least in cricket.

  25. My sense is, that as an Aussie. I live in a secular society. The generic religion which seeps through is more of the Catholic and Church of England – C of E, also called ‘Christmas and Easter’. We have an increasing number of the holly rollers in large barns who clap and sing, however it hasn’t penetrated the TV and other cultural media. However, they are noisy and insistent, and have some influence. One would need a sociological study to measure it. we have our share of nutters, however the official religious sense is about Christmas and Easter. As a previous Aussie has noted, we tend to be irreverent. My husband, who is an expat American, laughs and says, when the Mayflower landed, they held a prayer meeting, whereas when the fleets arrived in Australia, they had an orgy. So, I get concerned from time to time, however when I see the kind of discourse that passes for intelligent debate especially in ‘Jesusland’, I relax about our own god-botherers. I would agree that we are more like Scandinavia.

  26. Cenus information may not be a good benchmark for religiosity in Australia; it’s the only question on the census that does not have to be answered. In 2006, people without religion equaled the number claiming to be Anglicans (19% for each), making them the second largest group after Catholics (26%), but that was a catch-all category that included self-described atheists, agnostics, humanists, etc. Furthermore, about 11% didn’t answer the question, and there is no way of knowing how much that skews the census data.

    That said, I think the number of people who considered themselves to be without any religious faith in 2006 was probably greater than 19%.

    As for the report commissioned by Olive Tree, see this ABC report on McCrindle Research, the organisation that carried it out.

    1. oh, this was a McCrindle job? I wouldn’t have bothered commenting before if I’d realised.

      Move on folks, nothing but Media Watch fodder to see here. Wait for something like the census (for all its flaws) to come out, rather than drawing any conclusions about us Australians based very dubious market research.

  27. I know I’m late to the party, but my experience as a long term expat is that Aussies see belief as a private affair to not be forced upon others. And the few I’ve talked to about it can’t really grasp the culture wars being fought over it on the other side of the world.

    It also seems they found their aggressively Christian former PM distasteful.

    On the other hand, don’t be Asian around them…

    1. We find anyone who is aggressively anything distasteful, really.

      I agree with your assessment of belief as a private affair not to be forced on others. Definitely sums up the Aussie culture in my experience since 1974.

      1. I agree that belief is a private affair, and disagree that the former PM, Kevin Rudd was ‘aggressively Christian’. He went to church, wrote an article on Bonnhoeffer as a role model, however spoke in the language of human rights. Our current PM Julia Gillard, is an atheist, which is refreshing. The leader of the opposition Tony Abbott is a well known Catholic with the predictable views about controlling women. He is also a climate change denier and is known as ‘Dr No’.

        1. Funnily enough, I thought of Howard, not Rudd as “previous PM” mainly I think because he started the “christian chaplains” thing.

          Don’t get me started on Abbott.

          1. Ah, of course, Howard. He supported anything conservative, and pandered to the Christian vote (although many do this – Chaplaincy in schools still supported!). We won’t start on Abbott, agreed. 😉

  28. Why bother thinking about a tiny survey of 1900 people when we just completed our 2011 census….wait until the results of that are published, then you will get far more accurate (and therefore interesting) information.

  29. especially the 24% drop in self-identified Christians in only five years.

    Different questions, different context – the results on questions relating to religious belief show a lot of variation if you don’t ask *exactly* the same question.

    Given the progression from previous censuses, my bet is the 2011 census won’t show anything like that level of drop from 2006, though I’d be delighted if it did.

    1. Unfortunately, it is easy to set up a Census Question that causes people who are religiously apathetic to align themselves with the national religion (C of E in Australia) or the religion of one’s youth.

      Unless the Australian Census has changed much since the last one, I doubt if anyone is asked how many religious activities they did in the previous week, month, year or how sure they are that some version of a god actually exists.

      1. I don’t claim the census result produces a useful figure, only that if any comparison with the census figure is made, it should be with another census figure – the biases from one to the next will at least be approximately the same.

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