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The Census surge in non-belief heralds a new secularism

 
Census surge heralds a secular state – The Courier Mail 28 June 2017

MORE Australians ticked “No religion” in the 2016 Census than any other belief category. The results, released yesterday, show non-belief surging from 22.3 per cent in 2011 to 30.1, overtaking Catholicism which fell from 25.3 per cent to 22.6.

The change represents a watershed. The number of Christians has fallen from 88 per cent in 1966 to 52.1 per cent in 2016; a free fall which looks set to continue given 39 per cent of adults aged 18-34 now report no religion.

nation of nonbelievers

Christian dominance is ending and, marking a seismic shift in our belief landscape, nearly one third of Australians are now nonbelievers.

The effect should be wide ranging: a new voting block of nonbelievers surely forces us to consider bolstering our rather weak version of secularism.

Providing further impetus to consider this change is the fact that a fading religious belief runs deeper than just the rise in nonbelievers. Many of those marking “Christian” on the Census are expressing a “cultural” preference rather than genuine religious belief.

A 2012 McCrindle survey reported one third of Christians were more spiritual than religious.

In that respect, Australian data on Christian religious observance mirrors that of other western countries such as the UK, Ireland and the Scandinavian countries. Less than 10% of us attend church regularly, and the majority of weddings and funerals are now secular events. Caring more about everyday matters, mainstream Christians are mostly nominal, and unobservant.

Driven by our sharp decline in religiosity, we can expect to see our type of secularism become more robust, and more determinedly belief-neutral. In contrast to the US, which has enforced the Establishment Clause strictly, our Constitution’s Section 116 has always been interpreted narrowly (it doesn’t even apply to the states!), allowing a blurry and uneasy relationship between religion and governance.

Which explains how we allow prayers in parliament, along with Christian chaplains and faith-based religious instruction in secular state schools. Bizarrely, blasphemy is still a crime in most states of Australia. The lip service paid to secularism stands, sits uncomfortably with our decreasing piety.

Symptomatic of this decline, parents are increasingly opting their children out of faith-taught religious classes in NSW and QLD state schools. And in Victoria, religious classes were scrapped from curriculum time, in 2015, to allow more focus on core learning.

A new understanding of secularism resists the privileging of specific belief systems in the public domain. As the handmaiden of democracy, secularism insists that Abraham Lincoln’s democratic principle of government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”, remains pure and undiluted by prioritising the beliefs of one group over another.

A notable disparity exists when taxpayer-funded and tax-free faith groups enjoy blanket exemptions from anti-discrimination laws. So, the taxes of some nonbelievers subsidise groups who actively and legally discriminate against them.

Rising non-belief shines a light on certain areas of public policy where the lobbying of Archbishops and religious groups continue to stonewall progress. Why, for instance, is same sex marriage still not legal? Why is there such a deference to minority views, favouring religious convictions over nonreligious convictions, that the parliament fails to enact popular opinion?

Similarly, consider euthanasia: 75% of Australians support assisted dying and of those who object, 92% have religious connections.

Why does abortion remain technically illegal in NSW and QLD? Providing a safe and legal option for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies is supported by 80% of our populace.

Advancing religion remains a tax free charitable purpose, under laws dating back to the 1600’s, despite a 2016 IPSOS poll showing less than 20% of Australians support the measure. In the same poll, 55% of respondents answered that religion had no public benefit.

2016 census

Necessarily, the freefall in Christianity increases Australia’s diversity of beliefs, emphasizing our pluralism. Each year there are fewer of our fellow citizens who think religious freedom means the right to impose their beliefs on others. Most Australians would agree with the version of religious freedom expressed by article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which protects theistic, nontheistic, and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right to profess any religion or belief.

From this zeitgeist emerges a New Secularism. Underpinned by overwhelming popular support – 75% of Australians support the separation of church and state – the move towards secularism becomes inexorable now that non-belief joins the mainstream. Non-belief is the new normal. The bright light of secularism will guide us away from Christian hegemony, and towards a fairer, more inclusive, state-neutral approach to matters of belief.

religious chart info

Warning Scripture replaced by new type of Theism

Published on The AIM Network – Warning Scripture replaced by new type of Theism – 20 April 2017

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peopledontwanttohear the truth

Placating the Reverend Fred Nile and the various religious lobbies is no easy task, but the NSW Government has taken to it with Yes Minister style obtuseness and Baldrick-like cunning. Maintaining its cuddly relationship with Scripture enthusiasts, the government has spent $300k on a comprehensive report, waited 18 months to release it (just before Easter), and then refused to accept most of the recommendations.

Particularly brazen, was both the refusal to include Ethics on the enrolment form, and continuing to prevent non-participating students from proceeding with curriculum learning while Scripture was conducted. Both, the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, and the NSW P & C Federation expressed disappointment and mystification at this outcome.

So, in the wake of this ongoing debacle – and like the phantom from Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol – I’d like to offer the advocates of Scripture a disturbing glimpse into Australia’s atheistic yet-to-come. Christianity is in freefall in Australia: the 2016 Census result will show non-belief overtaking Catholicism as the most popular category. Soon, classes in Secular Humanism and Rationalism will appear in Victorian schools as part of “Learning about world views and religions”. Although these classes will be educational rather than evangelical, it’s not hard to imagine an increasingly irreligious society acquiescing to a more muscular approach to teaching nonreligious worldviews.

Imagine the following inverse scenario: State governments have become beholden to irreligious lobby groups, demanding to protect their freedom to promote their naturalistic belief systems. Perhaps we even have an antitheist holding the balance of power.

And now that the metaphysical wheel has come full circle, we atheists will band together, gather up our copies of “God is not Great – Religion Poisons Everything” by Christopher Hitchens, and begin offering evangelical classes in a new type of Theism. Yes – Antitheism! Just like Scripture, classes will be deceptively marketed as “educational”, and a benign “introduction”, but in practice they will be all-out, Hitchens-like assaults on religion, aimed at ridding children, once and for all, of the human susceptibility and credulity towards the supernatural.

After enduring a century or so of state school Bible-bashing, it’s about time. We have developed a non-believer’s version of the Lausanne movement – the Christian group committed to entreating children into fellowship with Jesus, based on research showing that if they don’t embrace the Lord before the age of 13 they likely never will. Our secular version will scare the bejesus and Jesus out of young children, warning them off celestial tyrants for life.

You’re not a teacher? Don’t worry, we’ll give you the Antitheism crash course, some angry YouTube videos, and a sober pep talk on the importance of brainwashing other people’s children.

We’ve had plenty of time to plan the rise of evangelical antitheism. While Scripture classes segregated us from our friends and frittered away hours of our childhood, we were in the other room, brooding quietly– imagine Damien from Damien the Omen – and secretly plotting revenge.

We envisaged the sort of spine-tingling, dystopian future that would chill the blood of any good Scripture teacher. Same-sex marriage is law. Evidence-based laws and regulations with appropriate limitations allow abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research. And with religious exemptions removed from anti-discrimination law, no-one has to lie about their sexuality or pretend to believe in ancient myths to secure employment.

Finally, in state schools, Bible classes have made way for supercharged Antitheism, administered with the same deceptive policies which currently fail to regulate Scripture. Who approves and vets lesson content? No-one.

Parents who fail to be vigilant enough to opt their children out, will find them automatically enrolled into Antitheism. And – accidents will happen – even devout children will suddenly find themselves being told matter-of-factly that there is no God. There’s no heaven or hell either, kids. And by the way, we disapprove of your superstitious parents.

Kids will be Hitch-slapped with the absurdity of the Christian idea that our lives are governed by a God so powerful, he created an unfathomably vast universe with trillions of planets; and yet, is such an inveterate gossip and all-knowing busybody, that he insists on listening to the prayers of every single person on the planet.

Supplanting current day Scripture classes presenting the Bible as “factual” and “historical”, our classes will pillory the “good” book as a litany of fables and comical morality tales. No kids, people did not reside inside of whales, joyride upon Dinosaurs, nor live for 600 years before deciding to have children. Koala’s did not wave goodbye to Noah and leap from tree to tree all the way to Australia without leaving any trace anywhere else.

Morality cannot be derived from myths. Anthropology has shown that Adam and Eve did not exist, thus original sin is bunk. Prohibitions against murder appeared in civilisations predating Christianity and Judaism, well before the supposed Mt. Sinai summit of Moses and God.

That will bring us to the end of term, and our “God is dead” Sombrero party, climaxing spectacularly with the smashing of a lolly-filled Pinyata of Christ the Redeemer.

But we won’t repeat some of the more desperate Christian SRE classes, such as those encouraging instructors to bring in dead animals to dissect, simulating beheadings, age-inappropriate vampire lessons, comparing kids to dirty towels in need of cleansing, and threatening young children or their parents with death.

Nonetheless, Scripture advocates might justifiably recoil from this dread atheistic future. But this future is not inevitable. Take it as a warning of what’s in store unless we change our ways. Perhaps, after all, there is something to be said for a non-discriminatory and comparative approach to teaching religion in state schools. And perhaps, hopefully, the idea of obtruding unverifiable beliefs onto children may seem a little less appealing.

Did you remember secular values this Easter?

Christoncross

An earlier version of this article published in Rendezview The Daily Telegraph 17/04/17 – Christianity no longer a central part of Australian life

 

Last week, in the Courier Mail, Dr Kevin Donnelly felt the need to remind us that celebrating Easter proves the influence of the Bible.

Having taken off the bunny ears and coaxed our chocolate-filled bellies off the couch, most Australians observe the unfastening and remoteness of family Easter festivities from the biblical story of a risen Christ.

And, if Easter really did prove the importance of the Bible, why would we need reminding?

Because, it’s not due to short term memory loss that 9 out of 10 Australians no longer attend church regularly. Nor is sudden memory-failure the reason non-belief will soon overtake Catholicism to become Australia’s largest religious affiliation.

Quite simply, the Christian church is no longer a central part of Australian life, and gentle reminders will be insufficient to revive it.

Increasingly unmoored from religious rituals, it’s worth noting that Easter – a word derived from Eastra, the goddess of spring – was originally a celebration of the spring equinox, with the date determined by the cycles of the moon.

Resurrection and rebirth myths go back as far as recorded history. Cuneiform tablets from 2100 B.C document the resurrection of Ianno, who was judged and killed in the underworld, raised from the dead after three days and restoring fertility to the earth.

And that’s not denying the importance of the Bible in understanding western civilisation. Without it, it’s difficult to comprehend how we got here. Since Constantine adopted Christianity in the 4th century, it has been integral to the character and fabric of western civilization.

But acknowledging our history, does not imply that we should deny the pluralism and diversity of our current society, nor make us intransigent against change. Further, one cannot help but detect a “culture war” theme motivating Donnelly’s argument.

Why for instance does he quote Professor Higgins, from My Fair Lady, saying that English is the language of “Milton, Shakespeare and the Bible”?

The Bible was written in Aramaic, and Jesus was a Palestinian. The Bible was finally translated to English by Protestant reformer William Tyndale in the 16th century amidst theological outrage. The original translations were burned, and Tyndale was finally rewarded for his efforts by strangulation and burning at the stake.

Western civilisation began long before the supposed virgin-birth of Jesus. Rather than being founded upon the New Testament, western culture integrated Christianity into a milieu of Jewish wisdom, Greek philosophy and Roman law.

Again, I would not wish to understate the value of the Bible as part of western literature, but it is a prism through which we understand the past, rather than a light that guides the way in the future.

The recent furore over Coopers Brewing and their support for the Bible Society over same sex marriage, demonstrates the increasing chasm between biblical beliefs and modern secular values.

The idea that our society is somehow held together by the teachings of Jesus, is decisively undermined by the Enlightenment – the secular project, which finally wrested control of government and science from the church.

Finally, secular values allowed different sects and different religions to coexist without endless conflict. The era of science conforming to theology was over, and progress was thereafter swift.

Moreover, the Ten Commandments retain little influence on the modern Australian legal system or indeed modern ethics. Nor were they particularly innovative moral teachings in their time. Surely, it wasn’t the meeting of Moses and God for 40 days and nights on Mt Sinai, which convinced humanity that murder was inadvisable. The prohibition on murder, along with other values such as the golden rule, all appear in the civilisations of India, China, Athens and Rome, predating Christianity by thousands of years.

Raising his Bible to ward off Islamic terrorism, like a crucifix to a vampire, Donnelly suggests the antidote to religious violence is yet more religion. But promoting conformity to Christian teachings will only infuriate and isolate those from other cultural traditions. What we need is a broadening of cultural tolerance, not a narrowing.

What we should remember at holiday times is the things which unite us, not those which divide. Namely, the Enlightenment values of tolerance, secularism, freedom of thought, the rule of law, and democracy. If we owe a debt to Christianity, it’s because of the excesses and dogmas which necessitated modern secular values.

Religious Freedom Doesn’t Care What You Believe, But The Census Does

Religious Freedom Doesn’t Care What You Believe, But The Census Does  – New Matilda 08 August 2016

Ahead of next week’s Census question on religion, spare a moment to consider religious freedom: the right to believe and practise your religion or non-belief.

We acknowledge each other’s rights to believe and disbelieve. Thus, I don’t care if you believe in God or not. Neither do I care whether you believe in a universal spirit, angels, Paleo, or magic beans.

Scientist or a Scientologist, it’s all the same to me. I don’t care if you’re if you’re a Jew or Gentile, Protestant or Pastafarian, an Anglican or an astrologer, Jesuit or a Jedi, or, if you worship John the Baptist or the John Frum Cargo Cult. But I do care if you answer the Census question accurately.

Why? Because the Census helps to determine government policy and funding, and helps explain who we are and how we live. It gives a snapshot of what we’re like and how we’ve changed. This year’s Census will likely show a shift away from Christianity towards non-belief, which might tip the balance towards more secular policymaking.

The Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) ‘no religion’ campaign invites Australians to consider if they’re “Not religious Anymore?”

AFA President Kylie Sturgess says the purpose is to encourage Australians to think honestly about their beliefs, so the Census result provides an accurate indication of religious affiliations.

“We’re letting people know they can mark ‘no religion’ when perhaps they didn’t realise that option was available to them, because until now, it’s always been at the bottom of a long list. You don’t have to be an atheist to mark ‘No religion’,” Ms Sturgess says.

“Many people feel spiritual, and lead moral lives encompassing values like charity, peace, and love without identifying as religious”.

Sportsbet reports ‘no religion’ is a favourite to shoot to number one place in our religious affiliation in the 2016 Census. It’s also giving good odds that ‘no religion’ will jump from 22.3 per cent in 2011 to over 30 per cent – a May IPSOS poll with the same question recorded 38 per cent.

When the 2013 Census answers were similarly reordered in New Zealand, ‘no religion’ leapt from 35 per cent to 42 per cent. In the UK and Wales ‘no religion’ has surged from 25 per cent in 2011, to 48.5 per cent in 2014.

The shift from Christianity to ‘no religion’ has been the topic of much speculation. The number of Christians is in freefall in Australia, only buttressed by the large number of people who record a Christian affiliation without necessarily believing in or observing the religion.

A 2012 McCrindle survey noted one third of Christians considered themselves “more spiritual” than Christian, and less than one in 10 Australians fill the pews regularly.

Australians are far less devout that our US cousins, but our country is also much less secular. Compared to the formidable Wall of Separation in the US Constitution, Australia’s impotent Section 116 (which has never been successfully upheld in Court) is scarcely a rabbit-proof fence, rickety and falling into disrepair, as millions of dollars in funding pass over it every year for religious enterprises.

Australian state and federal governments provide hundreds of millions of dollars for chaplains and for Sunday-school-style faith classes; they pour $11 billion into religious schools, and forgo about $20 billion in tax. Many tax-free faith groups run profitable businesses as well. Taxpayer funded faith-based groups enjoy blanket exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.

More tax payer money per student is provided to independent schools run by the secretive Plymouth (ex-Exclusive) Brethren, and those linked to Scientology, than to State schools. While new developments in genetics and evolutionary biology make headlines, we spend a billion dollars on schools teaching Creationism.

The beneficiaries of religious funding are organised faith groups, as opposed to individuals or groups from a cultural tradition. The taxpayer sponsors groups who may discriminate against them, espouse disagreeable views, and provide little or no public benefit.

Since the primary goal of most faith groups (especially Christian ones) is to promulgate their own beliefs, citizens marking the Census should carefully consider whether they still subscribe to those beliefs.

Do they believe in the Nicene Creed? Is salvation and eternal life attained through faith in Jesus? Was Jesus virgin-born? Was Jesus the son of God and made of the same substance as God? Do they believe in Satan? Did Jesus rise from the grave and ascend to heaven?

It might seem counterintuitive, but the higher the numbers for ‘no religion’, the more likely governments will move to protect religious freedom. The more we affirm our secular nature, the greater the pressure on governments to remain religion neutral.

This is the real meaning of religious freedom, as originally invoked by the Danbury Baptists and the Australian Catholics, when both groups campaigned for secularism to be enshrined in our respective Constitutions, to protect themselves from State interference in religion.

Founding Father and former US President Thomas Jefferson epitomized the spirit of secularism thus: “But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

The problem in Australia is that we allow faith to continually pick the taxpayer’s pocket – to the tune of billions of dollars – despite fewer and fewer of us subscribing to it.

A substantial bump in the numbers marking ‘no religion’ may help illuminate a new understanding of secularism, as well as an old understanding of religious freedom.

Mark No Religion on the 2016 Census

blah blah – Hugh to add

The Census Asks About Religion Not Culture

My Neighbour Can Say There Are 20 Gods Or None, Just Not On Census Night The Huffington Post Australia 9 August 2016

Until recently, I was ambivalent about the welcoming smiles of faith. I’ve always admired the famous quote from U.S. Founding Father Thomas Jefferson: “It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods, or no god.”

 But when my son came home from state school singing songs about Jesus and waxing about the amazing Creator-God who made the world, I was jolted out of my metaphysical slumber. Apparently, not everyone is ambivalent. Ingratiating smiles suddenly hardened with purpose.
 Many Australians inherit a cultural affinity with Christianity. Many of us have attended Christian schools, baptised our kids, been married in church-run ceremonies, or attended church for life’s big moments. But cultural heritage is unaccompanied by belief in the tenets of the religion, or by regular participation and membership.
Thus, question 19 of the 2016 Census provides an opportunity to reflect upon our beliefs and to reassess our religious affiliation. The Census collects data used for planning and funding.

The beneficiaries of religious funding are organised faith groups. The state provides hundreds of millions for chaplaincy and Sunday school style faith classes, it pours $11 billion into religious schools, and forgoes about $20 billion in tax. Many tax-free faith groups run profitable businesses as well. Taxpayer funded faith-based groups enjoy blanket exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.

More taxpayer money per student is provided to independent schools run by the secretive Plymouth (ex-Exclusive) Brethren, and those linked to Scientology, than to State schools. While new developments in genetics and evolutionary biology make headlines, we spend a billion dollars on schools teaching Creationism.

There’s scant benefit for the nonbeliever in the state financing of religious enterprises. The taxpayer sponsors groups who may discriminate against them, espouse disagreeable views, and provide no public benefit. Since the primary goal of most faith groups is to promulgate their own beliefs, citizens marking the Census should carefully consider whether they still subscribe to those beliefs.

Do they believe in the profession of the faith? The Nicene Creed? The Apostle’s Creed? Was Jesus virgin-born? Do they believe in God? The Trinity? Do they still believe in Heaven and Hell? Did Jesus rise from the grave and ascend to heaven? Are humans aggregated to either eternal bliss or damnation on the basis of faith?

Many Australians have turned away from church because of the child sex abuse scandal, and the spectre of jihadism. Despite Muslims only accounting for 2.2 percent of the population, a preposterous scare campaign encourages lapsed Christians to tick a Christian denomination on the Census to avoid Australia becoming an Islamic country.

Even if this fear were remotely justified, a more appropriate response would be reasserting our secular nature by marking “No religion”: the only response likely to lessen the influence and funding of faith-based groups.

Other Australians have turned away from faith due to skepticism of its non-evidenced and unverifiable claims. In an information exploded world, where facts are clicked in an instant and where medicine and technology proceed at warp speed, the dizzying claims of faith face an unprecedented challenge.

Most Australians strongly support secularism: 78 percent of those polled by Ipsos in January thought it important to separate religious beliefs from the business of government.

We inherit a rich cultural tradition, arising out of enlightenment thinking, Christianity, Westminster, free-market economics, and secularism, and we are now a culturally diverse, multi-faith society.

We applaud the freedom “for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods, or none”, but as Jefferson went on, “It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg”.

Alas, in our democracy, religion does pick the pocket of taxpayers. Governments are hardly ambivalent towards faith, subsidising it to the tune of billions of dollars, despite fewer and fewer tax payers subscribing to it. So when filling out the Census on Tuesday night, I hope Australians look beyond a historical cultural affiliation, and critically reflect upon their religious or irreligious beliefs.