Published in the Hobart Mercury here: 17.7.16
When a leading betting agency makes a groundbreaking move to lay odds on the upcoming Census you know something is about to happen — particularly when those odds centre on the seemingly innocuous question of Religious Affiliation.
A seismic shift will certainly occur on August 9th — and it will stem from the question on religion being finally brought into line with other Western countries. The “No Religion” box has been moved to become first option to the question “What is the person’s religion?” — up from last place in each previous Census.
Odds are being given by the betting agency that “No Religion” will now have the highest score and dethrone the Catholics as traditional winners. They topped the pool in the 2011 Census with 25.3%. Anglicans then followed with 17.1%, the Uniting Church 5.0%, Easter Orthodox 2.6% and Islam at just 2.2%. Consistently buried at the end of the list, “No Religion” still ran second with 22.3%.
But in August this figure is predicted to rise to more that 40% — due to the changes made by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), and reflecting the structure adopted by similar countries.
The trend by progressive nations to become more “secular” has advanced more rapidly over recent decades. Australia is fully expected to now record similar figures to these countries. England’s population is now 48% religion-neutral; Scotland stands at 52%, and New Zealanders are 42% non-religious.
This question on religion, however, is not compulsory but there is a campaign to encourage all people to answer the question honestly so that ABS has a much clear understanding of how our nation stands — and the broad range of religions and denominations that we have in our multicultural society.
It is well known, from a variety of surveys, that many people mark the “Religious Affiliation” question purely as a reflex action, a force of habit. The great majority of the population are brought up in households where there is a traditional or family religion. But later in life, through a variety of different reasons and circumstance, they drift away from those traditions and practice no religion at all.
It doesn’t mean they become immoral and uncharitable. One the contrary, most simply adopt a secular, rationalist or humanist philosophy of life with a mix of worldviews — based primarily on reason and philosophical ethics.
But marking ‘No Religion’ does not mean being an atheist, it just states that you doesn’t practice a particular religion. There are also many Muslims who reject Islam and they will have the freedom to ‘privately’ nominate as secular. The new ABS format may also encourage those who mark Spaghetti Monster, Jedi and Santa Claus to think more seriously about their religious affiliation — or none.
Accurate census data is vital information for the federal government to allocate funding and resources for every kind of service across the social and community spectrum. It’s hoped that every Australian will take the Census seriously, including the question on religion.
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