Allen says secularism is on the rise internationally, at least in wealthy countries like Australia. However, she says this does not mean an embrace of hedonism and points to increased community engagement and volunteerism, as well as concern over climate change as ways in which secular society remains rooted in values. of what it means to live a good life.
Michael Dove, spokesperson for the No Religion campaign, says he and his lay colleagues are “pleased with the progress” but think the “no religion” category is still underrated because, they say, the wording of the question – “what is the religion?” – assumes that people have a religion.
The percentage of Sydney residents who designated some form of Christianity, such as Anglican or Roman Catholic, was 48.8%, down from 51.7% in 2016., while 17% followed other religions, especially Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.
Dr Michael Jensen, Anglican Rector of St Mark’s Darling Point, believes the rise of ‘religionlessness’ is primarily an Anglo-Celtic phenomenon.
“We no longer identify with the old tribal groupings,” Jensen says. “I think for Anglo-Celtic Australians, baby boomers identified but didn’t participate, Gen Xers really forgot about it, and now millennials are saying ‘well that doesn’t mean anything from the all for me “.”
His hunch seems to be supported by census figures.
Nationally, anyone under the age of 45 is more likely than the national average to choose ‘no religion’, and it’s highest for those aged 25-34, at 48.4% .
Similarly, 30.4% of foreign-born residents chose “no religion”, compared to 45.2% of those born in Australia.
But Jensen also argues that people who answer “no religion” may not be so much a statement of outright atheism as a rejection of organized religion.
He backs up this view with findings from the National Church Life Survey, a five-year research project supported by Uniting Church, Anglicare Sydney and BaptistCare. This revealed in 2019 that 61% of Australians believe in God or a higher power.
Such was the case of mystery writer Pamela Hart, 62, who lives in the mid-west, one of Sydney’s most secular areas.
Hart says she chose “no religion” for the first time in 2021, after always choosing Catholic based on her upbringing.
“The main reason was the growing politicization of religion, particularly by the Morrison government, and their apparent belief that most Australians approved of politics based on conservative Christianity, for example, chaplains in schools,” says Hart.
“I wanted to send a message that Australia did not want policy decisions to be made on the basis of Christian doctrine, but on evidence-based policy.”
She says the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the Constitutional right to abortion is a dramatic example of what happens to health policy when it’s overshadowed by religion.
Hart wants Australia to maintain the separation of church and state, and says religious institutions that provide medical services, aged care, schooling or any other type of care should adhere to the same standards than other institutions.
Hart maintains a personal belief in God, but is content with her choice to select “no religion” to signify her rejection of organized religion.
(Even if Hart had selected “other” and written in “I believe in God but reject organized religion”, this would make no statistical difference since the “other spiritual beliefs” category is still counted in the “no religion” total.)
Allen says people choosing “no religion” solely as a political statement would be a minority, and there would be more people who skew the data the other way by answering based on education rather than current beliefs.
She says the question of religious affiliation has never measured religiosity – how strongly someone feels about their religion – and the same goes for “no religion”.
Or as Jensen puts it: “That doesn’t tell you how many staunch intellectual atheists are.” Anecdotally, I would say a lot of people are agnostic, or they feel there is something higher.
(Of course, people who really want to make their disbelief perfectly clear could write “atheist” in the other box, but few people did, partly because the No Religion campaign encouraged the catch-all category” no religion”).
A cut of the 2021 census figures by local government area, prepared for The Herald of the Sunshow that the response of “no religion” increased across all Sydney local government areas, from 2011 to 2016 and again to 2021.
The less religious parts of Sydney are the inner city and mid-west, closely followed by a strip of established areas clustered around the harbor and beaches.
A slim majority of residents in the City of Sydney and Inner West Council neighborhoods chose “no religion” for the first time. The Blue Mountains, North Sydney, Northern Beaches, Willoughby, Waverley, Ku-ring-gai, Lane Cove, Mosman and Central Coast LGAs also had above average ‘no religion’ responses national.
Meanwhile, the South West and western pockets of Sydney are the most religious, closely mirroring the areas with the lowest ‘yes’ votes in the 2017 same-sex marriage survey. Liverpool is the LGA the more religious, with only 14% choosing no religion, followed by Fairfield, Cumberland, Canterbury-Bankstown, Blacktown and Campbelltown.
In these suburbs, Christianity mixes with other religions. Almost one in four in Canterbury-Bankstown and Cumberland is Muslim, while almost one in five in Strathfield is Hindu and almost one in five in Fairfield is Buddhist.
Christianity in this part of the world is also characterized by multiculturalism, such as South Sudanese Anglicans, Fijian and Tongan Protestants, and Vietnamese and Lebanese Catholics. Jensen points out that the Anglican archbishop is Sri Lankan and that the church in Sydney has two bishops from Southeast Asia.
Semi-rural Wollondilly to the southwest of Campbelltown was the most Christian LGA with 60% of the population selecting a Christian denomination on the census form, followed by nearby Camden.
The Sutherland Shire and Hunters Hill were the other most Christian LGAs. The Hills District, famous for Hillsong Church and often referred to as Sydney’s Bible Belt, is only the eighth most Christian LGA, with 51% Christian, 18% other religions and 27% no religion .
Pentecostalism – a grouping of evangelical churches including Hillsong and former Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Horizon Church – has declined proportionally from 1.1% of Greater Sydney’s population in 2016 to just 0.9%, as it lost nearly 5,000 followers across the city over the course of five years.
Dove says religion still occupies a privileged place in society – from religious chaplains in schools, hospitals and prisons to prayers in parliament and faith-based programs on ABC – and the “no religion” results show that this should change.
Associate Professor David Smith of the University of Sydney says the decline of Christian identification is already being reflected in politics.
“Even though devout Christians have recently become prime ministers, Australia’s marriage, abortion and euthanasia laws have moved away from the positions of the country’s largest churches,” Smith said.
“Christian activists are increasingly focused on their rights as a minority rather than asserting moral leadership over the country.”
Certainly, the first press release from the Australian Christian Lobby after the release of the census results was to renew its calls for religious discrimination laws.
Allen disagrees with the No Religion campaign that the wording of the religious affiliation question is biased.
But if the most obvious use of the data is to plan culturally appropriate services for the public, she says the question itself could become redundant given current trends.