Flat White

The unholy war over the census

4 August 2016

10:21 PM

4 August 2016

10:21 PM

A Christian, a Muslim, an atheist and a Jedi walk into a bar.

If it’s Tuesday, 9 August, they order drinks, sit down at a table and proceed to fill out the 2016 Australian Census. With any luck they won’t kill each other while they’re at it.

There has been a little religious war brewing over the issue of religious affiliation and identification on the census. First came the Australian Bureau of Statistics decision to put the option of “no religion” as the top possible answer, before “Catholic”.  Maybe people will donkey vote – maybe it’s pre-empting in the expectation that “no religion” might this year overtake “Catholic” (at the last 2011 Census Catholic was 25 per cent and no religion at 22). This development was seized upon by the Atheist Foundation of Australian to encourage the increasingly secularised Australians to put their pen where their conscience is.

“Census data is used by governments to make important funding decisions like assigning chaplains to hospitals, schools, prisons and armed services, for planning educational facilities, for aged care and other social services,” AFA president Kylie Sturgess said.

“Many of those services are run by religious-based organisations. Since the government relies on Census data to decide on funding and policy for these things, it’s important the Census data is correct. Accurate Census data matters.

“We are a secular country, and we would like to see whether or not people are actually reflecting upon what we think is a secular country and saying yes, it truly is, and demonstrating it in Census data.”

This stirring call to nominal Christians not to give more money to the churches through their reflexive tick, was followed by an anonymous email campaign trying to convince the same target audience to stick with it, lest Islam keeps on increasing in relative terms.

“Bear in mind that although many Australians have no religion these days, the Muslim population in Australia will all declare that they are Muslim and this fact will be counted to ascertain what type of country we are in regard to religion,” the email states.

“Even though you may now have no religion, please consider entering the religion you were christened or born into when answering this question.

“Otherwise in time Australia will officially be declared to be a Muslim country – because the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census will reflect this.”

Then came another salvo from the AFA, calling on people not to list their religion as Jedi – 64,390 did in 2011 – because that artificially inflates the number of religious people in Australia. The Foundation even prepared this handy poster to persuade people to lose the Force.


This not being Facebook, I don’t have the option of listing my religion as “Bad Catholic” so will just have to drop “Catholic”. Just joking.

In any case, the serious point is that in a society where we have a choice of at least 33 different genders (though not in the Census itself), people can think they are babies, animals, vampires or unicorns, and we’re told that gender and sexuality are fluid and/or social constructs and race as a biological identity doesn’t exist, who are we to try to persuade people that they’re no longer Anglican because they don’t go to church and don’t believe – if they know it at all – large chunks of the Nicene Creed? Why try to make apparent agnostics pigeonhole themselves as of “no religion” as long as they still self-identify as Baptists? Let’s ditch the old and busted binary choice of religion/no religion and instead embrace the diversity of the fifty shades of faith. Shame on you, Atheist Foundation of Australia and shame on your rationalistic privilege.

Arthur Chrenkoff blogs at The Daily Chrenk where this piece also appears

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