Findings from the 2016 Census that 30 per cent of Australians report having no religious affiliation have led to renewed calls for an end to state funding for all faith-based organisations.
Rationalists, humanists, and atheists were quickly out of the starting blocks calling for widespread acknowledgement that Australians were, at last, sloughing off the dead skin of religious belief.
‘Hard’ secularists, who dismiss all religion as meaningless and imagine we live in a theocracy, see the Census returns as the green light to finish off the place of religion in Australia once and for all.
One way they want to do this is to force all religious organisations who receive government funding to foreswear the tenets of belief and commit themselves to an entirely secular manifesto.
In other words, Catholic schools can’t be Catholic if they get the government’s dollar; and Christian hospitals need to forget about Jesus if they still want to get funding from the state. God must go.
But this is premature. Remember that 60 per cent — nearly two-thirds — of Australians still say they have some religious affiliation. Christianity may be declining, but Hinduism and Islam are not. Since the last census in 2011, there has been almost a 60 per cent increase in Hinduism; and Islam has seen a 27 per cent increase. Christianity, by contrast, has declined by just over 7 per cent.
But whereas fewer people may go to church on Sunday, religious organisations are still heavily involved in our society. Of the 25 largest Australian charities, 23 are faith-based.
Many schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and welfare agencies, supplying essential services to all Australians, are religious — specifically Christian. And what drives them is religious conviction.
Force them to divorce from their Christian purpose, and those faith-based organisations would quickly fade away and our national life would be the poorer for that.
“Non-belief is the new normal,” said Hugh Harris of the Rationalist Society of Australia. Harris hopes to wave an overdue farewell to what he calls “Christian hegemony” — whatever that is.
Not so fast, Hugh. Despite the protests of the ‘hard’ secularists, religion is not about to disappear from Australia’s liberal, secular society.
Multiculturalism, and our intake of new migrants, means religious faith will still be with us. And people who believe in God will continue to find themselves in the majority for some years to come.
Peter Kurti is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies
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