For some, the August 9 Census question on religion looms like pale death over the cherished idea of Australia's Christian nationhood. In 2011 the combined sects of Christianity recorded 61% compared to "No religion" at 22.3%, but the 2016 Census will bring about a dramatic closing of this gap.
If other countries are anything to go by, the 2016 Census result could herald a discernible shift in Australia's religious landscape. When the 2013 Census answers were similarly reordered in New Zealand, "No religion" leapt from 35% to 42%. In the UK and Wales "No religion" surged from 25% in 2011, to 48.5% in 2014.
Weekly church pews have been vacated by all but 8% of Australians. Nearly half said they were irreligious in a May 2016 Ipsos poll. Sportsbet offers "No religion" as the favourite to overtake Catholicism as the highest group in the 2016 Census. But for those whose daily bread is buttered by the tax payer, the poll foreshadows a more secular Australia, where the privileges of faith are increasingly under threat.
And so, Anglican Rector Michael Jensen (Spectator 20 July 2016) claims that if you tick "No religion" in the Census it will be a lie.
"There's no such thing as a non-religious human being", he boldly asserts, then redefines religion to include Marxism, the cult of ANZAC, caring for the environment, Don Bradman, or anything else you might describe as a philosophy.
I'm not sure which is worse: branding nonbelievers as liars, or the self-serving Humpty Dumpty-ism stripping religion of any distinctive meaning.
"So belief in God isn't a defining characteristic of 'religion'", claims Jensen.
I'm not sure the wrathful, jealous God of the Old Testament would agree. A defining characteristic of faith involves the supernatural and the transcendent.
In 1983 the High Court of Australia nominated a two-fold criteria for religion:
...first, belief in a Supernatural Being, Thing or Principle; and
second, the acceptance of canons of conduct in order to give effect to that belief...
The abovementioned criteria allowed Scientology to achieve tax free status.
Abandoning such criteria would allow all nonbelievers to partake in religion's conspicuous benefits.
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