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Is 'no religion' a new religion?

By Spencer Gear - posted Tuesday, 19 July 2016

I put two cups of mixed fruit into a saucepan and pour a couple cups of fruit juice over it. Then I sift self-rising flour as I stir it and then put in the oven to bake for a couple of hours.

These are common ingredients for a fruit cake. But when it is baked, I don't want to name it for what it is. I call it a non-cake, a furphy cake. However, it had the primary ingredients of a fruit cake and was baked to be served for afternoon tea when my neighbours visited.

It seems that the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is offering a parallel option with the 'no religion' category in the 2016 census on 9 August 2016. It's something that has all of the ingredients but doesn't want to be labelled as the product it is. Is there such a category as those who practise 'no religion'? It was there in the 2011 Census at the bottom of the list of the question. That has changed.


The 2016 Census paper has the category, 'No religion', at the top of Q 19: 'What is the person's religion?' See this comparison of 2011 and 2016 Census Forms (image courtesy Hugh Harris, October 31, 2015, New Matilda):

The ABS media release (2 April 2013) on 'religious affiliation emerging as key theme in 2016 Census topic consultation', stated that submissions to that date supported the retention of religious affiliation in the Census. But 'the majority have requested that the question be modified to better capture information about people with no religion'.

This article will tease out the possibility that what appears to be 'no religion' in a worldview is religion after all. This will not make me a friend of the no-religionists.

The nitty gritty of this subtle change in the Census is more profound than it looks on the surface, by placing it as a first option in 2016 rather than the last option, as in 2011. An overt rationalist such as Hugh Harris could be licking his chops over this new placement of the category. However, there is a big BUT that needs answering! Part of his article's title is, 'A subtle tweak to the 2016 Census form might finally deliver a truly secular Australia'. This article wants us to believe that secularism is a worldview of 'no religion'. Is that true?

Is it possible to live a life in Australia and practise no religion? 'No religion' is appealing if one is not a Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Taoist, or Shintoist. BUT is a person not practising religion if the worldview is identified as rationalism, secularism, capitalism, socialism, atheism or environmentalism?


Dr N T Wright, professor of New Testament and early Christianity, University of St. Andrews, Scotland, considers that worldviews are like foundations of a house that are vital, but invisible. They are the grid through which people organise reality. We see them through the beliefs and aims of a person. They will be seen in how these beliefs and aims impact on the world, the individual person, views of society, and one's god. Wright (1992:126) diagrams it as:

A fundamental: What is religion?

To deal with the issues surrounding religion, including whether it is appropriate to make it the No 1 option for 'What is the person's religion?' we need to address the larger question on the nature of religion.

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About the Author

Spencer Gear PhD (University of Pretoria, South Africa) is a retired counselling manager, independent researcher, retired minister of the The Christian & Missionary Alliance of Australia, and freelance writer living in Brisbane Qld, Australia.

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