Census Points To Humanism To Avoid Dangerous Trends In A Post-Christian Australia

Written by Murray Love and Published on CAHS website 30/06/2017

The August 2016 Census of Australia has been released. Australians are turning away from religion in droves. However identity politics, religious schools, and ‘the habits of a lifetime’ continue to exaggerate the figures for Christianity in Australia.

Humanism offers an alternative to the unproductive divisiveness of religion and identity politics. Humanism is for every human being, and draws on our common humanity for its values. Humanists want children in school taught ‘how to think’, not ‘what to think’. Humanists review their values throughout their lives, learning new discoveries and information in ethics, science, economy, and society. 

Humanists understand how natural human compassion, and our own intelligent thinking, get us through the dark times, and can take our children on to a bright future.

The 2016 census revealed only 52% of Australians were willing to identify Christianity as their religion. A further 8.2% identified with other religions like Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism. 

There was a big rise to 30.1% in the number prepared to declare they had “No Religion”. Another 9.6% wouldn’t identify any religion, or used categories the Australian Bureau of Statistics won’t take seriously, like the heroic Jedi masters of Star Wars. Many Australians seek values they can live by, beyond the lure of eternity, in a life based in reality.

The number declaring No Religion would have been far higher, except for a late, vigorous, social-media campaign by anti-immigrant, neo-nationalist, and anti-Islamic groups. The campaign pressured atheists, and agnostics, fearful of demographic change, to identify as ‘Christian’ because “otherwise the Muslims will claim Australia”!

Many Australians with no personal religious activity, continue to say they’re ‘Christian’ because of ‘identity politics’. What is identity politics? It’s a turning away from the traditional politics of the public interest - concerned with economic growth and social welfare. Instead voters turn to politicians belonging to their own identity (White, Christian, etc.), or politicians who campaign explicitly to appeal to voters of a particular ‘identity’. 

Modern methods like Twitter allow for direct appeal in simplistic phrases to these new groupings. Before Twitter there was ‘dog-whistle’ politics, where politicians expressed the prejudices of identity groups using subtle coded phrases in the public square.

There are politically useful identities like ‘environmentalist’ or ‘taxpayer’ - each easily associated with economic and social trends. Even identities hurled at others - like ‘bludger’ or ‘politically correct’ - can be a code for supporting certain economic and social policies.

Yet when identities like ‘Christian’ and ‘Islamic’ become political weapons, billions who believe, or were born under, these religions are evoked.  Religious identity is a potent but blunt weapon - leading nowhere, or to some hidden agenda.  The ultimate solution is a catastrophic ‘clash of civilisations’, and the destructive results are seen around the world - particularly terrorism and the draconian response to it.

 Fear campaigns obscure hidden anti-social and authoritarian agendas. The anti-Muslim census campaign may have added several percentage points of phony ‘Christians’ to the figures.

The census shows Protestants bunched heavily in older age groups. The Catholic population is more evenly spread, reflecting massive involvement of this Church in school provision.  Parents use the Catholic system as a cheap ‘private’ school. Families who’ve abandoned Sunday attendance, count themselves ‘Catholic’ through involvement in a Catholic school. Other religious schools also distort the statistics.

Older Australians grew up in the 1960s and 1970s. Figures from the 1966 and 1971 census show a far stronger attachment in that era, to the now rapidly declining Protestant Christian groupings. Despite dropping church-going habits, nostalgia exaggerates the percentage of older Australian Christians.

There are surely in reality more than 50% of Australians seeking alternatives to religion. Will it be Humanism, or some divisive ideology of life-wasting bigotry?

Older Australians with time to think and learn in retirement, would be welcome in the Australian Humanist movement, which has endured for over fifty years. They can shed obsolete identities from their distant childhoods.

In Humanism, older Australians will find an opportunity to grant themselves a fresh fully human identity - thinking globally, acting in their own personal lives, drawing on the most effective aspects of our common human biology and culture, refining our values through both critical and creative thinking, and working for a better world.

Humanism has much to offer younger people too. Younger Australians have seen through the false promises of religion – the 2016 census shows this. But the rise of the worst identity politics – mixing in ethnic and religious attachments - reveals other dangerous ideologies like extremism and neo-fascist authoritarian movements. Humanism shows a way forward.

Humanism appeals to the natural tolerance and optimism of youth. Humanism draws its strength from ourselves in our times of health and vigour and curiosity. Humanism steers ambition to solve real world problems, through human values and human capabilities. 

The Australian Humanist movement draws the lessons of the 2016 Australian census, appealing to those who’ve disowned Christianity, but are nostalgic for a clear identity as a good citizen of humanity. Become a Humanist! 

Younger Australians, and those in the prime of their lives, wanting an alternative community for each generation grasping the task of being human in a world in transition, could not do better than to take up the ambition of revitalising Humanism in Australia – needed more than ever in 2017.


Murray Love is President of the Humanist Society of New South Wales and Treasurer of CAHS