In 1970, John Lennon asked us to imagine no religion – adding these very potent words to his famous song: “Nothing to kill or die for”.
That’s still one of religion’s PR problems in a world in which almost every bit of war, pain, bigotry, misery and sexual violence is caused by rather appalling people who claim to speak for God.
Its a big gamut – from terrorists blowing up innocent teenagers at a concert, to pedophile priests, to evangelists who claim earthquakes are caused by gay people.
Given all that, perhaps it is no surprise that the latest census data shows ‘No Religion’ is – for the first time – the biggest form of belief (or non-belief) in Australia.
What do you make of it?
Some are excitedly rushing to claim religion will be dead within our lifetimes, and that Australia can no longer called itself a Christian country, etc. Dunno about you, but I reckon it’s a storm in a teacup.
I would argue that the only thing it shows for certain is that Australia can now handle the truth.
Reverend Nigel Fortescue at St Peter’s Anglican Church in Campbelltown put it best: “Previously people were baptised Anglican so they just ticked the Anglican box. Now they are thinking ‘what do I believe?’.
That’s a good change. For generations, many Aussies were dragged unwillingly to church each Sunday by guilt, or social or family pressures. That’s a duty, not a belief.
Now, thankfully, there’s no need to pretend. I suspect the core of true believers are still there, as always, it’s just that their numbers are no longer artificially padded.
At the same time, churches DO need to ask themselves why they are not reaching more potential believers.
Our local Catholic Bishop, Peter Ingham – a very good man – has openly acknowledged the obvious: “There’s no denying…the reputation and moral standing of the church has taken a huge battering, and for good reason, with the revelations of the Royal Commission.”
Yet the other fact is, the same church is at the forefront of many great causes, charities and some of the most inspiring and giving people I know. But, we could also use that description for many people, charities and causes we know who have nothing to do with religion.
And it gets more complex. “No religion” does not necessarily mean atheist. Many are agnostic, or spiritual in other ways. One of our online readers commented: “My faith in God grew after I stopped going to church”. That’s a whole other debate.
I guess I would call myself a seeker, trying to make sense of it all. One of the things I’ve learned in 30 years of journalism is that the worst liars and biggest hypocrites in politics are often the overtly-religious ones. And, I’m still trying to figure out why innocent kids can die horrific deaths from cancer, but I watch on as selfish and destructive parasites walk around in perfect health.
I have also learned that the goodness of people has zero to do with religion – some believe, others don’t.
For example, at the 24 Fight Against Cancer we see Christians, Muslims, atheists and agnostics, people from every creed, walking together without discrimination, because cancer doesn’t discriminate. And cancer is evil.
Most of us, whether we pray or not, share a joint faith in the goodness that people can achieve when they leave sectarianism and snarls at the door. Long may those people be in the majority.
I suspect the core true believers are still there, as always, it's just that their numbers are no longer artificially padded.