Counting More Atheists

11 August 2011

After my last post about the Census, I received a number of very interesting comments here, on Facebook and by email.

The form had 9 choices, plus Other and No Religion.  Seven of the nine listed religions weren’t strictly religions but Christian denominations (Catholic, Lutheran et al), the other 2 being Islam (but not split into Sunni and Shia) and Buddhism (similarly left as one homogenous religion).  The glaring omissions were Judaism . . . and Christianity.  Some of my friends didn’t wish to define themselves by Christian sect and therefore put Christianity under Other.

Apparently there have been campaigns to try to make the Government change the question to “Does the person have a religion? Yes or No?” “If yes, please select below”.  The excuse used is that it would cost more to process the responses.  However, the Government states that the information is collected on behalf of the religious institutions (which I don’t really believe).  But if that’s truly the case, the churches can pay for it themselves.  Or better still, leave it off the form completely and allow the religious groups to conduct their own surveys.

The way the question is phrased appears to skew the results.  In an independent survey, carried out by a reputable social sciences research company, 51% of Australians were found to have a religious belief, although only 29% attended religious services.  In the last Census in 2006, 74% appeared to have a belief.  I tend to believe the first figure os 60%+ of weddings in Australia are civil and 70%+ of funerals are secular.

And what on earth is the Government thinking of asking about the religion of the children in the household?  “My husband are I are Catholics, my 6 year old daughter is a Muslim and my 4 year old son is Hindu” is unlikely to be a common response.  Small children don’t have a religious belief.  As Dawkins said, you don’t talk about a socialist or Marxist child – they are the children of socialists or Marxists.  The same applies equally to religious beliefs as to political ones.   

I know I bang on about this but I’m sick to the back teeth of the religious groups in this country having a say in our laws and the way we run our lives which is totally disproportionate to their numbers.  I really don’t give a damn whether you believe in God, Jehovah or the Tooth Fairy.  I don’t (well, maybe I’m an agnostic about the Tooth Fairy).  And neither does, it would seem, about 50% of the population.  Nobody intends to force you to have an abortion or marry someone of the same sex.  Or attend ethics classes instead of scripture.

The Prime Minister of this country is a professed atheist and living with a man “without the benefit of marriage” (I sound just like my grandmother).  I wish she had the gumption to cry that enough is enough, stop pouring public funds into the coffers of religious groups and tell the leaders of these organisations that their views on social and legal matters carry the same amount of weight, no more and no less, than those of the atheist plumber down the road or the agnostic doctor across the street.  To act otherwise suggests that despite her lack of religious belief, she still feels that religious leaders hold the moral and ethical high ground.

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  1. I knew your grandmothers and they were both open-minded women of the “live and let live” variety. I do remember our maternal grandmother once saying to me, when I’d been a bit cutting about a friend, “If you’ve nothing nice to say, say nothing”.

  2. My husband refused to answer the question, I identify as Baptist and my sn has no religion. It is a bit ridiculous asking about the religion of children. Those who do have whatever religion imposed on them by their parents or guardians.

  3. I wonder if one of the difficulties for the religion question is the Census desire to keep historical series of data? If in the past some of these denominations were considered ‘religions’ there might be a wish to continue to record data in those categories to show how things change over time.

    Nevertheless, while I would find such historical series interesting, I do agree that the current categories don’t accurately reflect the religious (and non-religious) affiliations and identifications of people in Australia.

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