The actual name of the infographic I’m discussing today is the ‘Australian Communities Report’, but I suspect I found it through a link with the more provocative title of Why Aussies Hate Church and I kind of like that.
Why it is of interest
I’m quite interested in this because Australia is culturally similar to New Zealand and so social attitudes are likely to be comparable between the two nations and I’ve not stumbled across much demographic research into the religious beliefs of Kiwis.
I’m cautious of taking infographics at face value because the don’t indicate how the data were collected, what analyses were used and in this one there is nothing stating what error margins may underly the numbers presented. But all I want is a general indication of social values so none of that is particularly important.
This is a 4 page document and very busy so I will go through it section by section and see what we can discover.
Australians and religion
Half of Australians do not identify with any religion. This includes two main groups; those who have no religion at all, and those who say they are spiritual but have no main religion. ‘Spirituality’ is described as self awareness and a deeper connection, whereas ‘religion’ is summarised by attendance, tasks and obligation.
There are still a lot of people who said they do have a religion and 40% of Aussies identify with a form of Christianity, 18% are protestant or evangelical, and 22% are Catholic or Orthodox. Other religions such as Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and the catchall ‘other’ each represent less than 5% of Australians.
How actively involved are religious people?
Christians have a slight edge at actively practicing their faith, 23% of protestant of evangelical Christians regularly attend a place of worship in comparison to 13% of those claiming other religious beliefs. (I don’t know what happened to the Catholics, they have vanished from this section!)
There are a big chunk of people claiming a belief but not doing much with it, around 60%, whether Christian or other faiths.
Influences on religious views
Current ‘religious status’
The question asked here seems odd to me: “What best describes your current religious status?” My answer would have been, “huh?”
Anyway, they have divided the responses into:
- Never been religious (24%)
- Not now religious (29%)
- Synthesizer (11%) [beliefs don’t fit any one religion]
- Adopter (4%) [Non-religious prior to choosing current religion]
- Converter (5%) [Switched from a different religion]
- Continuer (27%) [Committed to religion raised in]
The heading for this section is ‘Outgrowing Religion’, I guess meaning the not now religious, adopters and converters (38% of people surveyed) have all moved on from the beliefs they were raised with.
Resistant to change
Despite the results immediately above, 51% of Australians are not open at all to changing their religious worldview. You could probably add the 31% who are slightly open to that number, meaning 82% of Australians would be very difficult to convert. However, the many of the people who are not open at all to changing could well be Christians so it’s hard to make a solid conclusion.
What influences views of Christianity
The question was: Who or what has most influenced your perceptions & opinions of Christians & Christianity? (Respondents could select multiple options)
Parents and family have the most influence by far, 67% selected this option. Mass media and social media, networks and relationships, other, and books and articles all had around 20 to 25% responses.
The results of this question are hard to interpret. It stands to reason that for most people their parents will have an influence on their views of Christians, but it is quite possible that people also selected other options and these may have had a significant impact on their views.
Conversations about faith
Do you ever talk about spirituality or religion when you gather with friends? For a lot of people (47%) the answer was “no”. A further 46% ‘occasionally’ talk about religion with their friends. Overall, Australians don’t typically talk about religion or faith. I’d imagine the same applies to New Zealanders, it certainly does in my experience and generally when they do talk about religion it is not positive.
Attitude towards Christianity
The heading for this question is: “Significant ‘warmth’ towards Christianity”. The numbers don’t back this up. A small proportion of respondents (4%) were passionately opposed to Christianity, 37% have some or strong reservations, and 25% had a more positive view. The other 33% considered themselves Christian. So if those who are already Christians are excluded, the general viewpoint is pretty negative towards our faith.
The next page of the infographic is about aspects of Christianity that repel people from Christianity.
The top 10 issues are:
- Church abuse
- Judging others
- Religious views
- Hell & condemnation
It seems that the perception of Christians as being blinkered old fashioned hypocrites who like to judge people and think everyone except Christians are going to hell is pretty normal. We also have outdated views on homosexuality and sanction institutional sexual abuse by covering it up. And we wonder why nobody wants to join our happy club!
Beliefs about Jesus
Most non-Christians (69%) either think that Jesus did not really exist or that he was just an ordinary bloke. Though a surprising 35% do think he had divine powers and was actually the Son of God. So despite an overwhelmingly negative view of His followers, there is a significant proportion of people who respect Jesus.
Yet when it comes to miracle attributed to Jesus thing get murky. A healthy 53% accept that Jesus died on a cross, but only 31% think he rose from the dead. A skeptical 47% say, “no way” to that idea. The virgin birth yields similar numbers, 50% reckon that is bollocks. Walking on water is obviously even more preposterous, 53% ‘do not at all believe’ in this.
I’m not surprised by the statistics shown in this infographic, and I do think that they would closely reflect how Kiwi’s view religion, Christianity, Christians and Jesus. Rationally I know plenty of people who have strongly negative opinions about the church and Christians, but I am still bit gobsmacked at how strongly negative the perception of Christians is. We really have an appalling public image and while the popular media do play up stories about negative happenings in the church, all of those stories have some spark that started the fires.
Are all these people completely misinformed, or are we completely missing the mark in our ‘following Jesus’?