A recent survey, reported in the Sydney Morning Herald and summarised here, provides the latest information on the beliefs of Aussies. And the results are a possibly a little different to what most of us would expect:
- 68% believe in God, 24% believe there is no God, and 6% are not sure.
- 50% of the population call themselves christian (although other surveys such as NCLS show only 10-20% attend church regularly), with 6% following other major religions (including 2% Muslims) and 5% having a belief in a "universal spirit or life force". 6% said they were Jedi, which is fun, but perhaps should be interpreted as 'agnostic' in reality.
- Curiously, more people appear to believe in Jesus than believe in God - 94% say he was a historical figure, 91% that he was the son of God (how does that work?), 85% that he rose from the dead and 72% that his mother was a virgin at his birth.
- But the christians and the rest are not as dogmatic as one might expect - only a third of Aussies believe any of the holy books is "the word of God", only a quarter believe any holy book is literally true and only a fifth believe there is only one true interpretation of their religion. Nevertheless, "almost nine out of 10 Australian Christians were absolutely or fairly certain of their beliefs".
- Belief in various christian doctrines was variable - over half of Aussies believe in heaven and life after death; more than a third believe in hell and the devil; almost two thirds believe in miracles, half believe in angels, more than a fifth believe in witches.
- But belief in the non-christian "para-normal" is also high - a third believe in UFOs, 4 in 10 believe in astrology and almost half believe in psychic powers.
- 42% of Aussies believe in evolution without God, 32% believe in God-guided evolution and 23% believe God directly created life within the last 10,000 years.
- Women believe in God, and almost everything else, more than men do.
What can we conclude? There are more strong disbelievers than there used to be, but belief in God and in religion seems as strong as ever, though more diverse. There seem to be fewer agnostics than I would have expected, and it seems we have polarised a little into the belief and non-belief groups. But Aussies seem to have become more individualistic in their faith, and perhaps prefer to choose their own "mix and match" beliefs rather than be told what they should believe, whether by religious leaders or scientific atheists.
And surely there is a lesson for the churches: emphasise Jesus more and adherence to rules less.