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  • Writer's pictureDean Dwyer

Faith and the Australian census

The results of last year’s census have been released, and the religion component has received a lot of attention. The mainstream media is saying that Christianity is basically finished in this country, believing this to be the greatest thing since Madalyn Murray O'Hair – a radical American activist who vigorously supported atheism and the separation of church and state – became influential in her country. However, true Bible-believing Christians actually see this as good news, despite the media's predictably-stupid gloating. More on that in a moment. First, let's examine a few details.

One news report notes how demographic changes are to some extent influencing religion in Australia. “The number of Australians who are not religious has increased further but Christianity remains the most reported religion, followed by Islam. The question of religion always attracts significant interest. In 2021 the number of people reporting no religious affiliation continued to grow and is now nearly forty percent of responses. This is an increase of eight percentage points since 2016. However, Christianity is still the most dominant religion, with over forty percent of responses to this question nominating as Christians or providing a Christian denomination as their answer in spite of a decrease by eight percentage points since 2016. Nearly half of those persons who reported a Christian religious affiliation were Catholics. The Census has seen a growth of over fifty percent of people who acknowledge their Hindu faith, in line with migration from India. Around 2.7 percent of Australia's population are Hindus, but Islam is our second largest religion at 3.2 percent.”

A few things need to be highlighted here. First, the religious question was not mandatory, although it was the only optional question on the census. Many folks therefore may not have bothered with it, while those with a vested interest – mainly atheists hoping to skew the results – would have been quite eager to answer it. In fact, atheist groups were actively pushing a 'no religion' campaign prior to the census so we have to take the results with a grain of salt. Second, to say that you have no religion does NOT make you a card-carrying atheist. Most people are religious or spiritual to some extent: they could be into the New Age Movement or any number of 'spiritualities'. Third, for quite a long time now the West has consisted mainly of cultural Christianity. People may have identified with the Christian religion without necessarily being devout, practising Christians. In other words, they were not born-again, Spirit-filled, redeemed sinners saved by grace.

A hundred years ago almost everyone in Australia identified as Christian. They accepted the Christian worldview that there IS a God, Jesus is God’s Son and He came to earth to die for our sins. Answering a question on religion was pretty straightforward: “Of course I am a Christian.” But simply identifying with the predominant religion of your country does not make you an actual Christian, at least in the Biblical sense. That is an entirely different matter, and in that sense true Christians have always been a minority – a remnant. They know that not everyone who identifies as Christian really is one.

That has always been the case throughout the Bible and throughout church history. There is the visible church (where anyone born in a Christian country or who turns up at church twice a year can claim to be a Christian) and there is the invisible Church made up of those who truly belong to God. This may be a good thing. Many genuine Christians have been praying for years that God would begin a weeding-out process: a separation of the wheat from the tares: of the sheep from the goats. Perhaps we now see this happening. As the darkness increases over the West, as secularisation rises and evil appears to be everywhere, only true Christians need apply. The fakes, phonies and nominal believers will be of no use here. It is the remnant that go into the world, preach the gospel and bring glory to God, so the census results could be a real answer to prayer.

While the God-haters are throwing parties for the supposed death of Christianity, we have news for them. When Christianity goes, so does all the good aspects of its culture. At the same time that we see Christianity in decline, we also see social problems increasing. Social science researchers have long known that there is a real and very distinct correlation between the spiritual health of a people and various social aspects. A strong religious country – particularly a strong Christian country – will on the whole have fewer, and less severe, social problems. Problems like crime, drug use, gang violence, suicide, family breakdown etc. all tend to be exacerbated when Christianity is in decline. That is not to say they don't occur, but the research indicates that they occur less and in less-harmful forms.

A decline in Christianity is a mixed bag. It is bad news for all of society given the tremendous social benefits that Christianity brings to a culture, but it is good news to the true follower of Christ who is happy to see a weeding out of nominal and worldly Christians and to see the godly remnant gaining ground. We are not witnessing the end of Christianity: it will be here until Christ returns. Persecution will increase and believers may be driven underground, but Christianity will never fully falter nor fail. As Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 – “On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

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