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Is Religion Dead in Australia?

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Is Religion Dead in Australia?

A rapidly growing number of the continent’s citizens claim they have “no religion.” Sociologists, theologians and the nation itself are struggling to grasp what this means.

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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“Can God survive in Australia?” A bestselling book in the 1980s used this question for its title, but the query still sparks heated debate today.

The book’s author, Bruce Wilson, defined the titular question: “It means: can God survive in the hearts and minds of Australians living in a technological, industrial society? Or, more to the point: can Australians now get along all right without God, or do they just think they can?”

Australia in the 80s was no longer heavily influenced by the Church of England (glibly referred to as the “C of E”). Instead, it had moved steadily toward secular modernism. The author noted that religion was increasingly extraneous in politics, society and individual lives, stating that God had become “as irrelevant as ice-chests in a world that has invented the refrigerator.”

The 1981 census reported that 10.8 percent of citizens responded they had “no religion”—a number that had been just 0.8 percent in 1966. At the time, 76.4 percent of Australians identified themselves as Christian.

Nearly 30 years later, the “no religion” camp continues to grow, with 22.3 percent choosing the category in 2011. Christian belief is now claimed by only 61.1 percent.

Herald Sun reported: “In the past 100 years, the number of Australians reporting on the national census that they have ‘no religion’ has jumped from one in 250 in 1911 to more than one in five in 2011.”

Read that again. More than one in five Australians claim no religion, which amounts to 4.9 million, or 22 percent of the entire population. By comparison, 25 percent are Catholic and 17 percent are Anglican. A further 8.6 percent of census respondents declined to answer the religion question. Other non-Christian religions, such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, saw increases.

In 2012, a WIN-Gallup International poll asked the question, “Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person or a convinced atheist?”

Just 37 percent of Australian respondents said they were religious, 48 percent said not religious, 10 percent were convinced atheists, and 5 percent fell under the category “don’t know/no response.”

Given the decades-long trend, many interpret the data by declaring that religion is on its deathbed, with the vast majority of traditional Christianity merely running on fumes.

Has Australia really lost its religion—or is there something deeper going on?

Not So Easy

The popular quote, “Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable,” certainly fits when attempting to determine what the “no religion” contingent means for the nation. The biggest problem is the lack of a clear definition of what religion is—it is up to the individual to decide what the term means.

Because of this, the data can be viewed in many different ways.

Atheist groups generally consider the 22 percent a win. The Atheist Foundation of Australia funded an advertising campaign leading up to the latest census. Their ads stated: “Census 2011: Not religious now? Mark ‘No religion’ and take religion out of politics.”

So was the 22 percent all atheists? Or was the increase also due to people genuinely feeling religion should be left out of politics? Remember that Gallup International found that only 10 percent of the nation was convinced there was no God.

Similarly, it is doubtful that everyone who said they were Anglican or Catholic are actively involved.

In addition, “religion” is often seen as a dirty word in Australia. Many look at the history of what has been done by those in religious organizations—wars, genocide, child abuse, oppression—and do not want to be a part of any of them. Coming off this, some Aussies identify themselves as spiritual but not religious.

Having watched the situation grow and change over the years, Bruce Wilson amended his outlook for the nation in 1996, as a Sydney Morning Herald piece detailed: “Back then, in 1983, he argued that on the back of technology and economic growth people believed they could manage and deal with life without God. Although this clearly remains true for many people, Wilson now argues that behind this public secularism there has developed a ‘private spirituality.’

“‘In an internal sense people are very spiritual,’ he says. ‘It does not necessarily mean they believe in God in the way that traditional Christianity expresses that belief. What people are saying is, “I do not belong to any institutional form of religion.” They are not saying they are not spiritual.’”

Other theologians continue to agree with Mr. Wilson today.

So who is right? It seems that everyone is partly correct: atheism is growing, but so is “private spirituality.” Other groups, such as Islam or evangelical mega-churches, are also gaining ground. Catholicism is still holding strong with 25.3 percent of the nation and, despite losses, the Anglican church still has 17.1 percent of Aussies.

While hard and fast conclusions cannot be drawn from the statistics alone, one thing is certain: a seismic shift is occurring with religious belief in Australia. This dramatic change reveals a search for national identity—one that offers a clear path to a hopeful future.

Until now, everything Australians have tried, religiously speaking, has not worked. Widespread attachment to traditional Christianity has not brought true prosperity and contentment. Wholesale secularism has also failed to deliver.

Clearly the nation is looking for something else. For now, it is taking the shape of a distinctly “multi-faith” society.

Historical Pattern

To understand religion in the nation, one must examine its history. For those in Europe, or even the United States, it is easy to forget that Australia only achieved independence from the British Empire in 1901. Compared to other Western nations, it is relatively young and still finding its footing.

In his book Australian Soul: Religion and Spirituality in the 21st Century, author and sociologist Gary Bouma examined the nation’s history to identify the motivation for its ongoing religious shift.

He described Australian society as “post-empire, post-colonial, post-modern, post-ecumenical, post-secular and post-family. As a result of this unique social structure and culture Australians experience religion and express spirituality in distinct ways.”

Yet as the nation moves forward, its past has left indelible marks—especially its time as a penal colony under the British crown.

A series of quotes from Mr. Bouma frames the situation: “While Americans seem to have an immediate sense of the presence of God, for Australians, God is more distant—I suppose, at least as far away as London is from Sydney. The centre of imperial authority was a long way away and only partially effective in exercising control, providing the necessities of life and observing the behaviour of convict and colonist alike.”

In other words, being ruled by a king half a world away colored Australia’s view of God.

Mr. Bouma noted that Australians often see God as “distant, able to be got around and, while useful for desperate last-minute appeals, not quite relevant to daily life.” He also has seen that there is a “low-expectation relationship” with God that is “characteristic of Australia’s religious and spiritual life.”

The book further described the historical backdrop that has built the country’s national character: “Since World War II Australia has had to confront its abandonment by Britain. Moves towards a republic are only a symptom of a late dawning of awareness of this abandonment. Do Australians feel abandoned by God? Are Australians seeking to become independent of God? Or are Australians seeking replacements? Australia has courted involvement with the USA…But can Australia count on the USA to come to its aid? Uncertainty continues to characterise our global situation.

“With abandonment can come maturity and self-reliance. We are on our own in the Asia Pacific. Our location in the world is not secure, our ties no longer bind and we are adrift, alone on the globe. What is worse, we are responsible for ourselves. Some would just love to pin the Stolen Generation [a time between 1909 and 1969 when the Australian government and church groups forcibly removed children from Aboriginal tribes] on the British. But it cannot be done. We did it. Would not it be wonderful if…xenophobia and political movements promoting harsh treatment of refugees were US imports? But they are not. They too flow from a dark corner of the soul of Australia…”

Despite decades of independence, the “post-empire, post-colonial, post-modern, post-ecumenical, post-secular and post-family” Australia is still twisting in the wind—desperately wanting to have two feet firmly planted on the ground.

Deeper Connection

The nation’s identity crisis has a specific reason, and it again relates to its history. Australia’s historical ties to Britain and the U.S. seem rather simple: these nations come from Anglo-Saxon heritage. Yet their ties are much older and run much deeper. One clue lies in Christianity being the dominant religion in all three countries.

Consider: why do all of these nations have an attachment to the Bible? The King James Version traveled far and wide on British ships and was prevalent in the empire’s colonies. The U.S. prints “In God We Trust” on its money. And Australia’s constitution begins by stating that the nation was formed while “humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God.”

Regular readers of The Real Truth already know the biblical identities of the U.S. and British Commonwealth nations, which includes Australia. They are the Israelitish tribes of Ephraim (the UK and related territories) and Manasseh (America). David C. Pack’s America and Britain in Prophecy provides detailed proof of this. Using the Bible and historical accounts, this book reveals the true origins of these brother nations and shows beyond a doubt that they are part of what are commonly referred to as the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.

One proof of Australia’s ties to the Israelitish tribe of Ephraim lies in its vital sea ports.

The Bible shows that the patriarch Abraham was one of the forefathers of the Israelite peoples, and the great-great grandfather of Ephraim and Manasseh. He was given a promise from God for his obedience: “That in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and your seed shall possess the gate [sea gates] of his enemies; and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed My voice” (Gen. 22:17-18).

This passage talks of national blessings, but these were withheld until the British Empire and America suddenly emerged on the world scene starting in the 1800s. After that time, these two great powers began to take control of every major sea gate: the Suez and Panama canals, the straits of Gibraltar and Hormuz, Singapore, Cape Horn, Malta, Cape of Good Hope, Hong Kong, etc.

Australia could never have survived without these vital trade routes.

Further details of these blessings arise when God passed the promise to Abraham’s grandson Jacob (who was later renamed Israel): “I am God Almighty…a nation and a company of nations shall be of you…” (Gen. 35:11).

Later, Jacob passed on the birthright blessings directly to his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh and said: “He [Manasseh] also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother [Ephraim] shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations” (48:19).

Undoubtedly, America has been the single most powerful nation of all time and the British Commonwealth countries were part of the greatest empire—multitude of nations—in all of history!

Yet the Bible says even more about the locations of Britain and Australia, namely that they will live on island nations. Psalm 89 states: “I will set his [the people of Israel’s] hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers” (vs. 25).

Isaiah adds to this: “Listen, O isles, unto Me; and hearken, you people, from far…” (49:1). Verse 3 shows whom God is addressing: “And said unto me, You are My servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”

Ephraimites often live on islands! Those in Britain and New Zealand certainly do. While Australia is technically a continent, it could also be seen as a massive island.

Verse 12 shows where Ephraim would reside relative to Jerusalem: “Behold, these shall come from far: and, lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim.”

Look at a map. Northwest from Jerusalem are the British Isles! In addition, the “land of Sinim” is generally understood to be Australia.

These are just a few places where commonwealth nations are described in the Bible. There are countless more.

Yet, with such a rich and important history, how could Ephraim and Manasseh forget who they are? After witnessing an almighty God freeing them from ancient Egypt and powerfully taking them into the Promised Land, how could Australia reduce Him to a faraway Being that is little more than a fuzzy idea?

The answer is found in Deuteronomy 4. Moses addressed the tribes of ancient Israel: “Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers gives you” (vs. 1).

Verses 5 and 6 show the national benefits of living God’s Way: “Behold, I [Moses] have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me…Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”

The passage continues showing what others would think of an obedient Israel: “For what nation is there so great, who has God so nigh [near] unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon Him for?” (vs. 7).

Obedience to God’s commands meant He would remain near unto the nation!

Yet Moses also issued a warning: “Only take heed to yourself, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life: but teach them your sons, and your sons’ sons” (vs. 9).

Clearly Israel did not listen or teach these things to their offspring. In turn, they forgot and were all but lost to history.

Social Sickness

God sees the pitiful condition of His forgetful people and cries out to them today through the pages of the Bible: “The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel does not know, My people does not consider” (Isa. 1:3).

The modern nations descended from ancient Israel smugly see nothing wrong with the way they are living. Despite countless problems, they refuse to consider their ways.

Continuing, the Creator states: “Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Why should you be stricken anymore? You will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint” (vs. 4-5).

God sees Aussies struggling with various social ills. Toward the top of the list are alcoholism and fornication, most often in the form of casual sex. The International Business Times Australia reported one of the results of heavy drinking: “A study published in Lancet medical journal found that 16 per cent of women, over the age of fifteen, from Australia and New Zealand experienced sexual violence from strangers. In fact, Australia and New Zealand had been found to have the highest rates of reported sexual violence compared to 56 countries in the world. In Australia alone, one in six women has been victims of random sexual violence.”

The title of the article says it all: “16% of OZ and Kiwi Women Raped by Random Strangers, Study Finds.” This is double the global average.

Then there is Australia’s favorite vice, gambling. Statistics from the Australian government reveal the extent of this problem:

  • “Australians spent more than $19 billion on gambling in 2008-09; around $12 billion of which was spent playing the pokies [slot machines].”
  • “The actions of one problem gambler negatively impacts the lives of between five and 10 others. This means there are up to five million Australians who could be affected by problem gambling each year, including friends, family and employers of people with a gambling problem.”
  • “Problem gamblers lose around $21,000 each year. That’s one third of the average Australian salary.”
  • “Problem gamblers are six times more likely to be divorced than non problem gamblers…”
  • “Problem gamblers are four times more likely to have problems with alcohol and four times as likely to smoke daily than non problem gamblers…”
  • “Children with parents who are problem gamblers are up to 10 times more likely to become problem gamblers themselves than children with non gambling parents…”
  • “Only around 15 per cent of problem gamblers seek help.”

But blatant immorality and vice are not the only things forcing God to remain at a distance from Australia.

While the Bible strongly condemns manmade religious practices, this is exactly what the overwhelming majority have done—individuals and organizations alike. They appear religious (or spiritual), but it is in vain.

God addresses this in Isaiah 1: “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? Says the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats” (vs. 11).

While there is not widespread sacrificing of animals in Australia, this verse uses poetic language to make its point. The Creator is “full of”—sick of—manmade religious ceremonies: “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity…Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates: they are a trouble unto Me; I am weary to bear them” (vs. 13-14).

Instead of keeping the Holy Days ordained by God, many ascribe to pagan-based holidays. The same applies to religious practices and beliefs. Request God’s Holy Days or Pagan Holidays? to learn more.

Even though it may seem implausible, take God at His word. He says that the vast majority of religious actions in Australia are done in vain. Why? Because they were created by the ideas of men (“your new moons” and “your appointed feasts”) rather than what the Bible actually commands.

God explains the result of this: “And when you spread forth your hands, I will hide My eyes from you: yes, when you make many prayers, I will not hear…” (vs. 15).

Isaiah 59 reiterates this point: “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear” (vs. 2).

Australia Must Remember!

A loving God will not allow a nation to wallow in this state. He longs to restore a close relationship with His people. The first step to making this happen is to show the modern nations of Israel their wretched condition—and He pulls no punches.

Isaiah 28 describes the British people, including Australia: “Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!” (vs. 1).

Think of how often citizens of Israelitish nations—recipients of God’s awesome blessings—brag about their drunken escapades!

Hosea also describes the modern descendants of ancient Israel: “Hear the word of the Lord, you children of Israel: for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood touches blood” (4:1-2).

With each passing generation, these nations have drifted further from God’s Way. Verse 6 continues: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you…seeing you have forgotten the law of your God…”

Without national repentance, Australia and its brother nations are on a track for national punishment.

Ezekiel 5 details what this chastisement will entail, and how it will be on such a scale that it will become global news: “So it [the punishment] shall be a reproach and a taunt, an instruction and an astonishment unto the nations that are round about you…” (vs. 15).

Yet the Creator will not utterly destroy His people, He simply intends them to learn the error of their ways. As a loving God, He not only warns and offers a way of escape now, but also during the coming time of trouble (Jer. 30:7).

Jeremiah 31 states: “And there is hope in your end, says the Lord …” (vs. 17).

The account continues: “I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; You have chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn You me, and I shall be turned; for You are the Lord my God.

“Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed…I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth” (vs. 18-19).

In verse 20, God calls repentant Ephraim his “dear son” and promises to “have mercy upon him.”

This type of deep repentance can happen on an individual level now! Any modern Ephraimite can change his ways.

But there is a soon-coming time when God will hide Himself from modern Israelitish nations so that they learn lessons. They will go “to seek the Lord; but they shall not find Him” because “He has withdrawn himself from them” (Hos. 5:6).

All in Australia must consider their ways and take to heart the words of Isaiah 55: “Seek you the Lord while He may be found, call you upon Him while He is near” (vs. 6). 

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