4 August 2021
I thought that Australia was one of the least religious countries in the world in terms of church attendance. When I was in Uruguay a tour guide claimed that his was the least religious country, and I said that Australia was. Looking at church attendance statistics we were both wrong.
Here are some figures from Pew Research in 2018: China 1%, Sweden 6%, Russia 7%, Norway 7%, UK 8%, Germany 10%, France 12%, Uruguay 14%, Spain 15%, Greece 16%, Australia 17%, Chile 19%, Canada 20%, Israel 30%, the US 36%, Bangladesh 58%, Indonesia 73% (From comparecamp.com)
Church attendance is declining everywhere in the developed world, but their influence here is rising due to their systematic entry into politics. Scott Morrison is fond of saying ‘God helps those that help themselves’ and seems to live by this, getting Pentecostals into Parliament and into Cabinet, (not to mention helping himself with sports rorts and car parks).
The religious agenda of subsidies to religious schools to the detriment of State schools, the huge subsidy by tax exemptions for Church-owned land and businesses, the continuation of religious education in supposedly secular schools to the exclusion of secular ethics classes, the exemptions to the Equal Opportunity laws that allow churches not to hire gays, the right to continue to smack children, and even demands to have special rights with the 2019 Religious Discrimination Bill which may have unintended consequences are examples enough.
The subsidies to religion through tax exemptions are principally a historic legacy of when secular law replaced church law. No government has been brave enough to repeal them and in the 1960s ‘State Aid for Church schools’ was a catch cry that allowed governments to win elections as the Church claimed that parents who went to Church schools were paying twice in school fees and in taxes. When I was in Parliament I asked the then Treasurer, Michael Egan, what the cost of the Church tax exemptions were and he replied that it would be too expensive to cost these so he was not going to answer the question!
Another little gem that turned up during the NSW Upper House inquiry into Social Housing (Report No 7/53 2006) was that the NSW government was building houses on Church land. I asked who would own the houses? The answer was that it was a ‘joint ownership’ in which the State owned them at first but over a decade the ownership transferred to the Church, so that in 10 years the Church fully owned them. From Day 1 the Church managed them. How were the tenants selected? Anyone who was on the Housing waiting list could apply. We visited one of the houses, a 3 bedroom one with a retired couple in it. ‘Please notice the garden, they are very proud of it ‘, we were told. The lady of the house was also very proud of her Royal Doulton tea set from which we drank. We asked how she got the house. She said, ‘We heard the Church was going to build some houses so we started going to Church and we were on the list so we got one’. The children and grandchildren come and stay occasionally.
I asked the Church facility manager if he ever had tenant problems. ‘Not often’ he said, ‘As we usually choose the tenants’. ‘But we had one tenant, a blind lady with a little girl, who had a boyfriend and they used to have huge fights and disturb the neighbours’. ‘She had to go’. He showed us a round hole in the plaster where the boyfriend had opened a door roughly and the door handle had punched through. The house was vacant. Blind single Mums with boyfriend troubles get the boot.
This level of detail is not in the final report. No doubt the Church managed properties have fewer tenant problems than the government managed ones, as this why the Housing Dept with limited stock ends up with ghettos of social problems.
The assumptions are that the Church is basically a charity, which does work that no one else would do, and that its right to prosthetise is tolerated as the majority agree with its teachings. We have not reached the stage of the USA where school boards try to stop science teachers teaching evolution, but the religious influence is strong in education. I recall happily singing, ‘All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all’ and several similar verses to follow. It was many years later before I wondered if it was good that this was how it was.
The Church has tried actively in Australia to get people to fill in the census form by how they were brought up, which naturally creates a massive lag in the statistics. I find the church attendance figures above hard to believe and wonder if new migrants of non-Christian faith have swelled the number of church goers. In our area the Presbyterian Church, with a congregation of 2 or 3 closed and was sold a couple of decades ago.
The Christian Churches’ prestige has declined massively all over the developed world, with the paedophile scandals, and now most recently with the scandals at the Vatican Bank, which were alluded to in David Yallop’s 1983 book ‘In God’s Name’ which alleges that Pope John Paul 1 was murdered at least in part because he tried to reform the Vatican Bank.
So it is important that those who do not believe write ‘No Religion’ on the Census form, which is to be filled out for the night of Tuesday 10 August. We need to demonstrate how many non-believers there are, and to work towards the secular state that is supposedly guaranteed in the Constitution.