Were you born into a religion but are no longer religious?

Many people in Australia are born into religion but no longer practice or hold the same beliefs.

On the 2016 census, to be held on the 9th August, the opportunity to choose ‘No religion’ is now at the top of the list, giving people the chance to consider their answer first.

Accurate census data helps policy makers & political leaders make all sorts of planning and funding decisions. So if you’re not religious any more, mark the ‘No religion’ box on the 2016 Census.

The Census is an important chance to make sure your interests are met and that views you don't hold are not over-represented in the coming years.


The Census results are used for funding and decision making purposes.
Ensure you are represented, mark 'No religion'.


Why mark 'No religion'?


How you answer this question in the Census will influence decisions by Australian governments.

Often the transfer of your tax dollars to religious organisations is justified on the basis of the Census results. Also special concessions and exemptions are given including the right to discriminate against some groups.

Australia is following in the footsteps of New Zealand and England & Wales, where after an awareness campaign, the marking of ‘No religion’ has increased to nearly 50% of the population in the last 5 years.

But without the accurate data, we can't know the truth. We are encouraging all Australians to reflect and respond to the question on the Census with consideration and honesty.


How should I answer?

What happens if I write Jedi Knight/Pastafarian?

It gets counted as 'Not defined' and is not placed in the 'No religion' category. This reduces the 'No religion' numbers and therefore advantages the religion count. While it may be funny, it is a serious mistake to answer in this way.

What happens if I write atheism or humanism?

According to the ABS Census Dictionary, 2011 agnosticism, atheism, humanism and rationalism are recorded as sub-categories of 'No religion'. You might as well mark the box provided: 'No religion'.

I've heard if I don't say I'm Christian, it will mean mosques get built in my neighbourhood!?

Did you hear something like the following?

AUSTRALIA WILL BE HOLDING A CENSUS IN AUGUST.
DO NOT LEAVE THE 'RELIGION' SECTION BLANK. BE SURE TO AT LEAST TICK CHRISTIAN (OR YOUR UPBRINGING FAITH).

1,000,000 MUSLIMS WILL TICK THEIR BOX.
10,000,000 AUSTRALIANS WILL LEAVE IT BLANK THEN WONDER WHY A MOSQUE IS BUILT IN THEIR NEIGHBOURHOOD!!!

PASS THIS ON TO ALL YOUR FRIENDS


This is a fear campaign using false information.

The 2011 Census indicated that 475,562 people said that their religion was Islam – only about 2.2% of the entire population, and nearly 30% of those are children (0-14 years of age).

10 million people – roughly half of all Australians – don't leave the religion question blank.

Identifying as Christian won't stop mosques from being built in your neighbourhood, any more than it will suddenly lead to new churches erupting from the ground.

It does not matter what name someone gives to their god, or whether the building on the corner is a mosque or church, or a football club. We have secular laws that should represent all Australians regardless of their belief or disbelief as defined by Section 116 of the Constitution*.

The government has never built temples, churches, or mosques. We live in a free secular society which tolerates personal faiths. But most importantly, if people are truly terrified of religions taking over the country, they should support any efforts to keep church and state separate.

By marking the Census correctly you are better represented in decision-making and funding decisions. In fact, it can be argued that a secular society better reflects what is fair for all Australians so that we can all live together, regardless of faith or lack of it.

* Section 116 says: The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

How should I answer for children?

No religion

Generally an adult fills in the questionnaire and may mark young and adolescent children as having a religious belief without their input. The largest percentage of people who hold no religious view are in the adolescent to young adult range, which may be as high as 50%.

Many children have not decided which set of religious beliefs they will accept as true, or they haven't thought through the ramifications of those beliefs. We therefore believe it is unfair and inaccurate to label these children as belonging to a religion.

However, if you are certain the child in question truly believes the tenets of a religion, please select the appropriate option.

Richard Dawkins and other prominent authors have pointed out that no one should consider children Muslims, Hindus, or Christians. Children often parrot the beliefs of their parents, teachers, and culture without fully understanding the complex concepts involved.

At June 2014, there were 4.4 million children under 15 years of age in Australia. That is 19% of the population who should be marked as having 'No religion'. When they are adults, they should be encouraged to make an informed decision as to how they identify themselves in matters of faith.

If I mark 'No religion' on the census, does this mean I'm an atheist?

‘No religion’ does not mean you are an atheist.

It simply means you don’t currently practice a religion and have no inclination to do so.

You may never openly or even privately identify as an atheist, a skeptic, a humanist, a rationalist - or whatever label there is out there that makes you uncomfortable. This is about no label for you - and no religion either.

You always have the option of writing additional information for this question, but ultimately, it's your personal choice as to what you identify as, and you should be truthful on the census form.

Why does it matter?

What is the data on religion used for?

Data on religious affiliation is used for a number of purposes, such as planning educational facilities, aged care and other social services provided by religion-based organisations; the location of church buildings; the assigning of chaplains to hospitals, prisons, armed services and universities; the allocation of time on public radio and other media; and sociological research.

What kind of issues might this lead to?

Exaggerations and inaccuracies in the Census data may lead to groups wielding disproportionate influence within government. By means of these inflated figures, politicians may formulate or disallow laws and policies based on religious precepts.

The Atheist Foundation of Australia believes laws and government policies should benefit all members of society, not just those who adhere to a particular religious faith – even when that religion holds a majority position. As such, all government decisions should be based on empirical evidence rather than religious beliefs.

Can you give a more concrete example?

Due to the wording in the preamble to the Statute of Elizabeth in 1601, all religions and religious works are classed as charities. We are following ideas formed in medieval times when everyone was a Christian, rather than modern, secular, and inclusive principles.

It is estimated that some $30 billion annually remains untaxed due to exemptions enjoyed by religious organisations. While many religious groups perform helpful and much-needed charity work, a lack of transparency and accountability makes it impossible to determine exactly how much is spent on genuine charitable activities, and how much is devoted to commercial profit making enterprises or devoted to religious activities. There is no reason why non-believers should be required to subsidise religious activities via tax exemptions.

 

What's new in the census?

How has the religion question changed?

For the first time since the 'No religion' option was introduced in 1991, the Australian Bureau of Statistics will place it first on a list of answers to the question What is the person's religion? and move the 'Catholic' option into second position.

Why has it changed?

Between November 2012 and May 2013 the Australian Bureau of Statistics accepted submissions for changes to the content of, or procedures for, the 2016 Census. The Atheist Foundation of Australia made a submission and ran a campaign urging other secular organisations and individuals to do the same.

50% of the 870 submissions received by the ABS regarding the content of the 2016 Census recommended changes to the religious affiliation question, due to a perception of bias in the question format and consequent potential underestimates of the number of people who stated they had no religion (see Overview of Submissions on the ABS website).

After user consultation and testing, the ABS decided to move the 'No religion' response category to be the first response category in the question, so it will be more consistent with other questions and the order of their response categories. This approach is consistent with that of a number of other countries.


How does the census work?

What is the Census?

Every five years the Australian Government conducts a nationwide survey (a census) of everyone in the country at the time, except foreign diplomats and their families.

Who uses Census Information?

The Census gathers vital information on a wide range of topics which state and federal governments, business, and individuals use to inform policy, funding, and other decisions.

For example, basic services such as housing, social security, transport, education, industry, shops and hospitals use Census information. Also, State funding (including GST revenue) is based on census figures, as are the number of seats each state and territory has in the House of Representatives.

When is the next Census?

The next Australian Census will be on the 9th August 2016.

Is the Census compulsory?

Ultimately, yes.

The Census and Statistics Act provides for the compulsory completion of the form. If an individual doesn't answer the questions on the Census form, the Australian Statistician has the authority to direct them to do so. There are penalties for people failing to complete the Census or returning the form when directed to do so. However, the question on religion is optional.

Is the information confidential?

The Census collects information on each person and household in the country to provide information about the community as a whole. Any personal information provided remains confidential to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). No information can be released that would enable users of Census data to identify any particular individual or household.

The Privacy, Confidentiality and Security and Census Privacy Policy pages on the ABS website provide more detailed information.

Does the Census ask for my religious beliefs?

Yes.

Question 19 asks “What is the person's religion?” and applies to each individual in the household at the time of the Census.

Do I have to answer which religion I adhere to?

No.

Answering which religion you belong to is an optional question. However, we believe that supplying the government with full and accurate information ensures that policy and funding decisions are based on accurate data about Australian residents.

What are the possible answers?

Responses to the religion question are coded to the Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups. In the classification, religions are grouped based on similarities in religious beliefs and practices, and the cultural heritage of adherents.

The number of adherents of a particular religious group is a significant factor in developing the classification structure. Thus, Christian denominations are extensively identified.

How did people respond in the 2011 Census?

The 2011 Census showed that more Australians than ever are identifying as having no religious affiliation.

Christianity remained the most commonly reported religion in Australia with 61.1% of the population reporting affiliation with a Christian religion - a decline from 63.9 per cent in 2006.

There was an increase in the number of people not reporting a Christian faith, from 36.1% of the population in 2006 to 38.9% in 2011.

The number of people reporting 'No religion' rose significantly, from 18.7% of the population in 2006 to 22.3% in 2011. As a single response to the question on religion, only Catholic was higher at 25% of the population, with Anglican third highest at 17%. 'No religion' was the response that showed the largest growth in number, from 3,706,553 persons in 2006 to 4,796,787 people in 2011 – an increase of 29.4%.

The most common non-Christian religions in 2011 were Buddhism (accounting for 2.5% of the population), Islam (2.2%) and Hinduism (1.3%). Of these, Hinduism had experienced the fastest growth since 2006, increasing from 147,841 to 275,521, followed by Islam from 339,879 to 475,562 and Buddhism from 417,944 to 528,621.

The article LOSING MY RELIGION on the ABS website gives a great deal of detail on the decline in religious affiliation in Australia.

What causes inaccuracy in the Census figures?

The religion question on the Census form is what is known as a 'leading question'. That is, it is formulated is such a way as to elicit a desired answer.

The question reads, "What is the person's religion?"

Firstly, the phrasing of the question suggests the person has a religious belief. The Atheist Foundation of Australia believes this is a false assumption.

Secondly, the response options presented allows the person to specify their religion of baptism, or the religion they were introduced to as a child, even though the individual may not hold any religious beliefs anymore.

During its review for the 2016 census, the Australian Bureau of Statistics received many submissions recommending changes to the religious affiliation question, due to perceived bias in the question format. After user consultation and testing, they decided to move the 'No religion' response to be the first response to the question, rather than the last.

Am I a Christian?

Does attending church make me Christian?

Not necessarily.

According to research, there are many people who attend church and other religious activities for the social aspects of such gatherings, and do not actually accept the tenets of the faith. The philosopher Daniel Dennett has conducted a study of ministers and pastors who have lost their faith, yet continue preaching because they do not know what else to do.

Conversely, there may be people who accept the tenets of a faith without ever attending a religious service.

Again, the Atheist Foundation of Australia believes the question should be answered as accurately as possible to truly reflect the belief of Australians.

I was baptised, does that make me a Christian?

No.

The Atheist Foundation of Australia believes only those who accept the basic tenets of the faith should consider themselves Christian. These are outlined by the Nicene Creed

What if I identify with “Christian Values”?

Values such as “love thy neighbour”, “do not commit murder”, and “thou shall not steal” are shared by many religions, cultures, and societies throughout history. As such, many values labelled “Christian” are shared by people of all faiths, including those who have no faith at all.

It is no surprise that every culture discovered treating people as they wish to be treated led to civilised and pleasant living conditions.

Believing Jesus rose from the dead or was born of a virgin does not give the faithful a monopoly on morality. One can be perfectly moral without a supernatural spy camera watching.

What makes someone Christian?

There is a wide variety of Christian faiths and denominations, and the particular beliefs of one group are not necessarily shared by another. This can make it difficult to actually determine what makes someone a Christian. However, almost all Christian faiths and denominations share the basic tenets of the Nicene Creed.

What is the Nicene Creed?

In 325 AD the first ecumenical council met in the city of Nicaea in an attempt to settle the differences between the competing Christian faiths and arrive at an agreed consensus. The final agreement included the Nicene Creed and other details, such as when to celebrate Easter (the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox).

The creed is now adopted by Anglican, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic as well as Eastern and Oriental Orthodox liturgies among others.

What does the Nicene Creed say?

In brief, the Nicene Creed says:

  • We believe in one God.
  • We believe God made everything.
  • We believe a virgin gave birth.
  • We believe Jesus suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried.
  • We believe Jesus rose from the dead after three days.
  • We believe Jesus ascended into Heaven where he sits at the right hand of God.
  • We believe Jesus will physically return to judge the living and the dead.
  • We believe in one Church.
  • We believe in baptism.
  • We believe in the forgiveness of “sins”.
  • We believe in the resurrection of the dead.
  • We believe in everlasting judgement and everlasting life.
What does the Nicene Creed actually say?

There are numerous versions of the Nicene Creed as it has been revised a number of times since the original in 325CE. The following is used in all RC Churches as of November 2011:

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Do Christians believe that?

Yes, most do.

Should I answer “Christian” if I don't accept the Nicene Creed?

The position of the Atheist Foundation of Australia is that no one should consider themselves Christian if they do not accept the basic tenets of the Nicene Creed – or at the very least, they should reflect upon whether there are good enough reasons as to why they consider themselves Christian.

So I should be honest?

No one has ever gone to hell for being honest.


Are Australians losing their religion?

How has the number of people reporting no religion changed over time?

The number of people reporting no religion in Australia has increased substantially over the past hundred years, from one in 250 people to one in five. In 1911 there were 10,000 people (0.4%) who chose the option 'No religion' on their Census form; in 2011 there were just under 4.8 million (22% of Australians). As a single response to the question on religion, only Catholic was higher at 25% of the population, with Anglican third highest at 17%.

PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE REPORTING NO RELIGION, 1911-2011


Although numbers of people reporting no religion were relatively low in the first half of the century, the specific instruction 'if no religion, write none' included in the 1971 Census saw an increase in this response from 0.8% in the previous Census to 6.7%.5 From this time, reporting no religion has increased at an average of 3.9 percentage points per decade, with the sharpest increase (6.8 percentage points) between 2001 and 2011.

PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE REPORTING NO RELIGION, 1971 - 2011


Most people who reported no religion selected the 'No religion' box on the Census form (98%), however some provided additional information about their views, including the belief that a god or gods do not exist (Atheism), or cannot be proven to exist (Agnosticism). Other responses included Humanism, which rejects religious beliefs and centres on humans and their values, capacities, and worth; and Rationalism, which states that opinions and actions should be based on reason and knowledge rather than on religious belief or an emotional response.

PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE REPORTING NO RELIGION IN THE 2011 CENSUS, BY TYPE OF VIEW HELD

View held
Number
Percentage
Atheist
58,899
1.2
Agnostic
34,632
0.7
Humanist
7,663
0.2
Rationalist
2,435
0.1
No religion, not further defined
4,693,162
97.8
Total
4,796,791
100.0

Leading up to the 2011 Census, there was a campaign by the Atheist Foundation of Australia which encouraged people to report 'No Religion' on their Census form (a campaign that was also carried out in New Zealand and the United Kingdom). The number of people who reported being an Atheist almost doubled between 2006 and 2011, from 31,300 to 58,900 people.

Source: The Australian Bureau of Statistics article LOSING MY RELIGION?

Which religions are decreasing in numbers?

The rate of people reporting Christian religions has shown a steady decline over the past hundred years (down from 95% in 1911, shown here for the past decade). The proportion of Australians in non-Christian religions continues to rise.

SELECTED RELIGIOUS STATUS, 2001, 2006 AND 2011


Source: The Australian Bureau of Statistics article LOSING MY RELIGION?

Who is more likely to have to have no religion?

Until 1961, men were more than twice as likely to report no religion as women, but the overall numbers of people reporting no religion were very small (less than 1% of the population). From 1971, as reporting of no religion increased, the gap between the sexes lessened and steadied. In 2011, 24% of men and 21% of women said they had no religion.

PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE REPORTING NO RELIGION BY SEX, 1911 - 1961


PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE REPORTING NO RELIGION BY SEX, 1971 - 2011


Before the age of 20, however, the gender gap is non-existent, with men just as likely as women to report no religion, or have no religion reported on their behalf. From the age of 20, the gap between men and women widens, then remains fairly steady from the age of 35, with men generally around 4% more likely to report no religion. This pattern is similar to that of previous decades, so it is not a cohort effect particular to 2011.

PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE REPORTING NO RELIGION BY AGE AND SEX, 2011


Younger people make up a high proportion of those reporting no religion (around half who did so being less than 30 years old). Older people in Australia are considerably more likely than younger Australians to report a religion: only 10% of people aged 65 years and over reported no religion in 2011.

Source: The Australian Bureau of Statistics article LOSING MY RELIGION?

How does the religion of children relate to that of their parents?

Patterns by age show that rates of having no religion are highest for babies, but drop substantially for children aged 5 to 14. It is quite likely that children under 15 do not answer the question on religion for themselves, so these rates may reflect their parents' views. The pattern of high rates of reporting no religion for children younger than five and lower rates of reporting no religion for those aged 5 to 14 is similar to previous Censuses.

In 2011, 79% of children had the same no religion response as did at least one of their parents. Under the age of 5, this proportion was 81%, reducing to 77% in the 5 to 14 year age group. If both parents reported no religion, 97% of children had a no religion response.

When there was a difference between what was reported for children and their parents, it was more evident in families where a child reported no religion but neither of their parents did.

Looking at the most common Christian and non-Christian religions, the likelihood of a child reporting no religion decreased where both parents had the same religion (down to 2% where both parents were Catholic, 6% where both were Anglican, 9% where both were Buddhist, 0.7% where both were Hindi and 0.2% where both were Muslim).

Only around 2% of children aged 0-14 had a religion reported if neither parent reported a religion (9,000 children).

RELIGIOUS STATUS OF CHILDREN BY RELIGION OF PARENTS, 2011


Source: The Australian Bureau of Statistics article LOSING MY RELIGION?

Which age group is driving the increase in no religion?

Around the age of 15, rates of reporting no religion start rising, reaching their highest point between the ages of 22 and 24.

PERCENTAGE OF YOUNG PEOPLE REPORTING NO RELIGION, BY AGE AND SEX, 2011


Young adults are a major source of the increase in reporting of no religion in 2011. The proportion of people reporting no religion can be compared to the proportion five years earlier in the corresponding age cohort.

CHANGE IN PROPORTION OF PEOPLE REPORTING NO RELIGION BETWEEN 2006 AND 2011 BY AGE GROUP IN 2011


Religious affiliation is more stable in older age groups. Cohort analysis shows that as each age cohort begins at and maintains a progressively lower level of religious affiliation (except for young children, and the slight rise in reporting no religion that occurs for those aged 85 and over), the increase in rates of having no religion can be seen to reflect more of a change over time rather than over life cycles.

Source: The Australian Bureau of Statistics article LOSING MY RELIGION?

Does education make a difference to those reporting no religion?

Rates of reporting no religion increase with higher educational qualifications. In 2011, almost a third of people aged 20 years and over with a postgraduate degree reported no religion (31%), compared with a fifth (20%) of those with a school education only.

PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE REPORTING NO RELIGION BY LEVEL OF HIGHEST EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT, 2011


Education levels were not as related to rates of reporting no religion for younger people as they were for older people. There was no difference between people aged 20-34 with postgraduate or school-only qualifications (both 32%), however people aged 50 to 64 years with a postgraduate degree were twice as likely to report no religion (32%) as those with a school education only (16%). This difference was even greater for people aged 65 years and over (31% and 9% respectively).

PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE REPORTING NO RELIGION BY LEVEL OF HIGHEST EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT AND AGE, 2011


Before the age of 20, however, the gender gap is non-existent, with women just as likely as men to report no religion, or have no religion reported on their behalf. From the age of 20, the gap between men and women widens, then remains fairly steady from the age of 35, with men generally around 4% more likely to report no religion. This pattern is similar to that of previous decades, so it is not a cohort effect particular to 2011.

PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE REPORTING NO RELIGION BY AGE AND SEX, 2011


People who studied creative arts (37%) and sciences (36%) were the most likely to report no religion, while those who had studied education (21%) or health (22%) were the least likely to do so.

PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE WITH A BACHELOR DEGREE OR HIGHER REPORTING NO RELIGION BY FIELD OF HIGHEST QUALIFICATION, 2011


Looking at specific subject fields, people who had studied Physics and Astronomy had the highest rates of reporting no religion (46%), and people who had studied Philosophy and Religious Studies had the lowest rates (9%).

Source: The Australian Bureau of Statistics article LOSING MY RELIGION?




The census in Australia on the 9th August is an important chance to make sure your interests are met in decision making and funding, that views you do not hold are not over-represented in the coming years.


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