In the recent past, most of us did. Worldwide, people still do. But in Japan, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, France, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. – and Australia – increasing numbers of people are saying they don’t. They are called “NONES”. They answer the question about their religious affiliation by ticking the box “None”.
This became strikingly evident in the official Australian Census of 2016. There are nine minority groups of religious believers in Australia : Uniting Church, 3.7%; Muslims, 2.6%; Buddhists, 2.4%; Presbyterians, 2.3%; Hindus, 1.9%; Pentecostals, 1.1%; Lutherans, 0.7%; Sikhs, O.5%; Jews, 0.4%. There are three major groups : Nones, 30.1%; Catholics, 22.6%; Anglicans, 13.3%. As with all statistics, what these reveal – like bikinis – is interesting; what they conceal is vital. Current percentages do not reveal the highly significant evolution of the figures. Witness : the Catholic population has DECREASED from 25.3% in 2001 to 22.6% today. Muslims have INCREASED from 2.2% in 2011 to 2.6% at present. But, above all, the NONES have SKYROCKETED from 16% in 2001 and 22.6% in 2011 to 30.1% as of 2016 !
Fifty years ago, when I was still a priest, Australia’s Christian population was 88%. Today it weighs in at 50% !
Dr Malcolm Forbes, a lecturer in the University of Melbourne, has analyzed the significance of this sea-change in religious belief Down Under. Three of his remarks deserve mention. It would seem that poorer people’s belief is due to “a psychological response to alleviate the stress and anxiety of a dysfunctional socio-economic environment” – an intellectual’s way of saying that religion is the “opium of the people” or even “pie in the sky when you die”. If poor people tend to believe more than the well-heeled, religious faith diminishes among the more highly educated. Intelligent people, the author writes, “may intrinsically possess some of the functions that religion provides – self-regulation, self-enhancement, secure attachment – and thus have a diminished need for religious belief”. Apparently such people feel less need of religion to “explain inexplicable events” and to provide “comfort about pain and death”, as well as “moral codes of behavior towards strangers”. In other words, the “Nones” have brains and they use them. They reject the myths of religion both as a source for understanding reality and as a foundation for moral living.
Case closed ? Mission accomplished ? Hardly ! But blind faith and blind folly, at least in developed countries, are gradually giving way to clearer vision. Sight is being restored to the blind. Illusions are being replaced by illumination. Someone ought to write a book entitled “From Illusions to Illumination” or create a blog called “blindfaithblindfolly” . . .
P.S. To read similar encouraging stats from the States, check out two earlier posts : “And Then There Were Nones”, May 21, 2015, and “Fewer Catholics, More Seminarians”, June 12, 2017.