Australian Christianity is Officially in Decline (and I, for one, am relieved)

The 2021 census stats are out, and it’s official (again): Australian Christianity is in freefall decline.

As The Australian newspaper reports:

The number of Australians who aren’t religious has almost doubled over the decade, with almost 40 per cent indicating in the latest census that they have no religious belief. The Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed Christianity was dramatically falling, with fewer than half of respondents in the latest census indicating they were Christian compared to 60 per cent who did so in 2011.

And I for one, am relieved about this. Well not relieved about the decline because, you know, without Jesus people are lost in this life and the next. But I’m relieved about the fact that finally we can get on and admit it.

Relieved about that fact that if you’re not a church attender, have no desire to follow Jesus, are not interested in the people or the things of God, then you feel free to tick “no religion” on the census. It just clears things up for us. No more voices calling out from the study “Hey Madge, what religion are we again?” once every five years.

Relieved that you don’t feel the need to hatch, match or dispatch in any religious way if it’s got no meaning for you for any other occasion. Relieved about the fact that there will be an increasingly stark contrast between a follower of Jesus and everybody else (well there should be at least).

It’s a relief to be able to say that Australia is not a Christian country any longer. In fact I wish more people had just come out and admitted it. Perhaps now we can get on with evangelising it. Perhaps now we can as Christians just admit we’re not a Christian nation, and take a more “away game” stance to where this thing goes.

Now of course, Australians admitting more and more that they aren’t Christian doesn’t mean that hundreds of thousands of people suddenly gave up on Jesus in the past five years. Not at all. There are still plenty of Jesus junkies around.

Just like there are still plenty of gym junkies around.

But there’s also a whole pile of people around who have are signed up members of gyms who should actually just admit that the gym is not their thing, hasn’t been their thing for a while, isn’t going to be their thing, and isn’t even something they even like. And the relief, oh the huge relief, when they finally throw in the towel and say “Actually this isn’t my thing!”.

The pressure to go the gym, or at least admit you would go given the right circumstances, is a pressure nobody wants. And come to think of it, going to the gym would be counterproductive to the life you’re now living.

Having bought so many clothes that are one size (two sizes?) larger than you originally thought you might be if you’d gone to the gym, it would now be a shame to waste those clothes. Indeed it would be profligate to throw them out just for the sake of losing weight. Going to the gym would actually be environmentally and economically damaging.

It no longer feels bad not to go to the gym. Admitting it to others no longer feels transgressive. In fact admitting it just adds you into the mix of all those who you love and care for, and whose lives align with your slightly larger, slightly more breathless, but happy life. And there’s evidence in that going to the gym too much is actually bad for you.

So too the drop off in religious belief on the census. There’s a relief in just admitting it. And then getting on with the irreligious life you have always been leading. Which really is my relief too.

Now I think it will make things interesting in the public square, especially in the coming months when the shrill cries of the Peter Fitzsimons (haven’t we suffered enough?) and Jane Caros get onto the “no funding for Christian schools” campaign again. There’s always going to be that push from those who hate pluralism.

But it’s interesting that at the very time that the nation is becoming more secular, the uptake of Christian schooling is going in the opposite direction. It’s as if the very things that the culture is increasing lacking as it drifts away from the One who is the source of all life and goodness, are the very things the culture still wants. The fruit without the roots, so to speak.

People in Australia may be less religious, but they’re still looking for something that makes sense of life – for meaning. And currently in Australia, given the wealthy and educated country that it is, there are a lot of levers that can be pulled to provide that meaning.

And I’m confident enough in who Jesus is and what he offers in those categories to allow Aussies to have a red hot crack at making meaning for themselves without any transcendent view of how the world operates. Not over-confident in a “You’ll be back” kinda way, but confident enough to know that, as David Foster Wallace put it, “anything else that you worship will eat you alive”.

Bring on 2026 I say. I expect the trend to continue. Unless of course Jesus has something to say about that.