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How religion rises – and falls – in modern Australia

From A Progressive Christian Voice (Australia) Inc.

Professor Gary Bouma

April 14, 2017

Gary BoumaIn the past 50 years, the nature and shape of religion in Australia has changed dramatically. While secularisation and religious decline was one way of telling this story, it has become increasingly unsatisfactory.

Religion has not gone away, nor has it retreated into the private sphere as predicted, even though increasing numbers declare they have “no religion”. These changes have major implications for social policy and research.

Religion is constantly in the news. It seems to fuel global events, frightens politicians, and is claimed to influence the voting on moral issues.

In the 2011 Census, Australia became at the same time both less religious and more religious. While a rising number declared they have “no religion” (22%), the number declaring a religion also increased significantly. This was partly due to 17% fewer people taking the option of not responding.

The declaration of “no religion” is becoming particularly evident among young people – the so-called millennials. In the 2011 Census, nearly 30% of Australians between 25 and 34 declared that they had no religion.

Research in the UK reports many young people are turning their backs on formally organised religious communities that seem incapable of according women full dignity or recognising and celebrating love among LGBTIQ people.

Increasing proportions of young people have been raised by parents who declare they have no religion. In the UK, the likelihood of children of religious parents being religious themselves is about 50%. But those raised in non-religious households are very unlikely to take up religion. Similar figures are likely for Australia.

From recent research overseas and in Australia, there appears to be three broad types of orientation to religion, and not just the two predicted by secularisation theory, which is no religion or faith celebrated and practised in private.

Also, there has been a tendency to essentialise the religious/secular divide and to ignore the diversity of ways in which people are religious.

First, there are those who associate with formally organised religion because they find it informs their lives and motivates them to do service. They are public about this, and about their efforts to put faith into practice. Religion is important to them and informs the way they seek to shape and reshape society.

Recent focus groups among millennials reveals some who are religious are exclusivist, believing they have “the truth” and that everyone should have the same religious belief as they do. However, most are confident in practising their own religion while being comfortable to let others be themselves – whether religious or not.

While probably a smaller percentage of the population than 50 years ago, those taking their religion seriously cannot be ignored in any analysis of what is happening today. A recent National Church Life Survey (NCLS) revealed 14% of Australians said “religion was very important” to them, and 11% attend worship weekly.

However, this group is highly diverse. It includes many varieties of Christians along with those who are Buddhist, Muslim, Hindus, Sikh, Jewish, and others.

Second, there are many ways of belonging to a particular faith. As one billboard declares: “there are 1.6 billion ways of being a Muslim”. The internal diversity of religious groups is huge.

Among the “nones” there are at least two groups. First, there are those who fully reject or simply ignore religion. It is meaningless and pointless to them.

While a few may be actively anti-religious, most simply do not care about religion, but do not mind if others follow one. The NCLS revealed 36% of Australians said “religion was not important”, and another 25% said “religion was of little importance”. Similarly, 68% said they never (or less than once a year) attend any kind of religious service.

The second group among those who declare “no religion” includes those who actively engage in spirituality, practise meditation, ask questions about the meaning of life, seek ethical ways to live their lives, and reshape society.

According to the NCLS, 28% of Australians claim to “have had (and another 25% believe it is possible to have) a mystical or supernatural experience about which they have no doubts about its reality”. Given that 11% claim to attend religious services once a week (and 7% once a month), supernatural experiences are not limited to religious organisations.

This second group of “nones”, sometimes referred to as SBNRs (spiritual but not religious), needs further research to understand the ways people are engaging with questions of meaning, seeking to promote personal and social wellbeing and improve their world.

The fact they are not associated with existing organisations does not mean these activities have become privatised. They are simply differently organised and networked.

The diversity of ways Australians are and aren’t religious or spiritual impacts on social policy, education, and interreligious relations.

First, the diversity is not among just an increased number of monolithic blocks of identity. No-one speaks for all Christians, or Muslims, or Buddhists, or Hindus or Jews. Intrareligious relations are at times more difficult among people claiming the same religious identity. Alliances on issues will form between people from different religious groups, which are internally divided on the issue.

Responses to census categories indicate one level of increased diversity but do not reveal the huge diversity within the categories. Nor do they reflect the fact that increasing numbers of Australians, given the chance, will claim more than one category.

Overlooking diversity both within the ways of being religious and the ways of having no religion neglects the many forms of spirituality, wholeness, caring, sacred spaces and meaning found within and alongside formally organised religion.

Gary D Bouma Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Monash University

Disclosure statement

Gary D Bouma is an Anglican Priest in the Diocese of Melbourne.

Article first published on The Conversation

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Formation of the Progressive Christianity Network – Qld.

The Plan

In line with long held plans to ‘catch up’ with other States and have a Queensland Progressive Christianity group, this concept was boosted considerably on Saturday 11th March. The gathering at the Treston seminar stayed on to discuss a draft proposal prepared by the committee of the Modern church lookformer Progressive Spirituality Network. The plan is to transition the hundreds of members in the latter group into the proposed PCNQ while establishing a close relationship with the ever growing UCFORUM. Of course many of our members belong to both groups. Paul Inglis has accepted an invitation to chair the group in the formative stage.

We now also have many international links and are aware of a need to move forward with them in mind. At the same time, as the Common Dreams Conference proved, Queensland has a lot to offer the progressive movement and there will be much about the PCNQ that is distinctly us.

What’s in a name?

The name for the group is not yet finalised but we are keen to align and link to interstate groups for several reasons. Feedback at this meeting and emails I am still receiving will help us to make the ‘right’ decisions.

What is the purpose of such a group?

The scope and purpose of the group is still under discussion, but the following have been mooted:

  • to provide a safe place for progressive thinking Christians and others to come together and discuss the many issues in the life journey
  • to be an organising group for seminars and conferences
  • to continue the work of the former progressive spirituality network
  • to build links with non-Christian groups with strong interest in progressive spirituality and religion
  • to welcome atheists in the ongoing conversations about the meaning of life
  • to work with similar interstate groups when planning visits from keynote speakers
  • to publicise events related to our interests
  • to make appropriate commentary on contemporary matters
  • to explore the growing literature and scholarship in the field.

 

Some proposed initiatives

The planning team has already begun the process of setting up a Round Table group made up of representatives of all progressive and ‘explorer’ groups and individuals who can informally come together to find common ground and share in initiatives.  A draft paper on this proposal is available on request from Paul. Your comments and suggestions are always welcome.

We will be considering whether this is part of the brief for the PCNQ.

We want to reach as many interested people across the State as possible and an early challenge will be to find ways to support individuals in isolation from progressive groups. Already we have many members who correspond with us and receive reading lists and other information.

Watch for further developments and please continue to participate in our activities.

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Who do you say I am? by Kevin Treston

Kevin Treston’s latest book is called Who do you say I am? 

treston-book

It can be purchased from Morning Star Publishing

 The religious landscape is changing rapidly and many of those still affiliated with the Christian communities are increasingly uneasy about the Traditional Christian
Story whose original impulse was God’s act of restoration through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus following the primal sin.
Who do you say I am?, Kevin Treston offers a complementary understanding of the tradition, exploring the features of a Cosmic Christian Story that situates God’s
revelation in Jesus as the Christ firmly within the evolving dynamics of creation. It seeks a response to how Christians may understand and celebrate the Incarnation within the wondrous evolution of all things in our cosmic context. It is a Story that takes account of modern science, especially cosmology, quantum physics, energy field theories, genetics, globalisation, technology, and neuroscience that are changing forever how humans live as citizens of the planet.  is book is for general readers who aspire to extend their understanding of the Christian story and live their faith in the modern world.

Kevin Treston is a well known author and consultant. He has worked
globally for many years in the areas of education, spirituality,
theology and pastoral ministry.
WHO DO YOU SAY I AM?
The Christ story in the cosmic context
Kevin Treston
Morning Star Publishing
9780995381520
148mm x 210mm
124 pages
$19.95

What is Progressive Christianity?

Progressive Christianity’s most powerful “evangelism” tools are our willingness to empty ourselves of prideful claims to the ultimate truth, and our efforts to serve the common good of humanity.   Jim Burklo, What is Progressive Christianity?

Amongst the many definitions of Progressive Christianity is that of Jim Burklo author of Open Christianity: home by another road (available from Amazon), He offers 11 characteristics which he describes as ‘a work in progress’:

  1. Progressive Christians keep the faith and drop the dogma.
  2. For us, God is Love, not a Guy in the Sky.
  3. [If] God and Nature are one, science is a way to learn about God.
  4. Faith is about deeds, not creeds.
  5. We take the Bible seriously because we don’t have to take it literally.
  6. Spiritual questions are more important to us than religious answers.
  7. The morality of what happens in war-room and the board-room matters more to us than what happens in the bedroom.
  8. Other religions can be as good for others as our religion is good for us.                                         
  9. Our church parking is for cars, not brains.
  10. God is bigger than our ideas about God  
  11. God evolves, and so does our religion.

But there are other descriptors –

Progressive Christianity.Org  is a global network that offers thoughtful and practical resources for individuals, families and communities to explore and affect progressive Chrisitianity, spirituality, community life, social and environmental justice.

1.  Believe that following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and the Oneness and Unity of all life;

2.  Affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey;

3.  Seek community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to:

conventional Christians and questioning skeptics, believers and agnostics, women and men, those of all sexual orientations and gender identities, those of all classes and abilities;

4.  Know that the way we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe;

5.  Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes;

6.  Strive for peace and justice among all people;

7.  Strive to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth;

8.  Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love.

These 8 Points were the focus in their latest progressive Christian Children’s Curriculum: A Joyful Path Curriculum, for ages 6-10.

 

Contributions on the life and work of Marcus Borg

PCN LogoProgressive Christianity Network – Britain

Supporting and promoting open Christian understanding

PCN Britain 26 High Street Newnham on Severn Gloucestershire GL14 1BB   Tel: 01594 516528

email: dave.coaker@pcnbritain.org.uk

Call for Contributions

In light of the untimely death of Marcus Borg the focus for the September edition of Progressive Voices will be to reflect on his contribution to Christianity and we are seeking articles giving serious consideration to his life and work in the fields of biblical studies, theology, and the Christian life.

We would be very grateful if you would consider contributing an article, and would appreciate it if you would forward this request to anyone you think would also like to contribute?

Progressive Voices is the quarterly print publication of PCN Britain. It exists to engage, support, and encourage members through providing a range of articles, news and information. As such it is a mix of membership newsletter, resource material, and accessible academic journal.

We have a minimal budget but we would be happy to negotiate the promotion of your current publications / activities alongside the piece.

We are asking for proposals (title and précis) by Friday 26th June, and the copy date would be Friday 14th August.

Thank you for considering this request. Wishing you every blessing,

Rev’d David Coaker – Editor, Progressive Voices

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Questioning Christianity

Questioning  Christianity

 A discussion group for adults, young and old

 Session #1, 2015:

 The Sin of Planned Obsolescence and Consumerism

 Tuesday 17th March 2015    7:30 – 9:30pm

The Brookfield Centre, 139 Kenmore Road, Kenmore Hills 4069

 To find out what materials we are thinking about this month so you can contribute to the discussion, email:

brough@computer.org

Questioning Christianity is focussed on matters of broad social concern, not the usual “churchy” stuff.  A guiding question for each topic is to ask, “What does Christianity have to say here?”. We do not assume Christianity or the church as we find it are valid, but rather seek to expose where they have something to offer our present day concerns, where they should be reformed or discarded, and where Christianity can be re-interpreted to tackle new problems.

What is Questioning Christianity?

 Questioning Christianity is a discussion group, for adults young and old. It focuses on topics of broad and current social concern. It meets most months of the year on the 3rd Tuesday of the month in the evening from 7:30 – 9:30pm.

Questioning Christianity is an ecumenical group in the broadest possible sense. While the meetings are located at the Brookfield Centre owned by the Anglican Church, everyone who sincerely wishes to contribute to the discussion is welcome, be they Christian and of another denomination, a member of another faith, or an atheist with a social conscience.

 Questioning Christianity does  not make the a priori assumption that Christianity or the church in the various forms we find them are valid, useful or relevant. It seeks to expose where this is and is not the case, on matters of widespread and current social concern. It  does assume that there is a worthwhile discussion to be had here.

For each meeting, the topic, a list of key questions, and relevant resources such as videos and books will be provided approximately a month before the meeting. Being a discussion group, it is not intended as entertainment, but rather a forum in which those with shared social concerns can come together to share useful information and perspectives, and discuss how we can best react to our concerns. So if you wish to participate, you are strongly encouraged to spend at least a little time in preparation, by considering the materials suggested for each session. A few hours should be ample. It is through everyone contributing that the group will work best, and that requires some input from you.

The meeting format involves a brief introduction and summary of key concepts, then free discussion. All ideas are welcome unless they are racist, sexist or otherwise bigoted nonsense. Vigorous discussion is encouraged, but personal attacks are unacceptable in any form. The forum is a safe place for all sincere points of view.

In order to allow the widest possible group to benefit from the face-to-face group discussions, an audio recording will be made available for download. However the veto of any one participant is sufficient to prevent this – while the recorded discussions will be effectively anonymous, we respect the privacy of anyone who is uncomfortable with being recorded.

Aside from the face-to-face meetings, an online discussion is available via the Yahoo group Questioning Christianity (questioningxtianity@yahoo.com). Here those for whom it is not feasible to attend the discussion can be involved. This also provides a forum for further discussion following face-to-face meetings. The Questioning Christianity Yahoo group is private and only available to members. To become a member email questioningxtianity-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.au. In the same spirit as the face-to-face meetings, discussion admits any sincere input, but personal attacks or hate directed to any group is no acceptable, to ensure it is a safe place for all interested in the topics of concern.

If you have any further questions, please email brough@computer.org.

Next Gold Coast Progressive Faith Community gathering


The next Gold Coast Progressive Faith Community group get-together is
scheduled on Sunday 9 February 2014, at 5.00pm, the venue the Bahai
Centre, Cotlew St. Ashmore. We begin with light refreshments (bring a
little something to share), followed by the focus topic for the month
and other contributions.

Bryan Gilmour is to lead us in a time of meditation.

Bryan will also introduce a group discussion around the subject of Karen
Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion, and Cities of Compassion. This has
become a world wide movement, and is something of which we should all be
aware, if not involved. It is a subject close to Bryan’s heart, and one
with broad secular and multi-faith horizons.

We look forward to a stimulating exchange of ideas, and to seeing as
many of you all as possible.

Peter Robinson