A reflection from Rodney Eivers
I had the happy experience this weekend (early February) of getting to know more intimately that busy and highly built-up part of Brisbane city where Alice and Edward Street intersect. This is at the point where they meet the Brisbane River and the City Botanic Gardens. My wife and I had been given an “away weekend” by our families. We were settled 17 floors up at the Stamford Plaza Hotel – about 2 to 3 hundred metres from where Brisbane’s tallest building at 90 stories and 274 metres (the current height limit because of air traffic considerations), now under construction, reaches up into the clouds.
We had a glorious view, including that of the thunder and lightning show of a violent storm on the Sunday night. What interested me, though, was what was going on down on the ground. We descended to the Lobby on the Sunday morning and went for a stroll in the direction of the Museum of Brisbane at City Hall, something I would recommend to any visitors to the City.
The traffic was busy. The streets, fortunately in the Australia fashion shaded with awnings, provided relief from the mid-30s temperature and were crowded with people. It seemed to be as busy, or busier, than on an ordinary week day. Some of the major stores were closed for the weekend but the opportunities for “retail therapy” were now enhanced by the setting up of street markets.
My 100-year-old father-in-law is fond of recalling that in his younger generation “you could fire a rifle at random down Queen Street, Brisbane’s main street, and not hit a soul”.
So I reflected. “A generation or two ago a very high proportion of these people now so busy shopping, scurrying along the pavements and chatting at coffee shops would have been attending church services. There is now no break in the week when people pause to give thought to the bigger questions of life, away from shopping, burying their faces in their “screens, and worshipping sporting heroes and “celebrities”.*
I continued with my musing. “Is this good or bad? No point regretting it. That’s the way life is. Religion has lost its appeal for the public. Perhaps a lot of the commitment to a life of Christian faith and practice. was just a lot of show and we are better off without much of it anyway.”
So we idled our way up the gently sloping streets of the metropolis, in due course reaching our destination of the Museum of Brisbane in the City Hall – my first time there. Hard to believe, perhaps, but we dawdled around and ended up spending four hours studying the exhibits! As we were winding up our visit we came to a presentation called DNA. This was a display, demonstrating amazing electronic technical wizardry and reporting on a survey of a group of 100 people selected on a what seemed to be a sound statistical sample from the city neighbourhood.
There were a number of questions. They included such things as: What do you like about Brisbane City? What transport do you use to come into the city? Have you experienced domestic violence? What sort of accommodation would you like to see developed? And so on and so on. All worth raising and relevant to people’s lives. Despite its being such a strong element in what makes people tick it looked like religion was not going to get a mention? Or so I thought. Then to my surprise, as the survey neared its end the question was put. Do you go to church? About 20 per cent of the respondents said, “Yes!”
That did not seem like news to me. It was about what I would have expected. But then came the next question. Do you believe in God? The answer astounded us. Between 60 and 70 per cent said they believed in God. To the extent that this large proportion accepted a concept of a theistic God I had no reason to be greatly encouraged by this. It did, however, raise a couple of issues in my mind. I had interpreted the universal devotion to shopping and TV etc. as indicating that people are not being very thoughtful nor interested in wider questions and deeper personal exploration of themselves (spirituality, if you like). From the response to this survey, however it looks as if a large majority of people do look for explanations of life’s mysteries beyond their day to day lives. It was not all just shopping and TV.
The other thought was that if 65 per cent of people believe in God but only 20 per cent participate in religious activity then maybe the churches need to give some attention to this disconnect in meeting the spiritual needs of a 21st century populace.
So with a little more understanding and perhaps a little more wisdom it was back to base at the hotel. There I concluded my reading of Michael Morwood’s , “God is Near”. I see that this title has been listed in a recent posting on the UC Forum website. But I may tell you about that later.
*PS. By coincidence, I note from the UC Forum website this week a quotation: “Sheridan reminds his readers that there is more to living than the pursuit of pleasure. After all having a good time never lasts for long”.