Source: The Weekend Australian, 16 August, 1997, (Australia Today: An 8-page special) p.4


Christian
view faces
loss of faith

   AUSTRALIA now has a wider 
diversity of religious belief than in 
the past, but an increasing number of 
people without any religion at all.

   Between 1991 and last year, the 
number stating "no religion" 
increased from about two million to 
nearly three million. But the increase 
is probably greater.

   More than 1.5 million people 
declined to state their religious 
attitude in the recent Census, as the 
question is not compulsory.

   While Christianity remains the 
main religious faith, it faces 
increasing inroads by Islam and 
Buddhism in particular. While the 
number of Muslims has grown from 
about 150,000 in 1991 to 201,000 
last year, mainly due to migration, 
Buddhism is appealing to a wider 
number of Australians outside its 
natural constituency in Asian-derived 
ethnic communities.

   The visit of the Dalai Lama was a 
good test of the interest in Buddhism, 
though actual numbers have only 
grown by about 60,000 between the 
last two censuses.

   Among Christians, the disparity 
between Anglicans and Catholics has 
widened in the Catholics' favour. 
Catholics now number nearly five 
million, and Anglicans just under 
four million. Other Christian bodies 
have remained fairly static.

   Certainly the more Pentecostal 
churches make claims of a dramatic 
increase, but this is hardly borne out 
by the figures.

   Religious propaganda is probably 
more vigorous than it has been for 
many decades, and churches, sects 
and cults compete for adherents. Few 
have either the means or the strategy 
to use the latest forms of the media to 
promulgate their message.

   The significant exception is the 
Internet, which all churches are using 
with increasing skill.

   Bible sales remain significantly 
high, though it would be foolish to 
think that Bible reading has 
increased proportionally.

   Churches are relatively restrained in 
their public stances, except on such 
issues as abortion, homosexuality, 
gambling and drugs.

   -JAMES MURRAY


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