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