Why Aussies Hate Church

The actual name of the infographic I’m discussing today is the ‘Australian Communities Report’, but I suspect I found it through a link with the more provocative title of Why Aussies Hate Church and I kind of like that.

I have no idea where I downloaded this infographic from, but it is available here at the McCrindle Research website, along with a bunch of other interesting infographic resources.

Why it is of interest

I’m quite interested in this because Australia is culturally similar to New Zealand and so social attitudes are likely to be comparable between the two nations and I’ve not stumbled across much demographic research into the religious beliefs of Kiwis.

Overview

I’m cautious of taking infographics at face value because the don’t indicate how the data were collected, what analyses were used and in this one there is nothing stating what error margins may underly the numbers presented. But all I want is a general indication of social values so none of that is particularly important.

This is a 4 page document and very busy so I will go through it section by section and see what we can discover.

Australians and religion

Half of Australians do not identify with any religion. This includes two main groups; those who have no religion at all, and those who say they are spiritual but have no main religion. ‘Spirituality’ is described as self awareness and a deeper connection, whereas ‘religion’ is summarised by attendance, tasks and obligation.

There are still a lot of people who said they do have a religion and 40% of Aussies identify with a form of Christianity, 18% are protestant or evangelical, and 22% are Catholic or Orthodox. Other religions such as Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and the catchall ‘other’ each represent less than 5% of Australians.

How actively involved are religious people?

Christians have a slight edge at actively practicing their faith, 23% of protestant of evangelical Christians regularly attend a place of worship in comparison to 13% of those claiming other religious beliefs. (I don’t know what happened to the Catholics, they have vanished from this section!)

There are a big chunk of people claiming a belief but not doing much with it, around 60%, whether Christian or other faiths.

Influences on religious views

Current ‘religious status’

The question asked here seems odd to me: “What best describes your current religious status?” My answer would have been, “huh?”

Anyway, they have divided the responses into:

  • Never been religious (24%)
  • Not now religious (29%)
  • Synthesizer (11%) [beliefs don’t fit any one religion]
  • Adopter (4%) [Non-religious prior to choosing current religion]
  • Converter (5%) [Switched from a different religion]
  • Continuer (27%) [Committed to religion raised in]

The heading for this section is ‘Outgrowing Religion’, I guess meaning the not now religious, adopters and converters (38% of people surveyed) have all moved on from the beliefs they were raised with.

Resistant to change

Despite the results immediately above, 51% of Australians are not open at all to changing their religious worldview. You could probably add the 31% who are slightly open to that number, meaning 82% of Australians would be very difficult to convert. However, the many of the people who are not open at all to changing could well be Christians so it’s hard to make a solid conclusion.

What influences views of Christianity

The question was: Who or what has most influenced your perceptions & opinions of Christians & Christianity? (Respondents could select multiple options)

Parents and family have the most influence by far, 67% selected this option. Mass media and social media, networks and relationships, other, and books and articles all had around 20 to 25% responses.

The results of this question are hard to interpret. It stands to reason that for most people their parents will have an influence on their views of Christians, but it is quite possible that people also selected other options and these may have had a significant impact on their views.

Conversations about faith

Do you ever talk about spirituality or religion when you gather with friends? For a lot of people (47%) the answer was “no”. A further 46% ‘occasionally’ talk about religion with their friends. Overall, Australians don’t typically talk about religion or faith. I’d imagine the same applies to New Zealanders, it certainly does in my experience and generally when they do talk about religion it is not positive.

Attitude towards Christianity

The heading for this question is: “Significant ‘warmth’ towards Christianity”. The numbers don’t back this up. A small proportion of respondents (4%) were passionately opposed to Christianity, 37% have some or strong reservations, and 25% had a more positive view. The other 33% considered themselves Christian. So if those who are already Christians are excluded, the general viewpoint is pretty negative towards our faith.

Belief blockers

The next page of the infographic is about aspects of Christianity that repel people from Christianity.

The top 10 issues are:

  1. Church abuse
  2. Hypocrisy
  3. Judging others
  4. Religious views
  5. Suffering
  6. Money
  7. Outdated
  8. Hell & condemnation
  9. Homosexuality
  10. Exclusivity

It seems that the perception of Christians as being blinkered old fashioned hypocrites who like to judge people and think everyone except Christians are going to hell is pretty normal. We also have outdated views on homosexuality and sanction institutional sexual abuse by covering it up. And we wonder why nobody wants to join our happy club!

Beliefs about Jesus

Most non-Christians (69%) either think that Jesus did not really exist or that he was just an ordinary bloke. Though a surprising 35% do think he had divine powers and was actually the Son of God. So despite an overwhelmingly negative view of His followers, there is a significant proportion of people who respect Jesus.

Miracles

Yet when it comes to miracle attributed to Jesus thing get murky. A healthy 53% accept that Jesus died on a cross, but only 31% think he rose from the dead. A skeptical 47% say, “no way” to that idea. The virgin birth yields similar numbers, 50% reckon that is bollocks. Walking on water is obviously even more preposterous, 53% ‘do not at all believe’ in this.

Summary

I’m not surprised by the statistics shown in this infographic, and I do think that they would closely reflect how Kiwi’s view religion, Christianity, Christians and Jesus. Rationally I know plenty of people who have strongly negative opinions about the church and Christians, but I am still  bit gobsmacked at how strongly negative the perception of Christians is. We really have an appalling public image and while the popular media do play up stories about negative happenings in the church, all of those stories have some spark that started the fires.

Are all these people completely misinformed, or are we completely missing the mark in our ‘following Jesus’?

Trump is Not the New Normal

An encouraging article by Maria Konnikova for the New YorkerHow Norms Change, gives me hope that the bizarre behaviour of Donald Trump does not need to become a new normal for America.
Konnikova looks at the difference between biases originating from deeply held beliefs, and social norms which are the ways in which we behave in a society. She points out that while a bias is slow to change, social norms can change at whatever rate a society is changing. Norms can also be strongly influenced by leaders.

The fact that a powerful leader can change social norms is worrying when we see someone like Donald Trump. However, a powerful leader who is somewhat removed from your everyday life has less influence on your behaviour than someone you interact with more often:

If the President suggests that some neo-Nazis are “very fine people,” but those in positions of power closer to you—such as a pastor, principal, or governor—speak out against him, you’ll be more likely to call into question the new normal that the President has modelled. The new behavior will look more like an outlier than like a norm. Maria Konnikova

If leaders in a society consistently resist and speak out against a degenerating social norm, there is hope that society can remain a good place to be. This has implications far beyond opposing the madness of Trump, it places responsibility on all of us to lead with respectful behaviour in whatever sphere of influence we have, whether it is large or small we have the advantage of regular interactions with the people in our lives.

The beauty of norms is that, unlike ingrained hatreds, they are flexible. They shift quickly; with the right pressure from the right people, they can shift back. But the response, crucially, must be broad, and it must come from sources of authority across the political spectrum. Otherwise, behaviors we think of as socially stable may prove to be far more fragile than we’d like to believe. Maria Konnikova

The Opportunity Cost of Social Media

An article well worth reading on the opportunity cost of social media: Is social media robbing us of our dearest hopes and dreams in life?
The subtitle ‘The biggest problem with social media? It is designed to give us exactly the opposite of what we truly want in life’, sums up the gist of it. Effectively, there is a clash between the interests of those who provide the social media technology and the interests of the people who use it. Think of what Facebook or Twitter are trying to achieve:

What does technology want? It wants more clicks, more time on site, higher conversation rates, etc. It wants your attention

Then consider what your own goals are:

What do we want? Well, presumably our dearest hopes and dreams for our lives go far beyond spending another 20 minutes on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.

A personal action I have decided upon after reading this article is to start breaking my lists of stuff I want to get done into tasks that will take only 10 to 20 minutes so I can see the real opportunity cost of wasting time dicking around on social media when I have other things I can easily do in the time I would waste doing that.

I can agree that social media can serve a useful purpose, and it can be used as a form of entertainment. Some people also consider slot machines to be a benign form of entertainment, but when I look at the money that gets pumped into them it’s easy for me to imagine what else could be done with that money. Our time is a less renewable resource than money so I’d like to retain control of what I spend mine on.

God in a brothel

There are some books that I don’t especially want to read but know I need to read them. God in a Brothel by Daniel Walker is such a book. My reason for reading it was that if I am to understand the situation for the Shan people of Burma then it is important to comprehend how sex trafficking occurs in South East Asia.
This book is well written and the words are easy to read. However, what the words are saying is not at all easy to stomach.

Daniel Walker is a Kiwi police officer who worked undercover as an investigator of human trafficking in the global sex industry. It is a sickening trade in the bodies and souls of women and children.

I would recommend all men to read this book – it shows the degrading horror of what lust does when indulged without thought to its effect upon others. The darkness of sex trafficking is everywhere, because lust is everywhere and internet porn is feeding its voracious appetite. Daniel Walker describes its effect upon the victims:

I noticed that many of the older girls, twelve and thirteen years old, had lost all life in their eyes. They appeared to be in a trance or under some dark magician’s spell. They moved with a slow resignation; no amount of smiling, warmth or kindness on my part could draw them out. The systematic and prolonged sexual abuse of children and young people is perhaps the very worst crime against humanity because, as I saw day after day, it strips them of their heart and soul. It murders the person but leaves their bodies alive.

…These empty bodies existed in the netherworld of prostitution and in the vacuum of an indifferent world. I met them in every room of every brothel, and they all had the same look in their dark, empty eyes.
God in a Brothel, p89 (emphasis mine)

This man has an integrity, moral strength and toughness way beyond what I have. To face the temptations he did and the suffering he saw without falling down or falling apart is astonishing. He does discuss the issues of what support is ideal for people doing such work in order to maintain their personal wellbeing longterm and is candid about his own failing on one occasion.

He also admits to struggling on an emotional level with wanting to summarily execute some of the “predatory sex tourists, sadistic pedophiles cunning traffickers and greedy pimps” he encountered. He opens that chapter with the following:

It is easy to hate men. Men create the demand for sex trafficking, which the criminals involved in human trafficking are only too eager to supply. Without these men and their personal pursuit of pleasure, the simple fact is there would be no forced prostitution.  God in a Brothel, p79.

Remember this guys – lust is not an innocent desire. Left unchecked it is a selfish, destructive force. When the lust of multitudes of men rampages through a society it is a demonically ruthless force of evil. You cannot stop sex slavery, but you are responsible for killing your own lust.

Slavery can happen here too:

The Malaysian sex worker, who was in New Zealand on a visitor’s permit but has since returned home, told another prostitute there she had been paid $5600 to come to Auckland, and had been made to work 16-hour shifts with few breaks on most days.

Another Malaysian sex worker said she had been lured here with a $4500 cash offer, plus airfares, but was later told that it was a loan she had to repay.

Her passport was also taken from her soon after she arrived.
(NZ’s sex-slave cases ‘slip under radar’)

A case of forced labour in Auckland: Slave labour probe in central Auckland

Relevant Links