The census and religion

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A nation evolving


So the results of the 2011 Census are out. The major talking points have been the change in Australia’s cultural and religious demographics since the 2006 Census.


In a nutshell, we are significantly more diverse. ‘Multiculturalism has won the battle for Australia‘ proclaims The Age.


As a youth interfaith organisation, what interests us is the change in religious identification since the last Census. There has been a slight drop in the percentage of those who identify as Christian (from 63.9% to 61.1%); Buddhism is the second largest religion in Australia with 2.5%; Hinduism is our fastest growing religion, and there has been a sizable increase in those who identify as having no religion (from 18.7% to 22.3%).


Two big implications for interfaith


The first is fairly obvious. Interfaith has struggled to engage with people who have no religion or do not believe in God. Whilst 40 years ago this dearth did not seem so apparent, today, people who identify as having no religion comprise almost a quarter of our population.


For interfaith to stay relevant, we have to bring everyone to the table. This is what we at InterAction, Australia’s first ever youth run interfaith organisation, have focused on over the past year.


At the end of 2011, we organised the Victorian Youth Interfaith Forum, which featured speakers from several interfaith and multicultural initiatives. One of the most profound speakers was a young man named Jason, an atheist who had participated in InterAction’s youth leadership program, iAct.


At the forum, Jason said:


“I’m a secular humanist, because I choose to identify myself in terms of what I believe rather than what I don’t believe.”


Jason, by participating in iAct and then at the forum, put into motion the wheels that eventually saw InterAction partner with the Rationalist Society of Australia to fly out atheist interfaith activist Chris Stedman to speak at the Global Atheist Convention (GAC) in April 2012.


The fringe event we organised – Some of my best friends are atheists – was at the coal face of the faith-atheist chasm. As it turns out, there isn’t much of a divide when a Buddhist talks to a bunch of atheists, actually!


The second important finding of the 2011 Census will resonate with those who are familiar with the interfaith space in Australia. Without going into too much detail, interfaith in Australia, until recently, focused largely around all three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. People of other faiths were often a second thought, if they were included at all.


The 2011 Census data shows us that non-Christian faiths in Australia are on the rise. Anyone who knows interfaith has known this for years. Now the Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’is, Sikhs, Jains, Zoroastrians, etc are brought to the table as equals.


At InterAction, the religious diversity of Australia is not a new discovery to us. Our founding members were from the Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Baha’i and Christian traditions. Since InterAction began in 2009, people who identify as atheists, agnostics (seekers), and everything in between have volunteered with us. It has been an enriching and eye-opening journey for each and every one of us.


Everyone’s welcome to help support the cause

So whatever your background or belief – as a theist, an atheist, or an I-don’t-give–a-craptheist, InterAction welcomes you with open arms.


If you’re interested in joining in the movement to interconnect, build and create a more compassionate society where our shared values motivate us to take social action, what are you waiting for?! If you weren’t already convinced we were on the right track, we now have Census data backing us up.


Get on board – we want to hear from you.


Written by Nivy Balchandran.


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