by Greg Spearritt
I was recently reminded by a clergyman that we in the West shouldn’t be too complacent in the face of growing secularism. It may be that almost a third of Australians fail to identify with any religion or spiritual belief, but religion (I was assured) is actually on the rise around the world.
In fact, the claim may not be true. Nonetheless, there are of course countries with a much higher proportion of religious believers than Australia, and some in which religious belief is growing. Let’s not be naïve, however: some of those in Australia most eager to point out the resilience/resurgence of religion, including my interlocutor, would actually be very reluctant to identify with many of these expressions of religious faith, even the ‘Christian’ ones.
From Zimbabwe, for example, we hear of pastors doing battle with demonic mermaids. Indeed, Africa in general shows the resilience of traditional beliefs even among Christians and Muslims, as the Pew Forum has reported.
In the Philippines, the country recently identified as the most religious in the world, religion practised by the rural and urban masses is described by the Asia Society as “folk Christianity, combining a surface veneer of Christian monotheism and dogma with indigenous animism”.
It would be fascinating to have a survey of church attenders in Australia to gauge their exact views on the key issues of Christian belief. I expect there are many in the pews who deviate considerably from the views expressed from the pulpit.