Religious “Clarity” in the Australia Census

The Sydney Atheists, amongst others, are getting behind a campaign to persuade more people to respond “no religion” when asked in the upcoming 2011 Australian Census.

Say where you are now, not where you used to be.

Don't enter your childhood religion on the Census if you've left it behind.

Lets give the Government accurate information so they don't believe that you believe in banning Stem Cell Research, Abortion rights, and Free Press.

Much there I find myself in sympathy with. After all, I spend a fair bit of time with people who call themselves “Christian” and yet don't really even begin to understand what it means to follow Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Vastly more people here in Neutral Bay called themselves “Anglican” than attend church every Sunday; but that's to be expected.

Plus, perhaps there is some truth in the claim that politicians look at those census data and draw conclusions from it.

But, probably it's more accurate to say that politicians pay attention to actual correspondence, rather than theoretical numbers. And, as the interviewer points out, don't people have the right to describe themselves as they wish? There are many around here who still like the label “Anglican” or “Catholic” – despite the frustrations of the secularist lobby they still feel a strong afinity to those groups.

But perhaps the biggest issue here is the way that Sydney Atheists have framed the issue:

Lets give the Government accurate information so they don't believe that you believe in banning Stem Cell Research, Abortion rights, and Free Press.

“Banning Stem Cell Research”? I know of very few Christians who want that. Many of us are convinced that we shouldn't experiment on foetuses, but are very much in favour of other stem cell research. “Abortion rights”? Well there's a pin-less grenade to thrown into a crowded room. What sort of rights? What age limits? It's not as though many people who are “religious” don't have different views on this matter, particularly in terms of time limits – we're hardly a homogeneous mass on this issue.

But the last one is a cracker:

Free Press.

Free Press?! What a load of nonsense. Unless, of course, I've missed those mass demonstrations of religious fundamentalists demanding censorship of the Fourth Estate.

It's always a sign that your argument might not quite be as solid as you want when you have to resort to that kind of sensationalist scaremongering.

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This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Ken West

    In the clip, the interviewer points out the religion question is one of the few optional questions on the census. So if I was in the demographic the AFA is aiming at, and heeded their advice, I could simply leave the question unanswered. It’s interesting that they don’t seem to be trying to convince me to tick ‘Atheist’.

    On a related issue, I note that some non-religious (a-religious? irreligious?) regimes have had trouble implementing a free press.

  2. Jason

    Oh dear oh dear.

    Sop just because “very few” christians of your personal acquaintance don’t want SCT bans, that means the issue can be brushed under the rug?

    Shame. Many christians have, in fact, expressed a desire to ban Stem Cell Research. Most are also woefully ignorant of how the processes underlying the research actually work. Here’, for instance, is George Pell on the subject

    And here are some examples of other christians attempting to quash SCR, Fred Nile, Iemma and others included.

    That took, oh, 15 seconds?

    (oh, and it’s not just catholics. They happen to have the most coverage here in Sydney, but there’s plenty of other denominations expressing the desire to slow life-saving research for the sake of a bronze-age text)

    Now as for the free press issue, obviously you’ve never been in an online discussion in which the christian side wishes to quash free debate and deny atheists their opportunity to speak?

    Oh, wait. You have. My mistake.

    The fourth estate has been known, often, to pander to religious viewpoints. Look at the Daily Telegraph around World Youth Day, for instance. You were lucky to see a single dissenting article. I went as far as to call it “The Pope’s sole representative on earth”.

    Census results don’t just affect government, they affect the policies of broadcasters, the press, major corporations and pretty much any public-facing entity.

    For shame, David. Oh wait. Again, my mistake.

  3. Dave The Happy Singer

    It’s interesting that they don’t seem to be trying to convince me to tick ‘Atheist’

    Only to people who think atheism is a religion, a demographic to which the AFA most certainly does not belong.

  4. David Ould

    Jason, I think you are (as has happened before) reading far more into my comments than I have actually written. My argument was that Christians (let alone the religious) are not some homogeneous unit all thinking the same way. Identification as “religious” is not, as the SA article implies, always going to result in the same positions.

    You cite an article about George Pell which, intriguingly, only actually serves to demonstrate the point that I am making. Pell goes on the record as opposed to cloning and embryonic stem cell research, not all stem cell research – which is, of course, what I argued in the OP. To claim, as you do, that he has a “desire to ban Stem Cell Research” is a vast over-simplification which doesn’t do any justice to the actual recorded facts of the matter – although it makes for good polarising rhetoric.

    Now as for the free press issue, obviously you’ve never been in an online discussion in which the christian side wishes to quash free debate and deny atheists their opportunity to speak?

    You must be referring to this thread where you unfortunately jumped the gun in assuming that I was denoting Hitler as an atheist, tried to avoid that issue when it was pointed out to you, then went on to claim most strongly that Hitler was a Christian and, when pointed towards the nuances of 1930’s protestantism in Germany which went some way to refuting your (dare I say it, simplistic) position, didn’t respond to the detailed argument put forward. I also recall that you made a bit of a hash of the source theory of the gospels (even contradicting the wikipedia article that you linked to) and then crowned it all off with a regular smattering of invective and crudity. You are, of course, free to rejoin that thread at any time or continue on this one. My condition remains the same as it was then, that you respond to some simple comprehension questions:

    Who was it that introduced the person of Hitler onto this thread?
    Who was it that first made a claim about Hitler’s theism and what was that claim?

    Other readers are free to review that thread themselves and see if they can spot the answer to the questions raised. For the sake of saving you time the answers (in order) are
    1. Jason Brown
    2. Jason Brown

    but it would be good to see it from your own keyboard. In the meantime any other comment from you will remain in moderation, not least because I really don’t like all the rude words you use (and will no doubt type in response to this comment) appearing on my blog. You are, of course, free to write all sorts of pretty things about me on your own blog as, I see, you have once again. I would, however, suggest that you save your energy from pursuing what appears to be an increasingly personal crusade of yours against me – another hapless soul who made the mistake of disagreeing with you in public.

    Julian, I am afraid your comment got trashed; you used an obviously false email address, which is contrary to comment policy.

    David, I guess your point depends upon whether the question asks for a “religion” or simple “religious views” – I would have thought that “atheist” was acceptable for the latter. I agree with you that it would not make sense with the former, although I’m sure many people answering the census wouldn’t consider it too much of a big deal.

  5. Ken West

    People who mark “no religion” have the opportunity to specify “atheist” if they wish. ( Is that guilt by association, David THS? wink )

    In the 2006 Census, in NSW Major Urban Areas (locations of interest to my correspondents) 6,558 persons indicated “Atheist” and 817,335 indicated “Anglican Church of Australia” (categories of interest to my correspondents). 38% of the Atheists were female, and 53% of the Anglicans. The Anglicans were 18% of the respondents, and the Atheists were 0.15%.

    I’m going to put my tongue firmly in my cheek and make the following outrageous statements:

    1) The Anglicans can still win a tug-of-war with the Atheists
    2) We are more likely to pass on our genes and our ideas to our children, as we can find mates ‘within the faith’.
    3) We are more likely to have children (my evidence for that is admittedly anecdotal), and
    4) We are less likely to donate our children’s bodies to science (you know, the embryonic stem thingo)

  6. Julian


    I use a primitive system of custom email addresses for each purpose, to help me separate business and personal emails, and to help reduce spam. I often put the name of the site as the name part to help me track them all.

    The email address I used was valid – replies to that address would get to me – but I can certainly see now how it could be misinterpreted in this case – and I apologise for confusion I have caused here. I wrongly assumed the address would only be used by the blogging software, and not noticed by any humans.

  7. David Ould

    hi Julian,

    my apologies – I see now what you were doing and I’ll seek to approve stuff from you in the future (everything here is manually moderated). Do feel free to resubmit your comment or write whatever currently comes to mind. I’ll try and get your IP address in the “ham” (not “spam”) list wink

  8. David Ould

    FWIW, I wouldn’t call it primitive. It’s a neat idea.
    It does, however, mean you can’t use a gravatar 🙁

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