More fallout in today’s Australian from the “Spirit of Generation Y”
survey, a three-year academic project from which results were released last month. Cardinal George Pell is reported as warning that “religious confusion [among Catholics] is worse than that of all other young Australians”.

It’s worth having a look at just what trends Pell considers so worrying. According to the survey, “a mere 10 per cent of Catholics between the ages of 13 and 29 believed ‘only one religion is true’. Furthermore, ’75 per cent of young Catholics believe it is acceptable to ‘pick and choose beliefs'”.

These figures agree with preliminary results reported at the beginning of the year (no longer available on the Oz website, but archived here).

Then it was said that “when faced with a big decision or a problem, 86% of students said it was likely they would think it through themselves rather than turn to others”, and “On the question of where they turned when seeking help to ‘work out’ their lives, only 9% said school religious education classes were very important”.

For months now, The Australian has been telling us that the Australian education system is a disaster area. But if so many young people have such sensible attitudes to the big issues of life, we must be doing something right.

It makes sense that Catholics more than others would be found to lack traditional religious belief, since “Catholic” works largely as a social or ethnic identifier, not a religious one. (Compare the category of “other Christians” – i.e. the newer fundamentalist churches – where 34% believed in one true religion.) It’s an important reminder that our official statistics overstate the importance of religion, since they tend to track how people were brought up rather than what they actually believe.

For Pell, all this points to “a malaise and confusion in the general approach to life rather than just a few isolated points of heresy or unbelief”. But for the rest of us it suggests that today’s youth are admirably free from dogma and superstition. That should be kept in mind by the politicians and commentators who are so keen to introduce religious discourse into public life.

Peter Fray

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