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Jun 30, 2010

Gillard's not our first atheist

Julia Gillard will not be hurt by revealing she is an atheist. Of the 12 prime ministers preceding her, Kevin Rudd alone was overtly Christian, writes press gallery veteran Rob Chalmers.


Julia Gillard will not be hurt by revealing (when questioned, note) she is an atheist.

Of the 12 prime ministers preceding her, Kevin Rudd alone was overtly Christian. He wore it like a neon sign on his sleeve. Press conferences outside church on a Sunday were common. For sheer crassness, it was hard to top the efforts of Rudd in lobbying the Pope to declare Mary McKillop a saint.

It beats John Howard’s performance of visiting Bob Santamaria on his deathbed. Howard must have known that Santamaria, although the fearsome enemy of Communism, could not stand him. In the end none of this helped Rudd when the polls began to drop.

Of the PMs who came to, or remained in office, as a result of an election, neither Curtin, Chifley, Menzies, Holt, Gorton, Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Keating or Howard was regularly seen on their knees, apart from funerals and weddings. (I include those who remained in office as a result of an election because some became PM as a result of changes in party leadership — for example, Gorton became PM on the death of Holt and subsequently won the 1969 election).

Hawke as PM was an agnostic and Whitlam a proud atheist. Whitlam earned the undying hatred of the churches when he removed the sales tax from the contraceptive pill for women. The general population thought it a great idea.

The founding fathers wisely decided that Australia should have a secular Constitution, not attached to any religion. Whitlam’s most famous reference to the Almighty came with his dismissal by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr in 1975. Then came the dramatic reading of the instrument of dissolution of the parliament on the front steps of the building by Kerr’s secretary, David Smith. The steps were crowded with onlookers and MPs and Whitlam was slightly behind Smith looking over his shoulder.

When Smith finished his reading with the standard exhortation ‘God save the Queen’, Whitlam told those assembled: “Well may he say God save the Queen, for nothing will save the Governor-General.”

Last Easter, the churches and atheists had a good old stoush on whether or not there is a God. Whatever the intellectual argument, it’s clear most Australians couldn’t care less about God.

Bureau of Statistics figures show that in 2001 barely 10% named a Christian religion to which they adhered. Between 1996 and 2001 (a mere five years), the number of adherents dropped by 7%. The biggest denomination, Catholic was a mere 764,800 in 2001, amounting to a dismaying drop (for the church) of 13%. Anglican/Protestant, the next biggest denomination at 759,000, was steady.

Only the Holy roller, hot gospeller, minority groups gained substantial ground. Church attendance is currently less than 8% of the total population and those at church are mostly grey haired old ladies.

The small Muslim population is, of course, devoted to their Mosque and there is a much smaller group of Buddhists.

Fortunately the Almighty, unlike the unfortunate United States, does not receive calls from political leaders (even Rudd when PM) to assist them in their various missions. George Bush was always calling on Him (or Her for the sisterhood) for assistance in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Canberra, the Lord’s Prayer is read by the speaker and senate president every day to start proceedings. This was not the practice in the first parliament after Federation and it was because of pressure from a much larger (proportionately) population of Christians that the parliament agreed to prayers.

Gillard will of course show respect to those who have religious faith, but Australians generally, apart from having no interest in religion, regard it as a private matter as they do s-xual preferences of others. Tony Abbott, who once trained for the priesthood, is a devout Catholic, but will not attempt to make anything of Gillard’s atheism.

He should make sure that every Coalition MP gets this message.



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68 thoughts on “Gillard’s not our first atheist

  1. shepherdmarilyn

    I don’t have the foggiest idea why anyone would bother to write this drivel.

  2. abarker

    …Possibly because the ridiculously small amounts of Happy Clappers seem to command so much social and political pressure.

    Go Julia. It’s about time.

  3. Bill

    Howard was a regular church attender, and made no secret of his affiliation.

  4. Michael James

    Howard did not use his church attendance as a backdrop to media pressers either, unlike our former Bureaucrat in Chief.

    Honestly, this article seems to be part of the media’s beatification (irony intended) of our Lady of the Sacred BloodNut, Saint Julia of Gillard.

    Frankly, it’s unlikely that the vast majority of the population gives two tosses about Gillard’s position on religion. Most people seem to see a persons religious affiliation as a matter of personal choice, one that has no need to become talking fodder for the commentariat.

    It’s more likely that the generally athiest / agnostic media see this as a way of contrasting her with Abbot’s more religious bent, simply because someone who is a serious Christian makes them uneasy.

  5. Holden Back

    Or maybe Michael James that moralising selectively on matters of doctrine and pretending you are seriously religious sickensthe general population.

  6. Oscar

    To quote the late, great Douglas Adams …

    Who is this God person anyway?

  7. Pat Miller

    The confusion generated when so-called christian values muddy the waters of good policy is a travesty. The amount of money funneled through religions because of their tax exempt status is mind boggling and the happy clappers do not have the monopoly on altruism.

    Ditch their tax free status and separate church and state. We might have an obsolete constitution but the founding fathers (not too many mothers!) got the secular bit right.

  8. geomac

    Marilyn If you think this article is drivel then you will go bonkers at what will come from the far right. Similarly to the falsehoods that are spread about boat arrivals the same people will portray Gillard as unfit for the office of PM based on her atheism. Personally I couldn,t give a toss about someones stance as to the existence of a god. Where I get concerned if it directs their policy decisions about all Australians, the majority of which dont take religion as a guide to social behaviour.
    I automatically suspect any public figure who makes a fuss about their religion or stresses their adherence to their faith. Almost always they then advocate actions that go against the tenet of their faith but as with religious god botherers bend their faith to suit their own agenda. I was raised a catholic but see people like Abbott and Andrews as people who have no idea about what christianity is about. If I was asked in a census I would call myself an agnostic.

  9. Scott

    “Bureau of Statistics figures show that in 2001 barely 10% named a Christian religion to which they adhered”

    This is a rubbish statement. ABS figures clearly show that the percentage of people nominating a christian religion in 2001 was 68% (20.7% anglican, 26.6% catholic, 20.7% other christian). Add in the 4.9% other religions and you have 72.9% of Australians believing in some sort of deity.

    The numbers are wrong as well. Catholic numbers were 4.8 million in 1996 but increased to 5 million in 2001 (an increase of 4%). Anglicans dropped by 0.6% from 3.9 million to 3.88 million.

    Don’t believe me? Check out the ABS link below. All figures from the 2001 census.


    I have no problems with Gillard being an atheist. However I do have issues with dodgy journalism and incorrect data.

  10. geomac


    I,m with you on the tax free status. Charities yes but religious groups no. this wouldn,t affect religious charities just their affiliated religion.

  11. Roger Clifton

    As the frequency of climatic disasters increase, we must expect an increase in religious attendance, as worried people, deaf to science, turn to their ministers for explanation.

    However religion can also provide the same people with guidance on ethics, on what we ought to do.

    It could become a turning point in history if sufficient congregations rise up in anger at our mistreatment of Nature or Creation. That would be a lot better IMHO than the same numbers being exhorted to deny science and tremble at the increasing Wrath of God.

  12. Bullstrode

    Beware of serious men in silly hats

  13. Bogdanovist

    Marilyn, I ask myself the same question when I read many of your contributions.

  14. Sancho

    because someone who is a serious Christian makes them uneasy.

    You’ll find, Michael James, that what makes Australians uneasy is a Prime Ministerial contender who believes human civilisation has really gone downhill since the Inquisition stopped torturing heretics.

    Rudd’s religious carry-on is cloying and sanctimonious, but Abbott genuinely appears to miss the Dark Ages.

  15. David


  16. SusieQ

    I’m with ABarker on this – the noise generated by the religious right, or whatever they are called, far outweighs their numbers and support. Presumably they are all horrified at the election of woman to the top job who is not only childless but not married and ‘living in sin”! Well, guess what, its none of our business!

    This is not the USA where one cannot even imagine an athiest President ever being elected and I for one am glad about that. At least now we won’t have the Sunday doorstop with Kev and Therese leaving church hand-in-hand…………

  17. paddy

    @ BOGDANOVIST 🙂 + 🙂

  18. Damo

    @ Michael – someone who is a serious Christian makes them uneasy.

    Very uneasy, someone who is talking to an invisible friend in the sky is not fit to run the country.

  19. Bob the builder

    Good to see that US-style public religion gone and great that Gillard’s religious views are mostly a non-issue. However, in the spirit of not apeing our dear US cousins, could we all stop talking about our ‘founding fathers’? This horrible Americanism and it’s related Constitution worship is sickening – we have a very different history and a very different ‘birth’ as a nation. Please, let’s use our own language and thoughts to describe our history and not the templates of our dominant cousins!!

  20. Geordie

    @ SCOTT

    Glad someone said it. I was going to interject myself but I’ve been trying to figure out where these figures come from, a lot of playing-down of Christianity in Australia works off church-attendance figures instead of the majority of Australians who responded in the census that they were Christian (reporting a final “active Christian” figure), then there’s the final dismissal under “oh but they were probably frightened to say they were atheist” but I can’t figure this one out…

  21. shepherdmarilyn


    As an atheist I find her total lack of warmth and humanity distressing and obviously those in the North Americas are likening it to a coup detat such as we would see in a banana republic.

    I found it embarrassing that the feather duster got to attend the G20 that Rudd brought about because Gillard is too ignorant to know what she is on about.

    The only country in the western world to behave like some poor African country and to debase themselves over a frigging tax on miners.

    The only thing I can say is that at least when she jails children she won’t be too much of a hypocrite because she has never given a toss.

  22. Sancho

    Well said, Bob. Australia’s constitution was written by founding bureaucrats for the benefit of the British empire, not by rebels with a vision for the future of the nation.

  23. leeborkman

    “Fortunately the Almighty, unlike the unfortunate United States, does not receive calls from political leaders… to assist them in their various missions.” I’m afraid I have no idea what this sentence means. Why, exactly, is the Almighty unlike the United States? Is this some kind of riddle, or is it merely appalling grammar?

  24. Bob the builder

    @Sancho. Can I have some of your drugs please?

  25. leeborkman

    @Oscar: “Who is this God Person anyway?” was actually said by Oolon Colluphid, as Douglas Adams would be the first to admit, were he able to admit anything.

  26. Socratease

    I’m waiting for Venise to chime in on this one and I can probably guess the content.

  27. harrybelbarry

    News flash Howard lost the votes for the cricket job , Ha Ha Ha their must be a god ?

  28. Holden Back

    @Bob & Sancho. ‘Our founding moustache-wearers’ perhaps? Even though that discriminates against Barton.

  29. David

    I found it embarrassing that the feather duster got to attend the G20 that Rudd brought about because Gillard is too ignorant to know what she is on about.

    You know that is not correct. If she had got on a plane and flown out, 12 hours after taking over the PM ship, to Canada, there would have been howls of protest from all sections of the community and Abbott would have been all over it. You have made it obvious you do not like the woman but please keep it honest.

  30. shepherdmarilyn

    No she would have earned some respect if she went to the LEADERS MEETING. instead of swanning around like a grinning monkey.

  31. David

    @Marilyn…you just don’t want to know, it will never be possible for you to see anything but evil in Prime Minister Gillard.

  32. Sir Lunchalot

    Gillards comments will cost her votes. She will get a lot of female votes, and she will get over the line and win the election.

  33. GocomSys

    Use “common sense” and apply due “consideration” in your daily life. Avoid being “dogmatic”, it is potentially “divisive” and often “destructive”! No need for imaginary friends!

  34. shepherdmarilyn

    Well taking the jet on a fundraising jaunt is a good start.

    And she is vile, not just because she over threw Rudd but because of her lack of humanity to people who have no means of speaking for themselves.

  35. David Gibson

    @Scott and Geordie – I agree the figures are confusing, I’m not sure where at the ABS they were generated (possibly not from the census but I don’t know of any other survey they conduct on religion). Although the figures ring true to some similar figures I’ve seen from the National Church Life Survey (NCLS) which are generated along a basis of church attendance with less than 10% of the population actually involved in a religious community at a low level of frequency.

    The census figures relate to a self-completed survey and do not require people to demonstrate or explain the degree to which their religious affiliation relates to beliefs about metaphysical claims. My point is, many people selecting ‘Catholic’ might be doing so as a ‘cultural catholic’ where they no longer believe but given their upbringing may feel some desire to self-identify as such, same could be for any Christian in Australia today. I know many people who describe themselves as ‘lapsed catholic’ which requires a series of pointed questions to get them to actually say what the believe (often they’re atheists).

    A clear example of this is my wife, she calls herself Christian (and ticks the box on the census form as one) but for the life of me I can’t figure out why. She doesn’t belong to any church, never attends one (except for weddings and funerals), doesn’t have a high (even positive) view of the bible, doesn’t affirm Jesus actually lived, believes in heaven but not hell, etc. Although she does believe in a god I’m not entirely sure why she calls it the Christian god, and she can’t really explain it beyond vague cultural reasons (she WAS educated in a private catholic school and does exhibit some degrees of catholic guilt despite not being catholic ever!).

    It is also worth noting the fastest growing ‘religious’ group according to the census are the ‘nones’ (no religion, agnostics, atheists, etc) which accounted for 18.7% of the population last census (my estimates based on 10 year average changes would push this to 20% in 2011). This is also relfected in other surveys conducted around Australia. However, given the lack of solid probing questions about the nature of these people’s belief I find it likely the census is severely underestimating the number of non-religious people in Australia and over-estimating the religious.

    I think it is consistent to claim religion is receding in Australia, the old institutions especially, and those who lack belief or do not require a spiritual community are increasing. However, none of this should have anything to do with politics, I’d rather no politician used their belief (or lackthereof) to court additional votes from the community – it should be about their policy and track record and how it relates to you and your values (actions are the only true measure of a person’s beliefs anyway). It is perfectly possible for someone who is an atheist to hold very similar values to a fervent Christian on a range of issues (consider Gillard’s position on gay marriage for example).

  36. Liz45

    Who forced the bloody journalists to stand outside the church in the first place? Were they forced there by someone pointing a gun at them? They went there because they knew where he’d be and what time he’d come out! Nobody forced them!

    I find it amazing, that the author has a go at Kevin Rudd and his media stops after church, but I think it’s much worse to make out you’re a bloody christian, go to church, waft on about the god person while at the same time spending billions killing people who are no threat to this country, and allowing women and kids to be locked up in hell holes until the whole family need counselling – for years, while denying their husbands access to their kids? What particular lesson of their ‘god’ preaches this sort of inhumane and disgusting behaviour?

    I also find it amazing, that people castigate Marilyn for her forthright attitude that promotes our so-called commitment to the ‘sacredness’ of human rights, but gloss over those who spend our money killing and jailing innocents; denying fathers being with their wives/partners when their child is going to enter this world, but authorise (male)guards to perve on the women in labour? So much for their protestations re families blah blah blah!

    If Julia Gillard takes the racist ‘dog whistler’s’ line on asylum seekers, she’ll deserve every name Marilyn has called her! I’ll wait and see!

    I’m a strong believer in no religion in politics – at all! No speeches at Hillsong or wherever, and absolutely no religious organisation to use Parliament House unless feminist groups can, anti-war groups also, and other community and caring organisations – without the god botherers? No prayers before Question Time etc!

  37. David Mac

    Actually the Australian Constitution (a British Act of Parliament) is full of reference to “Almighty God”, so it is not surprising that Parliament opens with a christian prayer. Be that as it may, a PMs religious affiliation SHOULD have no role in evaluating their performance. And there are now so many religions in this country, in addition to atheism – at the last census I registered as “Worship of Great Wombat”, and I hope this one grows by at least 1000% at next census.

  38. Rena Zurawel

    SO Julia Gillard is an atheist and it is so important to know? Why?
    For me it was more important to know that comrade Mao was one.
    The whole unqualified discussion about something very personal is really silly.
    I know that there is a ‘ genetically modified convict’ syndrom in some sections of the comunity but our parliamentarians still pray to God in the Parliament. Just wondering what is little vixen doing during those prayers.
    Whether Julia is an atheist or not, her fundamental, basic duty is to respect the system she represents.
    I understand that there was some reason she had to see our Governor-General.
    Unless we have a different system and a different Constitution, the one we have should be respected by everybody.
    If we choose so, we can always opt for a secular government of … China.

  39. geomac

    Wasn,t Hitler baptised a catholic ? Wasn,t Bush a born again christian and isn,t that a case for abortions of born agains in a symbolic sense ? Whatever ones stripe isn,t it more about the person and how they conduct themselves when they are voted to represent all of us not their belief system. Abbott has Pell , the reincarnation of Dr Mannix I presume. If the clergy want to direct policy then do it via the ballot box not by proxy.

  40. Bill Parker

    I was flabbergasted by the talk back to Perth ABC on the day Gillard spoke frankly. The response could be summed up by one person who asked “how dare our Prime Minister not be a believer in god…… where does she get her guidance from?”

    I could make suggestions….

  41. lord lucan

    God was a woman but she changed her mind.

  42. Rena Zurawel

    It is very interesting how we try to ‘communicate’ with our political leaders; usually through the media.
    To show that we do care and, to test our leaders whether they do care, we ask them variety of hypothetical or otherwise questions to have something to comment on in our little, tiny circles of powerful voters.
    As one size fits all, all our candidates, would-be-candidates, and incumbents get the same set of inquisitive ( and sensational) drilling:
    ‘Who created the world?
    Do you believe in gay marriages?
    Do you support abortion?
    What is your opinion about queue jumpers?
    And this is practically everything we expect our politicians to ‘stand for’. To have balanced views and open minds we expect them to support abortions, gay marriages and not support creationism nor queue jumpers. To have those views altered would be too controversial and the politician would be burried for good.
    That is why our pollies can feel free from ‘standing for’ not important matters like water supply/energy supply, educational standards, technological development of the remnants of our industry.

    Julia Gillard passed the test with high distinction. It is high time modern politicians rejected Ten Commandments.
    And most of them have alerady done so.

  43. Frank Campbell

    who gives a flying puck if Gillard’s an atheist?

    Where’s the trenchant analysis of her conveyor-belt ALP faction career ? Or her nasty closet Zionism? Or her partner, who is being used as a pawn by property developers in Brumbyland?

  44. sickofitall

    I think Menzies identified as a Presbyterian, and was a believer, if not devout. Menzies, to his credit, damped down a lot of Catholic bigotry, pretty much finishing sectarianism in Australia (he wasn’t the only one, but you can be sure his willingness to work with such men as B A Santamaria had an effect on people who would have dismissed Santamaria as a ‘papist’. (Not that Santamaria was a shining beacon of Christian humility… or even a less than odious effect on Australian Politics). But I think you can sum up Menzies’ belief in the idea that ‘Australians generally apart from having no interest in religion, regard it as a private matter as they do s-xual preferences of others.’

  45. Graeme Harrison

    Great to see an atheist back at the helm. I no longer need to worry which bit of harm mitigation will be outlawed by someone’s ‘invisible friend’. Remember Abbott had to be over-ruled by the Howard government when (as Health Minister) he refused the expert advice received from the independent PBS panel to approve the RU486 ‘day-after abortion drug’. The funny thing is that Christ never said anything about zygots or that we should offer them any protection at all… He simply never thought to leave any instruction regarding them. Yet somehow 20th century US+Vatican politics raised the topic to the ultimate test of one’s Christian faith…. precisely because the issue has no basis in any of the holy books. The divination attempts (pun intended) to ascertain what Christ’s view on zygots might have been based on unrelated bits of scripture read like a scene from the “The Life of Brian” (“It’s a sign – He wants us to walk with one sandal!”). Outlawing something that is simply ‘to be available’ based on one’s own morals (ie not compulsory) is seeking to be a ‘moralist for others’. I often wonder how such people would react if their own daughter suffered a rape and had to consider use of such a drug in such circumstances. And if that is too personal, then even how someone whose daughter needed such a drug, might confront someone who outlawed it on the basis of his personal (mis-)understanding of his deity’s views on the matter. It beggars belief that in an enlightened age, some still try to impose their own religious views on how others should live their personal lives.

    Yet the far bigger issue is that the ALP has now successfully aborted its only visionary. Yes, Rudd was not pandering to the factions. And Rudd was too slow to settle the Super-profits tax. A week after the dispute started, Rudd could have said “OK, the Treasury got it wrong – the ‘super’ bit ought start at twice the government risk-free return, but with such reduced receipts the tax-payer will not be footing the bill for any failed mining ventures.”

    With Julia, the factions have won, arguably for a life-time. No future Labor leader will challenge them for decades. This leaves the ALP as an entity solidly controlled by the unions, putting our democracy back some 3o years, during which the ALP sought to lessen such control. Is it 15-20% of workers are ‘nominal union members’, meaning ‘active union members’ are 1-3% of the population.

    Having Federal Labor emulate NSW Labor in this regard is a case-study in how to disenfranchise the voting public via cabal-squabbling. The one thing Labor politicians fail to undestand is that the more a candidate for pre-selection or an existing MP looks like a typical ‘ALP type’ (coming up through the ranks, understanding why you have to sell your soul, and how favours are repaid), the LESS that person appeals to the swinging voter.

    So the ALP machine loves Julia, but thinking swinging voters loved Rudd, from his push for our role in a G20, to punching above our weight internationally etc. Comparatively, Julia will seem a plodder – consultative with union leaders, but without visionary elements.

    If the faction leaders had been genuinely worried about re-election chances, they should have pushed for the needed changes in the structure of the mining tax, or pushed to have Rudd off-load some functions…. but the factions simply saw the opportunity to install their puppet. And they knew they had to do the decapitation before Rudd paraded well at the G20, or settled the mining tax dispute.

    I hope Julia learns a lesson from Keneally’s departure.

  46. shepherdmarilyn

    Interesting that Elizabeth Farrelly has stuck it to Gillard for brutal and blatant dog whistling.

  47. godotcab

    That Rudd made a show of communing with invisible powers bothered me a little.

    That Rudd made a show of not communing enough hours every night with darkness and the dreamworld – ie, necessary sleep – made him a pain in the arse to everyone around him.

    That bothered the caucus a lot.

    That is a big part of why there was no support for him in the ALP as soon as the poll numbers dropped.

  48. godotcab

    In case you’re wondering, I was brought up deep in the bosom of the methodist faith – both my parents were Uniting Church ministers – so predictably enough, I believe that God made me an atheist.

    I do believe in sleep, and a good breakfast. Without them, I would be even more annoying.

    I also believe in hyphens where others prefer commas.

    Now we can all get some sleep.

  49. Malcolm Street

    Sickofitall – Menzies was just trying to court the Catholic vote via the DLP.

    Others – the difference between census figures on identification with a religion and attendees is telling. It suggests that the majority of religious identification is of symbolic/social significance only. I’d regard the attendance figures as the more reliable as far as an *effective* religious affiliation is concerned.

  50. OBlizzard


    You missed this critical part of the article:

    [to which they adhere to]

    You know, actually attend church on a regular basis? Plenty of people put their religion down as something in a census even though they may have not been to church in decades and are, when you ask what their actual opinion is as to the existence of god rather than their ‘affiliation’, in fact agnostic.

    Most of the people I’m friends with would have put down Anglican or Catholic in the last census even though none of them actually ‘believe’ in a Christian god or attend church, in fact I think I did as well (I was raised a roman catholic), but at the time I was agnostic and couldn’t really care less about it. I was raised a catholic so I put down catholic. Now as an atheist I think that’s a pretty major misrepresentation.

    Therefore you cant just assume that someone who puts down catholic on the census is actually a practicing member of that religion and adherer’s to its belief system. Church attendance is a much better figure (although it probably understates the level of actual belief in a Christian god significantly) as you can actually see how many Australians care enough about their professed religion to actually practice it, which for our purposes is far more valuable data.

    Damn Malcolm Street just put forward all of the above in a single paragraph!!! How I waffle in the mornings…

  51. 144EBHEED

    You athiests always make me laugh…always mistaking G-d for those so called representatives here on earth.

    In this context, I say G-d would be an athiest too and who would blame HIM/HER….but athiests may be higher on the spiritual ladder than what they think.

    “It’s not the hearers of the Word who will be deemed righteous, but it’s the doers of the Word who will be deemed righteous.” Rav Shaul

  52. sickofitall

    @Malcolm Street: yes, and I suspect the finishing of sectarianism was merely a side product to the final aim of winning votes. But I think Menzies was prepared to let the country move forward…

  53. Scott

    If you are going to quote church attendance figures, then say you are quoting church attendance figures. “Adherance” is a subjective term. If you are talking attendance, I think this is where the author got his numbers from.


    Its the national church life survey which estimates the number of people attending a church service EVERY WEEK in 2001. It makes no allowances for those that miss a week or go to other churches temporarily. Even the authors acknowledge it..

    “It should be noted that the weekly attendance estimates discussed here are conservative when it comes to evaluating the proportion of the population that attends church frequently. The reason for this is that people who attend less than weekly will tend to be undercounted in an estimate based on attendance in a typical week. The actual number of Australians attending church say over a month would be expected to be higher, particularly in the larger mainstream denominations”

    I would say that people who attend church once a month are still religious and “adhere” to the religion.

  54. Michael James

    Everyone has a greater or lesser connection with the universe.

    This is epitomised by some as a diety figure, God in all it’s multitudious forms.
    By others as a sense of oneness with the universe. Followers of Buddah and Confucious fall very broadly into this sphere.
    A few feel it is all too vast to encompass and feel that it all happens without their involvement. They call themselves agnostics or aethiests or something similar.
    A few know it as the Force because they like the philosophical idea of lightsabers and the posession of “power over weak minds”.

    Whatever, it’s a matter for the individual, hardly the most salient point regarding our new overlord and one that the media seem to have an unhealthy fixation on.

  55. David Gibson

    @Michael James – I have to say I don’t appreciate your attempt to relate belief in the supernatural (as it relates to the universe itself) along some kind of scale, placing atheists (such as myself) at the least connected end.

    I marvel at the scientific evidence that everything I am comprised of, all the matter and energy, exists today thanks to the life and death of stars which predate our own sun, that all of me was once a part of the total energy of the universe which expanded forth in the big bang. So much so, it is probable there are atoms in my left hand that came from a different star to some in my right. To further consider the immense composition of the universe we are only just beginning to realise (dark matter and energy).

    That my body replaces and renews itself at varying rates throughout my body, so much that I am a wholly new person every 7 years or so, yet I still remain me as a concious being. That conciousness even emanates and arises from a complex array of nerves and cells in our brains to give us minds. It is all amazing and we know so little, the universe is a mystery and it is magnificent.

    But I find no god, I find no need to appeal to the supernatural but nonetheless I see myself as deeply connected to the universe, even for the short time I am here.

    However, I do agree it is for the individual and where Gillard sits along your scale has nothing to do with her policies. I find more than enough issues with Labor and Liberal policies without looking to their personal beliefs for ammunition. I think the media would find this whole topic less interesting if Abbott demonstrated political poise in not answering questions on religion or religious issues, but he can’t help himself.

  56. OBlizzard


    [If you are going to quote church attendance figures, then say you are quoting church attendance figures. “Adherance” is a subjective term.]

    Adherence denotes following Christian doctrine, the most important of which – in my experience – is weekly church attendance.

    You are right there may be many people who don’t attend church regularly (if at all) and may still be ‘religious’ or ‘Christians’, but in the main they must not be very religious people. In any case I don’t think there are large number of people who attend church “once a month”. In my – admittedly subjective – experience the church was a community and there were very few (to be honest virtually no) faces you saw which didn’t show up pretty much every Sunday. There may be many people who go on major religious holidays and such, but I don’t think you can really call them religious.

    In any case weekly attendance figures are a far better way to judge the religiosity of a population than what people put down on a census. The premise that, for the most part, religious people regularly attend religious institutions is a fair generalisation to make in my opinion. Even if Church attendance figures underestimate the true level of ‘Christianity’ in the community by something massive like 100%, its still way below the census data; ~1.5 million Catholics & ~1.5 Anglicans vs. 5 million and 3.9 million respectively, that’s a difference of 6 million people. Going off census data you would have to argue that for every one person who attends church every week in a major denomination nearly 6 stayed home but still “adhere” to their particular religious doctrine. My guess is it’s more like .5 or 1.

    Therefore I don’t see how using weekly church attendance data to examine “adherence” to religion is a particularly incorrect thing to do. Can you think of a better data source?

  57. OBlizzard

    Michael James@

    [A few feel it is all too vast to encompass and feel that it all happens without their involvement. They call themselves agnostics or aethiests or something similar.]

    Why do you assume someone has to “believe” in a supernatural entity and engage in superstitious rituals in order to feel a connection with the universe? I don’t believe in a “god”, in fact I’m pretty darn sure there isn’t one. However every time I look up at the stars I think of the fact that every single particle of matter that makes me is stardust, forged in the fire of the big bang, the forge of a stars core or the cataclysm of a supernova. We are all children of the cosmos, and that has nothing to do with God, Jesus or Athena.

  58. Scott

    Census is still the best way of judging how many people identify with a particular religion. Lowest error rate, no under or over counting. Church attendance estimations (and that’s all they are) can give you an idea of the engagement level (to use a corporate term)…but I think care should be taken when using them as an indicator of the numbers of believers. As most older people know, there is a life cycle to church attendence. It usually starts strong (childhood), then disappears for a while (teens and young adulthood). It then comes back with a vengence (middle aged until death). But all this time, the person still belongs and identifies with a religion. Census is the only way to keep track of the numbers (if not level) of religious believers.

  59. David Gibson

    I’d have to disagree Scott – the cenus has a substantial error rate (the ~11% of population who consistently refuse to answer the religious affiliation component is substantial in my opinion, I don’t think it accurate to lump them into the ‘nones’), but it is an affiliation marker and to those completing the forms it does not, in my opinion, make much of an estimation of believers. There is more to religion than belief and many look to religious institutions and communities for something other than affirmation or validation of their person theology – there are secular and sentimental reasons for maintaining an affiliation with a religious denomination. Someone who identifies with a particular form of Christianity does not entirely accept all of its ‘official’ claims about the nature of the universe – consider how many modern Christians don’t believe in hell, or the nature of God itself for example. Furthermore, as I commented before and at least one other person mentioned themselves, they ticked a box on the census as a Christian of some sort but in reality they do not believe in god – they are cultural baptists or cultural methodists. They are identifying with the institution not the theology and the census is incapable of discerning between the two in its current design. Furthermore, there is an additional issue on whether a child can be correctly identified as a Christian of sorts which as I understand the census does include on the basis of the parent/guardian’s completion of the forms.

    I agree that church attendance would underestimate (especially a weekly attendance rate) those who beleive – in much the same way the NCLS underestimated believers the census would overestimate. The reality is no one is doing the kind of thorough research, with probing questions on the nature of each participant’s beliefs (something more detailed than ‘does god exist? yes/no is required), on a scale that is comparable to the Australian population to provide decent estimates. Because of this vacuum in understanding the demographics of religion and faith in Australia it allows church leaders, lobby groups and politicians to misrepresent the impact and significance of various groups and bodies to the detriment of those who do not believe as they do. This results in miscarriages of democracy, such as the current debate in NSW about ethics classes and the current religious instruction classes in public schools, or the school chaplaincy program introduced by Howard and extended by Rudd, or the degree of attention given to the ACL on the internet filter, etc.

    While I accept there is some variation on the import people place on the church during different times in their life but I would be extremely hesitant to extend a previous generation’s pattern of engagement to other generations (especially the younger generations). When the declines being observed by some surveys are suggesting drops in number far greater than previously recorded I’d be more comfortable predicting a far less return rate in later years than currently occuring.

  60. Graeme Harrison

    I have to agree with David Gibson’s comment (just prior) over Scott’s comment (one prior to that).

    You can’t use the Australian Census ‘cultural affiliation’ rates to infer levels of belief/practice. The truth of course lies somewhere between church weekly attendance figures and census results… but I suspect the truth lies far closer to the church numbers. Even assuming an older flock, let’s assume 15% of believers are too sick to attend on any given weekend. The figures don’t change much even if you assume some other 10% of practitioners had a conflicting commitment they deemed more important than their deity (yet only golf or cycling comes to mind for a Sunday morning?).

    Now, when you go to non-practitioners, it is very hard to argue what fraction are true believers, because (as others have commented) if they believe in a church’s dogma, surely attendance is required. And if they don’t believe in the dogma, then you can say they have some other concept of the supernatural, but you can’t lump them in as church-like beliefs.

    The real solution is to redesign the census from Yes/No absolute questions to include the methods used to assess attitudes on a graduated scale. An example would be:
    On a range of 1 to 5 how strongly do you agree with the following statements:
    I believe in the teachings of my church.
    I believe in natural selection and evolution generally.
    I believe in a deity (one or more) who created the world around us.
    I believe science and human nature explains the world around us.
    I attend my church regularly.
    I believe in some form of supernatural or cosmic force (though not a deity as such).
    I believe in an ‘after-life’.
    I derive my morals from my church’s teachings.
    I derive my morals from an innate view of what is right and wrong.
    I consider the implications for my after-life (eg heaven vs hell) in deciding to do right or wrong.
    I believe in UFOs.

    The church attendance question could be used to match against measured attendances to estimate over/under reporting.
    The UFO question can be used to ‘bench-mark’ against base levels of belief generally.
    The others must be ‘interspersed’ – alternating between pro-religion and pro-atheism statements, for balanced responses. [Otherwise people who’ve found they answered too positively with a whole bunch of church affiliation questions may then feel compelled to reject more strongly (than they otherwise would) evolution and science… and vice versa.]

    That in my opinion is what is needed to sort out where the population generally stands on religious views. Some form of affiliation with a church (religious/cultural/community/welfare) is way too coarse a measure to be meaningful.

    But of course, you don’t need to do big surveys. Every city dweller knows the 15-20 churches in their electorate of 50,000 population. And (ignoring weddings and funerals), you know the smallish size of flock seen outside after one of the 1-4 services each Sunday (or Saturday for some). Often numbers are in the 50-250 (low end in wealthy Aussie-born suburbs and high end in suburbs of lower socio-economic migrant families). Take that number, average over services, average over church number and divide into 50,000 to get percent attending.

    And before anyone jumps on me re migrants being more religious, there is a great article at
    on how top-25 countries in terms of education, wealth, low infant mortality, good health, longevity, societal safety and freedom from disasters have high percentages of atheists, while bottom-50 countries on such measures have particularly high levels of ‘belief’ in one or more deities. It does seem that as we get more in control of our lives, and there seems to be less wanton violence (or the acts of a vicious/immoral god), we feel less superstitious. At the extremes Africa is 99% religious, while Scandanavia is 80% atheist – you can guess where I’d prefer to live of the two types of society.

    These multi-country surveys on belief confirm (independent of failings of Australian Census) that Australia lies somewhere near the European average… that we have very high levels of atheism, unless you believe our general life views are more like the USA, Latino or African countries.

    Graeme Harrison (prof at-symbol post.harvard.edu)

  61. In the light

    Whether or not Julia Gillard is an atheist or not is really her business and her business only.
    If she feels that there is no God and that she will get along just fine in life by her own stengths and weaknesses remains to be seen.
    It really is likened to sitting on a branch high up in a tree and sawing off the branch that you are sitting on. There is only one way to travel and that is down.
    Julia Gillard doesn’t need votes(which she never had anyway),she needs to be prayed for.
    That before the end of her life(not political),she comes to believe that there is one true God,
    JEHOVAH,and that the only way to JEHOVAH is through JESUS CHRIST,the SON of the TRUE and LIVING GOD.
    All others gods and religions are fraudulent facsimiles and tin pot fantasies and are deviations from the truth that the master conmen satan has set up for those who would rather believe the lie than the truth and live in darkness rather than light.
    JESUS died on the cross to set us free, to bring us from the bondage of darkness to the freedom of life and light.
    Julia Gillard gets the same choice we all do. To either believe what JESUS says is TRUTH or
    discount it as lies.

  62. David

    @ in the light…Well woop dee fukin do, we have a religious nutter arrive on the scene, anyone for a tea party?

  63. Liz45

    @RENA – “The whole unqualified discussion about something very personal is really silly.”

    Rena, I think the whole point is, that it’s not personal with the politicians who are god botherers – they impose their “personal” beliefs on the rest of us. Why do they only allow a “conscience vote” on issues to do with sex? Same sex marriage; abortion: same sex adoption etc? Why not wars and asylum seekers or prisons or education? The far right in the Catholic church, Opes Dei have too much power in the NSW Liberal Party – not that I’d ever vote for them, but it’s pretty disturbing and destabilising!

    They waft on about their particular brand of worship, and then go out and authorise the killing of innocent people in foreign lands(of no threat to us, or our allies either for that matter?) maim thousands perhaps millions of others, destroy their country, cause starvation, unemployment and psychological trauma; reject those lucky enough to escape and find their way here, and on top of all that – expect the rest of us to cover the costs? That’s what makes me furious – the hypocrisy, the mindless slaughter and misery they cause – all while asserting that their ‘friend’ is on their side?

    Now we have a resident Jehova Witness member giving us a sermon. I have no problem with people choosing what they wish to believe in, I just don’t expect to get a sermon – electronically! If I want one, I’ll resume the church going practices of my youth – before I woke up to all the BS, and while I was denied the right to make up my own mind!
    I didn’t make this mistake with my own kids!

  64. sidah

    Well, I guess you guys have to figure out whether the Bible is true or whether it’s a pack of lies. Either Christianity is true or it’s a lie. Either Christ came to reconcile man with God is true or a lie.

    I think for a person to deny there is a spiritual dimension to life is to be in denial. So what’s the truth? If the Bible is true, consider these words: A fool has said in his heart there is no God (Psalm 14:1). If the Bible is true, do we want a fool running this country? Secondly: Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippian 2:10.

    If God is who He says he is, you are going to fall flat on your face when He appears again and utter the words, Jesus Christ is Lord. Do you want to reconcile with Him before this day? He wants to reconcile with you.

    I’d like to encourage people in this forum to take a long hard look at what they believe and why they believe it.


  65. David Gibson

    Well Sidah, the Bible also condems anyone who calls another a fool to the depths of hell in Matthew 5:22 (“But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”). Which just brings me to my main point: you ask is the bible true but then support this by quoting bible scripture asserting the bible’s truth value. Do you know what circular logic is? I’ll tell you now, it is neither valid or sound.

    Furthermore, if the bible is true it surely would never contradict itself yet there are literally thousands of contradictions between the various authors (and often between the author’s themselves). If you don’t believe me spend a bit of time on Google. To illustrate this thought I will ask you two pertinent questions.

    The first is, in relation to the Passover meal when did Jesus die? You see Mark says (in 14:12 and 15:25) Jesus was crucified the day after the Passover meal but John (in 19:14) says his crucifiction was before the meal gad been eaten. When was it?

    The second is, where did Joseph and Mary travel after the Birth of Jesus? According to Luke (2:39) they travelled to Nazareth a month after their arrival in Bethlehem but Matthew (2:19-22) has them fleeing to Egypt. Which was it? I could ask a similar question about Paul’s movements after his conversion on the road to Damascus (Gal 1:16-17 says he didn’t go see the apostles in Jeruselum but Acts 9:26 says he did).

    You say the Christian God wants to reconcile with me, perhaps because belief is required to be given salvation and a good life and good works are not sufficient (John 3:16, Romans 10:9) but also God wants people to be saved and come to know the truth (1 Tim 2:4).

    But I (and many others like me, millions of others) look at the world around us and I find no evidence for his existence, the manner in which Christians and many other theists define their gods leave them incompatible with the reality in which we exist (Epicurus’ question remains unanswered). I read the bible and I find no evidence for his involvement (I see plenty of human involvement). I see a world which exists in a universe which looks exactly as we could expect if a deity were not involved. If your Christian God exists then he knows what evidence would convince me (even if I don’t) and yet I remain unconvinced. I see no reason to think Christianity is any less myth than all the religions that have come before and all the gods which have been imagined before.

    Ask yourself:
    1. Could God do something to cause everyone to believe he exists?
    2. Does God want everyone to believe he exists?

    Don’t cry free will at me though. If you genuinely think free will is the reason why God remains hidden then explain to me when the provision of knowledge has limited free will? Sure, finding out something could make your decision less palatable but nonetheless you still have a decision.

    I’d like to encourage you, Sidah, to take a long hard look at what you believe and why. If your answer to what you believe and why you believe it is the same response (eg I believe in the bible and I believe it because it is the bible) you are stuck, stuck in a space you can’t justify or truly explain why others should believe as you do. Perhaps you should learn some more about the assemblage and reproduction of the bible and nature of its veracity, also some examination of the assumptions you take to be axiomatic and the extent to which they are justifiable.

    I don’t say there is no God but I’m pretty confident the Christian God (as described scripture) doesn’t exist and I’m comfortable with that.

  66. sidah

    David, you ask pertinent questions and I see you are familiar with the Bible. This is truly a matter of the heart though. How much do you want to know the truth? You sound as if you’re not sure whether there is a God or what He’s about. God has placed eternity in the heart of man – in your heart. Can you deny there is a spiritual side of life? I think you do acknowledge that. The point is that Christianity claims that Jesus is the only way to the Father. Jesus did sacrifice His life so that you could be reconciled with the Father. Now is this the truth or isn’t it? If you are positive it isn’t the truth then I guess the conversation ends here. If you have any doubt whatsoever in your mind then your journey continues.

    I can tell you that no amount of words did me any good when I earnestly sought the truth. The one thing that made the difference to me was meeting with Christ. When you meet with Him David, you’ll know what I mean. God can and will reveal himself to you. And BTW you will find all born again Christians have met with Christ. I’ll get back to you about those discrepancies.


  67. therock

    Lets not forget some other famous atheist leaders: Stalin; Lennin and Pol Pot!!!

    This article is a little misleading. There are actually 5 million catholics in Australia, and this is only one christian denomination. 15% of these practice their faith which is where the 764,800 figure comes from. So 25% of Australia’s population identify themselves as catholics.

    There are about 7 million protestants in Australia, so together, there are 12 million christians in Australia. The majority of Autralians identify themselves as christians. This is the fact of the matter.

  68. therock

    Lets not forget some other famous atheist leaders: Stalin; Lennin and Pol Pot!!!

    This article is a little misleading. There are actually 5 million catholics in Australia, and this is only one christian denomination. 15% of these practice their faith which is where the 764,800 figure comes from. So 25% of Australia’s population identify themselves as catholics.

    There are about 7 million protestants in Australia, so together, there are 12 million christians in Australia. The majority of Autralians identify themselves as christians. This is the fact of the matter.

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