Monday 25 November 2013

Sydney Atheists in the Sydney Morning Herald

Today, the Sydney Morning Herald reflects on a recently released Australian Social Trends report noting the rise of irreligion in Australia. Georgina Mitchell writes:
As a social trends report by the Bureau of Statistics highlights, Australians are increasingly ditching religious dogma. Just under 4.8 million people, or 22 per cent of the population, said they had ''no religion'' on their census forms two years ago.
It is an accelerating trend. In 1911, Australia was unusual in giving its citizens an option of saying they had no religion on census forms. Then just 10,000 people did so, or 0.4 per cent of the population. 
From 1971 onwards, the ABS notes, those reporting no religion has risen by about 4 percentage points a decade. 
And the non-religious have some interesting things in common. The report shows nearly half of same-sex couples report no religion, more than twice the rate of the overall population. Women aged over 15 are less likely to have children if they have no religion and are half as likely to have four or more children as the religious. 
And 31 per cent of those with a postgraduate degree reported no religion, compared with one in five people with a high school education. Those who studied creative arts and sciences at university were most likely to have no religion. 
Sydney Atheists president Steve Marton said younger people became involved in atheism as greater access to information allowed them to question views. 
''Young people today aren't as brainwashed as their forebears; they can look past the religious text and dogma and look on the internet,'' he said. 
''Social media plays a big part. They don't have to be closet disbelievers any more.''
The Bureau of Statistics' Australian Social Trends report notes that males are more likely than females:

 Percentage of people reporting no religion(b) by sex,1971 - 2011 (ABS)

This trend is less pronounced in people under 22:
Percentage of young people reporting no religion, by age and sex, 2011 (ABS)

Among those with no religion under 35, school leavers are as well represented as those with tertiary qualifications, showing the upsurge of awareness of atheism in the general community.

A decreasing number of parents are willing to identify their children as their partner's religion

The ABS notes that "Reporting a religious affiliation is not the same as actively participating in religious activities. In the 2010 General Social Survey (GSS), 15% of men and 22% of women aged 18 years and over said they had actively participated in a religious or spiritual group."

Over 70% of Australian marriage ceremonies are performed by civil celebrants.
Number of marriages by type of celebrant, 1991-2011 (ABS)

The number of people choosing not to answer the question remains similar to 1933 levels, when no religion was not an option (9% vs 13%)

Percentage of people(a) reporting no religion(b) or providing no response to the census question on religion, 1901-2011 (ABS)
The ABS notes:
The 'no religion' response does not tell the whole story, however. It is not possible to work out the actual number of Australians with no religion, as there are people who may or may not be religious who choose not to answer the question, or give an indefinite answer. 
In 1911, the responses of 2% of Australians (83,000 people) were classified as 'objected to state'. In 2011, 'not stated' responses accounted for 9% of the population (1.8 million people).
Reasons for not answering the question may include a belief that religion is a private matter, or because people are answering for someone else and do not know their religious affiliation. 
Those filling out Census forms for older people in nursing homes, for example, may choose the 'not stated' response if the person is not able to communicate ('not stated' responses rise steeply from 8% of people aged 75 to 79 years to 16% of people aged 95 years and over). 
Some people may not answer solely because the question is voluntary. In 1933, when the question was explicitly stated to be so, there was a six fold increase in people choosing not to answer, from less than 2% in 1921 to 13% - the highest proportion of such responses to date.

Jedi will never be classified as a religion, and Sydney Atheists joins with the Atheist Foundation of Australia to encourage people that aren't religious to mark "No Religion" on the census.

The ABS report concludes that "As the rising trend of reporting no religion is driven by younger people, and the tendency is for religious affiliation to remain stable in cohorts, it is possible that we will see Australia become increasingly more secular in the future."

Sydney Atheists believe in a secular and prosperous Australia, and will be here every step of the way.

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