Is Australia a Christian country?

Today’s anti-Muslim movements, here and in other overseas western countries, always seem to use the same war cry as the ultimate checkmate when pushed into a corner: “This is a Christian country!” They used it in Australia years ago when Asians and Aboriginals were blamed for the country’s imagined ills and the slogan serves the same purpose now.

This begs the question: Is Australia a Christian country? Christianity and Islam are both offshoots of Judaism, so to be more accurate should we call ourselves a Jewish country? The combination of Jews, Christians and Muslims, fortunately all worshipping the same God, would appear to be more appropriate.

The results of the current census are going to be very interesting (if we ever get them), but let’s take a look at the religion results in Australia taken from the last census in 2011.

Christians (Catholic 25.3%, Anglican 17.1% and ‘other Christian’ 18.7%) comprised 61.1% of the Australian population; other religions (including the two largest, Buddhists 2.5% and Islamic 2.2%) totalled 7.2%; and the remaining 31.7% consisted of 22.3% of people who professed no religion and 9.4% whose response was either unclear or not stated (these were mostly Jedi, I suspect).

I am an atheist, so I am one of the 38.9% – incidentally the fastest growing segment between 2006 and 2011 – of the people in this country who are excluded when the ‘Christian country’ claim is used. And I don’t like it. I have no objection to, “this is a country with Christians comprising a majority of the population” or “this is a 61% Christian country,’ but I recognise those are not slogan-like or nationalistic enough. My point is that declaring Australia a Christian country is both divisive and misleading.

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I also question those raw statistics on a fundamental – if you will excuse the expression – basis. How many of the 61.1% are actually practising Christians? How many are children who have no say in how they are classified by their parents? How many have a lip-service connection to their religion and state ‘Christian’ because they were brought up that way and have never bothered to question it?

And how many, like Pauline Hanson, profess to be Christian yet behave in the most un-Christian and hateful way possible by racially vilifying Aboriginals, Asians, Muslims and anyone else who doesn’t comply with their dream of a White Australia. They are counted in that 61.1%, too, whether you like it or not.

Australia is a secular country. State and religion are separated, as they should be. The country does not belong to any one religion, particularly when almost (and now possibly more than) a third of the population doesn’t have one.

Perhaps, if a label really is required, we can change the description to, “Australia is a welcoming country” – I’m a migrant as well as an atheist, so I like that one and can vouch for its authenticity – or, “Australia is a multicultural country.” Both of those are more accurate than a religious claim which is offensive when used in such a negative and exclusive way.

It’s a great shame when religion – which is merely a personal preference, just like non-belief – is hijacked and used in a way that goes directly against the tenets of that faith. We see it with Islamic extremists, which results in murder and anarchy, and we see it with Christian extremists who display and encourage racism and vilification of minorities.

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Australia is a wonderful country. It’s not perfect, but it gets a lot right and it can keep improving if everyone is on the same page. But if enough people are so motivated by irrational fear and hate that they turn on their fellow Australians, their actions will actually create the very division and conflict they are cowering from.

It’s up to all Australians to resist racism, religious intolerance, discrimination, fear-mongering and other un-Australian activities and ensure we continue on the positive path toward inclusion, unity and equality for everyone. We have one of the most diverse national populations in the world and live in one of the most peaceful countries. Let’s keep it that way and make it even better.

Australia is not a Christian country. It is a country of Australians. Where we live is so very much more important than where we are from or what we believe.

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