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Christian survey reveals ambivalence in Australia

Christian Survey results

Research: The NCLS team Sam Sterland, Dr Ruth Powell, Cathy Kerr and Chris Ehler.

ABOUT a half of all Australians believe in God or a higher power, but less than one in five are regularly attending church.

According to National Church Life Survey  director Dr Ruth Powell recent figures showed a belief in God and church attendance were declining.

“At fifty-nine per cent, the proportion of Australians who say they believe in God or a higher power is the lowest its been in the last few decades,” Dr Powell said, quoting from latest figures contained in the NCLS’s 2016 Australian Community Survey.

Nearly one in five (19 per cent) identified as agnostic, while one in five (20 per cent) said they were atheistic, believing there is no spirit, God or life force.

Dr Powell said NCLS set out to ask the wider Australian community about their religious or spiritual beliefs.

And while the survey found an erosion of religious engagement in Australia, there was a solid reporting of personal religious practice and religious experience.

More than a quarter of respondents reported having had a mystical or supernatural experience.

A further third either knew someone who had had this type of experience or believed it could happen.

“Even if they don’t describe themselves as religious and don’t go to church, that speaks of ‘something beyond’ that I’ve experienced or think I could experience. There’s a sense that there’s something more to life,” Dr Powell said.

She found it encouraging that three in 10 Australians say they pray or meditate at least once a week.

“I was impressed with that – higher than expected,” Dr Powell said.

When it came to public religious practices, less than one in five Australians attended church or other religious services at least once a month.

Dr Powell said church attendance rates had been in decline for decades.

“Our survey found around eighteen per cent of Australians go to church at least once a month,” she said.

“Church attendance has been in decline over the decades. It’s now starting to flatten out, the decline has slowed, so we are starting to get a more stable picture now.”

Asked whether religion was good for society, about four in 10 recipients (39 per cent) agreed religion was good for Australian society.

A similar proportion (40 per cent) was neutral or unsure, while two in 10 (21 per cent) disagreed.

“I think there’s an ambivalence in Australia at the moment,” Dr Powell said.

“People are not saying ‘I hate religion’, but there are a whole lot of people in the middle and not sure.”

NCLS Research, part of the Australian Catholic University has previously run an Australian Community Survey in 1998, 2002 and 2009.

It also runs a major study of churches, called the National Church Life Survey. Some of the latest survey results will be released at Easter, with more results to follow in coming months.

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