Saturday, 19 December 2009

Majority of Australians Believe in God...and UFOs!

As if on cue, following the American poll about religious syncretism earlier this week (see '1 in 5 Christians Believe in re-Incarnation' below), a poll of Australians on more or less on the same topic has come across the wires to my old manse this morning. I don't have much time to comment on this at present, but I thought it too relevant to recent posts here to delay drawing attention to it.
My first instinct is to question some of the results, as there is no indication of how the questions were framed, but one thing it probably does show quite clearly is that Australia, which had very high levels of traditional Christian belief at the start of the last century (i.e. circa 97% Christian) has over the last hundred years split into a strongly rationalist camp (almost 25%) and another, larger group that will seemingly believe just about anything (68% believe in "God" [however nebulously defined], but 41% also believe in astrology). Based on my anecdotal experiences as a minister, these figures seem about right (and you'd be surprised the number of conversations I've had with parishioners about UFO sightings and their significance).

Here is the report:

"A poll has revealed that most Australians believe in God or a similar universal spirit, but a majority also believe in miracles, life after death and angels, and many believe in astrology and UFOs.

The surprising findings from a Nielsen poll for Fairfax newspapers show Australia is a credulous nation, willing to mix and match religious faith with belief in other phenomena.

Although Australians are widely considered to be a secular people, nearly half of the population believe in psychic powers such as extrasensory perception, while 41 per cent believe in astrology.

The research shows that Australians are more religious than we might have thought - 68 per cent of us believe in God or a universal spirit.

But atheists and agnostics also had a strong showing in the national survey of 1,000 respondents, taken early this week.

Almost one in four Australians (24 per cent) do not believe in either God or a universal spirit, and seven per cent are not sure or say they don't know.

But God is not the only thing Australians believe in. They place their faith in a range of other phenomena. For example, 63 per cent believe in miracles, and 53 per cent believe in life after death.

Angels are also popular, with 51 per cent of respondents saying they believe in them, slightly more than the 49 per cent who hold faith in psychic powers such as ESP.

Forty-one per cent of people believe in astrology.

Thirty-four per cent of Australians believe in UFOs and 22 per cent think witches exist

Now, is this good news or bad news? On the one hand, there is quite evidently great hunger out there for the transcendent and for spiritual meaning; on the other hand it looks like most people outside of the orbit of the confessional churches (and some within!) are quite open to what I broadly term neo-Gnosticism and have in practice adopted its methodology of syncretism. So, there is a great need in this society for evangelism and catechetics; and if that doesn't impact upon the trends already evident, orthodox Christian ministers can take heart that as our congregations inevitably decline or slip into syncretistic practices, we are likely to pick up work as exorcists and witch-hunters! Seriously, there has been useful work done on the spiritual significance of the UFO phenomena and the New Age from a Christian standpoint, and I think it might be time for a sermon or two on it. Strange days, indeed.


Matthias said...

Pastor i think this blogticle is a continuation of the "Home to rome" and the Sydney Anglican discussion.
1.I think from the LCA perspective ,there needs to be specific ministry to the unsaved/non Christian using contemporary media but ensuring that the never changing Gospel is presented to an ever changing world. A model of doing church differently. Can i suggest that you look at to see how the Baptists have done it
2. a withdrawal from the mincing bishops of the High anglicans by LCA leadership and more efforts with the Evangelicals in the Anglican church
3. A call for all LCA members to live out their confession as Christians and as lutherans

Matthias said...

Thismixedup beliefs of contemproary Australia reminds meof the police officer at a Scottish FA match between Queens park Rangers-protestant in membership and Celtic-Catholic in membership. He heard a Celtic supporter yelling out "Hang the Pope,Hang the Pope'.The plod said"hey LADDIE WHY ARE YE SHOUTIN HANG THE POpe WHEN YER in Celtic colours""Ah officer it is like this .It is a lot easier to say HANG THE POPE ,than to yellout "Hang the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland"

acroamaticus said...

LOL. He's got a point!
I followed QPR when I was a lad (as far as the Scottish league is concerned), sort of lost interest in anything but the World Cup as an adult. Saw Man Utd in 1974 -brilliant!

acroamaticus said...

Thabnks for the website reference, Matthias, I'll check it out after Christmas.

Melanchthon said...

You are right to view this as both disturbing and an opportunity. I do think that most (if not all) people desire a spiritual dimension in their lives. I think of St. Augustine's famous quote: "Our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee."

I like to remind my folks of the wonderful opportunities for evangelism, since people are open to all sorts of "spiritual" things. We have to point them to the Holy Spirit.

acroamaticus said...

Hi Jon,

What do you know...I used the survey as an illustration in my sermon on Sunday and also used the Augustine quote, along with his 'born with a God-shaped hole in the heart' image. It was one of the few times when I haven't preached a textual sermon, although it was a meditation on the Magnificat, it was more a topical sermon on the spritual climate today and what it means for us.

Melanchthon said...

Great minds think alike, eh? :-)

I thought you might like this editorial, as it links two issues you have brought up: American religion and "spirituality."

If the link doesn't work, search the NY Times for Ross Douthat: "Avatar" and the Critics

acroamaticus said...

Obviously, Jon!

Thanks for the link. I shall read it with interest. Now that services are done for Christmas I can put my feet up for a day.