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.