You could be forgiven for thinking that Australia was a godless place. After all, only around 10 percent of us go to church in any regular manner.
Sure, the occasional wedding or funeral, but there’s not a lot of pew-sitting going on. Australians worship the shopping mall, the digital screen, the beach and every kind of ball game that’s going. We’re very religious, just not very churchy.
But there’s another way to look at it.
One in Ten Aussies in the Same ‘Club’
An impressive 10 percent of Australians belong to one club. That’s a bigger boast than Nippers, Little Athletics, or the mighty South Sydney Rabbitohs.
One in every ten Aussies belongs to a club who every week get together to sing, pray and read the Bible, to follow through on historic rituals, all designed to connect the human spirit with the divine reality.
That’s actually a marketer’s dream. One in ten, all engaged in the same thing.
And more than that; in the previous census (not the recent one, whose results aren’t out yet), around 60% of Australians identified themselves as Christians. So five in ten are happy with the label, even if they never turn up to the shop.
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Why is Australia a Majority Christian Nation?
Australia is a majority Christian nation. The reason for that? I may be biased, but I think the Bible has a lot to do with it. This week, the Bible Society in Australia turns 200. It’s a long innings, and we’re still going strong. We were founded by Governor Macquarie on 8th March, 1817, making us Australia’s longest living organisation (older than Westpac by a month!). So, we have seen 200 years of the influence of this book.
The early Bible Society Committee—names like Redfern, Wentworth, Marsden and Cowper—walked around Sydney Town knocking on doors, finding out who could read, and getting them a Bible to help them do it. They encouraged Bible reading for family entertainment and instruction.
And they put the Bible’s teachings in to practice, founding institutions such as schools, hospitals, orphanages, charities and even insurance companies, all to make sure that “love thy neighbour” had some strong, structural support.
The Bible shapes our arts and culture still, with writers like Tim Winton, Les Murray and Geraldine Brooks all calling on the Bible for their themes and characters. The Bible is in the bloodstream of the nation, and down at the bedrock—often unseen these days, but still having an impact.
It’s a significant player in the story of what has made Australia great.
Aboriginal Australia’s Embrace of the Bible
But what about our indigenous people? Surely this claim sounds racist, denying the original spirituality of our first people? Isn’t this the white man’s religion, arriving along with the bad stuff: alcohol, disease, violence?
According to the census data, over 70% of indigenous Australians self-identify as Christian. What’s going on there?
In the words of the Bible itself, brought to them by missionaries over the past century and a half, many of them believed that the Word they heard came from God and responded, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”.
Greg Clarke is the CEO of Bible Society Australia and author of The Great Bible Swindle.