Beyond Belief: Why Australians don’t go to church, but call upon God in times of crisis

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Source: ABC News

By Chloe Brant

Most Australians claim they believe in God or some kind of “higher power” and yet fewer than one in 10 of us attend church every week.

We don’t actively “worship” and yet are apparently comforted by the mere presence of the many churches that operate in our community.

And, despite not believing in God, we send our children to religious schools and turn to the Bible during times of crisis.

In his new book Beyond Belief, Australian social researcher Hugh Mackay argues a growing number of people, particularly young people, are abandoning religion in favour of a different kind of spirituality — one not restricted by institutions or guidelines.

We still crave answers and seek happiness, Mackay says, but more of us are finding it in secular realms: yoga, meditation, music.

Here, Mackay discusses why young people are embracing the Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) movement, why we still call upon God when luck fails us, and whether it is possible to find meaning without religion.

Let’s discuss ‘our need to believe’. Why do we need this sense of purpose?

I think the underlining reason is [that] life is a mystery; we want those big questions answered to why we are here. Humans are seekers of answers: Why is the bus late? Why is my child going off the rails?

We constantly need answers, we try to supply them from a religious path — where answers are provided — and so we are led to embrace religious stories. They make us feel calmer and [help] everything make sense.

Beyond Belief

Australians have steered away from institutionalised religion (fewer than one in 10 of us attend church weekly) while the movement of spirituality has become more important to us over the past decade. Why do you think this is?

First, in modern society, Australia included, we have been bombarded with propaganda over the last few decades, pressure from mass marketing — where we are told life’s greatest satisfaction is to “buy, buy, buy”.

We think we are entitled to more comfort and prosperity and it is all about ‘me’ … the industry is telling us we are entitled to be happy. If [we’re not happy], then we need to do something about it: read that book, buy this CD, take that pill.

We are not let to experience sadness, pain or loss; we are filled with expectations of happiness and the seductive idea that there is no reason why we can’t be happy. This is not healthy or harmonious happiness.

Second, the Christian church is a big, global corporation … [it is] not very welcoming … the experience is seen as boring and quite irrelevant.

Third, we have the dogmatic association with religion: to be Christian, you have to believe that miracles have happened.

People who were raised with a scientific background tend to think, “If I have to believe everything about Christianity, God, etc., then I don’t want to be involved at all”.

Why do you think young people in particular are attracted to the idea of being SBNR?

There is a trend among young people of them asking, “How can I unlock my spiritual potential? How can I be a better person without signing up or wearing the badge of religion?”

They still want the values that are taught with religion of “loving thy neighbour”.

Some people use yoga, mindfulness, secular meditation or pilgrim walks — there are lots of pathways young people are interested in when journeying down a spiritual path.

This can be a moment of change through music or nature. It’s something that happens in their life, a moment when they suddenly realise we are all one.

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