A new survey released just in time for Easter has revealed Australians are more split than ever over whether there is a supreme creator God or not, with almost equal amounts in the “yes” and “no” camps. Yet many more people appear to believe in God and the Bible as God’s word than attend church.
McCrindle research surveyed more than 1,000 people from across Australia on behalf of the Centre for Public Christianity and found that while 52% of Aussies believe in the “classical creator God”, 48% have either never believed in this God, or no longer do.
The same cannot be said for belief in Jesus. According to the poll, only 21% of those surveyed are confident the resurrection happened, and 13% don’t think Jesus even lived. And a significant 60% believe the Bible is a book of myths.
Director of the Centre for Public Christianity (CPX), Simon Smart says the findings indicate that Australians are moving away from conventional spiritual beliefs.
“When we first started CPX eight years ago now, we had this sense that on the horizon you could sense a looming collapse of widespread Christian belief and this sort of survey is indicative of that collapse coming in a more dramatically rapid fashion than even we had imagined.”
And yet the survey found a significant number of people believe the Bible is the Word of God and that Jesus rose from the dead. More people hold those beliefs than attend church.
“It seems Orthodox Christian belief has quite a tenacious hold on a significant number of Australians,” says Simon. “A lot more people seem to have a conviction about key things like the Bible being God’s word, or belief in the bodily resurrection of Christ.
“In a good light you might think that’s an opportunity and it might give people confidence as they address the Australian population. Plenty of people still have a sense that there’s truth to be found, but there is a bit of a disconnect in terms of that converting into attendance and involvement in the local church level.”
The other explanation for the discrepancy might be a decline in nominalism – not necessarily a bad thing according to Simon.
On the dramatic increase in atheism indicated by the survey, Simon is reluctant to trust the figures because the stats were so high. He says the figure of 48% of people never believing in this God, or no longer believing in it is 3 or 4 times higher than other stats out there.
“With that particular statistic there probably needs to be more work done, because it’s so much higher than past surveys. Maybe deeper questions need to be asked about what they mean when they say this.
“But I think we can at least say it indicates something many of us have sensed for a while, that Australians are moving away from conventional Christian beliefs.”
One ray of hope are the findings related to the resurrection. The survey found 47% of people are either confident that the resurrection of Jesus occurred, or are open to the possibility it happened. Although Simon says the 13% who don’t believe Jesus even existed reveals the overall picture is one of polarisation.
“You’re seeing people at very different ends of the spectrum there indicating a gulf between those who are confident and those who are a very long way from that.”
He says the main application for Christians is to face the reality of where Australians are at and where they are headed in terms of their beliefs, and to find new ways of engaging them.
“What we are seeing is a rapid loss of belief among many people. The church in the West must learn how to speak into a new environment where around about half the people think belief is unsustainable, they think it’s nonsense.
“It’s important that the Christian community learns to speak into that environment and not one they wish was the case or perhaps misconstrue and believe it’s more positive than it actually is.”
Image: Herman Yung on Flickr, used under CC License.More