Good on ya, Australia

The Australian census results are in, and there’s good news. The Global Atheist Convention’s theme of the Rise of Atheism has proven true.

The census showed more Australians are identifying themselves as having no religious affiliation, with that number rising to 22.3 per cent from 18.7 per cent of the population in 2006.

There was another major shift: the number of Jedis in Australia has declined from 70,000 to 55,000. Those prequels really sucked, didn’t they?


  1. Kylie Sturgess says

    The Atheist Foundation of Australia’s census billboards from early 2011 (and the Global Atheist Conventions in 2010) must have contributed to some of the people ticking the box for ‘no religion’. I also like to think that pop culture like Tim Minchin doing a popular tour (twice!) has had an impact on people saying they can be ‘good without god’.

  2. Kylie Sturgess says

    [I was interviewed for the local paper, The West Australian, for my views – I don’t know if it’ll be online though)

  3. gardengnome says

    Bewdy, more than one in five! Looking forward to 30% at the next census!

  4. says

    As an Australian, I am a bit puzzled by the census figures. Only 22.3%? I would have thought it was more like 92.3%. And the 7.7% religious would be imported from Asia and Europe. Virtually no-one here is religious. I could walk naked down the main street yelling that I am an atheist, and no one would give a damn.

    We are the polar opposite of the USA, I suspect. The religious here (and I have met a couple) are looked upon as the oddities. Atheism is the complete norm, especially with the young. My kids are typical (and they are now nearly 30) have never been to church, not even for weddings or funerals. And as far as I know, neither have any of their friends.

    It is the immigrants who keep the last vestiges of religion going. As soon as this older generation dies off, it will become even more secular. Our prime minister is an atheist, and it provokes little or no comment at all. If it does, it is only to contrast our country with the USA. Certainly none of our politicians at local or state level ever mention religion as part of their platforms. It is simply never mentioned – I think we all just assume that they are atheists, if we give it any thought at all (which we rarely do).

    So you atheists in the USA can gather hope from this – eventually you too will become more secular like us (hopefully), and you will finally get some decent political leaders.

  5. mandrellian says

    Yay us! I’m happy to credit Tim Minchin, shitty Star Wars movies and the standard-issue bullshit detectors we get at birth (though some notables like Hambo and Bob Katter and Danny Nalliah seem happy to trade them in for an easy income from a gullible audience and/or fucking creepy chin beard).

  6. mandrellian says

    Also, this:

    “There were 1338 same-sex couples who identified themselves as married, compared to 32,377 same-sex de facto couples.”

    Not for long. Equality will soon be a reality and the next census will look markedly different.

  7. lexie says

    Yah us :) Also in happy news for us I read today that apparently the school chaplaincy program had been ruled unconstitutional by the high court so yah again no more public money going to fund evangelical fun dies :)

    Hi Kerryneighbour, I’m glad you live in such a non-religious community but this is definitely not the case for all Aussies. I’m a caucasian whose family has lived here since 1840s and they are all religious (except my brother) several of my family members are OECs and my sister is now a YEC. I have many religious friends (moderates) and several acquaintances who are very religious. I am at university and one of the most active societies at my uni is the evangelical society. I am at a smaller campus and we have a religious society but no atheist/skeptical society (the main campus does have one) we also have a chaplain (I do not go to a religious university and it really irritates me that the university is paying a chaplain). I agree with you that politics here is far less religious than in America (after all atheists are electable here as we have an atheist prime minister), however, I do feel that religion does still have an effect on the politics here as Tony Abbotts catholic faith definitely influences his policies regarding women, birth control, abortions and gay marriage. Also four weeks ago when Joe Hockey was on QandA he told Penny Wong that gay people do not make as good parents and that children are entitled to a mother and father and cited his catholic faith as one of the influences for this belief. Once again I am very glad you don’t have to struggle with extremist religion and I really want all of Australia to become more like wherever you live but please don’t pretend it doesn’t exist because for those of us who are living with it here it is painful.

  8. llyris says

    I was also going to disagree to some extent with Kerryneighbour #4. And I was going to mention Tony Abbott, but that has already been done.
    I will mention John Howard, because he did try to play the religious card along with the xenophobia card, and it did have an effect on society as a whole.
    I will mention that I know a large number of people who have some religion; either they believe that religion makes them ‘good’ no matter how half-arsed they are about it, or they become suddenly religious at weddings and other major events. They identify as (usually Christian) even though they don’t follow it as such. They do tend to get offended if you call religion irrelevant, though.
    But I agree that most people don’t bat an eyelid if you say you’re an atheist, and devout religious people are considered ‘oddities’ or perhaps weird and worrying. Tony Abbott loses votes because of his religious platform, not just his arrogance and his Speedos.

  9. Sastra says

    My guess is that about 4 in 5 Jedis are atheists being cute, and the decline in Jedis and rise in atheists reflects the defection of those who have stopped chuckling over it. But of course I could be wrong — descriptions of “The Force” sound like neo-pagan new-age sophisticated-theology spiritual-but-not-religious forms of God. It would be easy enough to think of Star Wars as the metaphorical vehicle for the revelation of how we are surrounded, bound, and penetrated by a moral purpose. Maybe the Jedis only dropped the light sabors and joined the Unitarians.

    kerryneighbor #4 wrote:

    I could walk naked down the main street yelling that I am an atheist, and no one would give a damn.

    I’m impressed. But have you actually tested this yourself?

  10. bytee says

    While I’m thrilled at the percentage of Atheists is going up, we can also take heart from the fact that most of the 61% who claim christianity probably aren’t. I can only imagine how many conversations last August went like the following: Father is sitting at the dining room table filling out the census. He calls out to the kitchen. “Hey Beryl, what religion are we?. I gotta put it in the census”. She hollers back “I’m pretty sure that Grandma was C of E.” ‘”Righto,” he says, “I’ll put that down”

  11. humm says

    Hi Kerry and Lexie,
    I never visited Australia so I can´t judge how religious your country is, but maybe part of the difference in opinion between the two of you is caused because atheism and non-active religious is often confused.

    I come from the Netherlands, a country often regarded as very secular. Here you can also scream that you are an atheist and no one will give a damn. The churches are empty (most of them anyway, we have also a Bible belt, and our Islamic countrymen are rather faithful), authority coming from organized religion is distrusted, themes like abortion and teaching evolution on school are no big issues in the political arena, and more. This does not mean that the atheists in the Netherlands are in the majority. If asked, most people will confirm that they believe in religious concepts like and God-Creator, Jesus as a miracle maker and a life after death. It just doesn´t have much importance in their daily life. Religion is also looked at as a private matter, and what others believe is their business.

    Thus, if you make a census and concentrate on religious
    activity/visibility you can make the claim that the Netherlands is a very secular country with a huge population of atheist. If on the other hand you are questioning people about their personal believes, you can make the opposite claim.

  12. AussieMike says

    Now I hope Dawkins runs a post census survey in Australia to see what really is the % of actual christians.

  13. lexie says

    Hi Humm,

    I agree with you that non-religious does’t equal atheist and if you ask these people they sometimes do believe in some sort of supernatural force. I’m sorry if it came off as though I was ardently disagreeing with kerryneighbour I don’t, I do assume that what she is saying is genuine and that wherever she lives there genuinely aren’t a lot of religious people all I was wanting to say was that I have a different experience. For myself and other people I know being atheist has been a big problem with our families and friends, in quite secular countries this often is discounted (one reason I’m one here is to learn how to get along with religious family as my religious friends don’t know/want to help and those from more secular backgrounds don’t know how to help). I recognize that large sections of the population over all aren’t very religious but there are very religious people here and those coming out need recognition as I think that this problem can be overlooked.

  14. Charlie Foxtrot says

    Woot! Good to see the corresponding drop in all the percentages for the top four religions as well :)

    Its also good to see the comments section in The Age starting to look more and more like Pharyngula (comments about the High Court Chaplaincy ruling)

    Now, how do we get the damn politicians to realise that sucking up to the ACL is not a winning move anymore?

  15. lexie says

    Sorry just realized an error with previous post, I came onto American atheist websites to hear similar experiences and get ideas for how to deal with people, I stay here because of the awesome people.

  16. Charlie Foxtrot says

    Sastra – I agree with your first line of thought. I tried to convince a bloke I work with the value of accurate figures from the census, but he was more interested in being a ‘Jedi’. I consider him as more of a “meh-theist”.

  17. gardengnome says

    Whilst I would agree that Australia is a fairly non-religious society it certainly isn’t free of the scourge. When I was going to school state-funded education was supposedly “free, secular and compulsory” and this probably has a lot to do with the weak state of the various xian sects up till now. You will notice however the rise of ‘eastern’ religions in the census figures and there is no doubt that the fundie-influenced school chaplaincy programme is an attempt to infiltrate the state education system.

    They’re here and they have far more influence than their numbers would suggest (with both major parties). The census figures are encouraging but don’t let your guard down…

  18. humm says

    Hi Lexie,

    I did not think that you were “ardently” disagreeing with Kerry, I just saw two different experiences/opinions from “down under” and I tried to make a contribution.

    I grew up in a part of the Netherlands and in a family situation where religion was not important. If I had the bad luck to grew up in a neighborhood or family dominated by the “reformed” churches here, things should have worked out very differently. There are fundies in the Netherlands, I can ensure you that.


  19. nonny says

    I once put ‘jedi’ on my census for a laugh. So did my sister and her boyfriend. I suspect that some of the drop in jedism and the rise in atheism can be explained by people like me taking the census more seriously. I’m sure the campaign by the Atheist Foundation helped; the British Humanist society ran a similar campaign for our last census. I’m eager to see the results.

    It’s good that atheism is on the rise but it still seems a surprisingly low percentage to me. I’d love to know how many of those 61% of Christians are Christian in name only.

    I’m guessing the rise in Hinduism is due more to immigration than to people converting. Buddhism has been fashionable over in the UK for a while, so I’d suspect a similar deal in Australia, with some converts to a watered-down ‘western’ form of Buddhism, as well as Buddhist immigrants, would explain the slight rise. Maybe.

    Personally I don’t see Buddhism as the same kind of threat as religions like Christianity and Islam. I’ve never heard of a Buddhist creationist, for example.

  20. says

    The number of Jedis in Australia has declined from 70,000 to 55,000.

    It’s as if 15,000 voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

  21. stonyground says

    The idea of putting Jedi on the census had a serious side at the time of the 2001 census in the UK. Religions are often allowed exemptions to the law here. If I remember rightly, the government had a figure for the number of members that a religion had to have to be granted such a get out of jail free card. The Jedi at the 2001 census easily passed the figure but were dismissed as people who were just messing around and were lucky not to be prosecuted for putting false information on their forms.

    I haven’t seen the figures for our 2011 census yet, they certainly take their time getting them out.

  22. ibyea says

    Then why put the Jedi category at all? We all know most people who fill Jedi do it for the giggles.

  23. KG says

    The fall in Jedi Knights is 15,000. That’s a tiny percentage of the Australian population of 21,507,717, according to this census. It can only account for a small part of the 3.6% increase in the “no religion” proportion of no-religionists.

  24. Koshka says

    Yet here in Queensland our new conservative government is about to repeal surrogacy rights for homosexual couples, defacto couples of less than 2 years and singles.

    This is just the next step to do who knows what to other rights. No doubt our weak abortion laws will be up next.

    Whilst there are many atheists in Australia and most of the christians are not particularly religious, the Christian Lobby is very powerful and is trying to turn our country backwards.

    Our next federal election is likely to put the conservative party back into to power and they too will be doing the same thing across the country backed up again by the Christian Lobby.

    Australians cannot simply cheer this news about how we are not like the US. We need to stand up and not let the Christian Lobby take over (I know the Australian commenters on FTB already do this).

    Despite the census results I am depressed.

  25. Koshka says

    Mandrellian #8,

    I don’t share your optimism. The majority of Australians only care about paying as little tax as possible and not letting brown people in.

  26. gordona says

    Over the ditch in New Zealand things are even better. In 2006, 34.7 percent of people stated that they had no religion, compared with 29.6 percent in the 2001 Census. There should have been a census in 2011 but as the main office running it was munted in the Christchurch earthquake it has been postponed.

    Younger people were more likely to be recorded as having no religion-figures from 15-39 age groups were well over 40 percent and touching 50 percent. European and New Zealander ethnic groups had the highest proportions of people stating that they had no religion, at 37.7 percent

  27. astrofiend says

    This is a massive understatement of the true atheist figures. Hardly anybody in Oz is actually religious. For some strange reason that I have yet to grasp, a lot of people here though think that your ‘religion’ is some sort of heritage that you are born into as a result of where your ancestors were born or whatever.

    Case in point: my mate told me a couple of years ago that he and his family were catholic. I almost choked! This is a guy who’s dad is a former bikey, who himself is a hard-drinking, hard-partying, drug taking, swearing, much pre-marital-sex-having kind of guy. I short, everything the church claims to stand against. He’s never been to church, and he believes in god only in so much as he has some vague notion of ‘Who knows? Could be I suppose… now lets knock this bullshit off.’. He was amazed that I didn’t identify as protestant or Anglican because of where my family is originally from. I said I had no religion. He said ‘yeah, I know you don’t believe in god, but everyone has a religion.’ He was talking about it as if it was like a last name – something that you inherit when you are born, that you carry about with you but means not much at all. People like this will fill out the census as if they are actually catholic, but they’ll be nursing a hangover on Sunday mornings, not sitting on a pew seat.

    This vague attitude seems to be very prevalent in Australia. If you asked a different census question, something like ‘Do you believe in god and actively attend church, and does your belief influence how you live?’, then you’d probably find that about 5% of the population or less would tick that box. I think increases in the census figures for ‘no religion’ reflect the dawning realization that claiming that you are of some religion or another when you aren’t active in that religion and don’t actually believe it is pointless. That is why things like the global atheist convention, blogs like this and people like Tim Minchin are so great – most of the foundations are already there in the Australian population. We love a shit-stirrer and have a cultural attitude that generally defaults to ‘nothing is sacred’ – you just need a few people to point out some of the ridiculousness of religion, make us laugh at it a bit, and the census numbers will be rocketing up.

  28. gardengnome says

    Ta Lexie.

    Koshka; I concur about the xian lobby. The attempt by Conroy to ‘filter’ (read ‘censor’) the Internet seemed to be driven by their influence, and if the Libs get in next election it’ll get worse, not better. QLD is of course Australia’s equivalent to America’s south.

  29. echidna says

    This is a guy who’s dad is a former bikey, who himself is a hard-drinking, hard-partying, drug taking, swearing, much pre-marital-sex-having kind of guy. I short, everything the church claims to stand against.

    Sounds very Catholic to me (I used to hang out with an Irish Catholic group that certainly was hard-drinking and hard-partying). Pre-marital-sex and drug-taking were not part of the scene, but these tend to be more private activities anyway.

  30. robster says

    The religious lobby and the unloved churches they represent are vomiting. For many years their influence has dwindled to the point thay are seen more as a minority of silly people hanging onto some stone age beliefs. The xian/muzzie/jewish lobbies are trying to make a lot of noise about the impending same sex marriage bills going through parliament. The feds requested input from people with a barrow to push on same sex marriage. Of the total 270 thousand recieved,60% were pro, 40% against the proposal. Churhes in Australia, At least in my part (far north Queensland)are percieved as irrelevent, old fashioned people lost in an evaporatimg sea of influence. That has to be a good thing. I meet people who apologise for their religious belief if the subject comes up, which is rarely. There is still much work to do though.

  31. Wild old rancid caveman says

    I was one of those who changed to atheist in the last census. In every previous census I said “salvation army” merely because I was forced to attend that church for many years as a child. I suspect that there are still many Australians putting down their family religion without thinking about it. I am sure that the next. census will improve on this figure as I am sure the real number is much higher. Also, great news about the school chaplains being ruled unconstitutional. I was unaware of that before reading it here. Slow progress is better than none at all.

  32. Suido says

    Regarding the school chaplaincy issue:

    The high court did not actually say that public funding for school chaplains is unconstitutional. The ruling actually said that was fine, which I think may be due to the ALP changing the legislation to allow secular social workers to be employed with the funding. Perhaps if the ALP had left the legislation in its original form, the scheme may have been found unconstitutional on those grounds.

    The high court said that the funding model used by the federal government was unconstitutional.

    Regarding Qld’s new anti-gay marriage and anti-surrogacy-outside-marriage legislation: Fuckity fuck fuck. Show me an example of a couple in a de facto relationship less than two years old who WANT surrogacy and REFUSE to get married, and I’ll STILL think that it’s a despicable smokescreen to cover a bigoted, homophobic and single-parent-phobic bill.

  33. lexie says

    Koshka, I agree about the ACL and am now depressed.

    Suido, bother, I skimmed the article which came up on the afa fb page serves me right for not reading it properly. Oh well, I hope the government decide to get rid of it anyway better chance with gillard than with religious Rudd or if Abbott gets elected.

    Regarding, non-church attending Christians, I agree that some are non-religious but some do broadly believe in god (maybe only believe that there is something out there) but they aren’t atheists or skeptics but as I said earlier I grew up religious so obviously this has an influence. It would be more helpful if the census asked people to rank themselves on the Dawkins scale then rather than speculating what these people think we would have a much better idea.

    To Queenslanders, SA already has that law so maybe you aren’t the worst.

    ANZAC biscuits to New Zealanders for beatting us.

  34. lexie says

    Oh also. I’m probably the last person to hear about this as I’m normally behind the times but on the off chance someone hasn’t heard, please consider not purchasing anything from Gloria Jeans. The company is owned by members of Hillsong church and donates money to Hillsong and ACL along with a variety of other conservative Christian orgs and I doubt that’s where you want your money going.

  35. says

    Queensland recently (last 3 months) held an election in which the Liberal National Party won in a landslide (78 out of 89 seats), basically wiping the previous ruling Labor party off the political map.

    Since then they have wasted no time in turning back the clock, including cutting funding to Solar Energy schemes, cancelling the Premier’s Literary Awards, getting rid of the Office of Climate Change, the Sentencing Advisory Council, the QLD Workplace Rights Office, Sisters Inside (a support group for women released from prison) and last but not least the state’s only LGBT health agency.

    They will be cracking down on public housing tenants, including moving people to smaller homes if their current location is deemed more than their requirements, or if they find more people living in a premises than are registered for it.

    The QLD government is in the process of rolling back Civil Union legislation – first by removing the official ceremony, and now by deeming them “registered partnerships”, little more than a database entry really, as dissolution of the partnership will not require an application to the District Court (as a divorce would).

    Also on the chopping block – gay and lesbian surrogacy. The LNP is removing that from the law. Only heterosexuals will be allowed to use surrogates.

    And that’s not all. Behold the latest:

    The LNP’s attitude toward women, courtesy of Michael O’Dwyer, former state secretary. Sexist and demeaning? Of course. In a classic case of mansplaining, the LNP’s O’Dywer explained that “the LNP had mainly male candidates because they were chosen on merit rather than a gender quota system.” He said women “were more concerned about what shoes leaders wore than what their policies and issues were” and that women should try to “look and sound like leaders […]”

    Not a word about being inclusive and striving for equal opportunity. Just a put down on the wimmenz for being not men, who are of course never distracted.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen such enormous fucknuts in political power, here in Australia.

    The Brisbane Times has a comment section and of course there are supportive comments; fortunately a few are also calling him out on it.

  36. amblebury says


    Since then they have wasted no time in turning back the clock, including cutting funding to Solar Energy schemes, cancelling the Premier’s Literary Awards, getting rid of the Office of Climate Change, the Sentencing Advisory Council, the QLD Workplace Rights Office, Sisters Inside (a support group for women released from prison) and last but not least the state’s only LGBT health agency.

    Why?! Apart from ticking every “I’m a right-wing bigot” box on their super sekrit bingo cards.

    What happened to the ALP? I can’t help but wonder if the rise of the Sons of Joh is attributable to their ineffectiveness.

    I can’t remember a decent ALP leader since – ever, really. I thought Rudd was OK, but apparently the ALP thought differently. Bob Hawke – gag. He and David Lange loathed eachother. Then the The Lizard of Oz. Julia Gillard strikes me as being all about expediency, and little else. Peter Garret was charismatic for the Greens, as I recall. I knew someone who played in his band, (yes, that one.) He didn’t rate him very highly as a human being.

    Not that NZ is any longer a bastion of social idealism. The free-market reforms instigated by Lange’s government, (which he resigned in opposition to) resulted in a tail-spin that has led us to – how many? NZers seeking a living wage across the ditch.

    I think what’s left of our populace are finally waking up, unfortunately the new Labour party leader, David Shearer, while he has a great resumé, has all the charisma of a damp paper bag.

    Russell Norman and Metiria Turei, co-leaders of the Greens are the ones to watch. Ironically, Russell Norman is an Aussie.

  37. lexie says

    We have never had civil unions just registered partnerships, SA is a terrible state for LGBT people, but I get the point. I was very disturbed to find out on QandA recently to find out that QLD still has gay fear as a defence for assault on the books made me feel like we weren’t the worst.

    I am not fully up to date on Queensland news mainly because it disturbs me to see those conservative LNP politicians turning Australia backwards. I suppose I should pay more attention because given the current level of dissatisfaction with Gillard the whole country could be in for a very large dose of Abbott and he might want to replicate Campbell Newman’s efforts. Unfortunately I don’t like Gillard much either so I have no idea what I will do at the next election. Very dissatisfied with both parties.

  38. amblebury says

    I’d forgotten about Rudd’s religious proclivities. I thought that they hadn’t had much influence on his political behaviour, but a look at the Pfft! tells me otherwise.

    Oh well. They all suck then.

  39. lexie says

    Yep, when fundie Steve Fielding complains that someone is being too religious then their religiousness is a problem (on QandA a while back when the whole panel was having a go at him he said that the first time he met Rudd he told out his bible and started reading from it and then said that he’s never preached to other politicians and didn’t think it was appropriate).

    Also I agree they all suck, I’m getting to the point where I understand why people put in blank vote slips (and I am someone who votes below the line in the senate, mainly so I can put ‘One Nation’ last, I am aware that it doesn’t matter but it gives me a certain satisfaction). I am sick of politics, I think I’ll go and invade Antarctica and become a hermit among the penguins.

  40. gardengnome says


    May not be a good move – penguins see everything in black and white!

  41. jayel says

    The question regarding religion on the census is also a leading question (“What is your religion?”) so the AFA is lobbying the Aus Bureau of Stats to change the way the statistics are obtained. This would probably elicit a more accurate picture, although I couldn’t guess as to what degree.

    Re the chaplaincy program, the following link should prove informative as there is a fair bit of misunderstanding surrounding the judgment.

    What happens next in practical terms is still unknown, however.

  42. Cephas Borg says

    I wouldn’t raise the champagne glasses just yet.

    As others have said, the numbers belie the power, and in the wrong way. Fundies are few and far between, but influence far more than you’d expect. Whereas atheists are finally becoming a vocal minority (albeit growing fastly!), but don’t have the ears that the better-donating religiturds do.

    Having said all that… Aussies, by and large, are much more likely to piss themselves laughing at typically arrogant fundie statements than take them seriously. But by the same token, they’re less likely to get organised to do something about it. If dealing with atheists is like herding cats, aussie atheists are like black cats, in an enormous coal cellar at midnight, being rounded up by a blindfolded, deaf asthmatic…

    I’m inordinately proud of the fact that so many of my friends on FB – where religious association was pretty much untalked-about – got involved in the census push.

    And, FFS, how many of these Jedi Knights can actually use the force? Brandishing toy light-sabres isn’t the same thing. Although, religiturds really can’t do much, either!

  43. Sids says

    Something that I found interesting, the only sect of Christians that has gone up is “Other Christian”, and all of the non-Christian religions have too. Does this just show a push away from the mainstream? And a waxing of woo?
    The total number of religious hasn’t changed much at all. The increase of “No Religion” seems to mostly be coming out of the “Not Stated/Inadequately Described” section. So maybe it’s just that with more awareness, more people know how to describe themselves, and are open about it, but the beliefs themselves haven’t changed much at all. That’s my rambling on the matter, anyway.