Religion (EDN 2)[updated]

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The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has released the analysed data from the 2016 census. The results portray a decline in the "religion" category. The ABC has produced a neat graphical representation of some overall data. (More on the data story below). "Religion" is a Bible word (rare), a word with limited and specific use in the text, nowhere near as prominent in the Bible as it is in Australian culture or publications.
Copied from ABC website graphic: Each dot for 1% of population
What of Jesus? He is noted as one who consistently joined with fellow Jews in the synagogue (for prayers and Bible [OT] reading, with commentary). Jesus had things to say about this stuff. However the specific word "religion" does not occur in the Gospels and I will leave what Jesus said to another post. (Experts may group words like "worship", or "godliness", or "piety", with "religion". I will not address them here.)

What then of "religion" in the NT? The specific word is uncommon. The most cogent and clearly relevant lines using it come in the "Letter of James": But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
(James 1:22-27, NLT)

James is familiar with the notion of religion as a profession (or label). He is also familiar with self-deceit and the "passing glance" at truth. He sets such aside and instead directs attention to label-free practice. He implies a community able to support the other's distress. He actually puts a value on some "religion" - worthless! (Very blunt is James about many things.) I think we can safely say James was also very familiar with the idea of religion as cultus, or system of "worship" and rules to follow (eg, for ceremonial purity). In itself, "religion" to James is unimpressive to say the least. He might well also have been comfortable with declining numbers!

Paul, travelling preacher (missionary), speaking in his own defence before a King Herod Agrippa II, referred to his Jewish religion:
“My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers (Acts 26:4-6, ESV). There we see Paul using "religion" as a recognised cultural label from his younger days to describe his profession and manner of life. He had followed the truth as he knew it to best of his ability. As we see elsewhere (eg, Romans letter) Paul now knew he had been sincerely blind. His religion needed converting (and was so) to the new agreement God makes with all who receive Christ. He received mercy and forgiveness and became a building block of God's own temple. (So is it still for all who will.)

And what of the people counted in our Census?

Statistics are one thing; analysis another; interpretation and significance a further step. The data cleverly presented as graphic by ABC (see above), portrays the 15% claiming "Anglican" as declined from 38% in 1954 (more below). In the ABC presentation, the "no religion" grouping has risen from less than 1% (1954) to 33% - a large increase in numbers, both proportionally and in real terms. However, I can not reconcile the ABC's overall graphics with the ABS website:
Census Quick Stats

 The ABS stats on "Religion" use the numbers derived from those who responded with a deliberate "no religion" (29.6%). Those who, like myself, simply made no statement (9.6%) and ignored the item (which has always been optional) may present a complication? The ABS website also says that 57.7% claimed "Christanity". So, how to interpret those numbers? (Discrepancies are inexplicable to me; however, the overall impact stands, I think, and I have not pursued the potentially interesting detail, eg, how big was the "not stated" group in 1954? What were the market shares then?)

"Christianity"? "Religious group"? Another word in common currency which does connect back to the Bible but is commonly made into a cultural label. A future topic.

What does it mean then? What is the significance of these numbers? Is God losing something? To the last I say a definite "no". Hardly a surprise if you have read the above. The figures (even where meticulously accurate) are not able to give the answer to that question. Census figures are more about "churchism" and/or "religianity", and not directly about the followers of the Way. (Those "-ism" and "-ity" words I have invented - a topic for another time...).

The statistics surely do show that the major "brands" are losing "market share" as a proportion of those making statements about religious affiliation. It does not take much imagination to link these results to some extent with the awful scandals engulfing the various bodies. (People have been tragically harmed by those who wore the labels and who were trusted to protect them.) The change in the make-up of the population in terms of origins surely impact the numbers. (Once upon a time the vast majority of arrivals in Australia came from Europe.)

No doubt, from a mathematical standpoint, the numbers could be interpreted in various ways. That might be interesting. I have not attempted it.

And by addendum - Karl Marx (1843)?
"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people". (Wikipedia; accessed 3 July 2017) This will have to wait for "worship", etc. Hardly relates to statistics!
Footnote: The Church of England (a.k.a., Anglican) story in the Colony had probably followed a predictable, though protested, trajectory since the failure of the "quasi-establishment" status of that entity. I see this in the final cancellation of the allocation of one-seventh of the lands of each county to support the Anglican clergy and schools. (The Corporation operated from 1826 and was effectively wound up in 1830, doubtless despite the best efforts of their well-remunerated, industrious, Vice-President, Thomas Hobbes Scott, the "Archdeacon of NSW", though by then on his way "home".) That was not the end of the church-denomination-state story in the Colony. It would take some time until schooling became "free, compulsory and secular" and the warring denominations would not be allowed simultaneously on the multiplied government school premises. There are informative historical records from the time when the whole of eastern Australia was being taken over by British guns. The Corporation is an example:
Reference: W:

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Note: Bible text sourced through

I have looked at the ABS data for "Religion" in 2021, and created a chart of the larger entities (=or>2%). These data relate to the 2021 total for the ABS categories.

I rounded (no decimal) the ABS figures to identify the scores of 2% or above out of 25,422,788 total responses, ie, the population. I combined the remaining to derive the 8% misc. These are (ABS order):

And here are all the 2021 ABS "Religion" responses, with variation +/- from 2016

(The entries I have made bold are those in the pie chart.)

Link to my Excel spreadsheet in Google Drive:

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