Australia

People like Abe may overtake Christians as the dominant religious group in Australia

Abe Middleton was raised in an Anglican household and went to an Anglican school, but in the 2021 Census, the 35-year-old construction worker reported having no religion.
And , non-believers like Mr Middleton could replace Christians as the largest “religious” cohort in Australia.
“It all came from childhood, with the pressure of religion being forced at school and through parents,” he said.
“Being forced into something did not seem like the right way of going about it to me, along with other things I saw over the years.
“So, it has always been no religion on the Census for me.”

The number of people reporting no religion continues its upward trend, now at 38.9 per cent of the population.

“Since the Bible was written, so much science and facts seem to prove that it is not right,” Mr Middleton said. “And I think that is the growing belief amongst people that I speak to, at least.”

Christianity does have plenty of followers in Australia though and remains the most common religion, but for the first time, fewer than half of the population – 43.9 per cent – identified as Christian.

Australians identifying as having no religion jumped in this year’s Census. Source: SBS News

“I think what it particularly says is people who might have in the past said ‘I am Christian’ because of a family tradition are no longer doing that,” said the assistant bishop of the Melbourne Anglican Diocese, Bishop Genieve Blackwell.

“I think that is where we are largely seeing the decrease.”
While she is reassured by the National Christian Life Survey, which she says shows the number of active worshippers remains stable, she recognises the denomination is ageing.
The church is working to grow its congregations by connecting with the varied interests of the community. It has established community gardens and says it has been active in the climate change space.

An art installation at Melbourne’s St Paul’s Cathedral called Gaia is another example of the church’s efforts to connect with more people.

Globe art installation inside a cathedral.

The Gaia exhibit at St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne has so far drawn in 100,000 visitors. Source: SBS News

The seven-metre wide, rotating 3D artwork of the world has so far drawn in 100,000 visitors.

“Huge numbers come through because of Gaia. And the opportunity is for people to have conversations around spirituality and faith,” said Ms Blackwell.

“[We are] often trying to work out what are the needs in a community and how the church can be a blessing.”

Hinduism thriving

Hinduism is Australia’s fastest-growing religion. In the census, more than 684,002 people identified as Hindu – a 55.3 per cent increase.
This is due to the arrival of more migrants from India and Nepal.

On his very first day living in Melbourne, Indian migrant Vinit Sharma sought out a Hindu temple. The 33-year-old says worship is essential for him.

Two people kneel in prayer inside a Hindu temple.

Hindu devotees at Sri Durga Temple in northwest Melbourne. Source: Supplied

“I cannot live without coming [to pray], because I feel very high vibration in the temple and full of energy,” said Mr Sharma.

“Whenever I go back from home from [temple], I feel like I am getting the same positive energy with me, and I feel really relaxed.”

The IT trainer attends temple at least once a week, joined by his wife Rashi Sharma.

A woman and a man standing inside a Hindu temple.

Rashi (left) and Vinit Sharma feel worship is essential Source: SBS News

“It is very important because it is a part of our culture,” said Ms Sharma. “This is something we are born with. It is in our DNA.”

The couple welcomed the Census findings that their community was growing.

“That is really proud news for our community that we are growing. It is really, really happy news,” said Mr Sharma.

A changing demographic

At the Sri Durga Temple in Melbourne’s northwest, expansion works are underway in expectation of a further influx of devotees.
“[Australia] just signed a trade agreement with India. That is a huge contributing factor for migrants to come to Australia,” said temple vice-president Gurpreet Verma. “To feel safe, as well as practice their faith.”
A new cultural centre is being built where weddings and other community events can be held.

“We are trying to establish the infrastructure for the growth of Hinduism and temple,” he said.

Two men standing outside a Hindu temple in Melbourne.

Kulwant Joshi and Gurpreet Verma outside Sri Durga Temple in Melbourne. Source: SBS News

The temple’s leadership also foresees a need for Hindu schools and aged care.

“We are getting old now, so that is the reason we need that aged care centre,” said president Kulwant Joshi. “[It is] very important for us to look after the elderly people.”
“We need help from the government to build up in that area … The government has responsibility to look after our communities.”
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