Dr. Kevin Donnelly: Don’t dismiss Christianity

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To dismiss two millennia of faith because of census statistics and anti-Christian commentators would be a fundamental mistake, writes Dr. Kevin Donnelly. PHOTO: SNC

Despite the sins of its members, the Christian faith is far bigger than opinion polls in the news

This should come as no surprise, given the 2021 census results regarding religion, those who criticize Christianity and the Catholic Church have used the falling numbers to suggest that religion is moribund and no longer relevant to society. Australian.

With headlines like “Forsaking God: Christianity Collapses as Censuses ‘Unreligious'” (Sydney Morning Herald), “Losing Our Religion as Christianity Collapses” (The Age) and commentary as “Australia’s rapidly changing population is more godless (the Guardian), it would be easy to conclude that religion is dying.

In the same way that the announcement of Mark Twain’s death was premature (Twain replied “the announcement of my death was an exaggeration), it is also true that religion, Christianity and Catholicism, are always forces powerful and important in Australian society.

While the number of people identifying as Christians has dropped significantly over time and now stands at 44%, the reality is that 60% of older Australians still identify as Christians and that should come as no surprise, being given the concerted public campaign telling Australians not to tick the religious box. box, the numbers dropped.

Before and during Census week, groups like Humanists Australia and staunch Christian and anti-Pell critics, including Tim Minchin, on TV, radio and social media sites told young people, in particular, not to tick any religion.

What critics ignore, as a recently published article Christianity Matters in Troubled Times details, is that Christianity underpins and nurtures Australia’s political and legal systems, our way of life and much of the art, music, language and literature of Western civilization.

Concepts such as the right to liberty and the commitment to social justice and the common good, as detailed in Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism by Larry Siedentop, are derived from the New Testament and the exhortation of Jesus to “love your neighbor as yourself”. .

As the Bible says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. Listening to Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, admiring the stained glass windows of Chartres Cathedral or contemplating Michelangelo’s Pietà, is to feel the divine and fly away with the angels.

the reality is that 60% of older Australians still identify as Christians

The Christian virtues and the ability of religion to engender a sense of the spiritual and the transcendent are vital for human flourishing. Also ignored by secular critics, without Christianity, Australia’s education, health, welfare, aged care, social welfare and charitable services would collapse.

Christian schools educate around 34% of Australian students, charities like the Salvation Army and Vinnies serve countless thousands of the country’s most disadvantaged people and Christian aged care and hospitals are a vital part of the Australian social fabric. By focusing on what the census tells us about religious beliefs, secular critics ignore what the 2021 snapshot tells us about Australian society more broadly. Of particular concern is that out of a population of just over 25.5 million, 8 million Australians are described as having a long-term health condition.

Top of the list, ahead of asthma and arthritis, is mental health where just over 2.2 million Australians describe themselves as suffering from some form of anxiety and depression. Although Covid-19 may have contributed to this, to have so many people at risk, especially young people, is an indictment of a society where so many lack resilience and the ability to find a sense of reassurance, strength and more lasting and rewarding comfort.

While Christianity is not always a panacea for experiencing loss, fear and anxiety, as the Christian mystic Saint Teresa of Avila suggests: “Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, Everything passes : God never changes. Patience gets everything. He who has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices”.

The fact that the number of single parent families in Australia has reached one million is also concerning, with 75% of single parents being women. Common sense suggests, backed by research, that two-parent families are one of the cornerstones of a stable and thriving society and the best place to raise children.

There is no doubt that those who call themselves Christians, since the time Jesus worked on this earth, have committed grave and unpardonable sins, ranging from the corruption of the medieval and Renaissance popes, the pogroms against the Jews to pedophilia. At the same time, there is much to recognize and praise about Christianity, to celebrate and to defend.

The author of The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, when explaining the millions of people killed and starved under communism and fascism, explains that the reason is that “men have forgotten God. The failures of conscience human, deprived of its divine dimension, have been decisive in all the great crimes of this century”.

Although the numbers have declined, religion is still a vital part of Australian society and the lives of worshipers and with God’s grace it will continue.


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