The National Spirit

The National Spirit

Day 1 of a Roundtable on ‘Shaping Australia’s Spirituality’ focussed on the evaluation of ‘the national spirit’ and how the Christian faith and Christian ministry is relating to that. The plenary sessions were chaired by John Cleary (ABC presenter on religion).

Rev Dr Philip Hughes, senior research officer of the Christian Research Association, started with the fact that, despite the prosperity in Australia,

  • 10 per cent of Australians say they are not very happy,
  • 56 per cent are fairly happy, and
  • 32 per cent are very happy.

Among the issues are failures in family relationships, rural decline and uncertainty and the lack of a clear future for many indigenous people. There is also insecurity about terrorism and crime, climate change, and ‘who we are’. There are distractions in consumerism and substance abuse, but little vision for the future. If people find meaning, they find it in themselves.

At the same time, church involvement has declined with just 15 per cent of the population involved monthly or more often. However, the church-run schools have increased in numbers and there is a strong presence of the churches in social justice and welfare.

The churches are seen as protectors of family life, but as irrelevant to the major national challenges of climate change and building a sustainable economy. One of the challenges for the Christian faith is to tell the Christian story and expound the Christian principles of love and grace, justice and forgiveness, equality and the worth of all individuals in a way that demonstrates its relevance for the Australian national story.

Prof Alan Black (Edith Cowan University) argued that religion and spirituality are increasingly seen as a matter of individual perception and choice. We are living in a post-traditional era, with increasing electicism, he argued. In Australian society,

  • 24% find their sense of identity and meaning in the Christian faith;
  • 17% find it in spirituality – either of an eclectic style, or a spirituality of nature or land;
  • 2% find it in religions other than Christianity; and
  • 57% in secularism.

Of those Australians who are secular,

  • 16% say there is ‘something beyond’, but are not involved in any religion in any way;
  • 27% are uncertain about ‘the beyond’; and
  • 14% say there is nothing beyond (or hold to some form of atheism).

Prof Black argued that the way that Australians approach life (religious, spiritual or secular) has an impact on their personal wellbeing and on the social wellbeing. The nature of this impact is explored in the book Spirit Matters. (See our products page.)

For an audio version of these research presentations, right-click here to download an mp3 file.

For further detailed information about the research, see Philip Hughes, Shaping Australia’s Spirituality: A Review of Christian Ministry in the Australian Context (Mosaic Press, Melbourne, 2010).

The following people commented on this research and brought their own insights to the national story:

  • Prof James Haire (Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture)
  • Rev Dr Rod Pattenden (chair of the Blake Prize for Religious Art)
  • Rev Dr Colleen O’Reilly (Anglican Priest at the St George’s, Malvern)
  • Prof. Norm Habel (Flinders University) and
  • Prof. Des Cahill (International Studies, RMIT).

For an audio version of this commentary and discussion, right-click here to download an mp3 file.

(The conference was held in September 2010.)

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