Access and Values: Functions of Religion in Australian Society

Religious faith has many functions within people’s lives and within society. For example, it can give hope and comfort, promote social justice and equity, encourage compassion and trust. Most of these functions can be summarised under two headings. On the one hand, most religions encourage belief in a power beyond ourselves, and provide access to that power. Thus, religious faith is about worship and prayer. On the other hand, religions provide guidance on social and personal behaviour: they point to certain values. Thus, religious faith is about how we live. It may be noted that there are additional functions which cannot be subsumed easily under these headings. For example, religious organisations develop communities in which people find identity and belonging.

There is little change over the 20 year period. Approximately 35 per cent of the population indicated that religion was of high importance in both 1989 and in 2009. The group who said that religion was of moderate importance has shrunk slightly from 27 per cent to 24 per cent of the population. However, during this period, belief in God (including those who doubt and those who believe sometimes) has fallen from 65 per cent of the population to 47 per cent.

The continued importance of religion in providing values is one of the reasons why so many Australians support Christian schools and chaplaincy in schools. They continue to believe that it is important for their children to pick up the right values in the school or in church youth activities. On the other hand, these people do not see frequent church attendance as necessary. Many Australians feel that they can be ‘good people’ without going to church.

The data also reminds those who lead religious services, however, that most of those who attend do not simply want a reiteration of values. They are there to meet with God.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 21, No. 3, Page 16

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