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Proselytising ‘No Religion’ for the Census

  • 10 August 2021
The Census is a dreary duty for many, yet for some, it is an opportunity to proselytise through ideological campaigns around religious affiliation. Over recent weeks, vocal atheists around the country have been taking to social media to convince Australians to tick ‘No Religion’ on the 2021 Census.

As the Sydney Morning Herald recently reported, ‘the Rationalist Society, Humanists Australia, the Atheist Foundation of Australia and others have chipped in $50,000 to the Census21: Not Religious? Mark “No Religion” campaign.’ Celebrities and noted atheists like Tim Minchin have also been amongst those actively campaigning for people to tick ‘No Religion’, particularly in an attempt to convince ‘lapsed Catholics’ to disown their Catholic heritage and beliefs.

Whatever one thinks of the Census21 campaign, I agree with the implicit aim: all people should be honest in answering the Census questions. It doesn’t matter whether one is affiliated to a major religion, no religion, or has another spirituality not listed by the Census (which can be listed under ‘Other’), it is crucial that we give compete answers that reflect our real lives.

Most Australians would likely agree that ideological campaigns should not be used to sway Census responses. These campaigns reduce complex realities like religious affiliation to narrow, simplistic issues, and pressure individuals to fall into line with high-profile influencers.

Rather than ideological, the Census is a pragmatic exercise, and a key source of information for governments, universities, businesses, community and NGOs. It helps determine their future planning and resourcing. The same goes for religious organisations, which are the largest providers of non-government services in Australia. Census data influences how they plan places of worship, schools, hospitals, social services, aged care and more.

For an accurate picture of Australian society, the Census must be completed in a way that truly reflects circumstances, affiliations and needs. Government and religious leaders have been stressing this in response to the Census21 campaign.

'These campaigners might do well to remember life is not black-and-white, and neither is belief. There are no guarantees, especially when it comes to the ultimate questions of God, death, and the afterlife, or the various circumstances life throws at us.'

Yet ‘No Religion’ campaigners like Monica Dux denounce those who mark a religion in the Census, like lapsed Catholics, for hypocrisy and inconsistency. Like the preachers of old, they condemn others for having a mixed relationship with their religious tradition. (Interestingly, these campaigners are conveniently silent on the social science