What is secularism? Secularism is the belief that religion should not interfere with or be integrated into the public affairs of a society. Oxford dictionary defines “secular” as “concerned with the affairs of the world, not religious or spiritual” so in this sense all civil government is “secular”. The only civil governments that are not fully secular in this sense are Vatican City and some fundamentalist Moslem states. The governments of all the major countries in the world – including Australia, the USA, Great Britain, New Zealand, Italy, India, etc are all secular governments.
There are multiple factors which have contributed to the decline of religion’s relevance for the integration and legitimation of modern life. The increasing pluralism and materialism of society alongside society’s increasing individualism and dissatisfaction with traditional religions are major reasons for secularisation. This trend is most evident in the significant increase in the number of people responding “No religion” in the census alongside an overall decline in the Christian figures recorded in the census Interfaith Dialogue and growing secularism.
Since World War II, Australia’s population has grown and become more diverse and Australians have become more secular in nature. Secularists believe that people are comfortable without the reference to God in their lives. There are a number of reasons for the increase in secularism in Australia; these include increasing pluralism i. e. the acceptance of all religions as equal; individualism and materialism – spirituality may be overlooked when power, looks, possessions and fame are offered instead. What Impact did Secularism have on the Religious landscape of Australia post 1945?
The rise of secularism has led to both a drop in the numbers of people regularly attending religious service. In 1947 only 0. 3% of the population classified themselves as having “No Religion”. However, in 1971 the instruction “if no religion, write none” was introduced into the census. This saw a seven-fold increase from the previous census year in the percentage of persons stating they had no religion (0. 8% in 1966 to 6. 7% in 1971). Thus many people who would have previously fallen under the “Not Stated” category were now included. Since 1971 this percentage has progressively increased to about 16. 5% in 1996, with a dip to 15. % in 2001. The 2001 census figures reveal that Christianity is still the numerically largest religious tradition in Australia accounting for 68. 0% of the population. However, there has been a significant decline in the percentage of people affiliated with Christianity. Furthermore, of those claiming affiliation there has been a decline in the regular attendance of religious services. The ongoing decline in most Christian groups as a percentage of the population is due to increasing secularization as well as other factors such as dissatisfaction with traditional religious movements, aging membership, and a lack of migrant intake.
Effects of secularism •Loss of religious values. •Lack of religious church practice – civil marriages, non religious funerals, shopping malls (the new cathedrals) •Seeking alternative “religions” or “forms of spirituality”. •Social standing of clergy/church – trustworthiness •Political social action – Marxism, Green Movement etc. •Influence of scientific humanism, economic rationalism •Rise of New Age Religions which focus on personal satisfaction, wealth, self help groups, happiness, mind and spirit exhibitions, personal meditation, affirmation environmental “sit – ins”. These have all attained quasi religious status.