Archive for the 'Religion' Category

Gays versus God – the mutual tolerance option

The Victorian government has introduced legislation unwinding Labor changes to anti-discrimination law. Among the items proposed to be repealed is a law that would have required religious organisations not to discriminate against people whose lifestyles or beliefs were contrary to those mandated by a religion. A Jakob Quilligan wrote to his local Liberal MP objecting to the change, as reported in the Sunday Age:

It is absurd that a government would excuse or pardon one groups’ discrimination against others just because it was done of the basis of their particular spiritual beliefs.

Quilligan, who is gay, thinks that he may be discriminated against by a religious employer.

While I share Quilligan’s assumption that religious objections to homosexuality are misguided, I do not share his opposition to these amendments. What is needed is some mutual toleration. As Jonathan Rauch argued recently, Read the rest of this entry »

Buddhists second most popular religious group

Yesterday’s Essential Research poll asked about the fastest growing religion between 1996 and 2006. I would have guessed Buddhism, most people thought Islam, but Essential says the correct answer is Hinduism. Actually I think I am right – Hinduism grew more quickly than Buddhism in percentage terms, but Buddhism grew more in absolute terms.

Questions in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2009 show that Buddhists are the second most popular religious group in the country, after Christians. Consistent with comments on today’s thread, not many people have negative views of Hindu people, with the largest number having neither positive nor negative views. Predictably, Muslims are the least popular group.

Read the rest of this entry »

Muslim migration

An Essential Research poll asked about attitudes to Muslim migration, and found 25% support for excluding Muslims from the migrant intake:

That’s 11% lower than a Morgan Poll this time last year, with the proportion supporting Muslim migration the same on 55%.

As is often the case with soft opinion, polling methods rather than opinion shifts probably explain the difference. Essential does its surveys online, so people can see the ‘Don’t know’ option and easily choose it, while with telephone polls there is a stronger pressure to give an answer. When pressed, it seems people tend to go to negative on this issue.

A more abstract Essential question on whether migrants should be rejected on the basis of religion found only 19% in favour of doing so.

Schools and status competition

Ross Gittins thinks that subsidising private schools means subsidising wasteful status competition.

A persistent line of social criticism argues that status competition is wasteful when people pay a premium for something that is not functionally superior but confers greater social status. Gittins uses the example of a a BMW versus a ‘perfectly satisfactory’ Toyota.

The public school lobby endlessly obsesses over a fairly small number of genuinely high-status schools – Sydney Grammar, MLC, Scotch, Ascham etc. Perhaps trying to get your kid into one of these is ‘status competition’ – though it could be just ensuring your kids get the same high standard of facilities at school that they get at home. Ross has a history of being over-confident in inferring motives from behaviour. Read the rest of this entry »

The rise of religious schools

My CIS colleague Jennifer Buckingham has a new paper out today on the rise of religious schools, written up in the Fairfax broadsheets.

It’s full of useful statistics on enrolments over time and surveys the literature and arguments surrounding religious schools, many of which have also been discussed over the years at this blog (I was originally going to be a co-author of this one, but could never make the time).

It finds the evidence against religious schools on sectarianism, intolerance etc to be lacking. This is my reading of the Australian evidence too.

However, while private schools definitely out-perform non-selective government schools on academic performance even after controlling for family characteristics, we can’t yet confidently make such a claim on the religious/values questions that influence some parents in sending their kids to religious schools.

We are not even sure whether religious schools make their students more religious in the long term – the limited and dated evidence suggests not, after controlling for the fact that religious families are more likely to send their kids to religious schools. I am one of the many atheist products of Christian schooling (not that the school influenced this either way).

Why are there so few secular private schools?

Surely having LESS complicated hurdles to pass over would help secular private schools and surely encouraging the private sector would help secular private schools, too?

– commenter Shem Bennett, 21 February.

One curious feature of Australian school education is that it has a very large private sector, but few non-government schools are secular. The Independent Schools Association says that 84% of independent schools have a religious affiliation, but this overstates the size of the entirely secular non-government system open to parents wanting a ‘mainstream’ private education.

About half the schools in the no religious affiliation group are Steiner or Montessori schools. Take out ‘special schools, international schools, Indigenous schools’ – descriptions of the content of the ‘other’ category – and it looks like government schools have the general secular market almost to themselves. My analysis of census figures shows that only just over 10% of children whose parents say they are atheists, agnostics or have no religion are attending non-government schools, less than a third of the general rate of private school attendance. Read the rest of this entry »

When can religion influence politics? (or why a Christmas public holiday is OK)

We have finished the year with worries about the border between religion and politics – the Fairfax feature, Charles Richardson’s warning that Rodney Smith is too sanguine about the influence of ‘fundamentalists’, and Ross Fitzgerald’s why-oh-why piece on the fate of ‘secular democracy’. Implicit in these critiques seems to be a quasi-constitutional belief that religion has no place in the public sphere.

Ross Fitzgerald, for example, seems to be particuarly upset about the millions spent on World Catholic Youth Day. But why is this different from the numerous sporting and other major events that get state sponsorship? As Chris Berg argued during the week, the benefits of these events are typically fictitious. But given politicians like sponsoring international events, are the Catholics illegitimate in a way the petrol-heads who descend on Melbourne for car racing are not?

Fitzgerald and Charles are both concerned about religious influence on Stephen Conroy’s internet filtering plans. But given that there are also mundane secular reasons for this policy – such as Conroy says enforcing the existing censorship rules – does the fact that the Australian Christian Lobby is backing Conroy make the policy worse (especially as ACL is appealing not to religious values, but to the not-terribly-controversial view that children should not see pornography). Read the rest of this entry »

The public’s view of religion and politics

Today the Fairfax broadsheets turn from the religious beliefs of Australians to how they see the relationship between religion and politics.

Their Nielsen poll had however been scooped by Pollytics blog, which reported during the week that most Australians think that religion and politics should be separate


Even among religious believers, 80% agree with the proposition that religion and politics should be separate. But religion appeared more popular when the 2007 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes asked about whether politicians should follow Christian values in making decisions. Even among those with no religion, 10% thought politicians should follow Christian values, along with nearly 40% of people with a religion. Read the rest of this entry »

Religion’s political influence (or lack thereof)

Most Australians believe in God, but is that a politically significant fact?

Earlier in the year, I argued that while churchgoers have a consistent bias towards Coalition voting, a dwindling number of Australians were attending church. I was sceptical of the electoral impact of churches like Hillsong.

The Age this morning draws attention to an Australian Journal of Political Science article by University of Sydney academic Rodney Smith which argues more generally against the electoral influence of the churches, at least for the 2007 election.

Smith examined electoral statements from religious groups and found considerable variety in issues covered and perspectives taken. They tend to not specifically recommend a vote, though sometimes a preferred choice is implied. He notes that many church leaders would want to avoid alienating their supporters who do not share their political views. This is an important point I think. Religions are in a spiritual buyer’s market for both believers and attenders, which will tend to put a constraint on their politicking. Read the rest of this entry »

Australian belief in higher and other powers

The Fairfax broadsheets yesterday ran the results of an ACNielsen survey on Australian religious beliefs, along with views on astrology, ESP, UFOs and witches (a somewhat provocative collection of topics).

Just over two-thirds of us believe in God or a ‘universal spirit’, while 24% do not and 6% aren’t sure. The number of non-believers exceeds the census finding of 19% of us with ‘no religion’. While the ‘not stated’ census category (it’s an optional question) presumably hides atheists and agnostics, the Nielsen survey reports that 11% are non-believers who consider themselves ‘culturally Christian’. The ‘no religion’ response in the census is only a rough proxy for the number of non-believers.

A quarter of Christians believe that the Bible is literally true, while half the believers of other religions see their major text as literally true. Belief in miracles (63%) is stronger than belief in Heaven (56%) or – conveniently, for the nation’s sinners – Hell (38%). Read the rest of this entry »