The true disbelievers

Dr John Perkins after his talk about countering radical Islam.
Atheism is on the increase in Australia with a study showing only 1.8 million Australians attend a church service each week. Douglas Thompson reports.

Australia’s Secular Background – the Jedis

The Atheist Foundation of Australia asked people not to list Jedi as their religion in the country’s recent census because it makes Australia seem more religious than it is. In the previous census in 2011, the force was strong – more than 65,000 people identified as the fictional Star Wars Jedis.

Every five years Australia holds a census, a mandatory survey for all households. The 2011 census had 22.3 per cent of Australians (4,796,787 people) as having no religion. This had increased since the 2006 census from 18.7 per cent of Australians (3,706,555 people).

Andrew Rawlings, vice president of Progressive Atheists and organiser of the Melbourne Atheists Meetup Group, shared his view why Australia is one of the most atheist countries in the world. Australia is a “country descended from convicts with the feeling of being distrustful and anti-establishment imprinted upon our mindset,” says Rawlings. Australia has no strong historical culture to identify with.

Britain exported convicts like a commodity, some of whose only crimes were being Catholic in a Church of England state. In retaliation for being treated so poorly the settlers pulled down many of the first churches to pop up in Australia. Australia has a history of secular acts and laws. The 1901 Constitution of Australia established freedom of religion established and prevents any religion from becoming state mandated. However Christianity was and still is the dominant religion.

According a 2013 study by the market and research group McCrindle, there are more churches (13,000) than schools (9,500) with only 1.8 million Australians attending a church service each week.

McCrindle’s 6 Top Reasons Why 92 per cent of Australians Don’t Attend Church Regularly

·         Irrelevant to my life

·         Don’t accept how it’s taught

·         Outdated style

·         Issues with clergy and ministers

·         Don’t believe in the bible

·         Too busy to attend


The Secular Party of Australia president, John Perkins , who is in his 60s and has an econometrics doctorate, defines atheism as “the lack of a belief in a god or the supernatural, we don’t see the need for a god or any such being to explain the world”. He says: “Australians are a free thinking people who are sceptical of authority, we don’t tend to be fanatics about following things, it’s not a huge aspect of our patriotism as we aren’t a very patriotic people.”

The Secular Party of Australia “has had a minimal impact, being secular isn’t a message most people find important, the people who are with us are dedicated and hopefully people will realise how important secularism is,” admitted Perkins.

His father was not religious but his mother was, he went to church until he was 12 when his family “gradually lost their religion”. He says: “I went to Sunday school and asked some questions about Adam and Eve and the teacher told me, God doesn’t like it when you ask those questions.” Perkins thinks more people should be asking those questions and be more critical.

One of these people was Ahmad, who started to doubt his faith at a young age with such innocuous questions as “why do my prayers always go unanswered,” and “why is there so much evil in the world, how can a God allow this to happen.”

Ahmad, who doesn’t want to be identified, is a 20-something student from Indonesia studying at Monash University. He has been a closet atheist for years with a very religious family; “they’d disown me if they found out, he says. “I used a proxy to read about science and atheism so my family wouldn’t see anything in the internet history.”

Moving to Australia was an eye opener for Ahmad as he was able to be himself and open up, something he says was not possible back in Indonesia. “When one of my openly gay friends talked about him coming out to his family, the fear and stigma he faced related too well to my situation, he is far braver than me.”

Ahmad thinks there is a general attitude of apathy regarding politics and religion here.  “It’s one of things you bring up and the other person says, ‘nah mate, don’t bring that up here, leave the politics to the politicians and religion to the priests ‘.”

Ahmad is returning home at the end of this year. “I’m still not going to tell them.”

Australia’s Secular Background – The Simpsons

Warren Bonnet, 50, was the editor for The Australian Book of Atheism and runs the Embiggen Books bookshop with his partner Kirsty Bruce, 46, on Little Lonsdale Street, opposite the Victoria State Library. The store takes its name from The Simpsons, specifically Springfield’s town motto “a noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.” Bonnet says, “The Simpsons managed to merge art with science, it was written by post op mathematicians and has had more new words added to the Oxford dictionary, excluding Shakespeare.”

“There are around 5,000 science books here, the biggest selection in Australia and also has about 900 philosophy books,” says Bonnet of his shop. His goal is to promote critical thinking. “This shop puts more science orientated thinking into people’s minds than any institution.” To him this scientific outlook is “not about looking for an absolute truth, it’s looking for what probably right”.

Bonnet says Australia is not as atheist as other countries. “We can just be more vocal about it, Russia would out atheist us.” Atheism and Scientology were recently made illegal in Russian, with one Russian atheist facing a year in prison for posting the phrase “there is no god” on an online forum. “Free speech is really taken for granted worldwide,” says Bonnet.

Warren Bonnet outside his store. Photo by Douglas Thompson
Warren Bonnet outside his store. Photo by Douglas Thompson

He moved his bookstore from Queensland to Melbourne to avoid the floods because “a store smack-dab in the middle of a city is less likely to get flooded”. But just a month after opening the new store, by misfortune or an act of god a sewage pipe burst, ruining their entire inventory. Bonnet and Bruce spent three years battling insurance companies to get every book back and lost $100,000 from the ordeal.


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