A newly released survey of Australian spiritual beliefs has revealed some surprising results. The survey, conducted by McCrindle Research and the Centre for Public Christianity asked a range of questions about the existence of such things as the soul, the afterlife, angels and God. Participants could respond with one of five responses:
I am open to the possibility
I am unsure
I don’t believe.
The results of the survey may surprise you, revealing that Australians aren’t as sceptical as we are led to believe. Overall, the following percentages of people expressed either outright belief or openness to belief:
The existence of God: 57.9%
Life after death: 59.6%
The existence of the soul: 69.7%
Perhaps more surprisingly was the break-up between generations. The age-group most open to belief in the spiritual realm was the 18-26 age bracket. The percentage expressing either outright belief or an openness to belief in this age-group was:
Life after death: 77%
The existence of the soul: 76%
Furthermore, those expressing outright disbelief in any of the concepts (including belief in God) in this younger age-bracket remained in single digit figures for each concept.
By comparison, the over 76’s was the most sceptical age-bracket. For example, among these older people, 28% said they did not believe in the afterlife. This compares to only 4% among the 18-26 year-olds.
What is perhaps not so surprising is the consistent disparity between men and women across all the spiritual beliefs. Men were almost twice as likely as women to express outright disbelief.
WHAT CAN WE CONCLUDE FROM ALL THIS?
Firstly, young adults are definitely open to spirituality – although they don’t necessarily accept traditional religious concepts of deity. They are apparently open to exploring spiritual elements of their own existence and the possibility of ongoing existence beyond the grave, although belief in the traditional concept of God is significantly lower. This accords with the post-modern rejection of traditional viewpoints and the quest to develop one’s own interpretation of truth. The strong belief in the soul also taps into the narcissism of contemporary philosophy which elevates the self above all else. The challenge for the Christian church is how to tap into this spiritual openness and portray biblical truth as reasonable and relevant.
The tendency for males to be twice as likely as females to reject spiritual beliefs is an ongoing challenge which has been evident throughout history. The exact cause of this has been the subject of various sociological theories. Perhaps it arises from an unwillingness to admit weakness or a stubborn anti-authoritarianism or an aversion to certain stylistic aspects of worship that might be perceived as slightly effeminate or overly emotive. Whatever the case, it certainly appears that there is something intrinsic and endogenous within the male psyche that results in a greater reluctance to embrace spirituality generally and faith in God in particular. The challenge for the church remains how to present the Christian faith as not only intellectually defensible, but also as a robust worldview that enhances masculinity and empowers men in their roles as husbands and fathers.
Finally, at one point in the survey, respondents were asked whether they believed in the resurrection of Jesus. Only 23.6% said they believed the resurrection occurred and 19.7% thought it was possible. This low rate of belief is not surprising. Jesus’ resurrection, as well as being the centre-point of the Christian faith, has historically also been the greatest stumbling block for many people. In fact, it has been the focal point of attack by many sceptics and atheists who have sought to dismantle Christianity’s credibility. Significantly, an impressive array of sceptical scholars have ultimately been converted as a result of attempting to discredit the resurrection. These include Sir William Mitchell Ramsay, Malcolm Muggeridge, Albert Henry Moss (AKA Frank Morrison), Lee Strobel, Andy McDowell and the great Oxford scholar, C. S. Lewis himself. Christianity certainly has nothing to hide from enquiring minds; the problem lies in getting people to engage in genuine, open-minded enquiry in the first place. The evidence is there for all to see; it’s just that most people aren’t interested in looking. The ongoing challenge for the church is to not only proclaim the resurrection as the central tenet of our faith but also as an intellectually and historically defensible event that can be investigated with confidence.
Kevin Simington (B.Th. Dip. Min.) is a theologian, apologist and social commentator. He is the author of 13 books, and his latest, “Reconnecting with God”, is now available. Connect with Kevin on Facebook or via his website, SmartFaith.net.