Aussies one of world's least religious

By Andrew Drummond
July 04, 2008 11:44am

THE majority of Australians consider themselves religious but say faith does not play a big part in their life, according to a new survey showing few regularly pray or visit church.

The news comes less than two weeks before the world's Catholic leader, Pope Benedict XVI, heads Down Under for World Youth Day.

The survey of 21,000 people from 21 countries, which names Australia as one of the world's least religious countries, was conducted by the independent, not-for-profit, German-based Bertelsmann Foundation.

It found 28 per cent of Australian respondents are not religious, 25 per cent are "deeply religious", and 44 per cent are religious but say faith does not play a central role in their lives.

Of the 21 countries surveyed, Australia was placed 17th for religious adherence, with only Russia, France, Germany and the UK less godly.

Religion ranked as less important than family, partners, career, leisure time or politics for 50 per cent of Australian respondents, while 48 per cent said they did not partake in personal prayer and 52 per cent never or very seldom visited a church.

"This is not to say that the Pope will be landing in a religious desert on his visit to the World Youth Day in Australia," research leader Martin Rieger said in a statement of the survey results.

"On the eve of World Youth Day, it is interesting to note the strong religious vitality recorded amongst the nation's youth."

Some 72 per cent of Australian respondents aged under 30 said they believed in God or a divine power and/or life after death, the survey showed.

Catholics are Australia's largest faith group and Christian denomination, but are not the most religious, according to the survey, which shows 37 per cent are "deeply religious" and 52 per cent are "religious".

Religion was found to be strongest among the small group of free-church and Pentecostal Protestants, including charismatic movements. Fifty per cent of that group were found to be "deeply religious".

"Christianity and Catholicism in Australia are not blossoming, but equally are not in danger of losing their core roots," Dr Rieger said.

"The big polarity between religious and non-religious people is very defined here.

"Typical is the trend towards a loose, perhaps seeking, spirituality that no longer has any clear relationship to the different churches and denominations. This reveals a great potential for religions and all churches that has so far been neglected and perhaps overlooked."