Data for the 2011 Australian census is out. I mentioned in a previous post that if ‘no religion’ went higher than 20%, I’d be ecstatic. Well, ecstatic I am, because we’re at 22.3 percent, up from 18.7.
Here’s the graph. Notice the red line, which is the trendline for the data for 1971–2006. The data for 2011 is way above this projection.
This places the “no religion” category in second place among religions (if it were one). It’s the only major group to post gains as a percentage of the population.
As to numbers:
2006: 3,706,553 people answered “No religion”, or 18.7%.
2011: 4,796,787 people answered “No religion”, or 22.3%.
For perspective, this means we have more people than the Uniting Church, Presbyterians, Eastern Orthodox, Baptists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Buddhism, Muslims, Hindus, and Jews combined.
That’s over 1 million people who either dumped their religion since the last census, or came out as ‘No religion’ for the first time. So if it seems like small potatoes that we only got a 3.6% gain over the whole population, just remember that we’ve had a 29% increase in our numbers. We gained more than the entire population of the Uniting Church, in just the last five years.
The ‘No religion’ group does not include people who did not answer the religion question. This latter group has shrunk since 2006, so we’re likely pulling some people from there. I’ll bet the AFA’s “No Religion” campaign
had some influence on this.
What does this mean for us atheists? Well, we have to be careful about these numbers — people who put down ‘no religion’ may not be atheists. There may be a sizeable proportion of ‘spiritual but not religious’ people in that figure. We don’t have (or I couldn’t find) specific breakdowns for ‘Atheist’ or ‘Agnostic’ categories. I’ll be looking forward to those (as well as smaller Christian categories like ‘Mormon’ or ‘Jehovah’s Witness’).
But this does mean that one in five of us has no religion, and it’s getting close to one in four. Doubtless some of those are newly deconverted, and they’re going to need support. If you’re one of the ‘old guard’ who’s been an atheist for a while now, get involved and get with a group or start your own, whether online
It’s taken a while to get here, and it’s going to take a while longer to reduce religion to a minority, but the social trends are moving in our direction. This is great news! Now is the time to celebrate, but also time to keep up the pressure on religion by staying visible.
The next challenge will be to encourage critical thinking among the populace. We all know people who have deconverted from a religion, but who maybe haven’t made the move to skeptical rationalism. This means they’re still vulnerable to proto-religions like New Age woo, or other delusions like altMed. Critical thinking doesn’t happen automatically, and it’s something even atheists aren’t always good at. I’d like to encourage everyone to get informed, and get skeptical.