Last Christmas, as so often happens, The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper took the time to focus on God and religion in Australia, and published the ‘surprising findings’ of a Nielsen poll undertaken on behalf of the Herald. The findings showed that Australians are not as secular as widely believed and are in fact more religious than expected. Although Christianity is still generally believed to be in decline, it is still the largest faith ‘with 64 per cent of believers nominating it as the religion they most identified with’. In addition, 68 per cent of Australians believe in God or a universal spirit and 50 per cent report that religion is ‘important or very important in their lives’. The poll also showed that 41 per cent of Australians believe in astrology, 34 per cent in UFOs, 51 per cent in angels, 37 per cent in the devil, 49 per cent in ESP (or other psychic powers), 63 per cent in miracles and 53 per cent in life after death.
Journalist Jacqueline Maley commented that the poll revealed Australia as ‘a credulous nation, willing to mix and match religious faith with belief in other phenomena’. She went on to quote the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Rev Dr Peter Jensen, who said, ‘The decline of Christian faith does not lead to lack of religious belief; it just opens the way for superstition’ (The Sydney Morning Herald, Weekend Edition, 18-20 December, p 1).
In a related article David Marr reported on the poll and remarked that for Australians ‘[d]enying God does not necessarily mean denying the importance of religion in our lives’. Although 30 per cent of Australians deny (or doubt) the existence of God, about one third of these people still classify themselves as culturally Christian (The Sydney Morning Herald, Weekend Edition, 18-20 December 2009, News Review p 1 and 4).
So what goes through your mind when you read these poll results and contrast them with Michael Raiter’s descriptions of spirituality supermarkets like the Mind Body Spirit Festival or the World Wide Web (Chapter 1)? Have you ever explored the shelves of a library or the spirituality section of a large bookstore to find an answer to questions like ‘is there something more?’ or ‘why is my spiritual life so dry?’ I have.
I encourage you to stick with Michael Raiter—a compassionate, expert tour guide—as he surveys societal trends in spiritual matters and their effect on evangelical spirituality in particular. As he writes:
Hopefully, such a survey will help you to understand the spiritual character of the society in which God has placed you, and better equip you to speak the liberating gospel of the Lord Jesus to this society. But, also, from this vantage point, you may even better understand yourself, and your own spiritual yearnings and questions and, in the end, return with renewed confidence to the source of fresh water which is deeply and endlessly satisfying (p 34).
All this talk of shopping in spiritual supermarkets and returning to the source of fresh water makes me think of Isaiah’s prophecy to God’s people, in a period of widespread rebellion and apostasy:
Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. (Isaiah 55:1-2)