Religion Opinion

The Republic, Easter and the decline of religious devotion in Australia

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison professes to be a devoted Christian (image via YouTube)

Australian Republicans are stirring back to life again. 

But how many remember that the referendum to change the Australian Constitution held on 6 November 1999 addressed two questions: whether Australia should become a republic and change the Constitution's preamble.

The preamble rewrite set the Republican issue back decades simply because it began with the words ‘With hope in God'.

As we rush with holiday fervour into the Easter break, it is a good time to reflect on those first few words. Who exactly is or was this God Australians are or were likely to be putting their hope in?

I asked around: 'Who is God?' of my kith and kin.

Here are some of the replies:

'Jeez, that's a tough one. I don't know.' 


'God. He was the guy who was Mary' was Mary's.. um... boyfriend?'


‘Shane Warne?’ 


'I don't think about it much. But you know, when there is a problem I do.' 


'I believe in God and the bible and all that , but I don't go to church much. Not at all really.'


'I think God is the moon and the stars and the trees and everything.'

Based on some of these suggestions, we could have nailed the preamble "yes" vote and ended up with a more colourful Constitution based on the words 'With hope in, I don't know’. Or maybe the phrase "With hope in Mary's boyfriend" would have made the preamble sound more friendly and down to earth. 

Or should we have aimed for a preamble that embraced a more universal belief such as 'With hope in the moon, the stars and everything, the Commonwealth of Australia is constituted'.

As my kith and kin hardly represent all Australians, I thought I better check in on the current "God issue" with some real statistics. A recent Roy Morgan survey tells an interesting story.

The result: 53% of us claim to belong to a religion. While 46% of us don't know or don't care what religion we have. The Christians win with 44% of Australians identifying as a Christian. 

There is, however, another statistic that tells an even more interesting story about Australian religious fervour. Or lack of it. According to a 2016 National Church Life Survey (NCLS), 7% of us go to church in an average week.

What sort of religious folk are we? Obviously, some of us don't mind being Christians as long as we don't have to get up for church every Sunday morning. 

So the preamble vote was doomed in 1999 (the religion stats haven’t changed that much) because it should have begun 'With hope in God, when we can be bothered'.

This vague commitment to religion on the part of many Australians can be seen everywhere at Easter.

Firstly, we don't go to church in great numbers. And secondly, we celebrate Easter by overdosing on chocolate. God, as some claim, may have made the earth, but on the seventh day, he sold the Australian chocolate to Cadbury.

Of course, Easter has always been an oddball concept for us. Easter was the pagan Goddess of Spring in Anglo-Saxon England. The rabbit (for fertility) and the egg (for rebirth) are all symbols of Spring.

In other words, we celebrate a pagan Spring ritual slap-bang at the beginning of Autumn to celebrate what?

The rebirth of football? Perhaps.

If the Easter Egg symbolises rebirth, religious or otherwise, you have to wonder where we are heading spiritually in Australia today.  All I can say is this: we share one common belief. You see it at Easter.

Australians really believe in the long weekend. And Easter is the longest weekend of them all. Maybe that's where the new preamble should begin:  'With hope in good weather for the long weekend, the Commonwealth of Australia...'.

Kerry Cue is an author, humorist, journalist, author and maths blogger, Mathspig.

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