The impact secularism has upon the place of religion in Australian society
Secularism has had a significant impact upon the place of Christianity in the Australian society. The religious face of Australia has changed in several major respects [since colonisation] but has not fundamentally departed from Christianity. The rise of secularism is reflected in the increasing proportion of people claiming to have no religion. Australia is a predominantly Christian country, however in recent years there has been a strong growth in groups that describe themselves as not having a religion and in religious minorities including Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Therefore, having an understanding of the term secularism and the place of religion in society will enable to clearly understand the impact of secularism has upon the place of Christianity in Australian society.
What is Secularism?
Secularism is a philosophy indicating that human ethics and the universe should be understood without any reference to institutionalised religion. The rise of secularism is reflected in the increasing proportion of people claiming to have no religion. Secularists comprise of people who deny all matters of religion, as well as people who claim to be spiritual. A society may be secular in the “first sense of religion not being a part of public life, the so-called separation of Church and State (Source E).” It may be secular in the second sense of “declining religious belief and practice (Source E).” Finally it may be secular in the sense of secularism “emerging as an alternative belief form (Source E).” Furthermore, Secularism seeks to ensure and protect freedom of religious belief and practice for all citizens. The concept of secularism is not about curtailing religious freedoms; it is about ensuring that the freedoms of thought and conscience apply equally to all believers and non-believers alike. In a secular democracy “all citizens are equal before the law and parliament” (Source C). No religious or political affiliation gives advantages or disadvantages and religious believers are citizens with “the same rights and obligations as anyone else” (Source C). Secularism champions human rights above discriminatory religious demands. “It upholds equality laws that protect minorities” (Source C). These equality laws ensure that non-believers have the same rights as those who identify with a religious or philosophical belief. Therefore, “Secularism is the best chance we have to create a society in which people of all religions or none can live together fairly and peacefully (Source C).”
Moreover, Secularism also ensures that religious beliefs are not the guiding force in the matters of modern day ethics. Government decisions are made in relation to ethical debates including those relating to abortion, euthanasia, IVF treatments as well as the debate on the legislation of Gay Marriage. Whilst religious opinions are sought on these issues, their places in these debates hold no more value than their relativist counterpart. Many government policies display secular values as they are based on secular ethical theories rather than religious ones, examples may include utilitarianism and situation ethics, as they are subjective rather than objective in their nature. The rise of secularism is reflected in the increasing proportion of people claiming to have “no religion”. In 2006, the Census recorded that “3 708 554 Australians had ‘No Religion’, while 2 223 957 declined to answer the optional question (Source G).” “Christianity remains the dominant religion” (Source A), however in recent years there has been a strong growth in groups that describe themselves as not having a religion and in religious minorities including Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Australia is not a particularly religious country compared to many and religion has rarely played a critical role in public life and debates. This suggests that 30 per cent of