Australia is one of the most secular countries in the world. While 60 percent of the population identifies as Christian, only 15 percent are connected to a church, and probably even fewer attend a church with any regularity. Australia has more Buddhists than Baptists, and 22 percent of its people claim “no religion.”
What is more, Australia has never had a glorious Christian heritage. Except perhaps for Billy Graham’s 1959 visit, which did lead to a temporary spike in church affiliation, the country has no great tradition of revival. It helps to remember that Australia was originally founded as a British penal colony, not settled by English Puritans or French Huguenots looking for religious liberty.
Since federation in 1901, Australia has also been self-consciously secular, not wanting to import the Protestant-Catholic divide of the British Isles. The universities of Sydney and Melbourne were founded with explicit rules against teaching theology, and clergy were forbidden to hold academic positions. Australian secularism has been a key element in fashioning Australia’s unique multi-cultural and multi-faith identity.
On the other hand, Australian churches have always been very important in the education and welfare sectors, operating schools, hospitals, orphanages, and hospices with government support. Australian charities like the Salvation Army are well regarded by the public, and the federal government continues to provide partial funding to faith-based schools.
Australia, like most Western nations, has experienced intense divisions and heated debates over legalizing same-sex marriage. (Australia does not yet recognize same sex marriage.) The debates have largely pitted religious conservatives ...1