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Jesus' resurrection widely believed even as religious identity wanes: survey

Centre for Public Christianity research shows most Australians are 'spiritual'

By Stephen Cauchi

Most Australians are “spiritual” – accepting beliefs such as a soul and life after death – even though only 46 per cent identify as Christian, according to new research commissioned by the Centre for Public Christianity (CPX).

The research showed that more Australians than not believe in a personal soul, ultimate meaning in life, life after death, miracles, God/a higher power, and angels. A minority, just under half, believe in ghosts.

CPX said in releasing the results that Australians were “surprisingly open to spiritual realities … especially among the younger age brackets”.

“With regard to the existence of various ‘spiritual’ phenomena, Australians appear more open to the possibility of miracles, the existence of the soul and the presence of a higher meaning/purpose in life.

“At the other end of the spectrum, stronger forms of scepticism were recorded for belief in ghosts and angels, although each of these categories still retained significant positive support.”

The survey found 46 per cent of Australians regard themselves as Christian, 13 per cent are “spiritual but non-religious” and 30 per cent are atheists,

About 7 per cent of Australians believed in a non-Christian religion. In order of popularity, these were Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism.

In line with the survey’s findings on Christian belief, more than 43% of Australians believe that the resurrection of Jesus is either certain or possible.

In contrast, 28 per cent of Australians doubt that Jesus rose from the dead, or are strongly sceptical of the claim. And another 28 per cent say they don’t know.

The Executive Director of CPX, Mr Simon Smart, said the results were “both illuminating and intriguing”.

“It indicates that while Australians are increasingly disconnected with institutional religion, they often remain open to spiritual belief of some kind,” he said.

CPX research fellow Natasha Moore said the research didn’t indicate a shift either for or against Christianity.

“I wouldn’t want to make any sweeping claims based on the results, one way or the other, but I think people’s answers are indicative of a more colourful landscape when it comes to the spiritual beliefs of Australians than many might expect,” she said.

“The data suggests that there is a shift away from traditional religious belief, but a particular openness to transcendence or the supernatural in the form of the soul, higher meaning or purpose in life and miracles.”

The research did definitely indicate that seven out of 10 Australians were not atheist, she said.

“Australians seem to be sceptical of an account of ourselves that says we are nothing more than atoms or (brain) neurons – we have a sense that there is more to life, and more to being human, than what we can see or touch.

“What that ‘more’ consists of is up for grabs – perhaps more so than previously, though that is difficult to be sure of.”

The research also showed perceptions of the impact of Christians on society were generally positive, but with significant differences across spheres of influence.

The charity sector and education had strong perceptions of positive Christian influence but by contrast politics and the media had strong perceptions of negative Christian influence.

“Positive perceptions of Christianity strongly correlate with those spheres in which Christians are seen to be actively helping and contributing to the culture,” Mr Smart said. “Negative perceptions of Christianity seem to correlate with those spheres where Christians may appear more defensive and hostile.”

Commissioned by CPX, the online survey was conducted by McCrindle Research in March this year.

The sample size was 1000 Australians, with a spread across age brackets, gender and all states and territories.

The survey was nationally representative by gender, age, and states and territories.