Tuesday's news that the latest census data shows that "Australia has become strikingly more Godless over the past decade" (to quote the Sydney Morning Herald) coincides with an unusual conversation I have just had with God.
On to that supernatural chat in a moment, but first to Tuesday's news that just-released data from the 2021 census shows that the proportion of Australians calling themselves Christians has fallen below 50 per cent for the first time.
This "Godlessness" seems to be on the march now across our Wide Agnostic Land, given that those saying they have "no religion" have increased from 29.6 per cent of Australians in 2016 to 38.4 per cent of us in 2021.
For sensitive Australians, census data can have the strange ability to make one feel comfortably and typically Australian or discomfitingly, atypically, unAustralian.
So for example this columnist, an increasingly stiff and creaking 76, takes weird comfort from the 2021 finding that 2,150,396 Australians reported that they live with arthritis.
There is strength and comfort in numbers. In a sense (irrational, I know) this makes arthritis a truly Australian malady and makes those of us afflicted by it feel true blue members of a big Australian family.
By contrast, the 2021 figures about Australian religiosity and irreligiosity give some discomfort.
This is especially so for those of us who dwell in a foggy, indistinct philosophical zone somewhere between the extremes of belief and "no-religion" that are all a rudimentary and clodhopping census can detect.
A philosophically nuanced census would be a beautiful thing and it would count people like me, my Anglican origins wistfully lingering on in my DNA and now co-existing with my mild-mannered atheism. If I didn't tick "no religion" on census day 2021, a Tuesday, it was because it turned out to be one of my week's religious days and not one of my week's irreligious ones.
The discovery that more and more of us have "no religion" perturbs. One fears that those who bray they have "no religion" may also be declaring they have no room in their shrivelled imaginations for the supernatural, for make-believe and magic. What if the census "no religion" finding is detecting an increasingly aridly rational Australia emerging?
This simultaneously religious and irreligious columnist has just spent several days at a coastal hamlet (let us call it Plagiarism Point - not it's real name) in Victoria's Gippsland.
There, for early risers perched on the correct clifftop facing the far, far horizon of the Tasman Sea, the sunrises have an improbable magnificence.
My habitual Anglican wants to give God the credit for these highly original displays of colours (on some mornings 50 shades of lemon yellow plus dozens of hues of tangerine, of lilac, peach and burgundy).
And yet there was something about these Plagiarism Point sunrises that jangled in my sometimes religiously sceptical, whistleblowing bosom. Surely I had seen these sunrises somewhere before?
Scurrying to Wikipedia I gave an exultant "Gotcha!" when I found that God, while signing His sunrises as all His own work, had taken all these colours from the paintings of J.M.W. Turner, the sunrise-capturing genius who so often seemed to paint with his brushes dipped in light.
When I shirtfronted God about this, getting up the Turners in question on my iPhone as evidence, the Ancient of Days owned up, blushing, to lots of quiet plagiarisms of this kind.
"Ian, original creativity has never been my strength," He sighed, "so that sometimes I need to resort to these sorts of borrowings and forgeries you, an investigative journalist, have uncovered."
"So dob me in if you feel you must; although what harm am I doing in treating simple believers to the occasional skyful of great art?
"But should you dob, I doubt that your ephemeral newspaper columns with their tiny readerships in a tiny city the census shows still has only 454,000 souls will have the power to shake the faith of the 43.9 per cent of Australians the 2021 census shows still identify as Christians.
"And if you're going to dob me in then you'd better get a wriggle on before you go The Way of All Flesh. The census shows that baby boomers like thou are fading fast, now making up just 21.5 per cent of the Australian population."
God. Omnipotent one day - astute, and knowledgably across Australian news and current affairs the next.
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
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