A recent survey has confirmed that one’s parents and other family members have the greatest influence on a person’s religious attitudes and beliefs throughout his or her life. And many people are attracted to examine their ideas about religion and faith by people, not celebrities or public figures, who they observe to be authentic examples of a faith or spirituality.
The recently released Faith and Belief in Australia report, is based on a survey by McCrindle Research of more than 1000 people nationally, along with three focus with a total of 26 non-Christians.
Among its aims was to tease out people’s attitudes and perceptions of religion and spirituality, particularly among those who would have identified as Christian in the 2011 Census but who do not subscribe to all aspects of Christian belief and practice.
The report confirms other data showing that the majority of Australians (in this case 68%) follow a religion or have spiritual beliefs, mainly Christianity. Almost half of these remain committed in some way to the religion of their upbringing (47%).
The majority of people (61%) reported that they had been attracted to further investigating a religious faith or spirituality by observing living examples of it.
Parents and family members have the greatest influence on Australians’ perceptions and opinions of Christians and Christianity (57% say they have been most influenced by parents and family).
Intriguingly, this random sample of Australians reported being actually repelled by stories in the media about the faith or belief of celebrities and other public figures. They also disliked stories of miraculous healings or other supernatural experiences. Rather, it is the everyday, genuine witness of the faith-filled people in their own lives which impresses them the most.
The number of Australians who do not identify with a religion is on the rise (at 32%), and the Christianity grouping was 45% (down from 61% in the 2011 Census).
Not all of the report is positive of course. Only around one in ten people surveyed were extremely or significantly involved in practising their religion and in regular community worship. And people reported being put off interest in Christianity because of child abuse scandals, religious wars, and hypocrisy.
Overall though, there’s plenty of reason for hope here for parents wanting to raise their children in the Catholic faith, and for other religious educators and evangelists.
Nearly half (44%) of people from the non-Christian focus groups are attracted to investigating spirituality and religion by observing people around them who live out a genuine faith. Most people who knew at least one Christian described them predominantly as caring, loving, and kind.
Also interesting for media types or big book and article sharers like me, were the good numbers of people who said they would be moved to change their attitudes around spirituality or religion through the reading of books or articles and other traditional media. For young people, it was social media that may lead them to change their perceptions or attitudes around faith and religion.
One in three Australians who are ‘spiritual but not religious’ believe there is ultimate purpose and meaning in life. Some believed in a mixture of beliefs from major religions, or in discovering their ‘true inner person’. They believed spirituality is important for their mental health, overall wellbeing, or personal growth.
This corresponds with the work of the popular social researcher Hugh Mackay, whose 2016 book, Beyond Belief, details the need for a sense of meaning, purpose, and spirituality among the rising number of Australians who do not identify as religious.
He also notes though, that Christianity will ultimately survive and prosper in Western societies, as “Christians are constantly evolving new ways of expressing and sharing their faith” with this group.
He points to the integrating of modern music styles into traditional formal liturgies, the rise of mediation and prayer groups, and the vibrant ecumenical Taizé movement of prayer, chant, study and community service, as examples. He didn’t mention the whole World Youth Day phenomenon, but for Catholics, it’s another great example of creatively drawing young people deeper into religious belief and practice.
I noticed that in an interview with the Catholic News Agency, Archbishop Charles Chaput, the archbishop of Philadelphia and author of Strangers in a Strange Land, reiterated this idea that it is a blend of innovation and fidelity which will accomplish the Church’s mission to spread the Good News.
The great challenge of our mission, he said, is “to preach the Gospel in a way that captures the imagination of God’s people.
“We need to have confidence in the Gospel. We have to live it faithfully, and to live it without compromise and with great joy.”
So the answer to the question of many Catholic parents about how to raise our children in the faith is, while admittedly not easy, pretty clear.
First: We live our faith with integrity i.e. by applying our whole heart, mind, soul and body, and by loving others as ourselves. This doesn’t mean achieving some impossible standard of acting perfectly all of the time; it means but being consistent in the desire and effort to live as a close friend of Jesus Christ.
Second: Lavish time, attention, and affection upon our children. God draws us to himself most powerfully through authentic human love. Surely this is the deeper meaning of the fashionable slogan ‘Love wins’.
Third: Look for ways to regularly feed our child’s mind with knowledge about what Catholics believe, and why. We can’t rely only on our kids’ RE or catechism classes, or Sunday children’s liturgies for this. Keep drip-feeding them, as appropriate given their age, personal interests and inclinations, and our relationship with them, as they grow into adulthood. For younger children and teens, the CathFamily website (www.cathfamily.org) has ideas for daily family rituals, conversation starters, and fun activities.
Honestly, if we do these things we can trust that love will win.
Not because we are guaranteed that our children will become good practising Catholics in our own preferred image; but because God is good and we are doing our best to work with him using the graces, and the time, that he gives us.
To see a summary and download the whole report – mcrindle.com.au