A recent Weekend Australian article rightly observed that people underestimate the value of Christianity. Its further decline, said the article, will bring “a crippling loss of civic purpose.” With churches providing an enormous supply of volunteer labour and welfare support, Christianity consistently evidences social transformation reflective of its values. Although this is often masked by disproportionate attention to appalling clergy abuses, many also prejudicially reject Christianity as an anti-intellectual faith. Actual statistics, though, are telling.
1. Christian convictions are shaped in childhood, often being associated with educated people.
In 2016, the Christian Research Association conducted a comprehensive survey of 7,700 Australians on the impact of religion on their behaviour. Two-thirds of survey respondents attended church as children, but only two in five did so by the time of the survey.
Nevertheless, more than half of those attending as children were still found to be attending church. Only one in twenty attended after not having done so in childhood.
Despite a view by some that Christianity was associated with simplicity or a lack of education, committed Christians were actually more likely to be well-educated, with 38% holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 28% of those with no religion. Perhaps the enormous archaeological and documentary support for the Bible has helped to shape a well-reasoned faith in more than just a few celebrated cases.
2. Church attendance and belief in God improve perceptions of the quality of life.
Though this may be a link complicated by many impinging factors, it highlights an important connection. It emerges from a World Values Survey of Australians in 2012 which showed a deterioration of the perception of life quality over the previous thirty years of declining belief in God. Though two in five had indicated that they had been very happy with life in 1983, this then dropped to a ratio of one in four. A mediocre rating was given by more than one in five, up from one in six three decades prior.
Belief in God dropped from 85 to 65 percent over the same period. Similarly, those attending church monthly or more dropped by more than half from almost four in ten to just one in six (though this is still equivalent to the number attending rugby and Australian rules football matches throughout an entire year.)
3. Volunteerism is enhanced by Christian values which promote an outward focus.
Churches provide a context for mobilising volunteer service in response to values. Nine in ten committed Christians declared that they had strong principles to live by, compared to three in four of those with no religion. Almost three in five committed Christian believed that their occupations were making a difference in people’s lives, compared with two in five atheists. Doing things for others was valued by four in five committed Christians but by only two-thirds of those without belief, with a similar difference expressed in the value of voluntary work.
Clearly, Christianity inspires an outward focus. This fact, and the resultant breadth of community work performed by Christians donating time and money to assist, is often misrepresented. Sadly, while the same survey showed high (and slightly increased) levels of confidence in the police force, the more than half of Australians who had once considered religious organisations trustworthy had dropped to fewer than one third by the time of the recent survey.
This perception problem undoubtedly accounted, to some degree, for the fact that the median age of committed Christians was fifty (but was 46 for atheists), compared to 33 in other faiths.
In an era of increased gratification and declining morality, G.K. Chesterton’s observation seems truer than ever, that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting as much as it has been found difficult and left untried.
Perhaps, though, it has not actually been found difficult. For many, it has not yet been found at all.