This week I came across a piece of brilliant market research into Australian attitudes to Christianity and the church conducted in late 2011 by McCrindle research. For those Christians inclined to think of creation and evolution as the key ideological battleground, to assume the Church commands respect, and who are worried about the influence of prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, the report has some real surprises.
When it comes to things that block belief creation and evolution doesn’t rate as the big issue. Asked to nominate the Christian beliefs that blocked or engaged them, respondents named Christianity’s stance on homosexuality as the number one issue. Twenty-nine percent said this completely blocked their interest, with another fifteen percent saying this significantly blocked their interest. The second biggest blocker was the Church’s stance on hell and condemnation, and coming in equal third were the role of women, suffering, science and evolution, the bible and supernatural elements.
Among those who do not identify themselves as Christian but who are open to changing their worldview the mix is slightly different, with suffering the biggest belief blocker, followed by hell and condemnation, and then homosexuality.
The survey also asked what behaviours of Christians and the church negatively influenced people’s perceptions. A whopping 55% nominated sexual abuse as “a massive negative influence”, followed by wars started over religion, hypocrisy, judgementalism, and money.
And what of the New Atheists and all their huffing and puffing? Seventy six percent of people said it made no difference at all to their beliefs about God, five percent said it had a strong impact in confirming their atheism, and just three percent of those who believe in God said it had strongly impacted the strength of their faith.
It seems that we in the Church need to be more concerned with how we are communicating our belief system and our own bad behaviour than with the new atheists.
The report, Australian Communities Report. Research into the Key Belief Blockers and Questions About Faith, Christianity and God Held by Australians Today can be purchased from olivetreemedia.com.au