THERE'S a real chance that the 2016 Census will see Australia losing its religion.
Some may see that as a good thing.
With all the conflicts and arguments that occur in the name of religion, you can see why.
But for those who believe that Australia has a proud Christian heritage, it's pretty disturbing.
For the first time, the Census form is being changed to put 'no religion' at the top of the list.
The Catholic option moves to number two.
It's a subtle change but it is likely to profoundly influence the outcome.
It's a change which also defies basic rules of carrying out a survey - you don't change the questions or the format if you want consistency of comparison of results.
The Atheist Foundation of Australia and other secularists groups hope the changes will mean that Australian authorities will see that a majority of Australians don't want anything to do with religion.
But let's think about that for a little.
What religion do you most identify with?
This poll ended on 09 August 2016.
Won't answer in Census
This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.
Do we also not want to support churches that help the community - whether it be in dealing with financial strife, homelessness, aged care, counselling, chaplaincy, justice issues, welfare and the like?
Do we really believe that we will be better off as a nation without Christian schools supported by government, teaching values to kids that have parents who don't necessarily go to church but believe such schools are worth paying for?
Do we really think we as a nation can support a myriad of services, largely run by volunteers, without the backing of churches?
Have we calculated the cost of such services versus the benefits such churches may receive in form of not having to pay tax?
Sure there are plenty of examples of where churches have failed us.
The abuse of children is the most abhorrent. It can and never should be defended.
But we should not, as a nation, be throwing out our faith in a higher power because of the abysmal failure of men.
Of course, there are those who are worried that a failure of people supporting the Christian faith to declare it in the Census will see the rise of other religions to fill the void in our community.
Already, there are messages flying around warning that Islam will become the dominant religion in this country if Christians don't stand up and there will be more mosques built.
The statistics say that is unlikely.
In 2011, just over 476,000 people (2.4 per cent of the population) identified their religion as Islam, making it the 7th most popular in Australia.
The biggest religious group was Catholic (27.4 per cent) followed by No Religion (23.9 per cent).
But only 3 percent, or just under 59,000 people, identified as atheists.
Elevating the no religion option, as shown by experience overseas, will see the 2016 results change.
Of course, the real challenge to the church is to show why it is still relevant particularly in the face of media and public hostility over its stance on divisive issues like same-sex marriage.
When it comes to selling its message in the modern age, the church has a long way to go.
Mark Furler is group digital editor of APN Australian Regional Media. He is happy to declare his Christian faith.
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