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Dickson: The God-question

by Findo on December 12th, 2010

This is the second post highlighting RZIM’s extract of John Dickson’s latest book Life of Jesus: Who He Is and Why He Matters.

The God-Question
The world is a very religious place, and the much-heralded renaissance of skepticism dubbed the “new atheism” is unlikely to change things. An important minority of Westerners identifies as atheists but it is much smaller than the publicity suggests. The last World Values Survey (2005-06), the most reliable data set available, found that 10.4% of Britons, 9.9% of Australians, 7% of New Zealanders and 3.6% of Americans accept the tag “atheist.” And even these numbers may be inflated. Olivera Petrovich is an expert in the psychology of religion from the University of Oxford in the UK. In 2008 she caused a stir by presenting empirical evidence that infants naturally incline toward belief in some kind of Creator: atheism, in other words, is not the default position. More relevantly, in a recent interview for the Centre for Public Christianity (CPX) she outlined research revealing that respondents describing themselves as “atheist” 2 in surveys do not necessarily deny the existence of God. A significant proportion of them admit in post-survey analysis that the tag “atheist” functions more as a protest against formal religion than a description of their disbelief in any kind of god.(3) Openness to the divine is more dogged and widespread than we sometimes realize.

Even in my own country of Australia, which has often been described as the first post- Christian society in the world, surveys continue to reveal very high levels of spiritual, and specifically Christian, belief. Sixty-eight percent of Australians believe in a God or a Universal Spirit, and 63% believe in the possibility of miracles today.(4) Slightly more than that (75.9%) believe that Jesus himself performed miracles (while only 6% think he never existed).(5) Most surprising for those of us who live in this supposedly godless country, when asked to rate out of 10 “How important is God in your life? ” (1 being “not important at all;” 10 being “very impor tant”) 57.4% of Australians selected 6 and above; 28% selected 10.(6).

Despite the fact that atheist writers such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are on the bestseller lists worldwide, the larger point remains: the world remains a very religious place. For most people throughout most of human history the stunningly rational universe we see out there and the uncannily rational mind we experience within suggest the existence of some kind of Divinity or Deus responsible for this reality.

  1. Gothesca permalink

    I myself am agnostic and agree with the figures you have said regarding spirituality and religion. I am aware that not many people are going to Church anymore but that does not mean they are non religious. I think many people and I could be wrong are experiencing and expressing their religion in a different more modern way. Not all but some. The world is more of a religious place and there is more religious discussions going on due to possible the wars around the world, the GFC, shifts in governments and viewpoints. People are looking for some security and support and people will get that from a religious community that is not based on attacking and having to prove. This is what they are trying to escape from everyday life for some or to help deal with life and make it a part of it. I am not saying a belief in a higher power is not a part of it for these people but there are many factors that have drawn people closer to religion and not necessarily organized religion.

    I also dislike being accused of not making up my mind because I identify as agnostic this has really only come from atheist. I do not see for myself agnosticism as uncertainty more of a method of thinking. Dawkins is a odious man when it comes to his books on atheism and religion. No harm in being atheist but to me there is no need to attack a person for their belief and call it all child abuse or less intelligent. I do see how in some parts Australian society can be seen as post Christian / or post theist in the fact it is not embedded in everything we do it is more of a private thing for many people. It is however not none existent or as I have had stated to me irrelevant and in the minority. Thank you for writing this blog I may not be Christian but your views speak the truth in what you say and the correct references you cite.

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