Questions of Identity
What does it mean to be a Christian who’s Australian? What does it mean to be an Australian who’s a Christian? These are questions I thought would be interesting to explore today on Australia Day.
I find Australian Christian identity a challenging topic to write about, not only because Christianity is in massive transition in Australia and across the globe, but also because Australian culture is in massive transition as well. With the impact of globalisation and immigration it’s harder than ever to define what being an Aussie actually means. And, well, what it means to be a Christian is more debated now than it has been in centuries.
So I don’t have all the answers here, not by a long shot, but I think I have a go. If only to help me clarify my own questions.
Learning to hear our accent
For starters, I have found however that it’s easier to grasp what it means to be a Christian in Australia when I am hanging around people who are not Australian and not Christian. Engaging with Hindus, Wiccans, Buddhists and do-it-yourself Spirituality seekers in Australia on the one hand, and with American, British, Canadian and South African Christians on the net on the other. I become more conscious of my ‘accent’ when I’m not at home.
So what is our accent? What’s the shape of it? I found Gary Bouma had some interesting things to say on this in “Australian Soul”:
…Australians do religion differently with much less use of neon lights and much less explicit public spirituality. But that does not mean religion and spirituality is not present; they are just different (Bouma, 2006, 33)
…Australian norms and expectations associated with the dimensions of patterned relations with the transcendent, religious; and spiritual include:
intensity: a strong tendency towards the subdued, laid back
expressivity: a strong tendency towards the shy, withdrawn and not exuberant
frequency: a strong tendency towards infrequent or occasional attendance
periodicity: annual/biannual participation is more acceptable than weekly
cyclicity: a tendency for participation to occur early and late in the life cycle
consistency: a low level of consistency between belief and practice is accepted
singularity: persons are expected to identify with one religion
proximity: the transcendent is expected to be distant, localised and diffuse
efficacy: the transcendent is subject to influence, trustworthy and effective
access: the transcendent is to be access directly and through professionals
social location: religious groups are expected to be on the margin, not central
(Bouma, 2006, 35)
Some hints that emerge
I find this summation matches my own experience in many respects, and therefore, somewhat suggestive of a number of things:
- Firstly, that hard core Christianity is somewhat at odds with average Australia, particularly where expectations of high commitment and high participation are concerned (however, Bouma goes on to note that lower commitment groups have lower retention rates so catering for low commitment is not necessarily the way to go)
- Secondly, that hard core Christianity, Australian style, will still look laid back, shy and overly comfortable with being marginal from an American perspective (it should be no surprise, considering this, that the gap between established church and emerging church is much narrower in Australia)
- Thirdly, that some of these characteristics are not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve never found highly strung Christianity to be particularly Christ like (but then, as an Aussie, I would say that wouldn’t I!)
But what I find most intriguing about this though is what it suggests about our understanding of God. Is our understanding of God distant in comparison to other cultures? And could our distance from the world scene and our own environment figure in here somewhere too? More to explore!
As I said I just have many questions. Hopefully this will stimulate a few more for you!
Australia Day Synchroblog
This post is part of the Christianity In Australia synchroblog which a number of Australian Christians are participating in to celebrate Australia Day. For more on Christianity in Australia see:
- Andrew Hamilton at Backyard Missionary
- Ben Thurley at Ben’s Blog
- Rodney Olsen at RodneyOlsen.net
- Geoff Pengilly at The Healing Project
- Andy Porteous at Not Yet Finished
- Paul Robotham at A Christian’s Blog
- Chris Summerfield at A Churchless Faith
- Christina Aitken at Sojourn
- Heather at A Deconstructed Christian
- Geoff Matheson at Amateur Theology
- Deborah Taggart at The Bright Side
- Rob Hanks at Pump House