Christianity in Australia

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expressivity: a strong tendency towards the shy, withdrawn and not exuberant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:


9 thoughts on “Christianity in Australia

  1. “catering for low commitment is not necessarily the way to go”
    People don’t want high committment, but low commitment doesn’t work!…
    Quite a conundrum.
    Nothing that a controlling manipulative leader couldn’t fix!


  2. What I find really amusing is that as I go through the links to this synchroblog, it seems that half the people couldn’t be stuffed posting 🙂 Or haven’t got around to it yet.
    Interesting looking site you’ve got here.


  3. In South Africa one of the points of contact we have with Australian culture is cricket commentaries.
    This is probably completely distorted and misleading, but it nevertheless makes an impression.
    1. Australians do things backwards. Everybody else will announce the score as “50 for 1”, but Australians will say “1 for 50”. Australians have batters and fieldsmen, everyone else has batsmen and fielders.
    2. Australians are arrogant. South African commentators are annoying because of the way they talk the national team down. Australian commentators come across as arrogant because of the way they talk their team up. A few years ago one commented that “Mark Waugh is arguably the best fieldsman in the world” and his fellow commentator (not Australian) said “He probably isn’t even the best fielder in his own family.”
    But cricket commentators are probably an unreliable measure for a whole culture!
    But the result is that when South Africans are asked which cricket team they support, the usual answer is “South Africa, and whoever is playing against Australia”, except that Muslim South Africans support Pakistan.


  4. Hamo, yeah I do see it as a bit of a conundrum but I think we just have to accept that as one of the cultural challenges of following Christ in Australia. My personal preference is for high commitment without high hype.


  5. Sue, yes it seems the wheels have fallen off a bit with some people. Unfortunately I have been pretty busy and haven’t organized this as tightly as it apparently needed. Will learn from the experience.


  6. Matt,
    Sport is one of the ways people become aware of different cultural practices, though. On our TV we occasionally see Australian Rules football, where a little man in a white coat brings his forearms down to signal a score. When we has a soccer match against Australia it was in our town, so we went along to see it, and a member of the South African team, Mark Williams, scored a goal, and promptly ran behind the goal posts and brought his forearms down like the little men we see on TV.
    If you think about it, it was quite a complex cross-cultural joke — different countries, different sporting codes. It probably doesn’t say much about religious responses, though.


  7. Ah, here is a cross cultural hint Steve, different sporting codes dominate different cities in Australia.
    Aussie Rules only rules down south in Melbourne and Adelaide. In more civilized cities like Sydney its Rugby which reigns supreme … Rugby League if you live more west like me, Rugby Union if you live more east. If you have watched a Aussie Rules game the whole way through you are one up on me. I have no idea what the guys in funny white coats are doing out there either 🙂
    Actually I think the one sport that can truly claim to be universal in Australia is swimming, or, except maybe in the red center …


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