Recently I was scrolling through Facebook when an ad appeared. It urged those who "don't pray or don't go to church" to mark the 'no religion' option on the census.
I wondered why anyone would launch a campaign aimed at swaying the answer given on the census. After all this is an exercise in data collection, not a vote.
The advertisement directed me to a website sponsored by a number of groups whose common goal is the promotion of Atheism and Secularism.
There they claimed that many Australians identify themselves as belonging to a religion they don't really believe in or practice.
When this happens of the census "they receive an unfair amount of public funding" and "a stronger voice and more influence than they actually deserve."
In order to limit the influence of religious organisation, and presumably to increase their own influence, these groups are urging people to identify themselves as having no religion.
I don't doubt that the percentage of the population who answer 'no religion' will rise. I am sure that this will lead to more headlines than even the Australian Bureau of Statistics would want to count!
However the reality is that there are limits to what a Census question can discover. People's religious beliefs are far more complicated than can be expressed in a single, multiple choice question.
Yet this campaign draws some pretty rigid standards for what it means to be religious, and then treats no religion as if it were the default.
Parents are urged to select no religion for their kids, rather than identifying them with the faith in which their parents intend to raise them.
Those who believe in a god or a higher power, but may not subscribe to any particular formalised creed are urged to mark no religion rather than 'other.'
Even those who identify themselves with a religious denomination are urged to select no religion is if disagree with any of the "teachings and positions of your denomination's leading clerics."
These are only a few of the reasons to identify as having no religion, but they cast a vision of what counts as having a religion that is just too simplistic to encompass how most people believe. By these definitions I would need to question whether I should be ticking "Anglican" on census night despite being minister within the Anglican Church!
Yet if there is one thing I like about this campaign it is the encouragement to think hard about what it actually means to have a religious faith.
As a Christian I am reminded of the need to be constantly seeking to better understand the claims that Jesus makes on my life. The deeper my understanding of Jesus, the more I find joy in belonging to him.
Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of things about Jesus that I don't fully understand. I regularly fail to live up to those things I do understand. I don't expect that I will ever be the finished product in this life.
However Jesus claims to be the Lord over every part of our lives. His claims, if they mean anything, must mean everything. There is no part of life which may be wilfully held back from him.
You may have misgivings about the Church. You may be wrestling with big questions or doubts. You may struggle with some of the teachings of Jesus. All of us do to some degree. But the biggest mistake you could make is to stop working through these things and seeking to discover what is really true.
So whatever your story, on Census night when asked to identify your religion why not use it as an opportunity to think deeply about what it really means to believe?
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.