The census religion conspiracy

Also, speaking in tongues on TikTok

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No, the government is not counting atheism as a religion

It’s census time in Australia, and you know what that means: a lot of hand-wringing about the question on religion.

There’s a conspiracy going around that the Australian government is encouraging people to write in “atheist” or “agnostic” rather than ticking the provided “no religion” box. The theory goes that these are counted as “religions” and therefore boost the percentage of the population that are counted as religious, thereby providing extra funding to religious groups.

This isn’t true - “No religion”, atheism, agnosticism and humanism all tend to get lumped in together when recording the growing percentage of irreligious Australians, just as all the different Christian denominations get added together when reporting the percentage of Australians who are Christian.

Besides, that’s not how religious not-for-profits are funded nor how government decisions about religious groups tend to be made. Mostly, this data is used by religious groups themselves to help make decisions about where to put their places of worship, hospitals, schools, etc.

On the other side of the coin, conservative lobby group Family Voice is convinced the government is trying to brainwash people into selecting “no religion” by putting that option first (it was the most commonly selected last census) and making the question voluntary to answer (it has been voluntary since the Australian Bureau of Statistics began collecting data on religion in 1911).

They are also mad about gay and non-binary people, but what’s new.

For what it’s worth, here’s what the ABS has to say about the question. Of course, religion is notoriously difficult to quantify and track, but the most interesting thing about the census data are definitely the trends over time rather than any individual survey result. I’m anticipating that this year will be the first time since large-scale European migration to Australia that Christianity drops below 50 per cent of the population.

If you don’t have a religion, here’s my advice:


More Bosnian cat memes


Talking tongues on TikTok

Something that stuck out to me this week were these two stories about religion on TikTok, both from Religion News Service.

The first is about Pentecostalism on TikTok, which is pretty interesting to me, because Pentecostals have always been willing to use the latest technology to practise their faith.

Every technology comes with its own mores though, and Pentecostal TikTokers don’t agree on whether it’s ok to speak in tongues on the platform. From RNS:

[Speaking in tongues is] perfectly appropriate for a public setting, [Pastor Michael Grattan] said. But he cited Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which reads, “Let everything be done decently and in order.” On the internet, Grattan sees disorderliness and chaos.

But other TikTokers do it routinely, saying they are led by the Holy Spirit to do so. My favourite bit of this article was learning that Pentecostals have been praying in tongues ever since the earliest message board days, but today we would absolutely mistake it for a keyboard smash.

“If you were speaking in tongues, you would just kind of let your fingers go over random keys—like gobbly goop,” said Campbell, “but that was the symbolism of speaking in tongues.”

It also makes me think of this story about Fuller House actor Candace Cameron’s TikTok. She posted a video this week about “the power of the Holy Spirit”, but later apologised for it because viewers said it was too sexy and weird.

Deconstructing faith online

The other RNS story is about Deconstruction TikTok (I wrote a bit about faith deconstruction last week).

Can an algorithm designed to promote dance memes and internet spats really promote serious religious reflection? These seven members of the TikTok deconstruction community say: yes.

I don’t have much to add except to say this feels very similar to the early days of YouTube, which is something I was a part of. Connecting with others well outside my past experiences in church and school played a big role in forming my own religious ideas.

Just like speaking in tongues online, I bet faith deconstruction has been happening on early message boards too, but the changing language used to describe it would make finding that early material difficult, and the lack of proper archives would make it hard to document.

I bet there’s a PhD in there for anyone willing to do the legwork of documenting and cross-referencing enough oral history.


Comments from last week’s post

Speaking of last week’s deconstruction post, I got a bit of pushback on it from one of my most engaged readers, Michael Collett. I think the comment thread is worth reading because it points out a few blindspots of my own, but also I clarify my position a little more there and explain why I used some of the words I used.


Where were you when everyone posted nudes on the last day of Fleets?


Don’t look now but I think Pitchfork is eavesdropping on us

I wrote about dc Talk and the album Jesus Freak and then suddenly Pitchfork is writing about dc Talk and the album Jesus Freak?

Why are you so obsessed with me but yes I will write a review of Jars of Clay’s 1995 self-titled album and their breakout hit Flood which won acclaim on contemporary Christian and alternative rock radio stations alike.


You can turn push notifications off, you know


Finally, please read my article about ghosts and other urban legends

This went out under the title, “There’s a ‘profound truth’ to ghost stories, this expert claims”, which is fun and clickable.

My favourite part of writing this was learning about the colonial history behind many of the stories we still tell each other.


Extra links I couldn’t fit in the main part of the email


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If you have a tip or a post I should see, especially about a religion you don’t hear about all that often, please email me: rohansalmond@gmail.com. Also, follow me on Twitter: @RJSalmond.

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