Ever since the latest Census was announced, a lot of people have been wasting a lot of energy calling for the one optional question on the form, “What is your religion?”, to be filled out in all manner of ways. There is really only one way to correctly answer this question, if you choose to do so at all, and that’s to be honest.
For those of you who don’t know much about the Census, it’s basically a questionaire circulated every five or so years by the Australian Bureau of Statistics to collect information on the number of people in every area of the country, their occupations and how they live. Libertarians and conspiracy theorists would likely suggest that it’s really a way for the Government to find out everyone’s most intimate details for when they finally start herding people into camps and opening fire on them with the HAARP weapon. Most of you will have your forms now, so take a quick look at it. The most intrusive question on there is probably the one about religion. Everything else – your name, age, gender, wage/salary, type of car you drive – is already pretty well documented if you’ve ever had a bank account, a job, applied for a birth certificate or passport, owned a vehicle, seen a doctor or been to school. It doesn’t ask how many pets you have, your sexuality or how often you wank, but don’t worry. The Government has eyes in the sky to find those things out, so filling out the Census isn’t going to tell them anything they don’t already know.
On page 6 is the contentious religion question, the only one on the form that you don’t actually have to answer. Yet, everytime a Census is announced, a bunch of people decide to start a campaign to have something recognised as a religion and, because they don’t have any idea how the Census works, they tell anyone who’ll listen to mark “Other” and write in something stupid. At the last Census, it was Jedi, the artificial quasi-religion from the Star Wars saga, for those three people out there who weren’t aware of it. 70,000 people — that’s almost the entire population of the Blue Mountains, where I live — wrote “Jedi” as their religion on the 2006 Census. And guess what? It’s still not a religion. Why? Because the ABS doesn’t accept stupid answers. They just ignored the response and filed it as a non-answer.
On the face of it, it doesn’t appear to matter that much. It hardly skews the figures: 70 thousand wasn’t much of a percentage of the 19.8 million Australians back then, and it takes about a second of your time. But when Governments at all levels use this data to determine the types of projects and organisations they will fund and support, it can have long-reaching effects.
In spite of the failure of Jedi becoming an official religion, this year it seems there’s even more silliness surrounding the religion question. I’ve noticed from social media that this includes several groups campaigning to have people write “heavy metal” as their religion this time. It’s fair to say that a lot of people would consider metal a religion: it has its mythical figures, a loosely unified language and culture, even places of worship where some of us go so far as getting down on our knees to bow to the revered. And there’s no question that many people involved in the metal sub-culture consider it to be a complete lifestyle. But that doesn’t make it a religion.
Metal, in spite of the sometimes cringeworthy and difficult elitism that often surrounds it, has always been about escapism, anti-authoritarianism, non-conformity and a reasonable level of free thought. Anyone who has ever been part of a church will tell you that these attitudes are in direct opposition to religion. If anything, heavy metal music and its related sub-culture is virtually an antithesis to religion. This is something that heavy metal fans should be proud of. Trying to have it declared a religion stands in direct contrast to everything that metal stands for.
I’m not naive enough to believe that many of the people involved in the current campaigns are being in any way serious. Most will probably see it as a way to make light of a question that for the most part probably doesn’t concern them. 12% of people didn’t even answer the question in 2006 (or wrote something stupid – “did not give a response adequate for interpretation”, according to Wikipedia). But 64% of people marked Christianity last time, and given that Governments at all levels pay the most attention to majority groups, that’s reason enough for administrators to direct funding and assistance to groups and organisations that the other 36% of us might not necessarily care about. That’s money, collected from taxes that everyone pays (except churches!), that’s directed to Christian churches, schools, study groups and other Christian groups on the basis that the majority have a need for them.
Again, you might just shrug your shoulders about this, but 64% of 23 million is a big number. It’s the reason the Federal government can continue to justify the extremely expensive and possibly psychologically dangerous National School Chaplains Program that’s costing tax payers far more than the so-called BER “disaster”. It’s the reason the Victorian government has introduced the divisive Christian Religious Education program to the state’s school curriculla. And it’s the reason the Rev. Fred Nile can bend the ear of the NSW Premier and attempt to convince him to drop that state’s progressive school ethics classes. If that sort of leverage doesn’t concern you, then by all means, put heavy metal down as your religion on the Census. It probably won’t make the overall percentage of people who identify as Christian or non-Christian religious change very much, but it also won’t let those in charge know the real percentage of people who don’t see religion as having any part of their lives, and this is one thing that Government really needs to be aware of.
If you are a religious person, then of course, admit your faith. There’s no shame in it. But if you’re not, don’t hinder serious study with foolishness.
19% of people identified as “non religious” at the 2006 Census. If religion really doesn’t matter to you, then the only answer to mark on the Census this time is “no religion”. Not Jedi. Not Pastafarianism. And certainly not heavy metal. If you’re concerned that religion has far too much influence in Australian society, then you need to try and push that 19% to something higher this time. Marking “Other” and writing down “heavy metal” won’t do anything but waste everyone’s time.
NOTE: This article was originally published in August, 2011. We are highlighting and italicising this note so that people will be more likely to read it and not think this piece was written last Tuesday, or something. Because it wasn’t.