In the last week there were two articles published in The Age just one day apart from each other, which I am sure was not a coincidence. On Friday 16th July there was an opinion piece by Heidi Nicholl, CEO of Humanists Australia titled, Census time to mark ‘no religion’. The following day was an article In COVID, a search for belonging by Jewell Topsfield, Social Affairs Editor at The Age. The first, as the title indicates, was a call for people to mark ‘no religion’ on the upcoming census suggesting that the true number of Australians who are not religious has been under reported because of how the question is phrased in the census. Ms Nicholl’s makes the case that this data is “used by researchers and Government to justify allocation of resources” and that “By under-counting people who are not religious it means the justification to provide adequate resources for those of us without faith is missing.” The second article explored some of the research and stories demonstrating the ways in which the pandemic has strengthened faith for many people, including the desire to connect with local faith communities. Dr Powell from NCLS “surveyed 1300 Australians in December and found 45% had drawn on spiritual practices during 2020” a 15% increase from 2019 data.
It was interesting to read these two articles offering quite different perspectives about religion in Australia. What I notice though, is that there is not a lot of room for nuance in these positions. It is why I believe the concept of spirituality is so important. There is room to speak about beliefs, values, practices and traditions that provide a sense of meaning and identity, without needing to polarise the conversation, or worse, to pit people against one another. There should be no need to argue for a just allocation of resources if all people were given equal recognition and voice (now that would be something to celebrate).
This is the strength of a professional spiritual care service offered by qualified and credentialed spiritual care practitioners. We need to ensure that there is equity in the education and career pathways leading to work in this field. We also need to ensure that all people, regardless of beliefs, values, practices and traditions, are given equal access to spiritual care that is responsive to their identified needs.
We still have some way to go, but I believe the field of spiritual care continues to move in an inclusive direction that embraces diversity. There has to be room for all.
Cheryl Holmes, CEO