Editor’s Note: Continuing with our 40th Anniversary celebrations, we present Brian’s Reflections, a series of observations from Heart of Life founder, Fr Brian Gallagher msc.
The 2021 census revealed that 39% of Australians say that they have no religion. A statistic which has increased annually for some years.
I know some of these people. My suspicion is that very few of them would want to be seen as ‘irreligious’, though it’s true that they have no religion. I suspect, in fact, that most live by strong values in their life – for many, even what we call Christian values, sometimes spiritual values. It seems that, while many people are turning away from traditional institutional religion, they are no less ‘spiritual’. They still believe, they still long for truth, goodness, fulfillment, they are still caring and generous in their relationships.
Many of these people come to Heart of Life. And Heart of Life encourages and supports such people, the seekers amongst us. When churches and all the former religious practices no longer speak to them, people have to turn elsewhere to find nourishment for their souls. I suggest that the nourishment that they seek – alongside their community involvement and generous relationships – is on a deeper level, a more personal level. I hear people speaking of their longing for a God who cares and who stays alongside them in their everyday lives. Whereas the God they find in church is somewhat remote, demanding and judging.
I am well aware that this is not the whole story. There are churches and pastors who are happily in touch with their followers and do speak of God more personally and intimately. And 61% of Australians say that they do have a religion. (We are not told how many of this group, in fact, practise their religion, or what their religion means to them.) Still, each to his own! Certainly, all of us need to be true to our personal calling. As well, I suggest there is an invitation here to all of us: we are invited to utter respect and acceptance of one another, even those quite different from ourselves and searching in different ways from our own. May our shared desire for God unite us, not divide us.