Since the formation of the Humanist Society of Victoria (HSV) in 1961, Australia has changed enormously; from a Christian society to a secular one, where the influence of religion on the majority of people is minimal. And even though some still declare Australia a Christian nation, data and the lived experience is of a secularised society.
Religion has largely retreated into the private realm, except when church scandals are highlighted in the media or when a parliamentarian declares that their religious beliefs determine their views on some issue. Data show that fewer than 10% of people attend religious services regularly. Unlike 1961, commercial activities now operate to fulfill public demand; gone are the ‘Closed on Sundays’ laws. And social surveys show over 40% of people no longer identify with a religion; while even the biased ‘religion’ question on the Census recorded 31% of 2016 respondents as marking ‘no religion’.
Humanists have long advocated on a range of issues where the religious have vigorously argued in opposition; for example, no-fault divorce, access to contraception and abortion, equal rights for LGBTQI people and voluntary assisted dying. With growing secularisation, many of these matters have been legislated in favour of individual rights over religious control.
Yet despite the growing secularisation of Australia, religious bodies still monopolise the supply of certain services and facilities; for example, religious instruction (SRI) in schools, chaplains to schools, hospitals, armed forces etc., running aged care and palliative care facilities, and many private, nominally religious schools.
A few years ago, HSV trialled ethics lessons in schools as an alternative program to SRI. After this successful trial and moves to expand the program, the State government ruled that SRI could only be provided out of schools hours and later announced the introduction of a comparative study of World Religions and Humanism and Rationalism to be included in the curriculum. These changes in Victorian State schools are another facet of secularising society.
But in the case of who gets to be a spiritual care visitor in most hospitals, they nearly all come under the auspices of a religion. HSV organised training workshops for potential secular hospital care visitors late last year, but when we attempted to find placements, most hospitals contacted were no longer prepared to accept our volunteers.
HSV has now initiated funding for Joe Sehee to develop a training and placement system for spiritual care visitors. We can therefore look forward to the secularisation of these services. Joe has shared his insights and experience in delivering secular spiritual care.
Reproduced from Victorian Humanist, Vol. 57, No. 8, May 2018
Copyright © 2018 Rosslyn Ives
NOTE. An earlier statement of secularism to which HSV contributed was enthusiastically endorsed by free-thinking groups in 2013. Entitled ‘Manifesto for a secular Australia’, it may be read here.