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One of the big shocks from the 2016 Australian census was that 30% of citizens had “no religion,” a major jump from the 22.6% of “Nones” from 2011. The image of organized religion hasn’t improved in the nation since then. If anything, it’s gotten worse, with the release of a report from a commission looking into child sexual abuse.

But here’s another unintentional ramification of that trend: A lot of Australians don’t trust religious leaders either. Not like they used to, anyway. Check out this article from ABC News, with some beautiful images, talking about how priests are no longer seen as trustworthy figures:

The Australia Talks National Survey found 41 per cent of Australians don’t trust religious leaders “at all”, a 6 per cent rise since the survey was last conducted in 2019.

almost half (47 per cent) of 18–24 year-olds don’t trust religious leaders “at all”. That’s a jump of 15 percentage points in just two years.

A 15% jump in two years. That’s huge.

Among the reasons for that change?

The pandemic (where religious leaders demanding to keep churches open made everything worse, but science and medicine kept things safe). The sex abuse. There’s always the internet and the ability to question your faith without judgment. The hypocrisy and bigotry don’t help either:

As Benjamin [Lynch] put it at the meet-up: “the holy books don’t match what is happening in society”, especially around attitudes to sex, sexuality and gender.

One researcher rightly pointed out that a lot of the “Nones” aren’t atheists at all. Many of them are “apatheists” — apathetic about religion completely. It’s not something they think about. It’s not a part of their lives. Functionally, they may be atheists, but they just don’t care about the subject because they have other things on their mind.

Interestingly enough, among the young people who trust religious leaders and take faith seriously, one of the reasons they mentioned was their “autonomy and agency with how we want our religion to be actualised.” That independence flies in the faith of the obedience and necessary bigotry many religions preach. Which could mean many of the most vocal conservative pastors in Australia are inadvertently pushing people away from faith altogether. (Thanks!)

The results also mean that whatever benefits religion provides people, many Australians are finding substitutes elsewhere and they’re doing just fine. If they want community, leadership, a desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves, there are other ways to get it besides the inside of a church. Unless religion groups can offer something unique, true, and beneficial — good luck with all that — they have an uphill climb to win converts.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Chris for the link)

Hemant Mehta is the founder of, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.

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