A pre-Christmas spiritual snapshot

Australians find it hard to talk about spiritual matters because ‘they fear being stigmatised or categorised as a lunatic fringe,’ says La Trobe University author and specialist in religious and literary studies, David Tacey.

 'We are such a radically secular culture, so materialist, that to talk about the transcendent is almost un-Australian,’ says Professor Tacey.

He was commenting on the ‘Quest for the Divine’ in a special pre-Christmas feature by Fairfax Religion Writer, Barney Zwartz. In the article Professor Tacey said ‘a spiritual snapshot of Australia depends on where one looks'.

‘There is a decline in religious participation, which can be very disturbing for religious people – or there is the quest for transcendence, which can be very heartening and can lead to the opposite conclusion.’

Author of many books and long-time writer and researcher on religion and young people, he told The Age newspaper:
‘People are hungrier than ever for the transcendent - an experience beyond themselves, beyond the material - but because they are not finding traditional religion, a lot of the searching doesn't get noticed.'

Hunger for experience, not talk

‘We are definitely in a transitional period as a society. When the formal traditions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam understand that the hunger is for spiritual experience of God and not simply talk about God, they may find young people are getting attracted to the traditions.

‘I don't say attracted again, because most people have not been inducted into church traditions in the first place. Many have not only atheist parents but grandparents - we are suffering from religious amnesia.'

Professor Tacey said that many people are turning to the East for answers, and many are doing a lot of reading. At one of Melbourne's biggest bookshops, Readings, mystical literature was the most popular after cook books and travel guides, he was told.

‘This is true of my students - 70 per cent of them read mystical books, such as Hildegard of Bingen, or Thomas Merton. It's a doorway into the experience of God rather than God-talk.’

He warns that, alongside spiritual hunger, the decline of mainstream religion has brought a second effect. ‘It makes people more gullible to cults and sects and various new-age groups who are often asking people to pay big money.'

Professor Tacey told The Age he often talks to members of Catholic religious orders in steep decline, and their tone is great despair and bewilderment.

‘But I don't go along with all that pessimism. I'm pessimistic about a lot of mainstream churches, but I'm not pessimistic about God. We need a better understanding about what God is, and a lot less cliches and platitudes.’

Read more about Professor Tacey.

Media contact

Ernest Raetz, Media and Communications: 041 226 1919

Image credit: Terry Johnston