Submission of the Cultural Diversity Review of the Australian Bureau of Statistics

Status of the Submission

The following is a response to an invitation to participate in the Cultural Diversity Review by providing information on possible improvements by the Australian Bureau of Statistics standards and classifications.

This submission follows previous correspondence with the Australian Bureau of Statistics in August 2012 concerning the classification of Unitarians (and Unitarian-Universalists) under Christian (Other) in document 1266.0 - Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups, 2011. The content of this submission is substantially the same as that correspondence.

Classification of Unitarians

Under document 1266.0 - Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups, 2011, those who profess a Unitarian identity on the Australian census are classified as "Christian (Other)" with the code 2.29.2914

This has some historical veracity. Unitarian has historically been an liberal Christian theology that emphasised the rejection of Trinitarian positions.

However, from the latter half of the twentieth century onwards, Unitarianism has been increasingly associated as a pluralistic liberal orientation, that does not require a particular theological position. This newer position is evident in the main objectives of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU), the North American Unitarian-Universalist Association (UUA), the British General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches (note the separation between the two names), and, most importantly for this context, the Australia-New Zealand Unitarian-Univeralist Association (ANZUUA).

ANZUUA, previously known as ANZUA before the Universalist association was included, was established in 1974 as the successor to the Australian Assembly of Unitarian and Liberal Christian Churches. On the current ANZUUA website the following is included under the section "Who We Are".

"We are spiritual communities with Christian origins that recognise and respect wisdom from a range of traditions, both religious and secular. Our gatherings can include people from many faiths and none, including progressive Christians, Humanist, Atheist, Agnostic, Buddhist and Earth centred

While we differ in our beliefs and experiences we have common principles involving respect for people of all faiths and cultures, respect for the planet, trying to live an 'ethical life' and developing our own sense of spirituality. We believe that spirituality can be developed through reason, conscience and our own experience."

It is evident that Unitarians (and Unitarian-Universalists etc) should not longer be classified as "Christian (Other)", as there are Unitarian Atheists, Unitarian Christians, Unitarian Pagans, & etc. Because of the religious pluralism is is best to place them under "Other, Miscellaneous religions" (classification group 6.xx.xxxx, "Other Religions").

A major problem of the current classification with regards to the Australian census is twofold. Firstly, it gives an inaccurate statement for those who do identify themselves as Unitarians in the classification scheme. Secondly, for those who know that they would be classified as Christian (Other) if they note themselves as such, they have an incentive to describe themselves as another religion, or none at all, on the census form. Either way, the census will suffer inaccuracies as a result.

Submitted Fri, August 21, 2015 6:36 pm


ian.ellis-jones's picture

Lev, I accept all of your points regarding the nature of modern day Unitarianism (or Unitarian Universalism). The only difficulty I have with your conclusion and recommendation is as to whether modern day Unitarianism is a religion at all. It certainly cannot reasonably be seen to be a single religion among other world religions. I think it is more like a meta-religion, at least in practice. To the extent that Unitarianism has something to say about religion--and it certainly does--it is a way of looking at religion and spirituality and at the many varieties of religious and spiritual experiences of the whole of humanity. It's even more than that. Unitarianism is a way of looking at life---with curiosity, openness, non-discrimination and choiceless awareness.

As a metareligion Unitarianism---although not exactly a philosophy per se---performs a similar function to philosophy at its best in that it provides a fundamental and overall coherent ‘apparatus’ for understanding and criticism, illuminating all fields of human inquiry including politics, economics, sociology, psychology, philosophy, theology, ethics, and the arts. Unitarianism is a ‘key’--one such key---to understanding those and other disciplines.

However, for many Unitarians, Unitarianism isn’t a religion at all, and we must respect their view on the matter. For them, and even for many of those Unitarians who do see Unitarianism as a religion, Unitarianism is much more than a religion, philosophy, and way of life. It is a progressive humanistic movement, an adventure in continuing spiritual education, and a way of looking at religion and all of life.

Most of all, Unitarianism is a praxis, that is, a particular and quite distinctive way in which certain spiritual principles (such as the inherent worth and dignity of every person, a free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and the interdependent web of all existence) are put into practice. Unitarianism (in most places at least---I can think of at least one notable exception in Australia) rejoices in diversity, and, as you well know, it also imposes no dogma, doctrine, creed or article of faith.

I don't know where that leaves us. Ever the pragmatist, I think your recommendation is the best way to proceed even though some Unitarians (and not just the Christian Unitarians) will be unhappy with the recommendation.