CAIRO - As their country is soaring in prosperity, Australian are turning back on religion, with almost one-fifth of the population describe themselves as non-believers, a new census has found.
We're a nation that is very comfortably off and one that managed to ride out the global financial crisis, Carole Cusack, associate professor of religion at Sydney University, told the Christian Science Monitor.
Why would you need God here?
A new census by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that one-fifth of Australia's 21.5 population describes themselves as non-believers.
It found that nearly 22 percent of Australians say that they have no religion, up by 29 percent from 2006.
This includes people who filled in atheism, agnosticism, humanism or rationalism on the census form.
Australia is classified as the happiest industrialized nation based on criteria including jobs, income and health, according the Organization for Economic Cooperation.
The census also revealed that 1.8 million people did not even answer questions on religion.
It also found that women in Australia tend to be more religious than men.
For example, Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard is herself an atheist.
It's hard to imagine an atheist becoming president of the United States, said Cusack.
But here in Australia, the prime minister is one, and people don't really care about it.
The survey also found that Islam is the fastest-grown religion in Australia.
It showed that the number of Muslims grew by 40 percent in the past five years and tenfold since 1976.
Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, are estimated at 476,291, making up 2.2 percent of the country's population.
Cusack attributes the growth of Muslims to the high birth rates alongside fresh arrivals of immigrants from Turkey, Malaysia and other countries.
The census also showed that Catholicism is the most practiced religion in Australia.
Catholics are estimated at 5.4 million, making up around a quarter of the country's population by an increase of 6.1 percent from the last census.
Anglicans make up around 3.7 million, less than the number of non-believers in Australia.
The census also showed that the number of Buddhists grew to 528,978, by a 26 percent rise to make up nearly 2.5 percent of the population.
Hindus also grew to 275,534 from only 148,123 in 2006.The census also showed that 22 percent of Christians were born overseas, while 84 percent of Hindus, 69 percent of Buddhists and 61 percent of Muslims were born outside Australia.