NCLS Research

Just believe or question?

Australians not willing to 'just believe'

As part of the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes in 2009, people across Australian communities were asked to respond to the statement "I think we should just believe and not question our beliefs". The findings reveal that only a minority take a dogmatic approach to beliefs.

Figure 1: Agree or disagree? “I think we should just believe and not question our beliefs”

Source: 2009 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes.
Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Critical reflection and questioning are significant components of contemporary Australian spirituality. Nearly half of respondents (49%) think that we should question our beliefs. In fact, one in five (20%) strongly oppose the idea of 'just believing'.

The Oxford Dictionary defines being dogmatic as "inclined to lay down principles as undeniably true". A preference for accepting one's beliefs without critical engagement is true for a minority of Australians who have the view we should 'just believe and not question our beliefs' (20%). Within that group only 4% strongly agree.

Around a third of Australians are neutral or undecided on this issue.

In this fact sheet:

Agree or disagree: "I think we should just believe and not question our beliefs"

Men more inclined to question

Figure 2: Attitudes towards belief by Sex

Source: NCLS Research, 2009 AuSSA.

Sex: More than half of all men (54%) think we should question our beliefs, compared with 44% of women.

The willingness to question beliefs seems more evident in men (24% strongly disagree with 'just believing' vs 15% of women).

Both men and women express a clear tendency towards questioning and critical reflection.

More women are neutral or undecided about this issue than men (35% vs 27%).

Young and questioning

Figure 3: Attitudes towards belief by Age

Source: NCLS Research, 2009 AuSSA.

Age:A dogmatic, unquestioning approach to one's beliefs is more common among the oldest age group of Australians.

Those aged 70 and over are more likely than others to affirm a non-questioning belief. For example, 10% of people aged 70+ strongly agree that we should 'just believe', compared with 3- 4% of other age groups.

People aged 50-69 had the highest proportion opposed to 'just believing' (57% disagree or strongly disagree) followed closely by 15-29's (50%), 30-49's (45%) and lastly 70+ (34%).

Indecision was most evident among younger people, with 37% of 15-29 year olds who neither agree or disagree compared to 27% of 50-69's and 29% of those aged 70 and over.

More education, more questioning

Figure 4: Attitudes towards belief by Education

Source: NCLS Research, 2009 AuSSA.

Education:Being willing to question and reflect on beliefs is associated with higher levels of education.

University-educated persons are more likely to disagree or strongly disagree with 'just believing'. The proportion who don't think we should 'just believe' decreases from 75% of postgraduates to 53% of those with a certificate, diploma or trade qualification, and 37% of those with a high school education.

Across most educational groups, larger proportions are neutral or undecided, rather than dogmatic.

Australian-born undecided

Figure 5: Attitudes towards belief by Ethnicity

Source: NCLS Research, 2009 AuSSA.

Ethnicity:A similar proportion of people express a preference to question their beliefs, regardless of their place of birth (49% of those born in Australia and those born overseas).

However the preference to 'just believe' exists more strongly in those born overseas with 9% strongly agreeing that we should 'just believe', as opposed to just 3% of those born in Australia.

Those born in Australia are slightly more undecided in their opinion, when compared with those born overseas (33% vs 25%).

The religious who 'just believe'

Figure 6: Attitudes towards belief by Religion

Source: NCLS Research, 2009 AuSSA.

Religion:People who describe themselves as having a religion are much more likely than those with no religion to have a non-questioning approach to belief.

Some 29% say we should 'just believe' vs 9% of non-religious people.

Not surprisingly, those who describe themselves as not religious strongly reject the idea that we should just believe (59% vs 41%). In fact their strength of conviction is very clear in that some 30% of non-religious people strongly disagree with 'just believing', in contrast to 12% of those with a religion.

A similar proportion of both groups are neutral or undecided (30% religious, 33% non-religious).

Religious does not mean dogmatic

Figure 7: Attitudes towards belief by Attendance

Source: NCLS Research, 2009 AuSSA.

Attendance: More church attenders are willing to question their beliefs, than to be dogmatic. This is regardless of how often they attend religious services. Even among those who attend weekly or more, 44% prefer to question versus 33% who 'just believe'.

Australians who never attend church have the highest proportion who do not accept an unquestioning approach to beliefs (53% vs 14% who just believe).

Uncertainty is high among infrequent and non-attenders (33%) than among more frequent attenders (23-25%).

Data Source:

The International Social Survey Program (ISSP) is an ongoing survey designed to monitor changes in society across a range of countries. In 2009 the ISSP was undertaken in Australia by the Australian National University via the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (AuSSA).

The survey included a standard component on religion, as well as customised questions regarding religion and spirituality which were commissioned by a consortium that included NCLS Research.

The sample comprised 1718 adults across Australia.

Evans, A. (2009) [computer file], The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes, Australian Social Science Data Archives, The Australian National University, Canberra.

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