|Census and Consensus|
|Written by Peter Johnston|
|Tuesday, 22 March 2011 15:45|
Can I be excused a wee smug feeling having just completed the online census form for Scotland's Census 2011? I was motivated to pick up the paperwork that was delivered last week after reading about Herod the Great in Simon Montefiore's Jerusalem: The Autobiography while travelling up to Glasgow on the train this morning.
Probably the most famous census ever is recounted (sic) every Christmas when we read Luke's account of the birth of Jesus: "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world." (Luke 2:1) There is a bit of disagreement here between Luke's account and other historical works that lead one to suspect that Luke may have compressed the timing of what happened when writing his gospel many years after the events. That a census did take place is not at issue, it did, but it probably took place some years later than Luke describes. [There's more...]
The census took place under Caesar Augustus, as Luke writes, after the region controlled by the endlessly feuding Herodian family came under the control of a Roman prefect in Caesarea. It would have been a humiliating act by Rome upon the Jewish people who had been given a certain amount of autonomy over the previous years under the rule of Herod the Great.
The reason for Augustus to take a census was in order to register tax payers. It was thus not only humiliating to have to account to a foreign power, but to know that this accounting would be financial too would just make matters worse.
The tag line for this year's census in Scotland is "Shaping our future" and I suppose at some level the purpose is not much different to Caesar Augustus's purpose. While I trust that the intent of this year's census is not to humiliate us(!), it undoubtedly is done in order to help plan better for the future by having a more accurate snapshot of Scotland. This has an impact on the provision of many kinds of services and for the Scottish Parliament to better determine how budgets should be spread across the nation. The data provides valuable information for forming a consensus amongst the population over how we share the resources we have at our disposal with equity and efficiency.
The census information will also be studied by the Church of Scotland as part of its own planning for the future. Currently the 2001 census data is used, supported by more recent local authority planning information, in order to determine the size of parishes and the spread of population across the country. This information will be updated as soon as the 2011 census data is available over the next couple of years. This has become ever more important as the church explores how to best serve the whole country with the resources at its disposal.
Which all leads me to a second interesting article I read earlier today that describes how researchers have taken historical census data from surveys in nine countries to show how identification with a religion, whatever it may be, is shrinking rapidly in these countries to the point that the decline will inevitably mean the extinction of these religions.
This research was similar to an earlier study on the decline of lesser-spoken languages that is based on a simple premise: social groups that have more members are more attractive to join and these social groups must have a status or utility. The article used the example of Spanish or the dying language of Quechuan in Peru - which would be most useful to learn and which has most other members speaking it? A similar argument could no doubt be made between English and Gaelic in our own culture.
This current research argues that the same principle is at work with religion in modern secular democracies.
There is a lot of truth in this and it is a reality that we are having to grapple with at the moment. We've talked quite a bit about this with respect to the community we try to build for young people in the church in a situation where each individual congregation locally may only have a handful of teenagers connected to it, being able to bring all these young people together as we are doing with Cosy Café Sundays is a way to create a larger community which if it continues to develop well will, we pray, create a group of young people that will attract others to join in.
The connections to how we work together as churches beyond solely youth work are there to be made.