Advance_australiaHugh Mackay is a highly respected Australian social researcher. His latest book Advance Australia Where? gives us some interesting insight into where Australia has come from over the last few decades and what some of the trends are for the future.

This book is very worthwhile reading for anyone interested in Australian society. For those of us who are Christians living in Australia, it is important that we understand our culture and the people we are seeking to reach out to with God’s love.

According to Mackay’s research, Australians are a little restless and a bit edgy due to the changes that have taken place over the last 30 years. There is a lack of connectedness, a growing materialism, as well as increasing selfishness. He evens predicts a new space for religion in the hearts of many Aussies.

Here are a few of his other quotes and insights, just in the area of relationships and family:

  • More than 40% of marriages here in Australia end in divorce today – resulting in about 1 million Aussie kids living with only one parent.
  • Divorce has become very easy (the Family Act of 1975 established ‘no fault’ divorce), providing an opportunity for a couple to abandon a hopeless marriage and seek happiness with someone else, but it also can discourage people from making sufficient effort to work things out when the going gets tough. Divorce is never a pretty sight, causing much pain and anguish.
  • About 66% of marriages are first marriages, compared with 90% thirty years ago.
  • The marriage rate is the lowest in 100 years, and falling.
  • 30 years ago, 90% of people were married by the age of 30. Today it is only 50%.
  • In the past 30 years, the proportion of women marrying by age 20 has fallen from 25% to just 4%, and there are now more unmarried than married women in Australia (though many technically ‘unmarried’ women are in live-in relationships that qualify as de facto marriages).
  • Most couples live together before they marry (up from 16% to 76% in the past 30 years), and about one-third of all babies are born to unmarried parents.
  • We seem to be prepared, as a society, to accommodate a more flexible, more transient attitude to marriage, and to view de facto marriage as a perfectly acceptable alternative to the legally sanctioned variety.
  • ‘Partner’ has become part of the language, even being adopted by married couples (more than ‘de facto’ or even ‘spouse’).
  • Many young people don’t want to get too committed to anything too soon and want to keep their options open. They’re not rushing into marriage anymore. For some, observing their parent’s divorce has created a certain wariness toward marriage.
  • Marriage used to be spoken of as an ‘institution’: once you’re in it, you stayed in it, as if the institutional door shut behind you as you entered. Groucho Marx said, “Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?” Today marriage (whether legal or de facto) is seen more as a ‘relationship’. “If our relationship works, we might get married. Once we’re married, if the relationship breaks down, the marriage will be over.” It’s now about whether it’s working for me?
  • The Marriage Guidance Council of Australia changed its name to Relationships Australia in 1994. Marriage is now just one of many sorts of relationships for which people need professional help. Now only 46% of its clients are ‘married’ in the legal sense of the term.
  • A relationship is easier to terminate than a marriage. “I’ve had several relationships’ sounds better than “I’ve been married several times”. In a similar way, being “re-partnered” feels better than being “remarried”.
  • Mackay speaks of the ‘dangerous cult of perfectionism’. We are obsessed with perfection – in everything. We want excellence and the extra-ordinary – life to the max. This makes it tough for mere mortals – with all of their frailties, flaws and imperfections, particularly where intimate personal relationships are concerned. This leads to expecting too much from a partner and from a relationship. It makes us too cautious in our approach to prospective partners and unrealistic in our demands and expectations. It can infect our experience of love and happiness with a gnawing doubt that things aren’t as good as they should be; that perfect bliss is eluding us; that romantic love should never fade; that we should be able to establish perfect relationships without too much hard work. The hazard is obvious – if we are banking on the perfect relationship, we’re bound to be disappointed. The human journey is characterised by chaos and contradictions, and the cult of perfectionism can blind us to the fact that ‘perfectly reasonable’ may be as close to perfection as life gets, for most of us, most of the time.
  • The cult of perfectionism has already damaged many relationships that might have otherwise survived. It has caused many couples to decide they could do better with someone else – only to find that ‘someone else’ turned out to be human, too, and that feet of clay are standard issue, after all.
  • Low marriage and high divorce rates are caused by many factors. But the cult of perfectionism is making its own quiet contribution by raising the threshold of contentment.
  • Doubt and reservations paralyse many single people from entering marriage. “How could you ever know that someone was the right person to spend the rest of your life with?” No wonder many people are reluctant to marry.
  • There are many stable and satisfying marriages. Don’t forget that 60% of marriages survive! Minor irritations? Yes, often. Occasional strong words? Yes. Disagreements? Of course. Even fury at times. But marriage works, the rewards are great … and it’s a dream that many people still long for.

How can we respond to this? What can the church do? What can you do?

May we pray for wisdom and courage and grace to live as God would have us to in our times.

2 thoughts on “Advance Australia Where?

  1. Hi Mark,
    On the divorce issue I think the church needs to take a balanced approach. Firstly, to love and support the people either going through it, or having come out the other side. As much as it is not right in the majority of cases it still happens and we still need to extend God’s love and grace to people. As a divorced person myself I often have a bit of a ‘how are Christians going to react if I mention the d-word’ fear. In God’s grace I have yet to have met a worse reaction than the blank-face ‘I’m not going to comment’.
    On the otherside of this issue, as a divorced person, I think it is hugely important that the church is vocal in not supporting divorce and about talking about the pain and devastation it causes. I have been hugely blessed, God has shown me INCREDIBLE grace and things have not been that bad. But I know that it is GRACE, and not deserved on my part, I did nothing that would warrant God working things out so beautifully in my life, it was all pure gift on His part. Even though things have worked out so well, I still have an absolute conviction that God hates divorce (Mal 2:16). And for that reason as Christians I think we have to do everything we can to fight for our own marriages, and the marriages of others, especially in light of Eph 5:32, which says marriage is a parable of the relationship between Christ & the church.
    I think looking back over all of it, I didn’t understand what I was getting myself into when I got married. I had unrealistic expectations of my husband, and when he proved to be human and flawed that was disappointing. I think a key role the church should be taking is helping people before they get into relationships that may lead to marriage to have realistic expectations about marriage and their spouses. Another thing I noticed was that the things that in the end broke the marriage apart were things that were there from the beginning of the relationship. For this reason I believe that the sooner premarital counselling is done the better. I wouldn’t even wait to be engaged. If done before engagement proper attention can be given to it, rather than it getting caught up in amongst all the wedding preparations. Then it can also form part of the decision making process about whether to proceed with engagement.
    It is also helpful to be able to be open about things when a marriage isn’t going well. One thing that I struggled with was not having anyone I could talk to about it all before we seperated. I thought everyone else’s marriage was either exactly like ours, so what was I complaining about, or that everyone else’s was perfect, so how could they understand?? We need room to share this stuff, otherwise as we shove each unresolved problem under the carpet we get to a point where it will take an super-human effort to climb the everest that has developed under there. For this to happen I think we need an atmosphere that says it’s ok to not be ok all the time.
    For me, it was God’s grace in the early days of the seperation through the love of some beautiful people in the church that really turned me to Christ. So despite the tragedy of it all, God’s grace is still bigger and stronger than the worst of our weakness. It is a good time in people’s lives for them to consider things of a spiritual nature, I think it really presents an opportunity for the gospel.
    (Sorry I’ve gone on a bit!!)
    God bless,

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