Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Why do religious issues puzzle me?

I confess. I follow a number of religious and atheist blogs – probably more than are good for me. One thing I have failed to understand is why there is so much distrust, suspicion, and in some cases, open hostility between various factions. This enmity is part of the fascination that keeps me returning to blogs that I would otherwise avoid. I am genuinely puzzled as to why the enmity is felt so strongly by some people.

Some of my failure to understand how others feel about religious issues probably rests on the fact that I am autistic, but I think I have found another compelling explanation: I’m a Kiwi.

The Legatum Institute Foundation publishes a prosperity index each year, and among all the variables that go into measuring prosperity, are two pertaining directly to freedom of religion: governmental religious restrictions and social religious restrictions. The Foundation defines these respectively as:
Governmental restrictions on religion, efforts by governments to ban particular faiths, prohibit conversions, limit preaching or give preferential treatment to one or more religious groups
  and
The degree to which there are social barriers to freedom of religion in a country, acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations and social groups

As a comparison, I’ve selected the 10 countries that WordPress reports as being the all time top 10 viewing countries of Another Spectrum: Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Hungary, India, Kenya, Aotearoa New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States.

When it comes to religious freedom, it is apparent that NZ is head and shoulders above the other countries in this comparison. Religious restrictions, both governmental and social are measured on a scale from 0 to 1, and NZ is the only country gaining a score of 1.

Governmental Religious Restrictions

1 New Zealand (1)
0.9 – 0.99 Brazil (7), Australia (21)
0.8 – 0.89 Canada (29), United Kingdom (47)
0.7 – 0.79 United States (75), Hungary (77)
0.6 – 0.69 Kenya (103)
0.5 – 0.59 France (109), India (112)

(the number in parenthesis after each country is its world ranking)

Considering that the first amendment of the US constitution guarantees freedom of religion, America doesn’t do very well when it comes to governmental restrictions on religion, ranking at 75th. In fact, over the the previous 10 years, its best ranking was 58th in 2009, while its worst was 104th in 2010.

Social Religious Restrictions

Socially, all the countries apart from Hungary place greater restrictions on religion than does the government, and while NZ doesn’t fare too well on a world ranking (there are 28 countries that do better), it still fares better than the other nine countries:

0.9 – 0.99 New Zealand (29)
0.8 – 0.89 Canada (67)
0.7 – 0.79 Australia (80), Hungary (80),
0.6 – 0.69  Brazil (109),
0.5 – 0.59 United Kingdom (118)
0.4 – 0.49 United States (127), France (128)
0.2 – 0.29 Kenya (138), India (144)
0.1 – 0.19

(the number in parenthesis after each country is its world ranking)

Governmental versus social restrictions

What I find really interesting is that there is often little relationship between restrictions on religion imposed by governments and restrictions on religion imposed by the wider society. For example the Chinese government all but bans religious expression, and where it is permitted, it is under state control. Iran on the other hand is an Islamic theocracy. In both countries, governmental restriction on religion are severe, but when compared to the United States, there are fewer social restrictions. I was surprised to see that Iran does better the the US:

govt_social_religion-chart

This suggests to me that Americans are not as accepting or tolerant of different religious beliefs and non-beliefs as they think they are. It explains why a number of bloggers I follow are atheists, but are very reluctant to let that fact be known in their communities. It goes a long way in explaining to me why I and many other Kiwis are unable to understand why religion is such a hot topic in many parts of the world.

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A visit from HELL

The word Hell conjures up different images, depending on the culture one is most familiar with. In many cultures the concept of hell does not exist. Within our indigenous Māori mythology there is no equivalent place. The spirit of everyone, regardless of deeds or thoughts, return to Hawaiki, which is the mythical place from which the ancestors of the Maori set sail to Aotearoa New Zealand in the twelfth or thirteenth century.

Among some Christians, Hell is a place of torment. There does seem to be some disagreement about the finer details of the place, including such trivia as who ends up there, why, and for how long. However, those Christians who do believe in the existence of such a dreadful place (approximately 10% of NZ Christians, or less than 5% of all Kiwis) agree that it is somewhere that is best avoided at all costs, and that they should attempt to save others from ending up there.

For most societies where the Christian concept of Hell is or was prevalent, Hell lives on in a metaphoric sense, being a place or event that causes one extreme anguish or distress. So one can talk about a job from hell or a hell of a town, and everyone knows what is meant.

That concept of hell is understood by most Kiwis, and of course, it’s also used to add emphasis such as in Hell, yes! or Hell No! and Bloody hell! But for most Kiwis HELL is a real place we like to visit from time to time, and if we can afford the extra cost, have HELL come to visit us instead.

I’m a fan of HELL and have an account with them. According to their records (I just checked on their website), I have visited them three times this month, where, among other things, I have purchased some of the seven deadly sins: Gluttony, Envy (twice), and Lust. I have also tried Greed, Wrath and Pride, but I’ve never seen Sloth listed, so I haven’t been able to try it. I’ve also tried Pandemonium, Mayhem, both of which I enjoyed, but their description of Mischief doesn’t appeal to me. There is access to HELL in 66 locations throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, and the closest one to me is only 1.5 kilometres (1 mile) away.

The last time I visited HELL, I was given a voucher, which meant I could order my sin of choice and whatever else I wanted, and they would deliver it to my front door. Today I didn’t feel like leaving home to partake of a sin (a case of Sloth?), so I took advantage of that voucher, and had a small serving of Gluttony delivered to my home. Just in case you find it difficult to accept my word that HELL delivers, I’ve included a copy of the receipt somewhere on this page.

Hell_Feilding1

This is where I go to HELL

 

For those of you who still believe HELL isn’t real, have a look at their Website hell.co.nz. Unfortunately they only deliver a short distance from an entrance to HELL, so those of you not fortunate to live in Aotearoa New Zealand, you’re just going to have to take my word for it that HELL is absolutely divine!

 

Selection_072


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Mr Trump to the Rescue!

For those who fail to understand how Trump’s MAGA policies are working, Bill Peddie has described it perfectly in very simple language that even Trump supporters will understand in his post Mr Trump to the Rescue!

Bill Peddie's website

Let’s see now. The tax relief for the rich has left a hole in the US veterans’ welfare package which Mr Trump is going to fix by going deeper into debt.  Why were the veterans moaning?  The rich were happy.

More importantly, as far as I can tell, the recent Trump tariffs were introduced to make trade fairer for the US since the five % of the world’s population in the US only currently consume 25% of the world’s GDP.  Mr Trump was understandably shocked to discover that other poorer nations unfairly reacted to the US tariffs by introducing their own tariffs and for some unaccountable reason hit the very same states supporting the man behind the tariffs. Why would they do that we wonder?

Now the farmers (who voted for Mr Trump and his tariff policies) have realized that they are losing money, so the deeply indebted government will borrow some more…

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Trans woman denied Gym membership

A new Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration bill to replace the 1995 act is currently making its way through Parliament. One of the new provisions will be to allow the self-declaration of gender identity. But I wonder, if the bill was already law, it would have helped Penelopy Mansel, a transgender woman, gain membership to a women’s gym.

As the law currently stands, a person can have their gender recorded on their birth certificate changed provided they can satisfy the Family Court that they identify as their nominated gender and have, or are undergoing appropriate medical treatment to make their appearance more in keeping with that gender. Surgery is not required. In fact in Aotearoa New Zealand, gender reassignment surgery is not an option. Funding for reassignment surgery is so minuscule, that one is likely to be on the waiting list for more than forty years before one can go under the knife. Few are likely to be able to afford to have it done privately in NZ, or overseas for that matter.

According to Penelopy’s birth certificate she is now female, but she has not had gender reassignment surgery. And this was enough for the gym to deny her membership. Our human rights legislation does not specifically ban discrimination against transgendered people or others who are not gender conforming. According the the Crown Law Office, and its advice to government, it’s unnecessary as the comprehensive coverage against sex discrimination effectively covers transgender rights as well. However, this has yet to be tested in court.

Court cases over discrimination are relatively rare in NZ as complaints regarding discrimination are referred to the Human Rights Commission. The Commission prefers education over prosecution, and so the testing of whether or not discrimination against transgendered or other gender nonconforming people is illegal may never reach the courts. The new Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration bill does nothing to clarify the matter.

In the video clip linked to below, Renee Gerlich argues that “The legislation undermines a lot of the work that suffragettes did, they fought for the women’s vote, they wanted to give women a way of making political demands that pertain to our sex when, we can’t do that once the definition of what a woman is has fundamentally changed”. It does appear that she is confusing sex and gender. The legislation will allow for self-identification of gender (a socially defined atribute) not sex (biologically defined).

The argument that the new legislation will distort statistics is, I believe, a red herring. As only 1.2% of the NZ population self identify as trans, and about the same number identify as gender nonconforming, their numbers are relatively small. Where it is important that statistics refer to sex and not gender, such as for funding of breast and cervical screening, then I’m sure appropriate adjustments can be made. In fact, it seems that our five yearly census will cover this well, as in future it will ask about both sex and gender.

Some speakers in the following clip refer to WINZ. This term is familiar to all Kiwis, but others may not know that it is an acronym for Work and Income New Zealand – the government department that oversees social welfare benefits and pensions, and supports the unemployed and those on a low income into work and to find housing.

Wellington transgender woman denied membership at female gym