Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind

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
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:


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.

Author: Barry

A post war baby boomer from Aotearoa New Zealand who has lived with migraines for as long as I can remember and discovered I am autistic at the age of sixty. I blog because in real life I'm somewhat backwards about coming forward with my opinions.

10 thoughts on “Why do religious issues puzzle me?

  1. This suggests to me that Americans are not as accepting or tolerant of different religious beliefs and non-beliefs as they think they are.

    Bingo! And, once again Kiwis are miles ahead of Americans.

  2. Maybe I should move to NZ. The US as gone insane

  3. Perhaps religion does not have the impact on our society, via media outlets etc, as it may once of had. Think the dominance of race issues in the press, gender equality concerns and so on.
    Let’s not forget too, the general and widespread apathy under which Kiwis operate…we just don’t seem to care.

  4. Hi Barry, I nominated you for the 2018 Liebster Award but you are not under any obligation to accept it. I just enjoy reading your blog!

    • Thanks very much for the nomination, but I’m not going to take up the offer. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the nomination, because I do, but the award itself has little interest for me. And your five questions are way to abstract (for want of a better word) for this Aspie to get his head around! 🙂

      • My comment has got nothing to do with the nomination (even though I Do think Barry deserves this nomination and I will be glad for him). But anyway, I am commenting on Barry’s comment: ˝And your five questions are way to abstract (for want of a better word) for this Aspie to get his head around! 🙂˝ —> My husband who is an Aspie is not into answering abstract questions, just like Barry. 🙂

        • I’m not sure if you visited Martie’s blog, but for someone who thinks like I do, I have difficulty even comprehending the questions let alone answering them 🙂

          The link in her comment takes you to her blog containing the questions. They are simply unanswerable. For example, Q3 is “Etta James, or Nina Simone? Why?” Why what?

          I wonder what your hubby would make of the questions 🙂

          • I showed the questions to my husband. He said probably NT people can answer those questions, but for him, they don’t make sense.

          • It’s just shorthand for this:

            “In regards to legendary jazz & soul singers, who do you like better – Etta James, or Nina Simone, and why?”

            Part of this contest includes coming up with “unique” questions.

            That said, I totally understand why the questions in general are confusing. I work in public elementary school, and I work with kids on the spectrum. I teach social skills (along with English/Language Arts, and Math) to small groups of students who are mostly on the spectrum, but are not in self-contained classrooms (i.e., they’re in a ‘regular ed’ classroom, but just need a smaller/quieter environment, or more direct 1:1 teaching to learn & work on core subjects. They also need some direction with social skills, particularly how to navigate various situations that happen at school within peer groups, and so on.)

      • No worries, I totally get it. I enjoy reading your blog!

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