Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Evolution of gods

“As the ancients tried to understand the forces they encountered in the natural world, they invented personal names for them, much as weather forecasters still do with hurricanes. Further, they unconsciously projected their own consciousness into these storms and other natural phenomena. This is how the human mind first came to create the idea of personal spirits and gods; they were a class of unseen beings that were thought to be responsible for everything that happened in the natural world. We can easily understand how and why the ancients arrived at their polytheistic world-view, because even today we might find a two-year-old who hits his head on the table corner turning round to address the offending object by saying, ‘You naughty table!”

Lloyd Geering, Reimagining God: The Faith Journey of a Modern Heretic

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In the wake of Israel Folau’s homophobic comments on social media, and his possible sacking, I cannot place all the blame on his shoulders. He grew up withing a religiously conservative Pacific island community, where the views he holds is the norm. The question should be how should we respond to the dissemination such beliefs? Here is Bill Peddie’s take on the question.

IZZY’S LITTLE LIST A few days ago a congregation member of a local Pentecostal-type mega church told me that their whole congregation had recently prayed for my salvation. Their leaders had discovered that I had a liberal approach to the Bible and they were understandably concerned I might be leading others in the town down […]

via Izzy’s Little List — Bill Peddie’s website


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Over the last month I have been attempting to coalesce some rather vague notions revolving around community, individuality, inclusion, diversity, language, and power. I have had four partly written posts that I just have not been able to complete. Then I happened across the post linked to below, and I though why re-invent the wheel, when there’s a perfectly good one is staring me straight in the face (apologies for the mixed metaphor).

Who has power, and how do they wield it in their words and actions, especially in a crisis?

via The power of the megaphone, the call to prayer — Jdanspsa Wyksui


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Crime and Punishment

This was the topic of the 2019 Aotearoa/New Zealand Quaker Lecture, this year presented by Terry Waite, British humanitarian and former hostage for nearly five years. This lecture addresses the issue of penal reform, where Terry brings his personal experiences to this pressing issue, both for the UK and New Zealand.   You can read the text of Terry’s lecture here (PDF format)

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“We must not forget that when every material improvement has been effected in prisons, when the temperature has been rightly adjusted, when the proper food to maintain health and strength has been given, when the doctors, chaplains and prison visitors have come and gone, the convict stands deprived of everything that a free man calls life. We must not forget that all these improvements, which are sometimes salves to our consciences, do not change that position. The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country. A calm and dispassionate recognition of the rights of the accused against the state, and even of convicted criminals against the state, a constant heart-searching by all charged with the duty of punishment, a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate in the world of industry all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment, tireless efforts towards the discovery of curative and regenerating processes, and an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man these are the symbols which in the treatment of crime and criminals mark and measure the stored-up strength of a nation, and are the sign and proof of the living virtue in it.”

Winston Churchill, House of Commons speech, given as Home Secretary, July 20, 1910


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I gave up my gun after the New Zealand mosque shootings. Why are Americans mad at me for it?

“I had always considered my weapon nothing more than a tool.”

“But no one sees gun ownership — much less semiautomatic rifle ownership — as an essential component of their identity.”

“Giving up some of our guns doesn’t mean giving up our liberty. The redcoats aren’t coming. The American idea — that it’s important to have the ability to kill someone on a whim – is just bizarre to us. In fact, when New Zealanders apply for gun licenses, we have to state our reasons for buying a firearm, and citing “home defense” is the fastest way to get denied — our laws explicitly state that self-defense is not sufficient reason to own a gun.”

The mindset of the American gun lobby is so entrenched, that they are incapable of understanding alternative points of view. That, in my mind, is what makes them so dangerous. The above quotes are taken from a guest commentary in The Denver Post. It’s the attitude that is similar to almost every gun owner in Aotearoa New Zealand. It’s worth reading to understand how people in two different English Speaking democracies view gun ownership.


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If your only tool is a hammer…

…everything looks like a nail.

If you’re not familiar with the phrase, then Wikipedia’s article Law of the instrument provides a good explanation.

Conversely, I would argue that if everything looks like a nail, the only tool you need is a hammer.

In the wake of the Christchurch shootings, the American pro gun lobby has waded into the gun control discussion currently underway in this country. Their arguments are largely irrelevant and unhelpful in the NZ context. They also tend to make claims that are either misleading or simply false.

Bearing arms is a God given right.

Perhaps in America, where 70% of the population are Christian and they have the right to bear arms written into their constitution. Here, Christians are a minority, a large minority, granted, but never the less, a minority. So God has little say in the matter. Most importantly, we have never had a “right” to bear arms. Any argument about the government taking away our rights rights is irrelevant. They can’t take away something we’ve never had.

In this country carrying any weapon in public is illegal. It doesn’t matter if it’s a gun, a knife, a toothpick crossbow, pepper spray, or even a screw driver. If you are carrying it as a weapon, regardless of whether you intend to use it defensively or offensively, you are breaking the law. If you get stopped by police while you’re driving, and they happen to see a baseball bat you keep for protection lying beside your car seat, expect to find yourself in trouble.

Controlling guns is a step on the road to totalitarianism and tyranny

Arguing that gun control diminishes or removes our right to own guns is akin to arguing that traffic regulations diminishes or removes our right to travel by motor vehicle. Some level of regulation and control is necessary to protect law abiding citizens from the idiots who either deliberately or accidentally endanger the lives of themselves and everyone else on the road.

In this country every car must undergo a mandatory safety inspection at regular intervals. The frequency depends on the age of the vehicle. If the car passes the inspection, it receives a WoF (Warrent of Fitness). It is illegal to drive or park a car on a public road unless there is a current WoF displayed on the top right corner of the windscreen (windshield). If everyone could be relied on to ensure their car was kept in a safe condition there would be no need for WoFs.

The same applies to driver licences. If everyone could be relied on to learn the road code and ensure they had the skills to drive safely, there would be no need to issue driver’s licences. Sadly the government must regulate to protect sensible car users.

How about piloting drones? In New Zealand, anyone can fly a drone. Neither drone pilot nor drone need to be licensed or registered subject to obeying a few simple safety rules. One rule is that drones must not be flown within 5 kilometers (3 miles) of an airport. There have been a number of near misses in recent years, one coming within metres of a passenger aircraft as it approached a airfield. Recently all flights in and out of the nation’s busiest airport were cancelled for hours because some idiot was incapable of learning and applying some simple safety rules.

It’s behaviour like that that may make licensing of drone pilots and registration of drones mandatory – licensing to ensure pilots understand the rules, and registration to be able to identify the owner of the drone. How is the licensing of gun owners and the registering of guns any different?

Even in the USA, weaponry is regulated. Are members of the public permitted to own machine guns, field guns, grenade launchers, or depleted uranium armour piercing projectiles and their launchers? How about rocket launchers, heat seeking anti-aircraft missiles? How about fully armed strike aircraft? As I understand it, the second amendment guarantees the right to bear arms. Does the pro gun lobby advocate that all forms of arms should be unregulated? I’m also led to believe that when the second amendment was written, the federal government did not have a standing army. The circumstances under which the amendment was drafted, were very different to those existing today.

Let’s face it, if the citizens of America were driven to rise against the government, how effective would the weapons they are permitted to own fare against the might of the American armed forces – the most powerful and sophisticated military force the world has known? If a truly despotic government came to power, why would it stop at conventional weapons to control the civilian population. The threat or use of a nuclear weapon on a random city is likely to result in complete surrender of any opposition, as would the threat of using a biological weapon such as anthrax on a civilian population. After all, it has the means. All it needs is the will.

I am convinced that if Kiwis were ever driven to rebel, we’d have a better chance of defeating the NZ military machine armed with only pitch forks and traditional Māori weapons than an American militia, armed with what Americans are currently allowed to own, would have against the the American Armed forces. The New Zealand air force has no strike capability at all – no fighters, no bombers. The entire air force comprises of  6 maritime patrol aircraft, 7 transport aircraft, an assortment of 15 helicopters, an assortment of 15 twin and single engine unarmed trainers and one vintage Tiger Moth. The army has no tanks, although it does have around a hundred light armoured vehicles. The entire weaponry of the NZ army can be found on Wikipedia.

I, and a great many other Kiwis would consider the arming of front-line police a greater threat than the removal of a few semiautomatic guns from private ownership.

More guns less crime

According to this article, while the number of guns in the USA has continued to climb, the gun ownership rate is decreasing. In other words, the number of people owning one or more guns is declining and the number of people not owning any gun is increasing. As the article points out:

It is merely the fact that a person owns a gun, not how many, that matters with regard to the crime debate. As gun ownership has not increased in tandem with the number of guns, it is not possible for the increase in guns to have contributed to the decrease in violent crime. The only effects that can stem from this surge in guns are deleterious. With hundreds of thousands of guns stolen every year, the stockpiling of weapons only increases the likelihood that they end up in the wrong hands. 

Think about this: in less than half an hour, one person with 2 semiautomatic rifles killed more people than all the murders committed in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2018. Not one murder in 2018 was committed with a semiautomatic.

There were 48 murders in New Zealand in 2018 – 1 murder per 7.6 days or 182.5 hours. The terrorist killed 50 people in less than half an hour. To put it in perspective, there were 17,284 reported murders in the USA in 2017. Imagine if someone took out 18,000 Americans in one hit. It would make 9/11 pale in comparison. What do you think America’s response would be?

In almost every case where a gun has been presented in the execution of a crime in NZ, the gun was either purchased legally, purchased illegally from a legal gun owner, or stolen from a legal gun owner. Making guns more difficult to obtain by making licensing more stringent and reducing the number of guns in circulation seem to me to be very practical measures in keeping guns out of the hands of criminals.

When everyone has a gun, people stop living in fear.

Fear of what? The last time I was in America was to attend a seminar.. I was the only Kiwi attendee. There were two Britons, one from Puerto Rico and around 12 from various American states. Early one evening, myself, one Brit and three Americans and the Puerto Rican  went into town for a meal. The street was quite busy and while were were looking for a suitable restaurant, three loud bangs were heard. I didn’t think anything of it, and nor did the Brit. Just as I realised that we were the only two standing, one of the Americans tugged on my trousers and yelled “Are you crazy? Get down unless you want to get shot!”

I have no idea what caused the noise. The cause is irrelevant. Clearly those on the street assumed it was gunfire and acted accordingly. It’s a reaction I’ve never seen in NZ. Will that be the reaction here now? I for one, hope not. In reality, not one loud unexpected bang that I’ve heard in the seventy years I’ve been on this planet has been caused by someone discharging a gun, let alone trying to shoot someone. There is no reason to assume the next loud bang with be from a gun either. Yet on that street, in America it was clear that a great many people were very afraid. Whether they were afraid of a gun or a person wielding a gun is of little relevance. They were afraid. I was not. One could argue that its America’s gun culture that creates an environment where a gun is the cause and solution to every problem.


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Celebrating the birth of a nation

Today is Waitangi Day, where Aotearoa New Zealand celebrates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, whereby Aotearoa New Zealand became a British colony. There are in fact two versions of the Treaty of Waitangi: the Treaty, signed by Governor Hobson on behalf of the British Crown, which was written in English; and te Tiriti, which was signed by most of the Māori signatories, and was in written in Te Reo Māori (the Māori language). What the Crown intended, and what the Māori believed they were signing up to, were not the same thing, and has been a matter of dispute ever since, including bloody warfare. I stated my point of view in a 2015 blog post Treaty of Waitangi 101 which also includes a video clip of a presentation made to the Quaker Yearly Meeting in 2013.

There has been a call, both from Māori and from some sections of the Pākehā community to enshrine the treaty in law. There arises a problem: which version? I don’t think this is solvable. However, I think we are on the right track in looking at the principles or spirit of the treaty and working within that framework. Te Ara (the Encyclopedia of New Zealand) has a story on the Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi – ngā mātāpono o te tiriti that illustrates where we are at today. The Waitangi Tribunal had this to say in 1983:

The spirit of the Treaty transcends the sum total of its component written words and puts literal or narrow interpretations out of place.

In River gains personhood I wrote about how the Whanganui River and its watershed has gained personhood. This is an example of respecting the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. A similar law saw a section of the North Island change from being a national park to an entity with personhood.

There are some who find the notion that a “primitive animistic” perspective being permitted within a “civilised Western Christian” (is that Oxymoronic?) society to be totally unacceptable – mostly, but not entirely on the religious right. Some of these detractors are not Kiwi, but some unfortunately are. Personally, I find the partial absorption of each other’s culture, values and perspectives both challenging and beautiful, and long may it continue to be so

Finally I have embedded a YouTube clip of a speech from Our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Yes, I’ll concede that as well as discussing the importance of Waitangi Day, she manages to include a little politics and nationalism (after all, she’s a politician), but what I like about her style, is that she challenges us to make her and her government accountable for what they say and do (or don’t do as the case may be). I like that in a politician. (length: 12m 16s)


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What’s to commemorate?

Periodically I check through quarantined email just to ensure no legitimate email has been identified as Spam. Among the usual sex aids, and fake medicine, invitations to infidelity, get rich schemes and attempts at identity theft was this one:


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Commemorative: acting as a memorial of an event or person.
Memorial: an object which serves as a focus for the memory of something, usually a deceased person or an event.
Memory: something remembered from the past. The remembering or commemoration of a dead person.

Simply by sending the email, they are breaking NZ law as unsolicited electronic messages are illegal here. Besides, why they would think that anyone with a .nz email address would be in the slightest bit interested in the Donald let alone want to purchase a “free” coin is beyond me. But the fact they call it a commemorative coin makes me ask:

Is there something they know that we don’t?


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More lies, damned lies and statistics

From time to time I browse through older posts of bloggers that were written before I started following them. Recently I came across Exploring Reasons Why “Atheists” Have Extreme Moral Prejudice Toward Atheists by Victoria NeuroNotes. What tweaked my interest in the post was that Victoria had put one of the words Atheists inside inverted commas. I read her article and the study link to an article about a global survey on which she based her article, but I failed to understand the purpose of the inverted commas. So then I read the articles in the following study and studies links, but was still none the wiser, and somewhat confused, as the latter two links were findings on morality itself, whereas the first link is to findings on the perception of morality. Not the same thing at all.

That discovery bothered me because in my experience it’s not like Victoria to make this sort of mistake. Just as puzzling was that she doubted the accuracy of the study because it was contrary to her personal anecdotal experience.

The findings of the study didn’t match my own experience either, but for a different reason. I have not seen any evidence that either theists or atheists regard atheists as less trustworthy. Then I read the notes link and part of it fell in place. That article refers to the same study, and this sentence jumped out at me:

Only in Finland and New Zealand, two secular countries, did the experiment not yield conclusive evidence of anti-atheist prejudice, said the team.

So that explains why my experience didn’t match the conclusion of the global study. Kiwis really don’t care about the religiosity of their fellow citizens. It’s also consistent with a 2009 NZ survey that gave atheism and all major religions (with the exception of Islam) a 90% approval rating. Islam lagged well behind with an 80% approval rating. A similar survey in the US at the same time gave atheists a 64% disapproval rating. This is also consistent with the study conclusion that one’s opinion of atheists is strongly influenced by the beliefs of society in which one lives, regardless of whether one is or is not religious.

It was only after I started reading the comments that the penny finally dropped and I understood why Victoria put inverted commas around Atheist: Perhaps many of the so called atheists weren’t really atheists at all. Now where have I heard similar types of statements before? One atheist even suggested that some Christians might have deliberately lied to distort the findings. There’s even the example of one atheist accusing another atheist of not being a “True Atheist”(TM) because the latter participates in the activities of a UU church. Sigh.

There was another thread to the criticism of the survey, and that was in regards to the motives of the researchers, but this wasn’t really pursued very far.

My curiosity aroused, I decided to investigate the findings a little further. I did locate the paper involved, but wasn’t prepared to fork out precious funds to purchase the right to view it, so I had to settle for this Supplementary Information PDF document. In it, in Supplementary Table 4. Religious demographics (%), I found what I was looking for.

The number of Christians, atheists and agnostics are similar to other surveys I’ve seen for young adults in Australia, the UK and the USA (the only ones other than NZ that I have any knowledge of). The number of Christians are 41%, 20%, and 79% respectively, and the number of NZ Christians is recorded as 22%. Again consistent with other surveys.

What I find interesting is how those who are not religious self identify. At first glance, the US has more atheists than NZ (UK: 22%; Australia:15%; US: 4%; NZ: 2%), and far more agnostics (UK: 15%; Australia: 15%; US: 5%; NZ: 0). It’s when considering those who identify as having no religion that there is a clear difference between NZ and all other countries (NZ: 71%; UK: 27%;  Australia: 14%; US: 10%). Even in Finland, only 25% self identify as having no religion.

What I believe this shows is the relaxed attitude Kiwis have towards religion, and that includes those who self identify as being religious. Religion is a private matter, and it doesn’t intrude into the public domain. Neither believers nor non-believers feel threatened by the other. This is in stark contrast to the USA, where to me as an outsider, both sides seem to be in a state of siege.

As to whether some Christians lied about their beliefs to deliberately distort the findings, I very much doubt it. The supplementary document includes the questions presented to the students, and I think one would need inside information (or assistance from their God) to know the purpose of the questionnaire. That some atheists are willing to believe that Christians will deliberately lie to present their faith more favourably is so very similar to the belief some Christians have about atheists, and  supports the last sentence in the previous paragraph – that a state of siege exists. To be honest, I find this very disappointing.

In a Medical Xpress article “Reminders of secular authority reduce believers’ distrust of atheists” we are informed that a majority of Americans would disapprove of their children marrying an atheist and would not vote for an atheist president. Compare that to NZ where we’ve had an atheist or agnostic government leader in 20 of the last 21 years and no one, including Christians are in the least bit bothered by it. I find the last paragraph in that article very compelling:

“There is evidence that gods and governments can fulfill similar roles,” Gervais says. People want the world to be orderly and controlled, but it seems like the authority that keeps people in line can be religious or secular. There’s some evidence that when people feel less confident in their government, they’re more likely to seek out religion. Norenzayan and Gervais find that in countries where the government is more effective and stronger, atheists are both more common and more trusted.

I think that the contrasting perspectives of Americans and Kiwis supports this hypothesis. So, what have I learnt from this exercise?

  • The trustworthiness that members of a minority group have towards fellow members is influenced by attitudes of those outside the group
  • That makagutu’s commentThere’s no difference between an ideologue of any ism” is absolutely true.

What I would like to know is why ideologues are a dime a dozen in America, but as scarce as hens’ teeth in Aotearoa New Zealand. Any suggestions?