In Aotearoa New Zealand, a census is taken every five years. Finally, we’re seeing results from the 2018 census. This has taken much longer than in previous surveys due to some glitches related to going from a paper based system to being fully online. This resulted in a low participation rate. It’s taken Stats NZ Tatauranga Aotearoa (New Zealand’s official data agency) longer than usual to compile reliable data sets.
The statistics on religion have been released, and it makes interesting reading and shows that trends that became evident at the beginning of the century are continuing.
One problem with the statistics is that they report affiliation and not actual beliefs. It’s known that within many affiliations in this country, religious belief ranges from extremely conservative to extremely liberal, especially within the mainline Christian churches, where belief in the traditional concept of God as a deity is waning.
Also within New Zealand, religious thought is not very high. If I could receive a dollar for every time someone on census day shouted “Hey Honey, What’s our religion?” or phoned with “Hello Dad. I’m just filling out the census and don’t know what to put down for our religion. Can you ask Mum please?” I’d be rather wealthy.
With that in mind, here’s some interesting facts that will either be pleasing or alarming or neither, depending on one’s perspective.
The number of Christians continue to decline. They now make up approximately 36% of the population. Keep in mind that non-theism is common within many Christian denominations, and within a few the most prevalent viewpoint. For example within Quakers, I doubt if there are any “true” theists left.
The number who claim no religious affiliation continues to climb. I admit that I’m somewhat surprised that it’s not as high as I expected, which was a little over 50%. The figure published is 48%, but there are two points to keep in mind. Of the 162 affiliations listed, some are not religious in the traditional sense, although they may well fall within Sir Lloyd Geering’s definition of “a total mode of the interpreting and living of life”. I’ll touch on some of these affiliations a little tater in this post. Those who claim any affiliation, are not included in the no affiliation category.
The second point is that according to several opinion surveys, somewhere between a quarter and a third of those with no religious affiliation do hold some idea of “something greater than themselves”, be it a force, energy, spirit, or “something” that is manifest within humanity, nature or the universe. So to assume all those who have no religious affiliation have no religious belief would be incorrect.
The Object to answering group is the next largest grouping after the Christian and no affiliation groups. They make up almost 7% of the population. It’s difficult to know what this group is composed of, and why they chose this option. But given that it is one of the listed options, I suppose some will take advantage of it. What is significant is that their percentage does not markedly change from census to census.
No doubt, fundamentalist Christians and their ilk will rejoice that only 0.15% affiliate with atheism and 0.14% with agnosticism, ignoring the fact that the majority of atheists and agnostics will have identified as having no affiliation.
Religions and denominations with more than 1% of the population are:
- Anglican: 6.7%
- Christian (not further defined): 6.55%
- Roman Catholic: 6.29%
- Presbyterian: 4.71%
- Catholicism (not further defined): 3.68%
- Hinduism (not further defined): 2.59%
- Islam (not further defined): 1.22%
- Latter-day Saints: 1.15%
- Methodist (not further defined): 1.12%
Some other irrelevant but interesting information:
- There are 348 more Jedi affiliates than there are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Each make up 0.43% of the population. Jedi has seen a sharp decline since the 2011 census when 1.5% of the population claimed affiliation.
- There are 306 more (Christian?) Evangelicals (0.10%) than there are Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster affiliates (0.09%).
- Our spaghetti loving friends outnumber Lutherans (0.08%)
- My own faith tradition, Quakerism makes up 0.02% of the population and is outnumbered by Zoroastrian (0.02%), Taoism (0.02%), Satanism (0.02%) and Wiccan (0.03%). A few Quakers are also Wiccan (or should it be “a few Wiccans are also Quakers”?), but I’m not sure how Stats NZ has handles multiple affiliations.
- The smallest religious affiliations are Libertarianism and Rationalism (with 9 members each, Cao Dai and Maoism (with 6 members each), and Commonwealth Covenant Church (with 3 members).
When I look at some of the religious affiliations listed, I think Stats NZ has taken Lloyd Geering’s definition to heart. How else could the following be otherwise identified as a religion (in increasing affiliation order):
While I hold Sir Lloyd’s concept of religion as “a total mode of the interpreting and living of life” as being accurate, I’m struggling when it comes to atheism, which as I understand it, is a lack of belief in a deity. I could understand anti-theism being a cause that could qualify as a religion, as could a belief in the need to weaken the influence of supernatural beliefs. Many atheists do hold such beliefs, but such beliefs are not what atheism is about. Can a lack of belief in a deity be any more a religion than my lack of belief in pink flying elephants or little green men in flying saucers? If they do qualify as religion, then absolutely everyone on this planet has a religion, as everyone on the planet will lack a belief in something. I don’t believe that is what Sir Lloyd had in mind.