Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Statistics and religion in Aotearoa

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):

  • Maoism
  • Rationalism
  • Libertarianism
  • Marxism
  • Socialism
  • Yoga
  • Humanism
  • Agnosticism
  • Atheism

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.


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There’s nothing more I need add:

The United Nations’ (UN) International Day of Peace has been celebrated on September 21 each year (since 1981)to recognize the efforts of those who have worked hard to end conflict and promote peace. This year many people’s and nations marked the day with nationwide appeals to governments to see climate change as a major existential […]

via Quaker Contributions to building a Culture of Peace in an Unpeaceful world — Kevin’s Peace Musings


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Secular education

Following on from yesterday’s snippet on Pastafarian rights, I note the US state department comment on religion in NZ schools:

The law provides that “teaching in every state [public] primary school must, while the school is open, be entirely of a secular character.”  A public primary school may close, including during normal school hours, for up to one hour per week, up to a total of 20 hours per year, to devote to religious instruction or religious observance, to be conducted in a manner approved by the school’s board of trustees.  If a public primary school provides religious instruction or observes religious customs, it must allow students to opt out.  Religious instruction or observance, if provided, usually takes place outside normal school hours.

This has been the rule since the 1870s. It’s a pity that a few boards of trustees seem not to understand what closed means in this regards.


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Pastafarian rights

That’s not a spelling mistake. I really do mean Pastafarian. For want of something better to do (my concentration has been off recently), I was wandering about on the internet and stumbled upon the U.S. State Department web site, and out of curiosity, looked up what that esteemed department had to say about Aotearoa New Zealand.

Most was kind of boring but some snippets did stand out. This one into their 2018 report on religious freedom in NZ made me smile:

In March an Auckland secondary school student stated that his school did not allow him to wear a spaghetti colander for his school identity photograph, contrary to his religious beliefs.  The student is a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, otherwise known as Pastafarianism, which is a legally recognized religion in the country.  The student stated that he contacted the HRC over the incident but had accepted the school’s decision for the time being.

HRC is an abbreviation for Human Rights Commission, an independent authority that reports to Parliament, not the government. So all you Flying Spaghetti Monster worshipers, if you are looking for somewhere where your religion is recognised (one school excepted) then this is possibly an ideal spot.

By the way, did you realise that in 2001, approximately 1.5% of the New Zealand population claimed their religion as Jedi? That’s the highest per capita population of Jedi in the world. It’s been falling steadily ever since. Which is a shame. I much prefer “May the force be with you” than “God bless”. It has a more dramatic ring to it, don’t you think?


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The country that most closely follows Qur’anic principles is…

I find little to distinguish the principles of secular humanism from those of most religions, and in holding that view I tend to find myself a target of the “fundamentalists” of both the religious and non-religious kind. In this regard, I’m probably typical of a relatively large section of those who call Aotearoa New Zealand home. It is important to note that I am referring to principles and not practices. The reason why will become obvious in a moment.

Way back in October 2015 I wrote a piece titled Animism is the established religion of Aotearoa New Zealand. Really? in which I was critical of an article by John Tertullian on MandM. He was of the opinion that there is only one “true” religion, and as a consequence all others must be false. When it comes to the environmental crisis we find ourselves in today, I see the reverence bestowed upon nature by Māori (and no doubt other cultures with spiritual/religious beliefs, which the West often perceive as primitive, and collectively label as animism) in which all animate and inanimate forms possess a “life force” or “essence” (called mauri in Te Reo Māori). In this country the concept of mauri is becoming a motivator for Pākeha as it has been for Māori in taking care of our planet. It is the principles, or essence of mauri that motivate us, not necessarily a specific set of beliefs about what it is.

Which brings me to the point of the post. The Islamicity Foundation owns the Islamicity Indices project, which according to their website:

The Islamicity Indices enable Muslims to focus on the indisputable source of their religion—the Qur’an—and are a continuous performance indicator of their rulers, governments and communities. The Indices also provide a simple approach to explain Islam to the non-Muslim world. With a better understanding of Islam in both Muslim and non-Muslim communities, peaceful reform and effective institutions will be more readily achieved in Muslim countries.

While I acknowledge that not every Muslim will come to the same conclusions as the Islamicity Foundation on what are the most important Quranic principles (supporters of ISIS and Al-Qaeda being glaring examples), my experience with Muslims in this country indicates that those principles are ranked highly.

“I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims;
I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but no Islam.”

 

Mohammad Abduh

Of particular note is the comment “The Islamicity Indices substantiate the observation that Western countries better reflect Islamic institutions than do countries that profess Islam and also provide the compass for renewal and progress in Muslim countries.”

I believe it’s important to understand that the principles underlying a belief system should not be confused with the institutions and practices of those who follow that system. While institutions, practices and dogma change with time and location, the principles or “essence” remain essentially the same. In fact I see a similar “essence” in almost every worthwhile belief system, be it spiritual, religious or secular.

So now, (with appropriate drum roll please) the country that most closely follows Qur’anic principles is…

Aotearoa New Zealand

I stumbled upon this quirky piece of information here, and then found dozens of similar articles following a quick search of the internet for verification. What I find interesting is that on many Christian sites, one statement of fact has been altered. In non-Christian articles we read:

New Zealand has no official religion and nearly half of the country’s 5 million people identify as Christian

Whereas in most Christian based articles we read:

The country of New Zealand does not have any official religion and close to 5 million of the people in the country identify themselves as Christian.

I would like to think that the more than doubling of Christian numbers in these articles was a case of human error by one writer of one article that became a source of information for all the rest. Or am I being too optimistic about the motivation of some writers?


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MLK on spiritually moribund religion

Sometimes a quote jumps out at me, and in a few words, states what I struggle to convey in several pages. This is one of them:

“It has been my conviction ever since reading Rauschenbusch that any religion which professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the social and economic conditions that scar the soul, is a spiritually moribund religion only waiting for the day to be buried.”

Martin Luther King Jr Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (1958)


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Don’t expect an easy definition of Quakerism…

Taken directly from the Quakers in Leeds Website (the emphasis in bold is mine):

Quaker thought and practice has always refused to be contained in credal formulas or systems of belief. We don’t offer neat creeds or doctrine. Instead, we try to help each other work out how we should live. All people are welcome and accepted at a Quaker meeting.

Quakers seek religious truth in inner experience and everyday life, rather than authority, ritual and ceremony.

Quakerism is not itself a religion nor is it, any longer, entirely accurate to describe it as a Christian denomination because many of our followers find no purpose in affirming or denying traditional Christian beliefs about God or Christ.

The Quakers are probably best described by their official title; we are a “Religious Society of Friends”.

I was led to this site by a post on Raking Sand, Leeds Trinity University staff and students raking over religion and philosophy titled Considerations of the insider/outsider problem in a Quaker meeting.


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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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Like perhaps the majority of Quakers in the liberal tradition, I am a non-theist, yet the term God has significant meaning me. Whether or not we believe that God is a deity, we share a belief in values and a philosophy of life which we can ascribe to being attributes of God. It is what we share, rather than what each of us specifically believes that unites us, not only to those within the Religious Society of Friends, nor only those who hold similar values, but with all of humanity and beyond.

In the post linked to below, Peter Turner has selected some quotations that illustrate how Liberal Quakers understand God.

I have much been influenced by Quaker thoughts and ways. Their horizontal power structures in their church organisations, their intelligent, practical good works, the sheer good will that you can feel at any meeting of the Friends – I don’t know why I didn’t become a member years ago! (Well, actually, I do; but that’s […]

via 896: QUAKER VIEWS OF GOD by PETER TURNER — zingcreed