Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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On Being Kiwi: The results

This post follows on from On being Kiwi: A Survey

100,000 Kiwis have now completed the survey. That’s 1 in 45 or 2.2% of the population.

I didn’t study statistics, so I’ll leave the detailed analysis to the experts. The best I can do is look at the figures and gain a general impression of what we as a nation are.

Firstly, where do I fit in compared to other Kiwis? As most guessed, my closest fit is Egalitarian, followed by Globalist. I am least like a Traditionalist.

The results are broken down into several areas:

Ideology

  • Māori: assimilation vs biculturism
  • internationalism: inward vs outward
  • Immigration: pro vs anti
  • Politics: libertarian vs socialist
  • Imperialism: independentist vs loyalist
  • Nationalism: universalism vs exceptionalism
  • Sport: Apathetic vs enthusiastic
  • Religion: secular vs religious

 Pride

A sense of pride in our:

  • nuclear-free status
  • scientific and technological achievements
  • lifestyle; achievements in art and literature
  • political influence in the world
  • fair and equal treatment of all groups in society
  • economic achievements
  • history
  • achievements in sports
  • armed forces

Flag

Preference for our current flag or the proposed replacement:

old_flag1 vs new_flag1

Symbols

Icons that we most closely identify as national symbols of Aotearoa New Zealand. Some of the symbols may not be familiar to you if you are not a Kiwi: All blacks; Beach holidays; Great outdoors; Haka; Kiwi; Pounamu; Rugby; Silver fern; The Queen; Union Jack.

How I compare with the typical Kiwi.

I want to explore some aspects of being Kiwi over upcoming posts, especially as there are some results I didn’t expect. Differences in sense of national pride, the flag ,and symbols, while of interest, are not particularly important to me and how I differ from the “typical Kiwi” is of no significance. On the other hand, those aspects covered under ideology are important to me, and I believe should be important to all New Zealanders.

A number of statements were given to which one had to supply one’s level of agreement. The choices were:

Strongly agree -> Somewhat agree -> Slightly agree -> slightly disagree -> Somewhat disagree -> Strongly disagree

I noticed that there was no “neither agree nor disagree” option, for which I’m grateful. Otherwise that would have been my first choice with too many statements.

Very briefly, my position compared to the NZ average is as follows:

Māori

I am significantly more in favour of biculturalism than average based on the following propositions:

  • somewhat agree that a history of discrimination has created conditions that make it difficult for Māori to be successful.
  • slightly disagree that Māori should not receive any special treatment.
  • strongly agree that Māori culture is something that all New Zealanders can take pride in, no matter their background.

Internationalism

I have an extremely outward view compared with the average NZer based on the following propositions:

  • strongly agree that refugees should be welcomed in New Zealand.
  • strongly disagree that New Zealand should focus only on domestic, not international, issues.
  • strongly agree that New Zealand should participate in humanitarian intervention efforts abroad.

Immigration

I am significantly more pro-immigration than average based on the following propositions:

  • strongly agree that all immigrants can retain their cultural values without being any less of a New Zealander.
  • somewhat disagree that most immigrants these days don’t try hard enough to fit into New Zealand society.
  • somewhat disagree that immigration is a threat to New Zealand’s culture.

Perhaps the above are understandable considering the wife is an immigrant, as is a daughter-in-law. A little known fact is that almost one in four New Zealanders is an immigrant.

Politics

I have strong socialist leanings compared to the average Kiwi – much more than I thought. This is based on the following propositions:

  • strongly agree that in New Zealand, the gap between those with high incomes and those with low incomes is too large.
  • strongly agree that wealthy people have a greater obligation than everyone else to help those who are in need.
  • slightly disagree that no matter what circumstances you are born into, if you work hard enough you can be as successful as anyone else.

Imperialism

I am less of a loyalist than the typical Kiwi based on the following propositions:

  • somewhat agree that the British monarch should no longer be New Zealand’s head of state.
  • somewhat disagree that New Zealand’s British heritage should be central to its national identity.
  • somewhat agree that it is important for New Zealand to retain its ties to the British Commonwealth.

Nationalism

I lean towards universalism more the the average Kiwi based on the following propositions:

  • strongly agree that Kiwis have a unique set of values that distinguish New Zealand from the rest of the world.
  • somewhat agree that New Zealand is the best country in the world in which to live.
  • slightly agree that New Zealand is not perfect, but its values are superior to others.

Sport

I am only slightly more apathetic towards sport than average. T found this rather surprising, as the typical Kiwi is not as enthusiastic as I believed. This is based on the following propositions:

  • slightly disagree that sport is too much a part of New Zealand’s national psyche.
  • slightly agree that nothing brings New Zealanders together like a sporting event.
  • slightly agree that good sportsmanship sets New Zealanders apart from other people.

Religion

This is one result that did surprise me. Although I don’t believe in a deity, I am ranked slightly more religious than the average NZer based on the following propositions:

  • slightly disagree that society would be better off if people were more religious.
  • somewhat disagree that we rely too much on science and not enough on faith.
  • somewhat agree that religion should not have any influence in the affairs of government.

So there you have it. I have nailed my colours to the mast, warts and all. I’ll elaborate on what I consider the most important in future posts. If you have a particular interest in any aspect of the survey that you would my opinion on, please do ask.

Does any of what I have revealed surprise you or contradict what I have revealed about myself either here on Another Spectrum or in comments I have offered on other blogs?

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On being Kiwi: A Survey

A countrywide survey about national identity is currently under way in Aotearoa New Zealand, and to date more than 30,000 Kiwis have participated. While the survey has been commissioned by a major NZ television network, the results are being analysed by independent academics, so hopefully the indicators of how we see ourselves will have some semblance of reality. I appreciate 30,000 participants might seem like a small sampling (a bit under 1% of the population), but the survey has some time to run before it closes. so hopefully more Kiwis will agree to take part.

The survey has identified six distinct archetypes of Kiwi nationalism and before I discuss the results in my next post, I summarise the six types below. Using what you may know of me, which type do you think I best fit and which I am least like?

Patriot (36% of Kiwis)

Patriots pride themselves on being New Zealanders and feel a deep sense of attachment to the Kiwi lifestyle. They see Kiwi values as unique and preferable to most others, and generally think that New Zealand is the best country in the world in which to live.

Most patriots are quite fond of New Zealand’s rugby and beer culture. They have an appreciation for New Zealand’s British heritage, but believe that New Zealand is culturally distinct. They see Māori culture as having a role to play in the country’s national identity, but place greater emphasis on Pākehā culture.

Patriots emphasise personal responsibility and generally believe that all New Zealanders can achieve their goals if they work hard enough. They tend to support free market ideals and believe that individual gains increase prosperity for New Zealand as a whole.

Egalitarian (22% of Kiwis)

Egalitarians care deeply about social and economic equality, both in New Zealand and overseas. They have a strong sense of both national and global identity, maintaining both a profound sense of belonging to New Zealand and a sense of kinship with others around the world.

Egalitarians are advocates for diversity in Kiwi culture. They embrace New Zealand’s liberal immigration policies and its multiculturalism. They see New Zealand as a country that welcomes newcomers and respects the contributions that they make to Kiwi society.

Egalitarians recognise Māori culture as an integral part of New Zealand’s national identity. They support polices that counter discrimination of Māori and believe that New Zealand should make reparations for past injustices committed against Māori.

Egalitarians generally do not identity with New Zealand’s British heritage and see the monarchy as a relic of its imperialist past.

Like most other New Zealanders, lifestyle and sport are prominent aspects of Egalitarians’ sense of national identity. They tend to be environmentalists and take great pride in the country’s nuclear-free status. They are broadly in favour of the redistribution of wealth in order to address inequality and often favour policies that benefit New Zealand as a whole over those that benefit themselves as individuals.

Loyalist (17% of Kiwis)

Loyalists express the highest degree of attachment to New Zealand’s British cultural heritage compared to other groups, and demonstrate the most support for the British monarchy. They show more support for the British monarchy than other New Zealanders. They typically feel that traditional values and the principles associated with Christian beliefs are an important part of New Zealand’s national identity. Loyalists are the most likely among groups in New Zealand to identify as being religious.

Loyalists generally view Māori culture as playing an important role in New Zealand’s national identity and are sympathetic to Māori efforts to overcome the injustices associated with colonialism. They often believe, however, that policies to make up for past injustices are unnecessary.

Loyalists cherish the lifestyle New Zealand offers and see sport as a major theme in its national culture. On average, Loyalists tend to be older than other New Zealanders and live in more rural areas. They traits they value most are tolerance, generosity, and religious faith.

Traditionalist (14% of Kiwis)

Traditionalist are enthusiastic supporters of the Kiwi way of life and its sport culture. They believe in upholding traditional New Zealand values and in preserving the nation’s cultural heritage.

New Zealand’s British heritage features relatively prominently in Traditionalists’ conception of national identity, and they are more receptive to the British monarchy and the Commonwealth than are most other New Zealanders. Traditionalists tend to believe that the contributions of Māori to New Zealand’s national identity are overstated, and prefer that religious and ethnic minorities integrate more deeply into mainstream Kiwi society. Traditionalists believe that New Zealanders should be regarded as individuals rather than as members of any particular religious or ethnic group. They generally feel that political correctness has gone too far.

Traditionalists often think that New Zealanders should focus their attention on their communities and are the least likely among Kiwis to express a sense of belonging to a more global community. They express concern that foreign influences are negatively affecting the Kiwi way of life, which is reflected in their scepticism of the value of immigration to Kiwi society. Traditionalists frequently believe that New Zealand’s culture is changing too fast and that the values that have kept New Zealand strong need to remain at core of its national identity.

Globalist (7% of Kiwis)

Globalists believe they are as much a part of the world as they are part of New Zealand. They are the least likely among New Zealanders to express a sense of nationalism and prefer to think of New Zealand as part of a broader global collective. Globalists tend not to see New Zealand as an exceptional place in itself, but focus instead on universal values shared by people around the world.

Globalists are enthusiastic about cultural diversity. They welcome immigration and think that multiculturalism enriches New Zealand. They support raising Māori culture to greater prominence in Kiwi society and believe Māori are victims of colonisation who remain oppressed to this day. Māori culture plays an important role in Globalists’ understanding of New Zealand’s identity. They do not feel a strong attachment with the country’s British heritage, which they see as part of an imperialist past.

Globalists are very sensitive to inequality in New Zealand and believe that society’s social and economic ills arise from an unjust political system. They tend to view capitalism with suspicion, believing that it often reinforces inequality. They are thus strongly in favour of measures to redistribute wealth in New Zealand with a view to improving Kiwi society as a whole.

Sceptic (5% of Kiwis)

Sceptics are unique in that they tend not to identify with typical Kiwi stereotypes. Iconic aspects of Kiwi culture such as lifestyle and sport tend not to have the same resonance with Sceptics as they do with other New Zealanders.

Sceptics exhibit lower levels of national pride than do most other New Zealanders. They tend not to express the same sense of belonging to their country and community, and are often unsatisfied with the conditions of both. They tend to be cynical about the usefulness of government and the least likely among Kiwis to take an active interest in politics or civic life.

Sceptics value perseverance and hard work, but are still doubtful about whether their efforts will vastly improve their lives. They often feel that, despite their efforts, they are not able to get ahead.

Sceptics are typically unsympathetic to arguments that minority groups in New Zealand are discriminated against and do not usually support the Treaty claims process. They feel that many New Zealanders have faced difficult circumstances and that no single group should be given special treatment. Sceptics take moderate positions on immigration and multiculturalism, perhaps owing to the fact that a relatively high proportion of Sceptics are themselves immigrants.

I’ll cover some of my observations in the next post on this topic, but I do want to mention one aspect here. One set of questions asks us to rate our personal sense of pride as a nation in ten areas. One area in particular stands out as having the highest sense of pride, irrespective of archetype. That is in the area of our county’s nuclear-free status. While I’m not surprised that Kiwis as a whole take pride in our anti-nuclear stance, I am a little surprised that it is so universally felt.

 


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Super Tuesday crashes Canadian Immigration Website

 

 

Thank goodness not all Americans think Trump is the next Messiah. Apparently, after the news that Trump had secured big wins from the Super Tuesday rounds, enquiries overwhelmed a Canadian Government immigration Website causing it to crash. If Trump does win the presidential race, will Canada be far enough away? Come to think of it, will Aotearoa New Zealand be far enough away? Antarctica, may find itself with its first permanent immigrants.

And Google reported a large spike in “move to Canada” searches. Of course his supporters are likely to blame both events of the success of Hillary Clinton in the Democrat primaries, but that’s the kind of nonsense they will fool themselves into believing.

Meanwhile the rest of the world wonders how so many Americans have fallen for Trump, hook, line and sinker. To gather in the conservative, and Christian fundamentalists, he now claims he’s a Christian – just like them. But is he? I guess it depends on what qualities one considers are necessary to justify the claim.

From my perspective, he lacks even the barest minimum qualities. Fellow Kiwi Bill Peddie is asking this question in his post Is Donald Trump a Christian? It’s worth a read irrespective of whether your are a believer or a non-believer.

Clare Flourish, in her post Drumpf raises many concerns about Trump and his rise and rise. Her last paragraph in that post says it all:

How authoritarian is the US? How despairing are its voters, to be shilled by this man?


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How religious are your leaders?

During last year’s general elections, a question of a religious nature was posed to the leaders of political parties. This was unusual, as we Kiwis in general believe that religion (or lack of) is a personal matter, and not relevant to holding office. Nevertheless, the question was asked, and the response from the leaders of the major parties is shown in the clip below.

One politician is notable by his absence, and that is Winston Peters, the leader of New Zealand First. But as he is well known for his ability to avoid answering questions, even after a ten minute reply, perhaps his absence is understandable.

If you don’t live in Aotearoa New Zealand, do you find your politicians as honest and diverse as ours when it comes to religion?


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Ownership Of The Christian Message: A response (part 1)

Over on Amusing Nonsense, siriusbizinus posted an article on the Ownership Of The Christian Message which posed the question of how are Christians collectively responsible for the extreme views expressed by some who claim to be Christians. To some extent the question is a  meaningful or as meaningless as posing the question of how responsible are RNZSPCA and Forest and Bird for the actions of militant anti vivisectionists  After all, they are all concerned to some extent about the welfare of animals.

While some may scoff at a comparison between holding a religious or spiritual belief with a concern for animal welfare, in a New Zealand context this, I believe, is valid. The first question that needs to be asked is what do we mean by “Christian”. Immediately I run into problems. Most of the readers of this blog are from North America (approximately 70%), while only only a small number are from Aotearoa New Zealand (15%). I follow a number of Websites on WordPress and elsewhere that discuss religion and spirituality. Of these the largest grouping would be those whose writers express atheist or anti-religious sentiment. Of these, most are former Christians. It is very clear to me that what is understood by religion, and Christianity in particular, varies considerably depending on the society one lives in.

There are similarities between America and NZ: Both are secular states with no official religion. Both value democracy and freedom of expression. English is the predominant language in both countries and most of the inhabitants have European ancestry. Both are nominally multicultural societies.

There are also significant differences also. The role the state plays in the lives of its citizens are very different, as are society’s concepts of nationhood and patriotism. In America, politicians appear to need to openly express their faith in order to gain office, whereas in NZ such a stand invites voter turn off. In relation this discussion, there are two important influences that need to be considered: That of the Church, and that of the indigenous culture.

At first glance, NZ is a Christian society. The 2013 census reports that slightly less than 5 out of 10 NZers acknowledge a Christian affiliation, while 4 out of 10 acknowledge no affiliation. However, this is somewhat misleading. Before 1986, NZers were required to write their religion in response to the question, “What is your religion?” which implied they were expected to have one. In 1986, the question was the same, but eight options were given including the option of “No religion”. The result was an increase of those who claimed no religion from 166 thousand in 1981 to 534 thousand in 1986. A three fold jump in five years! The number of those with no religion have been climbing ever since.

The census only asks religious affiliation, regardless of how tenuous that affiliation might be. It doesn’t ask the participants what they believe. For this, I have in large part relied on Spirituality and Religion in the Lives of New Zealanders released by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society (hereafter refereed to as the Journal). This paints a very different picture.

The Church has had little impact on the lives of Kiwis. In the early 1900s less than 1 in 5 attended church. Today that figure is around 1 in 10. As with census figures, church attendance doesn’t give an accurate picture of what we believe. The Journal surveys the religious beliefs of NZ every seven years, the most recent being in 2008. The International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) questionnaire was used to capture the religious landscape.

Less than 1 in 12 Kiwis believe that the Bible is the Word of God, yet we have quite a high level of religious belief. For example, 6 out of 10  believe in the probability of life after death, 3 out of 10 in the probability of reincarnation, and 4 out of 10 in the possibility of some faith healers possessing supernatural abilities, that star signs can affect one’s future, and that some fortune tellers can predict the future. 1 in 8 Kiwis believe in the possibility of Nirvana, which is more than those who believe the Bible is the Word of God. Almost 1 in 3 believe in supernatural power of ancestors.

Aotearoa New Zealand is becoming a less Christian nation but has a growing sense of spirituality. Of those who follow a religion (Christian or otherwise), a little over half believe they are a spiritual person interested in the sacred or supernatural. What is significant, is that 3 out of 10 NZers don’t follow a religion yet claim to be a spiritual person interested in the sacred or supernatural.

When the question of being a spiritual person was asked in England, two thirds of respondents claimed to be spiritual. However this was in face to face questioning, where the interviewer was able to explain what was meant by spiritual. in response to the same questionnaire as put to NZers, the result was similar to the NZ response. It’s therefore safe to assume that a similar level of spirituality exists in New Zealand: 2 out of 3 NZers have some level of spirituality.

What I find significant is the few Kiwis have a negative attitude to religion or non-belief. 8 out of 10 believe there is some truth in many religions, while only than 1 in 14 believe there is truth in only one religion. Only 1 in 10 have a negative attitude towards Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, and Buddhism. 1 in five have a negative attitude towards Islam, and only 1 in 10 have a negative attitude towards atheism or non-belief.

I had intended this post to be a response to siriusbizinus in its entirety, but all I’ve managed to do is give a background from which I can formulate a response from a NZ context. I will conclude my response in a following post where I will cover what the Christian message is from a New Zealand perspective, and what significance “ownership” has.


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Secret Bible reading

This post is part four of a series on the development of my religious beliefs from childhood in the 1950s and 1960s to the present day. Previous posts:

  1. Worship and other secrets
  2. The day God spoke to me
  3. The Aftermath

I was about eight years old when I started to secretly read the Bible. My aim was to discover what I was sure adults knew but kept secret from children. Being ignorant of any scholarly practice, I started at the beginning – Genesis. I already understood that the creation story was a myth, just like the Maori creation myths, and wasn’t supposed to be taken literally.

To my surprise there were two creation myths. This puzzled me. I knew that there had to be a reason for this and each was supposed to have a specific meaning, but I was at a loss to know what those meanings were supposed to be. As I continued to read, it became evident to me that there appeared to be two different Gods. The first was loving and cared very much for his creation. The second was into insistence on man’s blind obedience, and cruel punishment for any disobedience. The second God also interfered not just in the lives of individuals, but also manipulated entire groups of people, often to their detriment.

I compared this to how my parents treated and respected their children and the world around them to the parents of some of my peers, whose parents controlled them with an iron fist, and meted out harsh and inconsistent punishment, and seemed to have little regard for anyone or anything beyond themselves.

A little background: I was brought up in a family where punishment of any sort was virtually unknown, and then it was in the form of restitution or compensation. No matter what our trespass was, we were drawn into a conversation where we learnt why a particular action (or inaction) wasn’t appropriate. Often, this was in a series of questions where we were encouraged to work out for ourselves what it was we did wrong, and what better alternatives we could have taken.

This method of handling transgressions worked, even for one of my siblings who had a tendency to test my parents’ patience whenever he could. In contrast, some of my peers, might learn that something they did was “bad” due to the punishment they received, but might not understand why they were bad. They often had to construct elaborate rules of behaviour to keep on the right side of the parents. Some thought they were intrinsically bad, because that notion was repeatedly reinforced by being told they were bad children. The parallels with some forms of Biblical teachings should be obvious.

Back to the story: I persevered with reading the Bible, on and off, for over a year, always looking for the meaning behind the stories, but generally failing to do so. In hindsight, it’s not surprising that an eight and nine year old boy would fail to comprehend an ancient text full of metaphor, allegories and myth.

What I did gain from the effort was that the only way to reconcile the apparent two natures of God, was to abandon the idea that God was an anthropomorphic being. Looking back on it now, I guess that my understanding of God during the next few years would waver between panentheism and pantheism. I was able to reconcile the experience I had in The day God spoke to me by reasoning that God would appear in a form I could comprehend.

In the next instalment, I’ll cover the period as I entered my teenage years.


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In memory of Mindfull Digressions

I have no idea why Doobster418 has decided to cease blogging, and I don’t want to speculate, but I will miss him. It was due to his encouragement that I started blogging in the first place.

His blogs were intelligent and witty, and covered a wide spectrum of thought and ideas. In an environment where there are too many strident voices, his was a breath of fresh air. I didn’t always agree with him, but I always enjoyed his posts and comments

Although he has gone for now, I hope that some day we might be graced by presence again.

Doobster, I wish you well in whatever endeavours you undertake, and if possible, do drop in from time to time.


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The Aftermath

This post is part three of a series on the development of my religious beliefs from childhood in the 1950s and 1960s to the present day.The previous posts are Part 1: Worship and other secrets, and Part 2: The day God spoke to me. This post describes what happened in the days following the episode described in part 2.

I was so moved at what I had experienced, that I was bursting to tell someone – anyone. So I did. Perhaps I was somewhat naive, but I certainly did not expect the derision I received from my peers. Being surrounded by twenty or so school kids pointing and taunting and falling about laughing is not the most pleasant experience. Finally one class mate quietly took me to one side and she explained that there are some things that are better kept to oneself, and this was one of them. I think Janet was the only child that understood that I didn’t process social interactions in the way other kids did. It was from her that I learnt that it’s often necessary to select very carefully which battles are worth fighting and which battles are better to walk away from. For that I am very grateful. She had wisdom well beyond her seven years.

I decided my mother would be be more understanding. When I told her that God had spoken to me, her response of “That’s nice dear”, while turning back to continue with preparing dinner, I understood that it was a conversation she didn’t want to participate in – much like when one of my siblings tried to engage her in conversations with his imaginary friend. At that time my mother was the only person I was moderately successful at reading social cues from voice tone, body language and by what was not said.

Surely my Sunday school teacher would understand, so I resolved to tell her about on the next Sunday. However, a classmate got in first and blurted out that I claimed that God had spoken to me. The Sunday school teacher looked at me very sternly. What had I done wrong this time?
Teacher: Have you been telling lies about God speaking to you?
I most certainly was not telling lies.
Me: No
Teacher [peering over the top of her glasses and looking even more stern]: Barry, have you been telling people that God spoke to you?
I found that question more difficult to answer. My first inclination was to answer “No” again. I had told the story five days ago, but not since. Her use of “Have you been telling” meant that I was continuing to tell the story, which was not the case, so a negative response would be appropriate. Experience had taught me people don’t always mean exactly what they say. Perhaps she really meant “Did you tell“, in which case “Yes” would have been appropriate. I pondered my options for a moment, then decided the best option was not to answer the question, but to make a simple statement of fact that should avoid confusion.
Me [with hesitation]: I haven’t told anyone since Tuesday.

Apparently I goofed… again. I realise now that my delay in answering and the words I chose was tantamount to an admission that I had lied the previous Tuesday. I then received a lecture as to why lying was a sin, and lying about God was an even greater sin.  Finally came the message that it was necessary for me to confess my sin if God was to forgive me. This I refused to do.

Let’s just say it went downhill from there. I never went back to Sunday school again.

What did I learn from the experience?

  • Personal experiences shouldn’t be shared with others
  • I’m going to be misunderstood irrespective of how carefully I choose my words
  • Delay in responding to a question equals lying in the eyes of adults
  • Sunday school teachers don’t know much, and what they do know is wrong
  • Be very, very careful who you identify as friends
  • The God I know and the God in the Bible are not one and the same
  • Mothers don’t always know when you are telling the truth

The Sunday school teachers had made it very clear that anything and everything about God could be discovered in the Bible, and in fact it was the only source of knowledge about God. Curious, I started a secretive reading of the Bible stating from Genesis. More about this in the part  of this series.


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Do Americans have freedom FROM religion? Actually, yes (two SCOTUS cases)

In my country conscientious objection to military service is based on ones conscience, not religion. Membership of a pacifist faith may make it easier to prove ones believe is genuine, but it’s not a requirement.

Back in the 1970s when union membership was compulsory here, members of some faiths were granted exemptions on religious grounds. I applied for, and was granted an exemption based solely on pacifist principles without the mention of religion or religious beliefs at all (although I was prepared to bring those up if absolutely necessary).

In this country, at least, I’ve found found more success in arguing for religious principles by not bringing religion into the discussion. If a religious principle can’t be supported by nonreligious argument, then one needs to rethink the principle.

The Atheist Papers

Americans indeed have a right to not be forced to practice a religion, any religion. We have rights to not be subjected to a state endorsement of one religion over another, or over irreligion. These are inalienable rights; however, some have resisted the implementation of these rights with a rather strange assertion: “It’s freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.” Well, yes, that’s how it’s traditionally worded, but I don’t think they understand what freedom of religion actually is.

Yesterday I examined how — in my opinion — religious exemptions to certain rules (in my example, beards) have the unfortunate effect of harming the rest of us. Today I’ll pore over two court cases that explicitly lay out how Americans indeed have freedom from religion. Yesterday’s post highlighted rather inconsequential issues, so I figured I should examine issues of literal life and death: War.

In these cases SCOTUS sidestepped defining religion…

View original post 579 more words


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The day God spoke to me

This post is part two of a series on the development of my religious beliefs from childhood in the 1950s and 1960s to the present in the 2010s. In the first of the series, I wrote about my childhood belief that adults were privilege to knowledge that was hidden from children. They also made up stories which they wanted children to believe even though they knew the stories to be false.

This part of the story commences in 1957, shortly before I turned eight. My father was not religious. He was probably agnostic, but he may have been an atheist. Religion was a topic he avoided at all costs. However he had a dislike for organised religion.

My mother was not a practising Christian at the time — perhaps she could be described as a closet Christian. She encouraged me and my siblings to attend Sunday school in part to encourage me to interact socially as well as the more obvious objective to broaden our view of the society we lived in. There was no pressure to attend Sunday school, and I was the only child that continued to attend longer than six months.

My motive for continuing to attend was not because I believed the stories we were told, or that it was necessary to attend to be a good Christian. I was sure that the real truth about God was being hidden from me, and by continuing to attend I was convinced that I would discover it.

Children’s books with illustrated bible stories were accessible at home, school and Sunday school. God was usually depicted as a wise old man with a long white beard and wearing flowing white robes. He was usually carrying a staff, and was often shown as standing on a cloud-like surface (heaven sitting on the clouds?). Strangely, while I was sure the truth about God was being kept from me, I never questioned his appearance and accepted he looked and behaved like the kind and gentle being depicted in the illustrated biblical stories. Keep this in mind as I describe a turning point in my religious journey.

At that time, my school provided one hour of religious studies each week. In truth, it was more like Christian indoctrination by whichever church happened to take your class each week. The woman who took my class had beliefs that would approach those of a modern fundamentalist church. During one lesson she decided to illustrate the power of God by telling a story, which I have paraphrased as follows:

One Sunday, a Christian wife persuaded her nonbeliever husband to accompany her to church. After service was finished, the minister stood by the exit, as was his practice, to enter into dialogue with any member of the congregation who might wish to do so. The wife decided to take a moment to thank the minister for the informative sermon which was about the infinite power and mercy that God possesses. The minister, being the kind man he was, tried to encourage the husband to join the conversation. The husband stated that he saw no evidence that God possessed any power at all, and in fact he didn’t exist. However, if he did exist, he was clearly an evil god as he allowed so much suffering in the world. The wife was shocked at the husband’s blasphemy and warned him that he risked God’s ire for his foul words. The husband retorted that there was no God, and there was nothing short of God striking him dead that would convince him that God existed. At that moment the husband fell down dead. This, children, is proof that God exists and has the power to do anything he desires. So remember what he could do to you if you make God angry.

I was appalled by the story. The God depicted in the story was nothing like the loving God I knew from the stories I had heard and read. Was this the real God that adults had kept from children? Was he someone who we should be terrified of? Was he not the gentle loving Father we had been lead to believe?

I can remember sitting at my desk in shock and disbelief. It was almost like the foundation of my belief in the goodness of creation had been swept away. To this day, I can recall clearly crying out silently “You wouldn’t do that, would you God?”

Being a seven year old, going on eight, with an unquestioning belief in the existence of God, what happened next should not be a surprise. Today I can explain it away as a neurobiological reaction to a traumatic event, which was influenced by social conditioning. However, what I experienced had a profound effect on my trust in adults and a realisation that God was able to be comprehended in multiple ways. What happened is just as vivid now as it was then, almost fifty years ago. It neither proves the existence or nonexistence of God. It does illustrate that the mind is capable of strange and wonderful interpretations of reality.

My plea to God to affirm his goodness was answered by what I can only describe as the sounds of a heavenly choir rising in glorious harmony as a brilliant light grew before my eyes. The light transformed into bright clouds through which a clearly wise and gentle man with white beard and robes stepped. The face was kindly but tinged with sadness. This was clearly God, and the sadness was due to my doubting his goodness and that our religious instructor has so misrepresented him. He answered my question by asking one of his own, which was “What do you believe?” It was immediately clear to me that God could never contemplate harming anyone as told by our instructor. With that realisation, the vision quickly faded,and I was back in the reality of the classroom.

Now before anyone calls the men in white coats to come and take me away, I am describing what I experienced at the time. It was how a child’s mind was able to make sense of a confusing and traumatic event using his knowledge and experienced wisdom in his relatively short life. To this day it is still my most vivid memory, even though I no longer believe God exists in that form. That experience was the start of a long journey that is yet to be completed.

The next post in this series will reveal how others reacted to my telling them that God spoke to me, and my response to those reactions.