Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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The Last Western Heretic (Part 3)

It’s been a long time since the previous post in this series. In case you need to refresh your memory, see Part 1 and Part 2.

In the video below clip Lloyd Geering makes the point that we as Human Beings created the concept of God. I agree. One only need to look at the variety of gods that have been created by cultures over a number of millennia, to realise that the likelihood of any of them being true is extremely unlikely.

Some of Lloyd Geering’s comments from the video clip that ring true to me:

I’ve never thought of God as a personal God. Indeed in a sense the word God is really beyond all definition simply because it is a symbolic term.

…and of course that brings us to the point where today we can accept that the term God is simply a symbolic term for all that is greatest and highest in our values.

Is it conceivable that this universe has been created by a rational mind rather like ours? Does it show evidence that it has a clear purpose in being there at all? I would say no purpose for which we can actually give any answer.

What religion is for me is how does one best respond to the various chance events which happen to you in life – how do you make the best of them? And I have found the the whole Christian myth helpful in helping to give me give it shape and supply the kind of values that that one needs in order to live a meaningful life.

Whereas we used to think of God as the Creator, I think it’s better to think of God as simply the process of creativity, which is in us, and is in the universe in an all inspiring way.

The idea that there was nothing once except God, and God created the universe is really a bit puerile now.

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My non-real God

Recently, I’ve been making a somewhat half-hearted attempt to tidy over a decade’s worth of archived files scattered throughout dozens of long forgotten folders on my computer and on CDs and DVDs littering storage space in my home office, and the basement/garage. Yes I confess. I’m a hoarder when it comes to digital data. One of the CDs I came across had a label in my handwriting saying Non-realism in religion. The CD must be pre 2008 as the files had been created by Windows applications. (I’ve been a Linux user since 2008).

The CD was damaged, and most of the files couldn’t be opened, but there was one good pdf file titled Non-realistic Christianity. Inside was this list:

  • Religion is about internal spiritual experiences, and that is all.
  • There is no world other than the material world around us.
  • There are no beings other than the living organisms on this planet or elsewhere in the universe.
  • There is no objective being or thing called God that exists separately from the person believing in him.
  • There is no ultimate reality outside human minds either.
  • We give our own lives meaning and purpose; there is nothing outside us that does it for us.
  • God is a projection of the human mind.
  • God is the way human beings put ‘spiritual’ ideals into a poetic form that they are able to use and work with.
  • God is simply a word that stands for our highest ideals.
  • God-talk is a language tool that enables us to talk about our highest ideals and create meaning in our lives.
  • Religious stories and texts are ways in which human beings set down and work out spiritual, ethical, and fundamental meanings in life.
  • Our religious talk is really about us and our inner selves, and the community and culture we live in.
  • Religious talk uses the familiar language of things that exist outside ourselves to make it easier for us to handle complex and subtle ideas.
  • Faith therefore isn’t belief in a God that exists outside minds.
  • Faith is what human beings do when they pursue ‘spiritual’ ideals.
  • Saying that someone follows a particular faith is a way of talking about their attitudes to life and to other people.

Somehow over the years I had completely forgotten about the use of the terms realism and non-realism in relation to religion, but a quick Google search provided a refresher and the probable source of the pdf file. It seems I’ve done a little editing (bold text) and one bullet point is missing, but otherwise they are the same. And the list does reflect what I perceive religion to be.

While atheism is where my head is, it’s not where my heart is. I don’t live in a purely logical and rational world – I don’t think anyone does, and for me, the reality of what I experience is either denied, described as delusional, or otherwise devalued by much of the atheist community – especially the online one. Delusional or not, I’m required to deny so much of who I am just to be accepted by society (that’s autism for you), that I’m not willing to deny that ‘spiritual’ part of me.

The essentials of non-realistic Christianity have been the cornerstone of my understanding of religion and God for all my adult life, although not as clearly defined as in the list above. In my search for a ‘spiritual’ home, I looked at various Christian denominations and at a variety of other religious and spiritual beliefs. Back in the 1970s and 80s I found small pockets of believers who held similar views to my own in all the mainline denominations, especially within Anglicanism and Methodism, but they were tolerated, sometimes grudgingly, rather accepted or welcomed. That lack of acceptance was a turn off, as was the liturgy and worship practice. Universal Unitarianism and secular Buddhism had some attraction, but, worship, in the case of Unitarianism, and meditation, in the case of Buddhism, were outside my comfort zone.

If I was conducting the search today, I dare say I would have stumbled upon one of the many mainline and independent congregations that welcome or embrace the essentials of non-realistic Christianity. I might well find one that I felt comfortable in, although their forms of worship probably would always be an issue for me. However I don’t doubt that I could find a religious community where I would be welcomed and feel at home in.

Today there are also a large number of secular/non-real/humanist organisations that are non-denominational/pan-denominational/pan-religious such as Sea of Faith New Zealand and St Andrew’s Trust for the Study of Religion and Society where I’d be very welcome and in many ways I’d be more comfortable than within a church community. A major reason for this is that while congregations within the churches embrace the essentials of non-realism, the various churches as a whole haven’t, (although some are getting close). Those darned creeds that they all retain are a complete turn off for me, and there is no way I could honour them. Unfortunately, groups such as SoF and SATRS didn’t exist, or were very thin on the ground when I began my search. Remember, this was well before the arrival of the Internet.

As it turned out, I did stumble upon a religious group that did meet my needs, was non-creedal, and had, over a period of some 350 years, developed an understanding of God that was not in conflict with the essentials of non-realism. That group was the first I had come across that did not have some expectation of how I should understand God, nor did they expect me to hold specific theological beliefs.

That group was the Quakers – the Religious Society of Friends in Aotearoa New Zealand, (Gifted the name Te Hahi Tuhauwiri – “The faith community that stands shaking in the wind of the Spirit” – by the Maori Language Commission). Now before anyone jumps on me and says that non-realism is unchristian, and Quakers most definitely are Christian, I’m going to say hold up a minute, is it important or even relevant? Let’s consider the second part of the statement (Quakers most definitely are Christian)

Are Quakers Christian? There’s about 350,000 Quakers worldwide, and the majority are Christian and it would be very difficult to distinguish them from many other evangelical, fundamentalist Christian denominations. Evangelical Friends can be found in Africa (there’s more than 130,000 in Kenya alone) and the Americas. They have churches, clergy, creeds, articles of faith and believe the Bible is the Word of God. They are hierarchical and (especially in Africa) patriarchal. They are the youngest and most successful (in terms of numerical strength) of the various strands of Quakerism.

There is another strand of Quakerism which is somewhat more difficult to pin down. Often referred to as liberal Quakerism, it can be found in the UK and Ireland, Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, Canada and parts of the USA. Liberal Friends have no clergy, creed or articles of faith, lack hierarchical structure and have had a belief in the equality of the sexes since the foundation of Quakerism in the 1600s. They value their Christian roots, but as to whether or not this strand of Quakerism is Christian, depends on one’s concept of what Christianity is. Their numbers are small – possibly 50,000 worldwide, with around 1,400 in NZ.

Personally it makes no difference to me whether or not Quakerism is Christian, but in the context of New Zealand, it fits comfortably in the liberal/post modern wing of Christianity, even if it’s considered somewhat “peculiar”.

Now I come to the reason why I was motivated to write this article. I hear and read far too often, a section of atheists who claim that all religion is harmful. If this is true, then the religion practised by Friends, even liberal Friends, is harmful. Try as I might, I can find nothing in the beliefs and practices of NZ Friends and Christians at the liberal end of the spectrum that is harmful. Of course, it’s possible that being religious myself, I’m blind to seeing the harm I’m causing, and if is the case, is it possible for me to recognise it? I suppose it’s possible…

but unlikely.

On the other hand, it could be an atheist plot to discredit religion and bring disorder and immorality to the world. That’s definitely the claim of some Christian extremists. But I can see no evidence of that. There is no organised atheist movement. In fact, non-theists within religious groups are far better organised than atheists. Perhaps atheists are opposed to particular forms of religion. That, I could understand, but when I have put the proposition forward, I have been knocked back: All religion is harmful.

As I understand it, their argument is that religion and critical thinking are always incompatible. Perhaps, because I’m religious, and take my religion seriously, I’m incapable of critical thinking. It would also mean that I am incapable of seeing what harm my beliefs are doing to me, others, and society as a whole. So, if my religious beliefs and practices, and those of my fellow believers are harmful, can someone please point out to me where they are harmful, or at least point me in the right direction. If on the other hand, my religious beliefs and practices, and those of my fellow believers aren’t harming myself, others or society, the argument that all religion is harmful must be false.

I have no argument with atheists. After all atheism is part of my beliefs. My argument is with those who believe all religion is harmful. I’ve heard argument that religion has evolved along with the development of human thought, possibly as a result of seeking patterns and explanations for what we experience. Perhaps religion also helped in the development of cohesive groups. Whatever the reason, a great many of us still seek some form of religion or spirituality. I’ve heard that it could be as high as 9 out of 10 people. That seems rather high, but what seems apparent to me is that a significant number do desire and seek some form of religion or spirituality.

Census figures show a continuing decline in religious affiliation. What they don’t show is is that the number who hold religious or spiritual beliefs remain fairly constant. While those who believe in a deity have declined in number, other forms of spirituality have increased. Worldwide, the number of religious adherents continue to grow, although not as fast as the total population. It doesn’t appear that religion is going to disappear any time soon. This being so, rather than seeking the disappearance of religion, perhaps a more productive course would be to seek a change in what religion is. Don’t let up on religious privilege where is exists. It has no place in in modern society.

I’m not targeting any one with this ramble. I’ve found it helpful for me to share what I’m thinking with others, as feedback helps in clarifying and modifying my beliefs. Sometimes it’s with family or friends. Sometimes it’s within my religious community, or another community. This time it’s I’ve put it out to the blogosphere.


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The Last Western Heretic (Part 2)

In this first clip, Professor Lloyd Geering makes the point that since the Enlightenment, everyone is a heretic as we are all free to think for ourselves – we are all free thinkers – and make our own choices accordingly. As he points out “We are encouraged to think for ourselves” [3:08], but who are the “we” he’s referring to?

The nation of Aotearoa New Zealand had its formative years at the height of the Enlightenment, and this country has always had a significant number of individuals and leaders who were Free Thinkers, atheists and agnostics, as well as those of assorted religious traditions. Our isolation from the rest of the world meant we developed an individualistic attitude to living, with a very egalitarian attitude towards authority.  Certainly there’s no doubt that Professor Geering is referring to Kiwis when he says we are encouraged to think for ourselves, but to what extent can the same be applied to other nations – especially when it comes to religion.

From this relatively remote corner of the world, I see vast regions of the globe where people seem to be discouraged from thinking for themselves – especially in the way of religion. I blink in amazement when American bloggers, while confessing their atheism anonymously online, are extremely reluctant to come out to friends, family and community about their lack of faith for fear of a backlash. Reminds me of those being reluctant to come out as gay in the 1970s and early 80s. I would like to think their fears are more imaginary than real, but the stories told are too consistent  for that. Perhaps after the dark ages being brought on by the Trump administration, America will make a more rapid swing towards liberalism.

Early on on the clip, Professor Geering describes his understanding of God – not a supernatural being, but a set of values that include truth, justice, love and compassion. On that matter, he and I agree completely.


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Believe in UFOs? You’re round the bend!

Not so long ago, an acquaintance and I happened to be joking about superstitions, when out of the blue the following conversation arose.

HIM: Do you believe in UFOs?
ME: Yep.
HIM: Seriously?
ME: Seriously. Don’t you?
HIM: You don’t really believe there’s little green men from Alpha Centauri fly about in the sky, do you?

The penny dropped. We were talking about different types of UFO’s.

ME: What makes you think they’re green? They could just as likely be fluorescent mauve, don’t you think?
HIM: You’re taking the piss!
ME:  Kinda.

I then had to explain that by UFO I simply meant an aerial phenomenon for which an adequate rational explanation has yet to be found. When such an explanation is found, the phenomenon will no longer be a UFO.  Most UFOs stay as such for short periods of time before an satisfactory explanation is found. A few such as the Kaikoura Lights still haven’t been explained to my satisfaction, but I’m sure that whatever they were, there was no cover up conspiracy to hide the existence of little green men in flying saucers. It’s most likely a natural phenomenon. but the official explanation of squid boat lights seems a little too simplistic to me as the lights were seen from an aircraft and tracked on radar. My guess is that the squid boat explanation sounded more “knowledgeable” than “We don’t have a bloody clue at this point in time“. Conjecture can be fun if it’s not taken too seriously.

A similar reaction occurs on the very rare occasions I’m asked if I believe in God and I get a surprised look when I answer in the affirmative. Actually it’s just occurred to me that the question is usually posed in the negative: “You don’t believe in God, do you?” Perhaps we in Aotearoa New Zealand are even more secular than the pundits claim.

No, I’m not convinced that there are any deities, especially the wrathful, vengeful God portrayed in parts of the Bible. But I do frame the concept of agape as God, and I admit that at times (although less so these days) I tend to bestow upon the concept “human/divine” qualities such as a will (as in the Will of God) and the ability to prod (the small still voice). Concepts such as the light and every person having that of God within have meaning for me. There’s no way I could explain these concepts in a purely rational way as I find my language skills rather inadequate for such a purpose. Perhaps the best I can do is say that they are a means of sharing very complex ideas in a few words with those whose experiences are similar to mine.

So when I say I believe in God, I have a specific concept (not a supernatural being) in mind, and not necessarily what the questioner meant. Perhaps next time I’m asked, I should reply with two questions of my own:

  1. What do you mean by God?
  2. What do you mean by believe in?

For those not familiar with local expressions:
round the bend: going insane/crazy
taking the piss: to ridicule


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Am I religious?

I have always thought of myself as religious and have no hesitation in saying so. As a young boy I accepted the existence of a God that in some respects resembled a loving and caring but absent father or grandfather. Perhaps this is understandable as in hindsight this God resembled my father (not in appearance, but as loving, caring and frequently absent).

Although a belief in the existence of God was was fairly widespread in Aotearoa New Zealand in the mid 1950s, I was not aware of any specific doctrine. I did attend Sunday School for a while when I was around seven or eight, and I enjoyed the stories we were told, in much the same way as I enjoyed stories such as Winnie-the-Pooh or Wind in the Willows or those of Hans Christian Andersen. In other words I understood they were stories, not factual accounts of real events.

At that time we lived in a small town of around 4,000 inhabitants and up to the time we left when I was fourteen I had never heard religious doctrine or beliefs discussed. The few times I attended a church service I’d hear a sermon, but I don’t recall hearing mention of Satan, hell, eternal salvation/damnation nor a requirement to believe in a literal resurrection of Jesus. Much of what I heard I would be equally valid for non-theists in that it essentially was all about the golden rule and, more importantly, how to apply it in difficult situations.

I was always suspicious that there were some things about God that were kept from children I was curious what that might be, but accepted that I would find out in due course. My belief that adults knew more about God was realised by the shocking story I heard during religious studies when I was around seven or eight. You can read about it in The day God spoke to me.

The incident didn’t change my understanding of God but it did lead me to understand that others perceived God differently. This was confirmed shortly after when I began to read the Bible. Not knowing any other way I started at the beginning – Genesis. I’ve told this story in Secret Bible reading.

Perhaps this is where I differ somewhat from others who have reached a similar conclusion. I didn’t abandon my belief in God. I abandoned any belief in the Bible. Perhaps it was because that vision/delusion I experienced earlier was, and  still is so real to me. Over the next few years I developed a belief closer to pantheism

I had no further contact with religion until the beginning of my teens. A Chapel opened a short distance from our home, and my mother encouraged me to attend Bible class there in Wednesday evenings. I believe this was primarily as a means of improving my socialisation rather than to progress religious education.

From what I remember, the discussions concentrated almost elusively on Jesus’ teachings and once again on how to apply the Golden Rule in our lives. The best part of Bible class was that every Saturday evening we would go to an event in the city, about 30 minutes drive away. Sometimes the events were religious rallies, which I felt were emotional nonsense, but often the events were things that typical teenagers would attend. Three, four or five cars would make the Journey to New Plymouth each weekend and I always made sure I sat next to a rather shy, but in my eyes very beautiful girl.

I continued to attend Bible class for about a year and then gave up. I told my parents that is was because they were teaching things I disagreed with (which was true), but if I am to be totally honest, I stopped attending because that girl had stopped attending.

Towards the end of my time at Bible class, some of the topics were getting rather deep into Christian theology. Topics such as the divinity of Jesus, the Resurrection, and substitutionary atonement had been introduced. There was considerable leeway in what was considered acceptable understanding. If I recall correctly many  of the stories in the Old Testament could be understood in a non-literal sense, as could some aspects of Jesus’ life such as the virgin birth. However it was clear that we were being steered towards a physical resurrection of Jesus and the concept of substitutionary atonement. The former I thought of as nonsense, the latter as an abomination.

That was my last exposure to the study of theology. Although I continued to have a view of God that wavered between pantheism and panentheism, that old comfortable image of God as a father figure would to pop up from time to time. This bothered me as my rational understanding of God didn’t match what I experienced. I was working in a vacuum as I felt I had no-one I was able to share my beliefs with. Even after I married, this was one topic I never raised with my wife.

My wife, like most Japanese are not particularly devout, and can slip comfortably between Shintoism and Buddhism as appropriate for any given occasion. I found this fascinating, but she was unable to explain to my satisfaction how one could hold two apparently contradictory beliefs at the same time. This was 20 or more years before the arrival of the Internet, and with a limited budget, the local library was my only source of information. It’s resources on religion of any type was extremely limited and on Shintoism non-existent.

I don’t recall any of the books or authors after all this time, but I do recall coming to the conclusion that was the genesis of what I believe today: God is unknowable, and if unknowable, there’s no certainty that he/she/it exists at all. From time to time I get flashes of insight similar to the one that occurred when God spoke to me in religious studies. But are they really something from outside (a supernatural force), a natural phenomenon that might be explained under pantheism, or something that is internal: part of being human? Just because they feel divine doesn’t mean that they are.

I decided that if God is unknowable then any understanding of a God we do experience is one we unconsciously construct ourselves from our culture, history and personal experience. If God exists, there’s no certainty that what we create is a reflection of that God.

So there we are. I doubt very much that there’s a deity, even more so one named Yahweh. Yet I experience what  Quakers call The Light, the small still voice that prods my conscience but feels separate from it. My beliefs are entirely compatible with with Quakerism as it’s practiced in NZ, and it’s where I feel most at home in a religious context.

In an ongoing discussion  on a post I made a few days ago, I was pointed to the Non-Belief in America Research Website where the typology of non-belief is summarised. It lists six types and I can identify myself in two of the types: Ritual Atheist/Agnostic and Seeker-Agnostic, yet I still consider myself religious and feel uncomfortable identifying as agnostic or atheist

While I’m comfortable with religious, I know many with whom I have had discussions on the Internet, jump to the wrong conclusion. If I say I’m religious or listen for the will of God, then it’s assumed I’m a Bible believing Christian. Inevitably the discussion is hijacked by those wanting to know what I believe or don’t believe about the Resurrection, or the nature of God or the infallibility of the Bible or why does God condone genocide, none of which are relevant to the discussion at hand.

I have considered using the term spiritual, but that seems to be associated with the occult and here in NZ with traditional Maori beliefs, so that’s just as likely to be misunderstood as religious.

I could identify myself as a liberal Quaker, but my concern with that is others will conclude all Quakers hold similar beliefs to my own. As Quakerism is a non-creedal faith, the last thing I want to do is give the impression that any other Quaker holds the same beliefs as I do. It can get rather tedious qualifying that my belief is not necessarily held by other Quakers. And again, identifying as part of a specific religious group risks a discussion being diverted to one about that religious group, especially if it’s as poorly understood as Quakerism. For most discussions it’s not necessary to identify with a specific faith group.

So dear reader, while I like the term religious, is it more unhelpful than it is helpful. If the former, what do you suggest instead? Please don’t offer confused or Weird. I’ve already considered and rejected them.


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Animism is the established religion of Aotearoa New Zealand. Really?

New Zealand, along with all nations, is acutely religious. But, more than most Western countries, the dominant religion is now the Established Religion. We are using “established” in the historical sense of a religion prescribed and protected, so that all citizens must respect and honour that particular religion’s beliefs and practices. Established religion is the religion buttressed and proscribed by the law of the land and funded by tax money.

The established religion in New Zealand is Maori animism. In historical terms it is a pagan and primitive religion, riddled with superstition and idolatry. It is an offence and provocation to the Living God. But none who want official and public respect in New Zealand dare criticise the Establishment. Those, however, who fear God more than man are prepared to call it for what it is: stale hokey pokey–a thoroughly sour, ignorant and stupefying batch of mouldy ice-cream. Every Christian who understands what the Bible says about idolatry and false gods has no hesitation in flatly rejecting Maori animism. In so doing, we have become the new dissenters.

The above paragraphs are the first two of a guest blog by John Tertullian on MandM. I believe that it would be difficult to find a more ignorant, bigoted, piece of Christocentric, Eurocentric nonsense anywhere. Perhaps part of his statement on his About page explains it: “he finds the Scriptures to be more profound and instructive than a million books.”

Although the post is rather old, it is still relevant today, as there is a small section of Christianity in Aotearoa New Zealand that still holds the same view. He, as does those of a similar persuasion confuse religion and culture, which, while they are interrelated, are not the same thing,

The purpose of Tertullian’s post was to criticise a group of young Christians who apologised for offending the local iwi (tribe). In his view apologising was an affront to God. I’ve got news for him: his God was offended not one iota.

This TangataWhenua.com article and a somewhat sensationalised Stuff article, which includes a video clip of the event, give a background of what happened. Essentially, A group of young Christians climbed Mt Taranaki and had a barbecue on the summit. Sounds innocent enough you might think, but to Taranaki iwi the mountain is tapu. In English tapu is often translated a sacred, but perhaps a better translation might be not ordinary.

To Taranaki Māori, Mt Taranaki is their symbolic (not literal) ancestor, and as such, it is tapu. The summit of the mountain represents the ancestor’s head, In Māori culture, the head is the most tapu part of the body, and the top of the head even more so. By having a cook-up on the summit they offended against the tapu, and hence the local iwi.

In That Guy’s tongue in cheek article on the subject, he makes the observation: A basic rule of thumb in New Zealand is: If in doubt, just assume that it is tapu. This has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with respecting the cultural values of the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Tertian tries to equate the reverence local iwi hold for Mt Taranaki with worship of the mountain as a god. He is way off the mark. Genealogy and reverence of ancestors is an important part of Māori culture, and as the mountain is is the “primary” ancestor, it deserves due respect.

It is important to note that the iwi made no claim that the barbecue offended any god, deity, or supernatural being. The offence was against the iwi itself. As Mr Mohi said in the Stuff article, he was disappointed by the actions of the Christians, and that they discourage such activities. There was no demand that the group should change their religious beliefs, or that they should be banned from using the mountain. All that was being asked is respect of Māori culture. Is that too much to ask? After all, Māori make up almost twenty percent of the population, and are Tangata whenua, People of the Land.

One important fact that Mr Tertian forgets is that while only about forty percent of all New Zealanders claim any Christian affiliation, however tenuous, around eighty percent of Māori are practising Christians. They have no issue with accommodating traditional practices within their faith, and as far as I know, their Christian God has shown no objection. If God okay with the concept of tapu, why can’t Mr Tertian?

As for his claim that animism being the established religion of Aotearoa New Zealand, once again he fails to differentiate between religion and culture. Aspects of Māori culture are making their way into the wider New Zealand setting. Take, for example the haka. This is now a part of the spiritual fabric of what it is to be a New Zealander, and yet there is a small minority that sees it as no more more than a primitive war dance of a stone age people that has no place in a modern society. I firmly believe we are all the more richer as a society by being able to express ourselves through haka.

Likewise, karakia has made its way into the wider community. The karakia can be thought of as a prayer, blessing or incantation and there is barely a public occasion, such as the opening of a meeting or public building or the departure of an official delegation overseas where it won’t be performed. Karakia tend to contain a blend of Christian and traditional influence, but are not required to. They can be completely secular. They use especially poetic language which means that a literal translation into English isn’t always possible, Even to a non-Māori speaker such as myself, the beauty and majesty of a karakia is undeniable. One doesn’t need to be religious a appreciate it, and in fact, when it has been attacked by religious extremists, I notice atheists come to its defence just as often as liberal Christians.

The video clip below is a karakia performed at the opening of Whales: Giants of the Deep exhibition presented by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa at the American Museum of Natural History.

Powhiri (welcome ceremony) is also now part of NZ custom, having made to transition from a Māori only custom. It is full of meaning for those who care to understand, and a belief in deities is not required to appreciate it. It’s good manners brought to the level of ceremony. One person in the clip below will be familiar to all Americans. As an aside, notice the number of US Security Service personnel accompanying her, and compare that to how many minders our Prime Minister and two senior members of the Cabinet have. Some of US security staff look extremely nervous. I hope they had been briefed on what a powhiri entails.

Hillary makes a brave attempt at the hongi (the touching of forehead and nose), although she is clearly uncomfortable in performing it. Good on her for trying. I doubt her God was in any way offended by the action. Mr Tertian’s assertion that these practices are examples of animism having become the established religion of Aotearoa New Zealand are just plain nonsense in my view.

By the way, the Neoclassical building into which the official party enters at the end of the clip is Parliament House. Although it appears to be clad in stone, it’s actually a wooden structure – even the pillars. Appearances can be deceiving.


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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.