Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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A personal challenge

Over on Clare Flourish’s post on comment policy, Ark asks

Do you think you would be unable to live your life, or even have a life full of equal meaning and quality without religion?

9th March, 2021 at 7:18 pm

to which I responded with

Ark, you really need to stop thinking that “religion is believing in things you know ain’t true”. I won’t speak for Clare – She is quite capable of doing so herself, but for myself, religion adds to life – gives it a little oomph, and I would miss it if it wasn’t there. If you want a materialistic analogy, while I could probably live quite well on military rations, it pales in comparison to the experience of creating and consuming meals with my wife.

My understanding of religion is, and I’ll quote Sir Lloyd Geering: “Religion is a total mode of the interpreting and living of life“. As he explains:
Everybody who takes life seriously, in my view, is taking the first steps in religion. And this definition of religion, fortunately, covers all the types of religions we’ve had or will have in the future, because it recognises that religion is a human product. Religion is what we humans have evolved in our culture to enable us to make meaning of life…”

Belief in deities, the supernatural, or any superstition at all is not a necessary component of religion. And while you may consider religion serves no useful purpose, I feel the same about repeatedly whacking a tiny ball over a net.

9th March, 2021 at 9:28 pm

Ark’s response was

Hello Barry. We rarely converse on the internet so this might be interesting.
I will try not to be boring as I know Clare will be monitoring me very closely. 

In order to appreciate my views on religion let’s for a moment consider its origins, and I don’t just mean the Judeo/Christian religions, (though, as we are dealing primarily with Christianity, we can swing back and focus more on it, if you fancy?) but all of them.

Humans have always assigned agency to the things they did/do not understand.
The ‘gods’ were responsible for everything from rain, to thunder and lightening[sic], volcanoes, babies, and toothache.

When we became a tad sophisticated – developing the basics of language perhaps? – it seemed natural that the gods would choose some of the more sophisticated among us – shaman, spirit guides, voodoo doctors, prophets …. maybe a particular rabbi – to convey His / his /her /their wishes to the rest of the unwashed.

And, umpteen years further down the road, what we now have are considerably more sophisticated humans and therefore, the gods or God, even, has naturally. required much more sophisticated intermediaries, with many many more sophisticated arguments.

It is unfortunate that none of these arguments have ever demonstrated one iota of veracity pertaining to any religious/god claim. This strongly suggests that our willingness to believe is all down to two things: Indoctrination and credulity.
If one needs a religion – in whatever form you choose – to validate one’s life, maybe it’s time for a serious rethink?

I suppose some might say that table tennis is Hell, however, within the rules of the ITTF no one gets sent there for playing badly or deconverting and opting to play badminton.

Regards

Ark.

10th March, 2021 at 8:52 am

Ark has also started a similar line of enquiry over on makagutu’s blog:

@ Barry.
If we are honest there would likely be no Judeo/Christian religion if it were not for the bible, it being highly doubtful oral tradition would have survived intact with out the written word, and certainly Christianity probably would have died a miserable( but welcome ) death.

So, I wonder what specific value religion can offer anyone?

March 28, 2021 at 17:48

I can’t help having a feeling that Ark is trying to “convert” me from religion and Quakerism in order to “save” me from some undefined, but possibly unfortunate delusional fate. Apologies to Ark if that isn’t the case, but leading statements such as “…maybe it’s time for a serious rethink?” leads me to think otherwise.

Rather than hijack Clare’s post on comment policy, I’ve started this post so that Ark or anyone else for that matter can continue the conversation here. However there are some rules (aren’t there always?) that apply to this particular post. Please respect them.

  • Courtesy and respect are paramount. No name calling, insults or denigration, even by implication.
  • Acknowledgement that even where evidence is not in dispute, the interpretation or conclusions drawn from that evidence can be.
  • There are no absolute “truths”. We draw our conclusion from the evidence, wisdom and knowledge available to us. It is open to new insights at any time.
  • Do not frame opinion to appear to be statements of fact.
  • Discussion must be on the basis that all religions are products of human creativity; that there is no “true” religion.
  • If you wish to argue that any sacred works are infallible, non-contradictory or accurately convey all the truth and wisdom necessary to live life according to the desires of a deity, please find another platform on which to express your beliefs.
  • As I don’t have god-like powers of anticipating the content of comments that any contributors might make, I reserve the right to change these rules as I see fit.

Okay, with that out of the way, I’ll get right down to responding to Ark. In reverse order:

I suppose some might say that table tennis is Hell, however, within the rules of the ITTF no one gets sent there for playing badly or deconverting and opting to play badminton.

There are sporting codes where the banishment did occur for playing another code. For example, until fairly recently, anyone who played Rugby League in this country faced a lifetime ban from playing Rugby Union. For many that was the equivalent of being sent to hell.

I would also like to venture that all claims of having the “wrong” religion or none at all will lead to some sort of divine retribution are human inventions. As far as I’m aware no deity has ever stated otherwise. And quoting a passage from a sacred text without some other independent supporting evidence just won’t cut it.

If one needs a religion – in whatever form you choose – to validate one’s life, maybe it’s time for a serious rethink?

My first thought is “Why should I?” The only basis for doing so would be if there was no exception to the claim that all religions are harmful, and I am yet to be persuaded of that. But if I break the whole sentence down into its components (it’s something my autistic brain does in an attempt to be sure I understand the nuance(s) that neurotypical folk include in their communications) I’m left with uncertainty over two words: needs and validate.

I’m uncertain whether Ark means need as in I need to breathe or eat or whether he means need as in I need the companionship of my wife or I need mental stimulation. The former is a necessity for life itself, the latter for a fulfilling life.

What does to validate one’s life mean? I exist. Why is there any need to validate it? On the other hand, for sixty years my experiences as an undiagnosed autistic were invalidated (written off as unsound, erroneous or inconsequential, and my behaviour as a result of being autistic were considered to be wrong, bad, selfish, inconsiderate and rude and that my future would amount to nothing worthwhile), so perhaps Ark means validate in terms of affirming the worth of one’s experiences or even of one’s existence.

By putting it all back together I presume by needs religion to validate one’s life, Ark means that religion is necessary to have a worthwhile life. If so, Ark must be referring to my own religion as I have made it abundantly clear on many occasions that religion isn’t necessary for a worthwhile or fulfilling life. At a personal level, I find religion enriches my life, but I must emphasise that this is my personal experience, and I would be foolish to claim what is true for me must be true for anyone else let alone true for everyone else. The evidence does not bear this out.

Which brings me right back to “why is it time for a serious rethink?” If anyone is still with me after the tortuous workings of an autistic mind coping with a non-autistic world, I’m going to leave this thought for a moment before returning to it.

As an aside, If anyone is wondering why I deconstruct sentences so much, it’s the result of some rather unpleasant experiences resulting my failure to grasp the intended or implied meaning of a communication and instead grasping the literal meaning, and also of others reading far more into what I have said than what I actually said. Self preservation starts to kick in after being on the receiving end of sometimes high levels of violence, not to mention lower levels of assaults and bullying due to miscommunication.

Ark refers to veracity pertaining to any religious/god claim. Immediately I run into a problem. I appreciate that apologists attempt to “prove” that their beliefs are true, but I make no such claim. So is Ark referring to claims I have not made but assumes I might believe or is he referring to the claims of others? I don’t know. As I’m convinced religion is experiential, and doesn’t come from intermediaries or sacred texts, both of which are of human origin, every person’s experience will be unique and not repeatable.

I suppose there might be an issue with my convincement that religion is experiential because that too cannot be verified. However, if I start from the premise that Lloyd Geering’s definition of religion is accurate, then I think one has little option but to accept that religion can only be experiential.

In the very next sentence Ark suggests that our willingness to believe is all down to two things: Indoctrination and/or credulity. I presume “our” does not include Ark, so that leaves me (and others) to believe something (what?), and that I believe the something because I’ve been indoctrinated (by who) or that I’m credulous. So I wonder what I believe that might be false or due to credulity? Let me repeat Lloyd Geering’s definition of religion:

Religion is a total mode of the interpreting and living of life

Where in that definition does it suggest any specific belief is necessary? It’s a mode of living, not a set of beliefs. I’ll grant that many religions do come with a string of beliefs attached, some of which are untenable in this age, but simply holding a belief that one feels one holds out of religious conviction does not mean that the belief is erroneous, false or or not worth holding. I’ll come back to that shortly.

The first section of Ark’s comment contains an overly simplistic, and might I add condescending, “history” of religion as if I was unaware how religion may have originated. I would say that Ark is only partially correct when he states that humans apply agency to the things they did/do not understand. Humans apply agency to everything. It’s where the agency is unknown or unknowable that they use their creative minds to imagine a possible agency.

Even ignoring the fact that there is no hierarchical structure nor authority within Quakerism, I find the association of hierarchical religious structures to “sophistication” inappropriate. It might have been acceptable to19th century anthropologists but not today. Perhaps Ark didn’t mean to imply refined, clever or cultivated but those concepts are often associated with sophisticated.

On the other hand, if Ark means sophisticated as in a concept that is thorough and well-worked-out, I’d venture that some “modern” religions fall very short. Theological beliefs that are obviously contradictory while insisting they are objectively true doesn not indicate a high level of sophistication to me. I’ll add that “unwashed” is a pejorative term, and I’d prefer it not used here to label those without privilege or with less privilege, which is what I presume Ark means.

Now back to Ark’s serious rethink. To me, religion is a mode of living, a way one experiences the world and the choices one makes as a consequence. I can no more choose to be not religious than I can choose to be not autistic. For sixty years society tried to mould me into “normalcy”. All it did was force me to hide behind a mask where I acted out being “normal”, clumsily at first but I got better with practice, although never perfect. However it came at a high cost: exhaustion and burnout. Does Ark suggest I should pretend to not be religious, and if so, how?

I grew up under the influence of two very different cultures. One that belonged to my parents and many of my peers, and one that was very present in the small community I lived in until well into my fifteenth year. I received wisdom from both, and equally important, I learnt of the mythology of both. I wouldn’t have been ten years old when it dawned on me that the two cultures were different in one very important aspect. One culture divided life into the secular and the religious. The other culture didn’t. Additionally, one culture believed, in fact insisted, that it was the only correct lens through which to view the world. The other didn’t.

In my twenties, I met and married my wife whose background, being Japanese, is very different from my own. She grew up in an environment where Shintoism and Buddhism are integral aspects of life although religiosity is not., and during university she was exposed to some elements of Christianity. Her perspectives have only enriched my understanding of the nature of religion and how one’s world view and religion are intricately intertwined.

While it’s true I’m a product of the society that I grew up within, and probably hold a great many values and ideas that I’m unaware are uniquely a product of culture(s) I am immersed within, I am aware that everything that I value and the way I perceive the world is the product of my exposure to multiple belief systems and world views.

I reached my current position on religion through a process of continually re-evaluating my perspectives based on new information or insights as they became available – a process that still continues and hopefully will continue until such time as this brain ceases to indicate any sign of life. I’m certain that what I consider My Truth today is not the same as My Truth of five years ao, and is unlikely to be the same as My Truth in another 5 years time. I’m sure that’s true of all thinking people whether they are religious or not. So I see no need to make any immediate rethink based purely on Ark’s suggestion. Unless of course Ark has some important information that I’m not aware of, in which case I might reconsider my position based on the new evidence.

Okay, back to being indoctrinated and/or credulity. For this to be true there must be some beliefs that are unsupportable or erroneous or have simply accepted as truths without giving them much thought, so I’m looking forward to learning what those might be. I suppose this might be the place to ask which comes first: beliefs or values. Are specific beliefs derived from the values one holds, or do values arise from a set of beliefs? Or are they merely different sides of the same coin?

Like 90% of Quakers in Aotearoa New Zealand, I came to Quakerism from a non-Quaker background. I understand the situation is similar within most liberal Quaker Yearly meetings. I was first introduced to Quakerism when my wife was asked to provide translation services for a group of Hiroshima survivors and their descendants who were visiting the Quaker Settlement in Whanganui. What struck me at the time was that the values they held and the way they were expressed were consistent with my own.

It would be many years before I ventured to attend a Quaker Meeting for Worship, but when I finally did I was almost overwhelmed by a feeling of “coming home”. There was no mention of God, Jesus, salvation or sin. The Bible was not quoted from or even mentioned during the hour of worship. If my memory serves me right, two people stood and spoke, each for less than a minute. One spoke on a new personal insight in relation to the Quaker testimony on simplicity. The other spoke on a social justice issue and a concern he had about it.

After worship I was again struck by the absolute equality of worth of every person that emanated from the group. For once, my experiences were not dismissed or invalidated. Of course there were other attractions such as how discussion was carried out allowing someone with very little understanding of social cues to make an equitable contribution. That is something I seldom experience on other social experiences including at times within my whānau. And unless you’re autistic, you possibly have no idea what an hour of silence can mean.

The feeling of “being home” is one I do not experience anywhere else other than within my whānau. So Ark, If you think I should give that up please tell me why and what advantages I will gain.

I have titled this post A personal challenge because I suspect coping with responses to this might very much be a challenge for me.


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Lessons from the Disunited States — Bill Peddie’s website

This thoughtful post by a Christian and fellow Kiwi reflect, I believe, the thinking of most reasonable people, not only in Aotearoa New Zealand but throughout much of the world.

The excruciating four year unfolding circus on the US political scene makes the New Zealand political scene seem very tame in comparison. Unfortunately, for good or ill, we are bound to the leading Western powers by historical ties of trade and defence. The mixed blessing of Vietnam and Iraq should still be relatively fresh in […]

Lessons from the Disunited States by Bill Peddie — Bill Peddie’s website


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Why, oh why didn’t I indoctrinate my kids?

There are times when I wish I had indoctrinated my children, especially my son. That way, he’d probably still hold beliefs and values similar to, or at least compatible with, mine. Instead, I encouraged them to think for themselves; to seek out evidence and then draw their own conclusions. At times. as happened yesterday, I begin to question the wisdom of that.

I’m not a believer in absolute or objective truths, be they religious, social, or even scientific. I’m old enough to recall “Scientific certainties” that are no longer certain and in some cases disproved.

I can recall a time when homosexual acts were criminal and when the medical profession classified homosexuality as a disorder. It was first declassified as a disorder in Australia and New Zealand in around 1972, in America a year later and throughout the most of the world within a couple of years. In Aotearoa New Zealand, homosexual acts weren’t decriminalised until 1984, and in some parts of the world such acts can still be punished by life imprisonment,

As an aside, as a teenager, I was an avid reader of periodical magazines and other publications, especially if they contained articles of a scientific nature, and I first became aware of the possibility that homosexuality was not “wrong” in the mid to late 1960s through a number of articles I read that were mostly highly critical of, and sometimes angry at, a pamphlet titled Towards A Quaker View Of Sex first published in 1963. Although I didn’t get to read the entire pamphlet until more than forty years after its first publication, excerpts accompanying the articles seemed more reasoned and well thought out than most of the criticism leveled at it. Most of the criticism was related at the morality, or rather the perceived immorality that the critics believed the publication advocated.

And yet, most (but not all) of the conclusions reached in the pamphlet are now widely accepted as the norm: same sex relationships are generally viewed as within the bounds of normality; here, and in many parts of the world same sex relationships have equal footing with heterosexual relationships; here, a partnership is legally recognised by its nature and duration, not by whether or not it has been formalised by a marriage or civil union. We have still some way to go in accepting and recognising forms of relationships that do not involve only two people. For example in this country there is no legal recognition of a relationship that involves A & B & C, although the relationships between A & B, B & C, and A & C may be recognised.

I have drifted off topic somewhat. Now where was I? Oh yes, indoctrination. If I had indoctrinated my son into believing the Bible was not the literal Word of God, nor a rule book to live by, then he might not have reached the conclusion about a decade ago that indeed the Bible is literally the Word of God and is to be believed and followed to the letter. Unfortunately I don’t think I ever mentioned, let alone discussed, the Bible. I regret that now.

And yesterday I realised that I did not indoctrinate him sufficiently to be suspicious of conspiracy theories. They are “conspiracy theories” and not “conspiracies” for a reason.

Yesterday I discovered that he is convinced that the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11 was due to controlled implosions on multiple floors within the buildings. I had to forcefully end the discussion when he declared that all demolition experts agree that the buildings could not have collapsed the way they did unless they had been rigged by a demolition expert to collapse that way.

Sigh! If he had said “some experts” or “an expert” instead of “all experts” I might have been prepared to hear him out. I’m not closed to rational disagreements, but the use of “all experts” was sufficient evidence for me to conclude any discussion would not be rational.

I must admit I’m somewhat curious as to who he believes the “conspirators” might be. After all if it was “controlled”, it was planned, so who planned it and why? But in the interest of maintaining a mostly close relationship with my son, it’s a curiosity I’m not going to try to satisfy.


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(A belated) Happy Hundredth Birthday Sir Lloyd

For the last 2 months I have wanted to dedicate a post to the achievements of Sir Lloyd George Geering who reached the great old age of 100 on the 26th of February this year. The problem is I have been struggling not only with what I should say, but how I should say it.

While I’m able to spout facts as well as anyone (especially if it’s on a topic I have an interest in), expressing more abstract notions presents a real problem for me. I’m not sure whether my thought process is closer the that of the autistic mind or that of the neurotypical mind, but I have great difficulty in converting what I feel/sense about ideas and concepts firstly into words and then into a series of ordered sentences.

So I will simply say thank you Sir Lloyd for helping me realise that my beliefs were not “way out” or heretical way back in the 1960s when I liked to think I was Christian and for affirming to a large sector of NZ society, both within and without Christianity, that religion does not have to be steeped in supernatural beliefs.

Oh, and a very happy (and belated) 100th birthday!


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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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Sexuality unimportant in NZ politics

A recent NZ poll surveyed how a range of the attributes of political leaders would affect the party vote of those polled. The attributes in question were sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, gender, union affiliation and religious beliefs.

The ethnicity and gender, were not significant factors for the majority of those polled, whereas age and strong religious beliefs were.

Attribute Total* More likely
to vote
Less likely
to vote
No
difference
Don’t know
/ Refused
Of a different ethnicity to you 100 3 8 88 1
Of the same ethnicity to you 100 10 2 87 1
A woman 100 11 3 85 0
Gay (homosexual or lesbian) 100 2 20 77 1
Immigrant to NZ 100 2 34 60 3
Strong links to a union 100 11 32 53 3
Strong religious beliefs 100 7 41 48 3
Over 75 years old 100 4 59 36 1

*In some instances the total may not add up to 100 exactly due to rounding

It’s interesting to observe that only 20% of voters would be influenced negatively by a political leader being gay, whereas 48% would be influenced negatively by the leader having strong religious views. It’s pleasing to see that one’s ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation will have little bearing on one’s political standing.

I am surprised by the fact that being an immigrant might affect one’s chances at the polls. We are somewhat more xenophobic than I thought. Thankfully our constitution does not prohibit immigrants standing for the top political job in this country.

I wonder how these results compare to other parts of the world?

The survey was conducted by Research New Zealand using a nationally-representative sample of approximately 500 New Zealanders over 18.