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.