I just did a Google search (at www.google.co.nz) for the phrase “religion in the public square” combined with the phrase “New Zealand.” The first result is a news site with a story about my PhD research. The second result is a page at my blog. The third result is my online CV, which refers some of my research. The next few results were miscellaneous American sites. Result 8 was a hit from my fellow Kiwi bloggers at the M and M blog. That result was perhaps the only exception in the list of results, none of which was from a site of anyone or any groups in New Zealand that are actually discussing the issue of the place of religious convictions in modern democratic society or political philosophy.
I’m sure I could have sought out different phrases or words to search for and managed to dig up a few more results. But I have to say, this is disappointing. Virtually every time I tell an interested person here in New what my area of focus was in my PhD and what my research interests are, I’m greeted with an impressed expression and I’m told something like “well that would have been interesting. It’s such an important subject in New Zealand at the moment.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all suggesting that such comments are not sincere. They are, and what they say is true: It really is an important subject to be addressed in New Zealand at the moment. But why aren’t people talking about it? Can I really be the only one – or one of only very few?
The rather lazy minded and cavalier attitude of some in new Zealand of those who do not share my view is to automatically assume (and say very loudly) that religious convictions should play absolutely no part in your decisions about what social agendas to pursue. Religion and social policy should never meet. Now I know full well that plenty of people do not share that view, but somehow the most memorable contribution that New Zealand can contribute to the subject is a hoard of men clad in black shirts chanting “enough is enough,” or a well paid televangelist (according to common perception at least). Needless to say, it’s a tad frustrating that if someone stirs up an unpopular commotion that draws negative media attention, a perception can be created that it is representative of a typical conservative Christian approach to the subject, but if credible postgraduate research is conducted on the issue that also reaches a conservative conclusion, it is overlooked as invisible.
That side of things is perhaps indicative of the image that certain organisations want to see portrayed at the expense of others, but where is the high level discussion and work being done on this issue from a Christian standpoint in new Zealand? How, exactly, do I go about enticing those involved with said work out of the woodwork?
They could start by posting a comment on this blog. I’m not talking about people who think it’s a fascinating subject. I’m talking about people who are interested in serious collaboration on the issue in a visible public way who are prepared to present themselves as credible, qualified and authoritative. If we’re going to work together, we need to know who and where the others are.
Or could it be that they genuinely don’t exist?