Some thoughts on New Zealand’s loss of faith

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What should we make of what people say about why they don’t believe, and how should the Church respond?

According to a report commissioned by the Wilberforce Foundation, just over half (55%) of New Zealanders do not identify with a “main” religion. 35% described themselves has being neither spiritual nor religious, and 33% identify with Christianity.

Along with an increase among those with no religious or spiritual beliefs, the study shows an increase in ignorance about Christianity. More than one in five people know nothing about the Church in New Zealand, and 9% of respondents know no Christians. This growth in non-exposure is reflected in the makeup of the group that does not identify as religious or spiritual. When comparing a person’s current status (religious/none religious) with the home environment in which they were raised, the single largest combination (26% of respondents) is “Never been religious: I was shaped in a non-religious household and am non-religious to this day.” Continue reading “Some thoughts on New Zealand’s loss of faith”

Keeping them in: The Church’s motive in marriage policy

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Don’t create a church’s stance on marriage in order to make people happy or stop them from leaving.

In early 2017 (when I started writing this article, since which time it has sat gathering dust) the general Synod of the Church of England voted on same-sex marriage. Well, sort of. The General Synod voted not to endorse a report by the House of Bishops on Same-sex marriage. The report affirmed the biblical and historic Christian view that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. To be specific, there are three houses in the General Synod. The House of Bishops voted in favour of the report. The House of the Laity voted in favour of the report. But the support of all three houses is required, and the House of Clergy alone voted not to endorse the report, confirming the widely-suspected reality that the clergy are the more liberal element of the Church of England.

There were many issues discussed at the time and obviously I wasn’t present. On Twitter however I encountered a speech by activist Lucy Gorman. When I saw it I raised a criticism of it, but Lucy quickly blocked me so I can no longer see the portion of the speech that was shared there. Ever the believer in dialogue, I found this a little disappointing (especially since she had initially asked me for my view on the suicide of people who felt hurt by the church, but then told me that she didn’t really want to talk about it with me and blocked me).

So let me bring the issue to you, dear reader. Continue reading “Keeping them in: The Church’s motive in marriage policy”

Required to study Islam: Religious Freedom?

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Is forced Muslim religious education compatible with freedom of religion? We don’t tend to have court news quite this interesting (as far as religion goes) here in New Zealand.

I’m not commenting on this case because of the details that brought the parties to court, so let me quickly summarise what I think are the facts and then move on to what interests me.

  • The tenant is a Muslim woman. The landlord is a 73-year-old ordained pastor from Nigeria.
  • The tenant has had between 12 and 15 people staying in the rented apartment, which the landlord does not permit (or at least does not want, I don’t know if it’s contrary to the lease).
  • The tenant claims that the landlord has a history of shouting anti-Islamic abuse at her and that she pushed her, making her fall down some stairs.
  • The landlord denies treating the tenant this way, saying that the tenant had a vendetta against her because she wouldn’t let more people live in the apartment and because of her religion.
  • The judge found against the landlord, also noting that previous tenants have taken out prevention orders against her.

That brings us up to the part that I’m interested in. Here’s what the judge did:

He sentenced her to two years in jail on the assault and battery charge for pushing Suliman but required her to serve only six months, with the remaining 18 months suspended if she complied with certain probation conditions.

“I want you to learn about the Muslim faith,” he said. “I want you to enroll and attend an introductory course on Islam. I do want you to understand people of the Muslim faith, and they need to be respected. They may worship Allah … but they need to be respected.”

Continue reading “Required to study Islam: Religious Freedom?”

Mean religious kids?

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A few people have asked me what I think of the numerous news articles about a recent study purporting to show that religious children are less altruistic than non-religious children.

The Daily Beast sums up the findings with the headline “Study: Religious kids are jerks.” An article over at Groopspeak makes the audacious claim that “Major study shows that religious children are less moral than non-religious kids” Rhetoric like this is pretty difficult to justify in light of a closer look at the study (see below), but we live in a world where we automatically share the link to that story that says “Beer is good for you,” “Bacon isn’t so bad after all” or “Coffee wards off cancer.” We latch onto claims that the world is the way we would prefer it to be without so much as looking twice to see if it’s true. Continue reading “Mean religious kids?”

Religion, Hard Times and Causation

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What comes first: religion or adverse social conditions?

I’ve heard it said a few times that there’s a correlation between religious societies in the modern West and social ills like crime and poverty. If we wanted to be really picky, the study that purported to show this (a study that has seen its fair share of criticism) actually showed that where the religious exist alongside the non-religious and where religion is construed in a particular way (a type of conservative religious outlook that included the rejection of evolutionary science), social ills were more prevalent. I’ve commented briefly on this before (See “Does Religious Faith make People More Moral?”).

When the alleged correlation was first brought to my attention in a radio discussion in 2010, I didn’t think much of it. There were probably a few ways the analysis could go. One possibility, I suggested, was that social ills like poverty could actually contribute to the religiosity of the people affected. But for some reason, every time I have heard the study referred to, it has only been in a context where somebody was trying to show that religion is bad for you.

As it turns out, while the ideologues were at it, so were researchers. “People living in hardship are more likely to believe in moralising, high gods, according to a major new study co-authored by New Zealand researchers.” Continue reading “Religion, Hard Times and Causation”

Religion and Mental Health

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Are religious people on the whole more likely to be mentally ill?

We live in a world where people form strong opinions (or rather, are happy to see their already strong opinions/biases reinforced) by browsing headlines. So when people see the (still fairly recent) headline, “Spiritual people are more likely to be mentally ill,” you can guess what prejudices will be reinforced. “Religion is a symptom of an unwell mind!” Or maybe “Religion is so crazy that it makes those who believe in it go mad!” Whatever the specifics, the point is, religion equals nutso.

Here, as with many misunderstandings, the solution is simply taking a few minutes to read and digest the information before leaping to conclusions. Continue reading “Religion and Mental Health”

The Same-Sex Marriage debate and religious divisiveness

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Should religious people keep their divisive beliefs away from policies about marriage?

The green activists got up in arms about the introduction of genetically modified plants into the New Zealand market. But there is, as far as I can see, no widely lampooned caricature of people with environmental concerns as being socially divisive – in spite of those among their number who vandalised the farms of people suspected by them of having genetically modified crops. Large numbers of parents (the clear majority of those who voiced their opinion, in fact) raised their voices in protest when the government threatened to criminalise all use of any force in disciplining a child, while offering the benevolent promise that not all such criminals would be prosecuted (guess which way I lean on that). Parents were ignored and the law was changed, but more importantly here, nobody now thinks of parents as a uniquely divisive group within society. Many other people with common concerns or causes have likewise raised their voice in unison over other issues that concern them, but the fact that groups who do this in general do not get singled out as divisive or polarising is demonstrated by the way that just which groups spoke out over what issue is the kind of thing that tends to fade into obscurity in a relatively short time. But religion? Oh, that is different. Continue reading “The Same-Sex Marriage debate and religious divisiveness”

Empirical Insights on Terrorism and Ideology

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What should we make of the often heard reference to “religious terrorism,” coupled with the innuendo that religion is a uniquely dangerous influence when it comes to just how far people will go in the name of their God, even to the point of outright terrorism? Continue reading “Empirical Insights on Terrorism and Ideology”

Are churches charities?

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Is there a neutral way of deciding whether or not to treat churches as charitable organisations and therefore tax exempt?

An interesting discussion broke out over at M and M recently about a guest post by bethyada on whether or not the tax exempt status of churches directly costs taxpayers. I’ll let his piece speak for itself and won’t really get into the actual subject of it, because in the comments section a different issue came up that I’d like to put out there for your consideration.

One of the correspondents was insistent that the tax exempt status of churches amounted to a “privilege” that nobody else gets, and that no organisation should have tax exempt status by virtue of of being a church – they had to actually be charitable. According to New Zealand law, a charitable purpose (for tax exemption purposes) “includes every charitable purpose, whether it relates to the relief of poverty, the advancement of education or religion, or any other matter beneficial to the community” [Charities Act 2005, Section 5(1)]. Continue reading “Are churches charities?”