Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Established religion

Advisory: Snarkiness, widely distributed.

So Brian Tamaki, the leader of the conservative Destiny Church, is protesting the National Statement on Religious Diversity (which I've blogged about before), because it says that New Zealand has no "official or established" religion, and he doesn't understand the technical meaning of the word "established religion" - that is, a religion officially adopted by the State.

He apparently consulted a dictionary for his definition: "Footnote: 'established' meaning, 'those things that have been set in place'". His education at Te Nikau Bible College didn't cover much church history, I suppose. Nor, apparently, did it teach him how to spell "formally" (his statement says, "We formerly recognise New Zealand as a Christian nation") or that the Prime Minister is head of government, not head of state (though I'm sure Helen Clark would love to be our head of state).

He also ignores the clear statement in the Statement's preamble:
Christianity has played and continues to play a formative role in the development of New Zealand in terms of the nation's identity, culture, beliefs, institutions and values.
Which is basically what he means when he says that Christianity is New Zealand's "established" religion. But he is also going beyond that, and saying, in effect, that Christianity should have first-class status and other religions second-class status, rather than, as the Statement says:

The State seeks to treat all faith communities and those who profess no religion equally before the law.

In other words, on Planet Brian, Christendom still exists and is a Good Thing, and this is an underhanded attempt by the Government to undermine it against the wishes of the majority of New Zealanders. (Whatever Brian wants is generally wanted by the majority of New Zealanders, on Planet Brian.)

On the whole, I think our habitually interfering Government should indeed not be sticking its oar in, but for pretty much the opposite reasons to Brian Tamaki. See, I see Christianity as a religion for the powerless (I shouldn't even really be practicing it myself; I'm white, male, educated, middle-class and prosperous). I think that joining up with the institutions of power was the worst and most distorting move Christianity ever made, though I suppose it did open it up more readily to people like myself, so I shouldn't be completely ungrateful.

I don't think I actually want a religion that needs to be intertwined with secular power in order to be listened to, respected and followed. I prefer one that can achieve those things on its own merits. And that goes just as much for interfaith initiatives as for individual faiths.

Now, Paul Morris's Hamilton speech (19 February), of which I can't find an online copy so I'm referring to one Brenda sent me, does say this:

The idea of a ‘National Statement’ was that it would not originate from government and be mandated from above, as it were, rather it would arise as a result of broad discussions among faith and interfaith groups and the wider New Zealand public.

And, speaking of the consultation process:

...a minority were concerned that the National Statement on Religious Diversity was a new law to be enacted and binding on all New Zealanders. Of course, this is not the case but this was obviously not made as clear as it might have been...

...and evidently still isn't. Starting out with a statement "The State seeks...", having the text primarily hosted on a government website, and inviting the Prime Minister to present the statement are not good ways to convey the impression that this is a form of grassroots initiative, and not another attempt by the Labour Government to legislate every aspect of New Zealand life into conformity with their liberal ideologies.

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