¶ Religious Diversity Statement

There are concerns about the National Statement on Religious Diversity to be presented at the Asia Pacific Regional Interfaith Dialogue in Waitangi.

The Destiny Church have expressed their’s, centering around their desire for New Zealand to have Christianity as a state religion. They will campaign on that with hopefully no more success than their declared (prophesied?) bid to win the 2008 general election. There needs to be more intelligent debate on this question if their campaign gets any traction.

But to me the major concern is the exclusive nature of the formulation, discussion and approval of the document. As Brian Rudman wrote back in February in the NZ Herald:

But if Prime Minister Helen Clark wants a national statement on religious diversity which she can present to an up-coming Asia-Pacific interfaith conference, it does seem a pity that the second-biggest group of believers – the non-believers – were not represented on the drafting panel.

This is no doubt one reason why the document is flawed. Take the glaring example of Clause 3.

The Right to Safety

  • Faith communities and their members have a right to safety and security.

This neglects the rights of others to safety and security. Given that one third of New Zealanders do not belong to a “faith” community this clause surely goes against our existing human rights legislation. I am embarrassed that our Prime Minister is presenting such a flawed statement to an international conference.

The whole process raises some questions:

  • Are non-religious (non-faith) people not worthy of safety and security?
  • What is so special about a “faith community” for it to be treated differently?
  • What does a “faith community” mean anyway?
  • Why limit religious diversity to only people belonging to a religion?
  • Aren’t beliefs such as humanism, rationalism, atheism, agnosticism, non-theism, etc., part of our religious diversity (and their adherents worthy of safety and security)?
  • Shouldn’t we be recognising, celebrating and protecting our diversity of belief – not just part of this diversity?
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14 responses to “¶ Religious Diversity Statement

  1. Brian Stokes

    I am sympathetic to the points made in your blog, but would like to point out (as a very minor participant in the Interfaith Forum held recently at Waikato University) that these very points were made there. Regrettably, I saw no humanists or other “non-believers” at the forum, though they did appear at an earlier Waikato meeting. Your points were, however, made at the Forum (which had the responsibilty of suggesting further amendments to the draft for the core writing group to consider.

    The Forum noted that it was still a draft and would be presented as such by Miss Clark to the International gathering at Waitangi.

    You may be surprised to learn that major orthodox groups voiced their concern at the process as they felt that their congregations had not seen or discussed the document so far.

    I believe that we all understood that if New Zealanders were to take its principles on board (if they don’t, the whole exercise is a waste of time), considerable time and opportunity is needed so that everyone, including the large number and variety of “non-believers” must feel they have had an input. I believe that is the intention of the next stage.

    I feel very strongly that we are at a critical stage in World history if some way can be found to eliminate the tensions and hatred associated with religious differences.

    This document can be a start in that process, and New Zealand will again be able to proclaim itself as a leader in social development.

    Finally, it seems to me that we are all “believers” – sceptics for instance have a very strong belief that they are correct in their scepticism! Surely what we all want is to respect the beliefs of others while claiming the right to our own, whether orthodox or not.

    With kind regards,
    Brian

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  2. Ken Perrott

    As I live in the Waikato I wanted to attend and participate in the Waikato forum.
    Unfortunately the invitiation to attend was for:
    “*all participants in interfaith activity throughout New Zealand
    *anyone who has a keen interest in becoming involved in interfaith activity
    *those who have a sincere interest in deepening their interfaith understanding”
    This certainly implied to me that I wouldn’t be welcome. Maybe that wasn’t intended, but it does show the problems when such important debates are organised and controlled by exclusive groups.

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  3. Glyn Carpenter

    Hi – I was a member of the working group, representing orthodox biblical Protestant Christianity. A few points:
    1. It’s a statement on “religious diversity” therefore, if there’s a “primary audience” it’s those who profess a religious belief.
    2. It does not follow logically that because the NSRD talks about faith communities’ right to safety and security, that other groups rights are thereby “neglected”. (Refer #1 above).
    3. Certainly other groups were not specifically excluded, and there were in fact many submissions from self-described atheists, rationalists, and humanists.
    4. The NSRD is a work in progress. I applaud this blog as part of that ongoing work and discussion.
    5. I voiced a number of concerns over the NSRD, including “why do we need it?”, “where might this lead to?”, and “what force (eg legislative) might be attached to it downstream?. Some of these concerns are yet to be addressed, but we should remember the NSRD is a work in progress, endorsed ONLY as a basis for ongoing dialogue.
    6. My current understanding is that the Prime Minister will not now be presenting the NSRD at Waitangi.
    Glyn

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  4. Ken Perrott

    I am glad to hear that the statement will not now be presented. Hopefully, though there will be more avenues for discussing the issues behind the Statement – for having that “ongoing dialogue”. I have a feeling many people just seem to want to leave it there, and particularly don’t want to extend the dialogue beyond the current limited understanding of diversity.

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  5. openparachute

    Glyn has asked me (because of his time limitations) to contribute this comment verbatim:
    “Shouldn’t religious groups be free to have such discussions amongst themselves and consider their rel’p with govt from their perspective?
    Sespite religious believers being in the majority in NZ, there is absolutely NO reference to religion in govt (apart from one opening prayer – about 1 minute in an 8 hour day) and virtually no reference to religion in most other spheres of society. Isn’t this unreasonably weighted towards those who profess no religious belief?” – Glynn Carpenter

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  6. Kent Stevens

    There are quite a few references to religion in New Zealand. There is the national anthem “God defend New Zealand”. Our national flag has Christian crosses on it.

    Religious people should be free to make up their own interfaith statements if they want to. There is also some good comments in the Religious Diversity Statement where it agrees with already existing law. What get’s particularly tricky though is when a government agency is seen to support one group in society over other groups.

    I personally think that the Religious Diversity Statement could also be known as the Divisive Statement. This is because it creates a special class of people who belong to a faith community. They have a right to safety for example but it is not so obvious that others have that same right from the Statement.

    It would not be such a good idea to have a National Statement on Protestant Diversity where Protestant communities are given the right to safety but where there is no explicit acknowledgement that other individuals or communities have this same right. People who were not Protestants might suddenly become resentful against them and become careful to avoid these people with more clearly defined rights. The Non-protestants might then band together and want their own statement. The Non-protestants might want to live in there own guarded communities to ensure their right to safety. People saying that Protestants and Non-protestants should have equal rights might be accused of being subtle racists for ignoring the shameful behaviour that has been instigated against Protestants in the past. So a statement supposedly creating peace and harmony instead makes people avoid each other and creates enclaves.

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  7. There is a clear statement in the preamble:
    “International treaties … uphold the right to freedom of religion and belief – the right to hold a belief, the right to change one’s religion or belief, the right to express one’s religion or belief, and the right not to hold a belief.”
    “and the right not to hold a belief” could perhaps have been made more explicit in the body of the statement.

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  8. Kent Stevens

    The Humanist Society of NZ had representatives who attended some meetings about the Divisive Statement in Wellington. One of these meetings was the launch of this “how to cause alienation” statement. We also wrote in a formal submission about it. We did not have anyone go to the forum in Hamilton as it was too far away and expensive to go to considering we were going to be ignored anyway as “rock the boat” heathens.

    Maybe the Divisive Statement could be just renamed as something like the Interfaith Religious Diversity Statement. Then it is clear that it is the Interfaith’s wishlist and not the governments.

    The title for the Divisive Statement is wrong if you want to get 1.3 million non-religious New Zealanders to support it. Something like a “Religious or Belief Statement” would include all the denominations of human thought. I know religious people have been abused and so they want this statement. But some non-religious people such as Theo van Gogh have also been killed by religious extremists. Others such as Salmon Rushdie have had to endure massive security restrictions as a result of death threats against them. Where is the statement for Theo van Gogh or Salmon Rushdie?

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  9. Human Rights Commission Taken to the Human Rights Commission
    “A complaint of discrimination has been lodged with the Human Rights Commission over its National Statement on Religious Diversity.

    The New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists, an organisation that exists to serve the interests of non-religious New Zealanders, claims that the New Zealand Statement on Religious Diversity discriminates against the non-religious.” – Scoop (http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO0705/S00497.htm)
    The text of the complaint is available on the Rationalist website (see sidebar or go to: http://www.nzarh.org.nz/document/HRC_NSoRD_Complaint.pdf)

    I think the document provides a worthwhile summary of objections that have been raised to the formulation of the statement. The complaint does highlight the problem of a governmental secular body undertaking this exercise without ensuring that it was truly inclusive.

    Responses to some of the issues are being covered in other posts on this site – see sidebar. I encourage those interested in contributing or following discussion to refer to these and/or subscribe to the home page.

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  10. Bashan King

    the whole argument that non-believers, that is those who do not belong to a specific religious group, should be included in an interfaith gathering is one which although perfectly sensible, seems to me to miss the point. Sure non-theists have beliefs and sure, non-theists, atheists, whatever are as involved in issues of personal, corporate and ideological freedom as anyone else but the premise that underlies the whole coming-together is that religious groups, particularly Christian and Muslim,are playing out a dangerous cold-war and THEIR intolerance is what needs to be healed. If non-believers have their own intolerance issues then they need to attend meetings and not be put off by jargon like “faith communities” After all if Christians and Muslims are to understand eachother they are going to have to unpack a lot more.

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  11. Yes Bashan, there is a dangerous Christian/Muslim conflict internationally, but the fact is that terrorism is also killing non-theists. And isn’t some of that hatred aimed at the “non-believers” “infidels” or whatever label we are given. Religious scriptures are used to advocate this and non-theists as well as religious minorities are persecuted in some countries.
    I admire the efforts of NZ Christians and Muslims to work together, recognising their common values, to improve understanding. In New Zealand any Christian/Muslim animosity is only a part of the wider problem of inter-religious sensitivity. The Statement recognises this (although I agree part of the motivation for it was the international problem of terrorism)and advocates involvement of other beliefs (as do most of the “interfaith” groups).
    The problems non-theists have are just part of the whole spectrum of religious diversity – this needs to be recognised by religious people. An inclusive approach to solving these problems surely should not exclude non-theists. “Faith communities” is jargon – but it does have a meaning excluding the non-religious (who, I understand, are not welcome by the “interfaith” groups).
    Christians and Muslims do have a lot of “baggage” to unpack – but some of that baggage relates to their attitude to, and relationships with, non-religious people.

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  12. Bashan, the current war between Christians & Muslims is more than that. Non-theists and members of other religions are also victims of terrorism. Intolerance is not only between those religions – there is also intolerance to non-theists. Religious scriptures advocate violence towards “unbelievers”, “infidels”, etc., and atheists are persecuted, together with members of minority religions, in some countries.
    I respect the ability of many Christians and Muslims to work together, recognising their common values, to overcome these problems. However, within New Zealand the Christian/Muslim issue is only part of our wider diversity and the Statement recognises that. Non-theism is part of that diversity and we do have problems resulting from (not separate from) the inter-religious sensitivities in this country. Currently, the “faith communities” don’t recognise this and, I understand, are resistant to the idea that their dialogue could include non-theists (unless they are part of a religious group such as Buddhists – can’t understand that either!). I would welcome discussion on the possibilities of the “interfaith” groups recognising this wider diversity and adjusting themselves accordingly.

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  13. Kent Stevens

    There is no real problem with religious people getting together to form some sort of agenda. Non-religious groups should be free to form agreements if they want to do this as well. The problem is more that a government agency is helping to create and promote this agenda.

    But the big news is Brian Tamaki and about 1,800 protesters against the Religious Diversity Statement. Tamaki has branded it as “treason” and delivered his own statement that says that New Zealand is a Christian nation. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/category/story.cfm?c_id=301&objectid=10442610 . Interesting viewpoints on this story also at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/feature/story.cfm?c_id=1501154&objectid=10442644

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  14. a lot. Wonderful Job, Chow!

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