Bishop Brian Tamaki’s press statements and his Destiny Church’s march on Waitangi are again promoting the demand for New Zealand to become a “Christian nation”. This term can be interpreted two ways:
- New Zealanders should perceive their country as Christian in terms of popular attitudes, beliefs and values;
- The Government should legally declare New Zealand a Christian Nation – recognising Christianity as the State Religion.
It’s possible that many New Zealanders do agree with statement 1 – believing that in some sort of way we can be described as a Christian country. In fact the NZ Herald claim that they received feedback indicating 4 to 1 in favour of such a claim. But of course, the reasons given varied a lot, from reference to our past, a desire for return to old values, reference to a “majority religion”, reference to a “de facto” status, dissatisfaction with the current moral climate, a fear that immigrants were going to impose their religions, etc. Such electronic polling, like letters to the editor, is unreliable as a survey of peoples views, but they do indicate that many people probably accept this claim.
However, the tone of media response to Bishop Tamaki’s recent statements suggests that most people probably reject the idea of a government legitimising Christianity as a state religion (statement 2). In fact, many people probably fear the consequences of such an action and, whatever, their religious beliefs, probably prefer the separation of church and state which tends to really determine much of what goes goes in this country.
There may be some support for a state religion. This together with the remnants of the “pro-smacking”, anti-civil union, etc., lobbies could well give Tamaki’s Destiny Party sufficient votes at the next election to wither win a seat or get over the 5% margin, although most commentators discount this.
I don’t think either claim for New Zealand being Christian are at all justified and I take issue with both Bishop Tamaki’s position and that outlined in the National Statment on Religious Diversity. Lets look at some of the justification presented for these claims:
Christianity is the “Founding Faith” of our nation. This was claimed by Bishop Tamaki in his open letter to political leaders. In an Agenda TV interview (TV1 Saturday May 26) he claimed it was included in the Treaty of Waitangi. This claim is disingenuous. The treaty is usually understood to be the signed articles 1 – 3 which say nothing about religion. The National Statement refers to a discussion recorded at the time the treaty was signed in which Governer Hobson “says the several faiths (beliefs) of England, of the Wesleyans, of Rome, and also the Maori custom shall alike be protected by him.” While this is not part of the Treaty I believe we should interpret it as an undertaking by Governer Hobson to protect religious freedom rather than imposing a state religion. This is also the view of our Prime Minister who said in her speech to the Asian-Pacific Regional Interfaith dialogue: ” The Treaty of Waitangi proclaimed out iunity, and at the same time acknowledged out diversity.”
In any case we should recognise that the role played by Christian missionaries in the colonisation of New Zealand inevitably meant that they were involved in most negotiations and Christian views were often imposed. This should in no way be used to impose similar views in our modern society.
Christianity is the source of morals and values in our society. This ignores the fact that our morals and values are common to many religious and non-religious beliefs. In fact, far from being God-given morals and values appear to have developed naturally during human and social evolution. Religions and other belief systems have incorporated these into their teachings, often using stories and myths (such as the Ten Commandments myth) in the process.
These morals and values arise from our common humanity rather than from one religion or another. This provides an important basis for people of different religion and belief to work together to overcome the problems we face today. Surely this is the implied logic for the National Statement on Religious Diversity.
Our Institutions, culture and law are derived from Christianity. This is similarly unjustified. It is arrogant to ignore the multiple sources of our institutions, culture and law. Sure, Christian churches and ideas have had an input but New Zealand’s reputation in science agriculture, sports and many other areas cannot be explained in this way. Nor should the efforts of our politicians, legal system and individual citizens in promoting and passing legislation be demeaned in this way.
Majority acceptance of Christianity means support for a state religion. Despite a widespread acceptance of Christianity in New Zealand I think most of us see a state religion (whatever flavour) as dangerous, leading to the imposition of undemocratic, and possibly draconian, customs and laws. Let’s not forget how religious dogmatists still use their holy scriptures to justify some very inhuman positions. And of course we have the record of history to show us the consequences of theocracy.
What do advocates of a Christian Nation really want? Bishop Tamaki’s demands are not very specific. They seem to include enforcement of use of the Christian Bible for civic oaths and in our courts and imposition of Christian prayers. Well our current oath system works well because it gives dignity to everyone, whatever their belief, by giving choice. To return to the old system where the Christian Bible was imposed violates individual freedom, encourages perjury, demeans the legal system and, I strongly believe, demeans Christianity. Christian prayers are still a problem because they are often imposed on non-Christian people. Prevention of this violation of the rights of non-Christians would in no way limit the freedom of Christian as they would still be able to practice their religion, just not impose it.
Proponents of the Christian Nation concept seem to believe that provision of rights and freedoms to non-Christians somehow violates their own freedoms or rights. This suggests to me that if they got their way they would use such a state religion to enforce undemocratic and possibly draconian customs and laws, thereby violating the rights and freedoms of others.