Prime Minister Helen Clark’s speech at the opening of the Asian Pacific Interfaith Dialogue in Waitangi was, of course, diplomatic. But, I believe, the diplomacy was aimed not only at our international guests but also at the local “interfaith” community.
All her references to the National Statement on Religious Diversity stressed equality of religion and belief – recognising the legitimacy of non-religious belief more than does the Statement itself. In fact she went as far as extending safety and security to “those of all faiths and beliefs” whereas the Statement mentions this only for “faith communities and their members”.
Helen Clark said that the “Treaty of Waitangi proclaimed our unity, and at the same time acknowledged our diversity”. A far better presentation of our history than either the Statement’s claim of a “formative role” for Christianity in New Zealand’s “identity, culture, beliefs, institutions and values”, or Destiny Church’s Bishop Brian Tamaki’s claim of Christianity as our “founding religion”.
Clark’s speech presented an important message. She said that “we believe most peoples yearn for the same things” and that “Bound by our common human aspirations, we can contribute to building a better world.” She clearly set the tasks of the Dialogue saying “If we can make progress here; if we can build real bridges based on respect and acknowledgement of the shared values and worth of our different faiths and beliefs, then we defeat those who would trade in hate.” (My emphasis).
These ideas should also be promoted within New Zealand. Two steps that can help would be:
- The Human Rights Commission should open up the Working Group controlling the formulation and endorsement of the Statement to include representatives from non-religious beliefs. (this is also suggested in the complaint made by the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists);
- Regional “Interfaith” groups should extend their activities to include representatives of non-religious groups. This could mean changes to their practices, names and constitutions.
These steps would also be more consistent with our (and international) human rights legislation which give equal stress to religious and non-religious beliefs.