In the 2006 Census 51% of New Zealanders described themselves as Christian. A total of 3.8% described themselves as Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim (the next three largest religions) and 32% declared no religion. It’s interesting to compare census results back to 1991. These show a continuing decline in the numbers of Christian and a continuing increase in the number of non-religious.
Census data are, however, not necessarily reliable indicators of belief. I discussed this my post Trends in religious belief in New Zealand. The problems arise from religion being a tradition rather than a belief. So there can be Christians, for example, who have no belief in a god but report themselves as having a religion because they were bought up in that tradition. On the other hand someone who doesn’t adhere to a specific region may still have belief in a god. Reliable data on religious belief really requires a different sort of survey.
Survey of religious beliefs
We are often polled about our political preferences, or about our response to advertising, but we are very rarely asked about religious beliefs. However, UMR Research recently published data from an August 2007 survey of religious and moral beliefs. Despite problems of sample size and methodology, common to all such polls, the results are interesting.
Two questions were asked about beliefs in a god. Firstly – “do you believe in a god?” Believers amounted to 56%, 20% were unsure and 22% did not believe. The 56% roughly corresponds to the 2006 census results for Christian and other theist religions.
The second question was framed differently and produced some interesting results. People were asked to choose which of three statements came closest to their beliefs:
- “I believe in God,”
- “I don’t believe in God, but I do believe in a universal spirit or higher power,” and
- “I don’t believe in either.”
Only 46% of respondents declared belief in a god when given this opportunity. Non-belief in a god or higher power was true for 19%. However, 31% expressed belief in some sort of universal spirit or higher power, but not a god.
The “higher spirit” category covers a wide spectrum of ideas, although excluding traditional concepts of a god. At the supernatural end the “higher spirit” concept could provide emotional satisfaction to believers who are unable to accept the traditional god concept. At the more rational, scientific, end a “higher spirit” may mean something like the inherent order in the universe – the sort of “god” that Einstein, and many other non-theist scientists could believe in.
While not helping us understand the beliefs encompassing a “higher spirit” the survey does indicate that the extent of belief in the traditional god concept is less than that implied by census data. It does suggest that actual belief in a god is held by less than half of New Zealanders. Presumably belief in the Christian God would have even less support.
Isn’t it about time our society stopped giving lip-service to what is probably a minority belief? Isn’t it about time we stopped using a National Anthem and Parliamentary prayers which assume we all believe in a god?
Religious diversity includes “non-believers”
Trends in religious belief in New Zealand
Destiny of Christian privilege?
Christian prayer problems
Common values, common action?
A national anthem recognising diversity?
“Let us pray . . . “
What is religion?
Do you believe your religion?
Do religious leaders believe their religion?
Atheism and religious diversity
Society’s ” Christian values”