Appealing to spirits

In last Monday’s New Zealand Herald John Armstrong ridiculed the “jiggery-pokery” which started the Greens conference on Saturday (Hello spirits … woops, goodbye National). He said: “Any party which begins its conference by lighting a candle so it can be guided by the “symbolic gesture of a flame” while “calling in the spirits” of Rod Donald, the Treaty, the sun, and just about everything else bar the kitchen sink would seem to be in fruitcake territory, as in nutty as.”

He suggests that such behaviour should send potential coalition partners into a rapid retreat: “..observing them invoke “the eternal golden thread” which apparently links past and present would have been enough to have National running in the opposite direction.”

I agree. While symbolic ceremonies are important that can appear ridiculous and nutty when they descend to empty appeals to the supernatural.

But why pick on the Greens? To me their ceremony appears to have much more meaning than the Christian prayer used to open New Zealand parliamentary sessions, and probably also used to open New Zealand National Party Conferences.

The Christian prayer is surely just an empty appeal to the supernatural. To many of us it appears “nutty.” And having appeal to only part of the community (possible a minority of the community) it is also divisive.

Franky, I would prefer the Green’s candle.

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6 responses to “Appealing to spirits

  1. I think the biggest shame is that calling people out on this sort of thing is often seen as rude or insensitive, the sooner NZ (and everywhere else) learns to talk about this issues openly the better.

    Incidentally I think I’d prefer the candle over the prayer as well; if nothing else it’s a call to Sagan’s “science as a candle in the dark”.


  2. I think symbolic gestures are hugely important, and finding a good symbol or ceremony can really help to get an event started on the right foot.

    Being secular doesn’t at all mean that we should ignore symbols, but it does challenge us to think about what those symbols should be rather than getting someone to trot out a standard prayer.

    However, I can’t help feeling that the carbon emissions of lighting a candle made this rather the wrong symbol… perhaps bringing in a large chunk of ice and watching it melt might have been more appropriate!

    It reminds me of an earth day at school many years ago – at the beginning of the day they gave out 2 eggs and asked people, as a symbol of working together to take care of what is entrusted to us, to hand them around from one person to another during the day, bringing them back to the closing ceremony. Unfortunately neither egg made an appearance… a sadly appropriate symbol.


  3. Just to be a contrarian…

    We humans are a symbolic and ritualistic species. Lighting candles, saying prayers and singing might do more than what it says on the label. Personally, these days I’m happy to let these kinds of things slide and only worry when these rituals and symbols actually end up guiding policy.

    I don’t like it when people pray in an effort to grandstand their faith and I don’t like it when us secular types shit all over people who are expressing themselves in a genuine manner without agenda.


  4. Actually, I’ve never come across “secular types shit all over people who are expressing themselves in a genuine manner without agenda.” I didn’t know that there was any such problem but acknowledge that I am relatively innocent (despite my advanced years).

    Have you actually seen such incidents, Damian?

    I now and then am subjected to inappropriate ceremonies like prayers – inappropriate because they are imposed on people in a secular situation. Without proper consultation or any consideration to the presence of people with other beliefs. (I have absolutely no objection to people suing such ceremonies in the appropriate within-group situations). Two recent events were at a wok “do” and a school reunion.

    I personally find these sort of actions offensive – even though I usually have “let things slide” because not to do so would be seen as rude.

    It seems to be an unusually Christian thing (at least in our society) for perpetrators of such rudeness to actually consider the objectors to be rude.


  5. Have you actually seen such incidents, Damian?

    Only sometimes in the USA where some secular groups become a little fervent whenever someone says a prayer or sings a hymn. Never in NZ as far as I’m aware. But things tend to be a little more extreme over there eh?


  6. When it comes to insensitivity, I have seen many examples of inappropriate christian prayers or sermonising, but few or none vice versa.

    As an example: At the funeral of a friend about 12 years ago, a priest performed a full on conversion style fire and brimstone sermon. If you don’t confess your sins and believe in what I believe in, then you will burn for eternity ever more etc…

    This did not go down at all well with most of the people there, as the people that knew the woman that had died also knew that she had no religious belief whatsoever.

    In this case, whoever organised the funeral obviously thought that a church was appropriate (or as I suspect, the normal place for funerals), but I think that this is the issue here. People are often not sensitive to other peoples lack of belief.


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