There is a strange attitude towards religion in New Zealand. US President Obama can acknowledge that the pluralistic society includes people of various faiths and people with no faith (the non-religious). However our main political parties (National and Labour) seem unwilling to face that reality. At least, that’s how it appears in their interaction with the country’s “interfaith” movement.
Take the speech by Patsy Wong, National Minister of Ethnic Affairs, at the National Interfaith Forum in Auckland last month. First she gets her information wrong:
“The 2006 Census revealed that more than three million people in New Zealand – nearly three quarters of our population – identify themselves as being part of a religious group.”
But the actual figures show that only 2,237,682 identified themselves this way in the 2006 census. Perhaps Patsy Wong is interpreting the total number answering the religion question without objecting (about 3,490,00) as “being part of a religious group.” Despite the fact that 1,297,104 of these answered “no religion!”
2006 NZ Census
3,743,652 (93% of total)
|Object to answering||
242,652 (6% of total)
1,297,104 (32% of total)
2,237,682 (56% of total)
Perhaps she has just chosen to ignore the non-religious. Especially as she goes on to say:
“While some people would describe New Zealand as a secular society, it is important to remember that religion is an important part of the growing number of new migrants. This highlights the need for continuing dialogue among our country’s religious leaders.
Under the Human Rights Act, freedom of religion is written into law and the endurance of this Interfaith Forum is testament to the respect New Zealanders can show to all religions.”
In other words she ignores that fact that our legislation on freedom of religion covers the non-religious as well. And surely the non-religious are an important and “growing” part of our society. Surely they need to be included in the “continuing dialogue” she talks of.
Not to be outdone the Labour Party, the main opposition party, has appointed a spokesperson on” interfaith” affairs (see Labour launches interfaith portfolio ). This is Luamanuvao Winnie Laban who described her role as “about linking in with the interfaith movements around the country and internationally, to build greater understanding and peace.”
“I believe if we can get the many different religions in the same room and engage in dialogue that is of great benefit to both harmonious relations here and overseas.
“New Zealand has a diverse range of faiths and it will be my role to attend interfaith meetings, as I did on the weekend and listen to the concerns of the many different cultures and religions represented.
“During times of economic hardship many people turn to the church and faith communities to provide leadership, support and compassion and Labour recognises the significant role faith plays in many people’s lives.”
Again – where are the non-religious? Shouldn’t they be involved in any dialogue – national or international? And why exclude them from “leadership, support and compassion” during economic hardship?