I urge you to read Brain Rudman’s article Blessings erode our secular bedrock – if you haven’t already. It’s been a while since I have found myself agreeing so much with a NZ Herald column.
Brian leads with the point that the current “proliferation of religious ceremonies in civic life is at odds with our democracy.”
He feels that the odd and anachronistic ceremony of “the religious blessing, New Zealand style, has burst from obscurity into public life, as Christianity disappears rapidly in the other direction. These days it doesn’t need a sneeze to attract a blessing. It’s as though there’s a decree from the Beehive that says you can’t open anything public without a ceremonial blessing.”
Less than half population
It is certainly strange. We didn’t have these blessings in my youth when Christianity enjoyed a very dominant position. Now they are everywhere, at a time when religious influence is declining and Christianity was nominally the religion of only 49.5% of the population in the 2006 Census (see Is New Zealand a Christian nation?).
Is this a result of a misguided belief that somehow exposure of the godless public to what Rudman describes as a “throwback to the Middle Ages” will reverse the decline? Is it a conscious attempt to return religion to its once dominant position in our society?
Or is it a spiteful response to its declining influence. A wish to impose on others ceremonies they claim are “sacred?” To make the godless public endure their “sacredness” whether they like it or not?
Sneaky use of “Maori voice”
I am pleased that Rudman raises the way that New Zealand Christianity manipulates multiculturalism and natural ethnic respect in their campaigns:
“God’s intrusion into our civic affairs has been quite sneaky. He/she has slipped in using a Maori voice, taking advantage of the increasing use of tangata whenua as providers of the ceremonial at public occasions.
This infusion of Christianity into public ceremonial has occurred by osmosis, really, drifting into our lives without debate, surviving because liberal politicians, who you might expect to raise objections, stay quiet, fearful of being labelled anti-Maori.”
It’s hard enough to protest when a non-consensual blessing, prayer or other religious ceremony is imposed – but infinitely harder when the objector is labelled a racist.
“But is it anti-Maori to fight to preserve the secular bedrock of our democracy? We don’t have a written constitution but our traditional practice has been to keep religion out of public life. The origins of that was an endeavour to stop bickering Christian denominations continuing the conflicts still festering in their European homelands.
In 21st-century New Zealand, the reasons for keeping the state and religion apart are very different.”
And these reasons relate to democracy and human rights:
“It’s not just that non-believers outnumber each of the Big Three Christian denominations – Anglican, Catholics, Presbyterians – by more than two to one; it’s only a matter of time before “non-belief” overtakes Christianity as a whole. Then there are other major world religions, now gaining a larger public face thanks to recent immigration.
This makes the belated invasion of Christianity into our public life rather perplexing. It wasn’t deemed acceptable when it was the main religion in town. It’s surely even less appropriate now that it’s fading away.”
Political risk of turning “blind eye”
Some people might argue that Rudman’s criticism is unwarranted. That New Zealanders are happy with the current situation. But these naysayers are ignoring the reality. Many people, believers and non-believers, do find non-consensual imposition of religious ceremony offensive. Even Christians can feel embarrassed by this unwarranted intrusion on others which violate human rights and religious freedoms.
And there are ongoing objections to the privileged involvement of Christianity in state occasions. The Christian prayer at the start of parliamentary business (and often in local bodies). And the blatant dominance of Christian personalities and prayers in state ceremonies and functions.
Our politicians have tended to acquiesce in Christian privilege – often because they are aware of the way the Christian conservative groups can mobilise against any changes they oppose.
But as Rudman concludes: “given the numbers, it’s something politicians preside over at their own political risk.”