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This sort of thing annoys me – not just because it excludes a large proportion of the population from social discussion. But also because it demonstrates a cultural blindness. Some people are so blinkered they won’t even acknowledge that elephant in the room.

Yesterday Lincoln Tan had a Herald Opinion piece – Christian faiths losing out to other religions. It’s basically talking about religious diversity in Auckland and lamenting that “Western religions, such as Anglicanism, ‘fail to connect’ with diversifying cultures.”

He quotes a Massey University study by Peter Lineham – Changing Patterns of Auckland Religion:

“The Anglican Church, which has traditionally been New Zealand’s dominant religion, has dropped from 47 per cent in Auckland identifying with the church in the 1926 census to slightly over 10 per cent in 2006, lower than the 10.8 per cent nationally. It was a different story for Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, which have experienced surges in membership.”

And the rest of the article talks about these “world religions.” Those Eastern religions whose adherents are actually increasing in numbers – even though those numbers a relatively small (1.8 – 3.5%).*

Notice the elephant in the room – those horrible non-religious people? They can’t possibly be part of our country’s religious diversity can they? They must be ignored. Well nationally they comprised 33% of the national population in the last census – I would be interested to know if the Massey study recorded these people and what their numbers are in Auckland. (I can’t find a link to the report at the moment (could anyone who has a link let me know it?)

Then their was this Herald piece today by George Armstrong (an Anglican priest and teacher) -  It’s time for the religions of the world to unite

The gives his message – Different faiths can work together to promote noble values. Religion’s have to stop competing and start working together. He’s effectively calling for unity of action to solve the world’s problems:

“all the peoples of the planet . . . have to forge new tolerances and appreciation and interfaith and intercultural partnerships. Any decent religion will have love, humility, awe, justice and peace at its centre. There’s plenty of that at the heart of the major world religious traditions. And there’s plenty of it at the heart of the great political and diplomatic traditions of our diverse peoples.”

But really he is contemplating unity of action of only religious people. Again he has ignored that large elephant in the room. Interfaith action is not going to include the non-believers.

But there is plenty of “humility, awe, justice and peace” at the centre of many non-religious traditions too. Especially today. Why exclude them?

All of us are capable of noble values – irrespective of religious belief. Although I sometimes wonder at the capability of some religious leaders and commentators who seem to have a very blind spot reserved for the non-religious.

*This plot shows the change in religious diversity according the New Zealand census results since 1991. Last census Christians amount to 49.5% of the population (after taking “double dipping into account). The Hindu religion has the next largest numbers for a religion – but amounted to less than 2%. Why concentrate on unity with the very small religions while refusing to include the non-religious (33%)?

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