Wednesday, May 30, 2007

No religion 2

After the 2002 terrorist bombings in Bali, perpetrated by Islamist extremists, regional leaders felt one thing they could do would be promote religious tolerance in the region. That’s resulted in a series of conferences, the latest of which was held in New Zealand.

This year’s conference was marred by an extremist Christianist TV preacher who has demanded that
New Zealand be declared a “Christian nation”. The TV preacher has declared it’s “treason” to disagree with that particular view of New Zealand, and played up his offence at a declaration that New Zealand has no “official, established religion” (their declaration read “We formerly [sic] recognise New Zealand as a Christian nation,” poor spelling providing unintentional amusement).

Britain—and like most countries in the world—New Zealand has no official religion, no state church. It has a Christian heritage and history, but that’s not the same thing as an established church. The TV preacher ought to know that. Perhaps he does, but when he throws around words like “treason” one wonders whether it’s ignorance or political ambition at play—or both. He’s refusing to dampen speculation that he’ll stand in the next election and, in fact, he told his followers that his group would be running the country in five years, so clearly he has delusions of grandeur.

Far more worrying is the bigotry and hatred he’s spewed in his latest stunt. He said that in his “Christian” nation “alternative or foreign religions would not be afforded equal status to the established national religion, therefore restrictions on those religions would need to apply.” He went on to warn about Western countries like
Britain and France where “mosques are allowed to flourish”.

I have never heard the TV preacher express his bigotry so openly, apart from when he was attacking gay people to win headlines during his crusade against
New Zealand’s Civil Unions Act, or when he said that evidence of the devil at work in New Zealand was that we had a female Prime Minister.

Shane Jones, a Maori MP for the Labour Party, accurately summed it up when he said the TV preacher’s claims were “hyperbole designed to profile his own political ambitions”. He added that when dealing with the TV preacher, “we live in the real world and he lives in [his] world, and never the twain shall meet.”

As I’ve written before, the percentage of New Zealanders who call themselves Christian is declining, and is now barely over half the population. If the TV preacher were mainly concerned about his brand of fundamentalist christianism, that could rile him up because in a few years time self-identified Christians will be the minority, and nothing frightens conservatives more than change. But like a lot of people, I suspect the TV preacher is playing on those fears to promote his own political fantasy in which he sees himself as Prime Minister.

It’s never going to happen. Not only are New Zealanders increasingly secular, they’re also fair-minded, tolerant and anti-authoritarian—all of which the TV preacher is not. We are so tolerant that we even allow far-right TV preachers to run around leading political rallies for non-existent issues. Were he in power, he’d never allow that, which is why he’ll never amount to anything.

And if I were religious, I’d surely say “thank God for that!”

1 comment:

CondoBlogger said...

There are a lot of things I am never going to be able to understand. Gravity; the opposition to alternatively fueled vehicles; how Dubya got elected; the popularity of Neil Young and Willie Nelson; "picky eaters," and organized religion are high up on that list.