Thursday, December 21, 2006

No religion, too?

An interesting trend in New Zealand is the decreasing importance of religion. The December 23-29 issue of New Zealand Listener magazine carries an article on this phenomenon and how Christmas in New Zealand is mostly secular.

In the 2006 census, slightly more than half of all New Zealanders were nominally “Christian”. This means they self-selected one of several Christian denominations, or merely the word “Christian”, to describe themselves. However, this says nothing about whether they ever go to church or do anything else to actually practice their stated religion.

In fact, 36 percent of New Zealanders declared they have no religion. This growing secularisation is seen especially at Christmas. For example, as I mentioned before, no one in
New Zealand really takes much notice of the word “Christmas” itself.

But there’s more to the social shift than mere secularisation. When combined with the increasing percentages of Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims, it means that by the time the next census is taken in 2011, self-identified Christians are likely to be a minority in this country.

On one level, I think that fact is just interesting, nothing more. As a former Christian who veers ever closer toward atheism, I really don’t care what people believe or don’t.

However, I do care about what some people believe, namely the fundamentalists of any religion who seem so determined to use their faith as a weapon to beat non-believers into submission—or to death, if submission isn’t forthcoming. Gay people have long been victimised by fervent religiosity (as have women and many other parts of society, for that matter), so I’ve developed an instant distrust of overt religiosity, especially of the fundamentalist variety.

So, if the current trends mean an increasing secularisation of New Zealand, I think that’s great. But if it means that we’re merely switching to new religious oppressors, then it’s not a good thing.

Still, I prefer to be an optimist and hope that whatever their religious belief or non-belief in the future, New Zealanders will continue to live in a society free of the religious conflicts other nations suffer—like my homeland, for example. At this time of year, even with a secular Christmas, “Peace on Earth” is the basic wish shared by many of us, religious or not. I hope we all live to see it.

Addendum 24/12/06: A few days after I posted this, the Guardian published the results of a survey of Britons that found that "
82% of those questioned say they see religion as a cause of division and tension between people. Only 16% disagree." The survey also found that "A clear majority, 63%, say that they are not religious—including more than half of those who describe themselves as Christian." Clearly secularisation is a trend elsewhere, too.

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