Wednesday, December 06, 2006



A secular country

The 2006 census is out, and while the media is focusing on our changing ethnic makeup and the shortage of suitable partners for 30-something straight female journalists, I thought I'd look at something different: religion.

The usual census religion commentary talks about the decline of "traditional" Christian denominations and the rise of fundamentalist groups, or the startling growth in non-Christian religions (which matches the increasing diversity of New Zealand society). I'm not so interested in that. Instead, for me the most obvious feature of this year's religion statistics [Excel] is that 1,297,104 - just over 35% - of us are now godless. And this is part of an ongoing trend. Putting together this years data with a compliation from the previous three [Excel] gives a very clear picture: we are becoming an even more secular country. The proportion of the godless and actively (as opposed to the passively) irreligious has risen from 22% in 1991 to 35.7% today. Meanwhile the proportion of Christians has dropped from 74% to 57%. The change is clearly visible in the graph below:

(These percentages exclude "object to state" as it was not included in the 2006 figures).

This is a tremendous change which has happened in my lifetime; unfortunately many Christians don't seem to have caught up with it yet. We are no longer a Christian country (if indeed we ever were), and they can no longer impose "Christian values" on the rest of us. Instead, Christians are going to have to get used to being just one faith among many. I wonder how long it will take them?

29 comments:

And of course, a lot of people who put (especially) generic "Christian" are lying.

Posted by Anonymous : 12/06/2006 07:25:00 PM

hmm.. not sure christians is really the group you hate here.

A more relevant grouping might be "cultural conservatives" which happens to include christians as a main group but just because we used to be christian (if we had been muslim or Buddhist or had a strong traditional culture it would be more or less the same people).

Such people oppose prostitution or divorce and all sorts of 'icky' behaviour in all countries.

Posted by Genius : 12/06/2006 08:40:00 PM

I/S: For a good many years I was an active Methodist. Christian values in the Methodist environment I inhabited included a very strong concern for social justice, non-violence, environmental responsibility, speaking up for the oppressed, being satisfied with a modest standard of living. I couldn't maintain faith, but I've never wanted to desert the values, which incidentally are hardly the kind that could be "imposed" on New Zealand. I realise you're referring to other kinds of so-called Christian values, but I sometimes wish you were a little less sweeping in your comments in this area.

Posted by Bryan W : 12/06/2006 08:43:00 PM

Don't like Christians much, do we?

People like you have been telling us Christians for years we no longer live in a Christian country, we got it years ago.

The fact that you think you keep having to tell us says more about you than us.

Funny how it's ok for those with "no religion" to force their ideas on those who do though.

Posted by Anonymous : 12/06/2006 10:05:00 PM

I/S - how did you get 35% for No Religion? Using the denominator "Total People who Stated a Religious Affiliation", I get 37%.

Posted by John Lennonist : 12/06/2006 10:49:00 PM

John Lennonist: I was using "total responses", since that is what it sums to. OTOH, this also involves double counting, as some people state more than one religious affiliation.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 12/06/2006 10:54:00 PM

Here's an interesting link with the data from the EU measuring non-theistic forms of non-secularity. It would be interesting to see similar detailed data on non-secularity in NZ. (I'm not sure what i/s's "the godless and actively (as opposed to the passively) irreligious" is all about - it doesn't correspond to anything in the excel tables linked to that I can see.)

I agree with commenters above that i/s is painful about all religious issues (makes me ashamed to be an atheist that's for sure). Let's see, Christians down to 57%... still enough to get anything passed democratically if they really wanted to. Luckily for us, separating church and state - what being "a secular country" is often taken to amount to in any case - falls more or less directly out of their traditions (although they've rarely enacted this completely purely) so they won't do that. When a non-Christian religious majority forms we may not be so lucky. [Indeed, will a godless majority be especially tolerant? Richard Dawkins' provocative description, e.g. here, of parents bringing up their children as Catholics or whatever as "child abuse" suggests not. Imagine our current illiberal anti-smacking and anti-smoking lobbies getting their teeth into this over the next 20 years, and being energized by a surging population of skeptics!]

One almost hopes i/s lives to see a new religious majority emerge...

i/s in 2035: "It was after the public beheadings on Lambton Quay started that I realized that rather than chastizing Christians for not seeing that they were one faith among many back in the 00's, I should have been saluting them for practically expressing precisely that, for being an incredibly tolerant majority. The Intolerantians who grew in power and numbers throughout the 10's and 20's regarded any such position as gutlessness, and as "playing the secularists game", and as a failure to grasp the opportunities that politics affords to bring about God's kingdom on earth. We tried to ban them in the early 30's as they hit 40% but the courts frustrated us, and our efforts only made them seem cool. It was too late. The Intols. did in fact allow Christianity to continue on as an officially authorized secondary faith which could be pursued strictly in private. In effect they regarded Christians as Intols-in-waiting, as misguided fellow travellers more than any sort of threat. But they could make no peace with us, the Godless, about whom they took John Locke's Letter Concerning Toleration line (which they incorporated into their new bill of rights):
'Those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration.'
They make us recite the Locke before they let the guillotine fall on us. I have seen it. They come for me now."

Posted by Stephen Glaister : 12/07/2006 03:01:00 AM

What I find particularly amusing is the way Idiot's barking hostility to Christianity turns into a blissful purr when Islam becomes the subject. The treatment of women under Islam? No worries! The opression and harrassment of other religious faiths? Quick - let's look the other way! As an aetheist, my opinions of relgions rests with the amount of freedom they accord those who beg to differ; Christianity does nothing to me in NZ, beside making me take holidays at Christmas and Easter. Most Islamic countries would presume to tell me what to eat, not to drink alcohol, when not to eat during daylight hours, would prosecute me (at the least) if I was openly gay, and so on, as well as binding my 'rights' to a religious constitution. Fuck that. But to condemn this is beyond the pale for most liberals - how quaintly predictable...

Posted by 123 : 12/07/2006 03:57:00 AM

IS, I'm guessing that you are 25 at most? This 'revelation' is hardly new.

I remember doing some cohort analysis on religious affilition over 10 years ago, and it definitely showed a decline in christianity and the huge surge in No Religion.

New Zealand has been a 'secular' rather than a 'christian' country for quite some time (I'd say, well before 'No Religion' became a census option, where people just listed the religious affiliation of their parents or grandparents previously).

Posted by mark : 12/07/2006 08:20:00 AM

I/S, your 35% is therefore the proportion of responses that were "no religion", not the proportion of people who reported "no religion". The correct figure is 37%.

Incidentally, the rise of secularism began in the 1960s, illustrated in my famous song, Imagine.

Posted by John Lennonist : 12/07/2006 09:32:00 AM

I think one of the reasons many non-christians can cross the line and become anti-christian is because of all the far-right nut-jobs who stand up and preach intolerance and loudly proclaim thier christianity at the same time....

If a group gives itself a name like yours, and makes statements you dissagree with, you have to speak up, so that other people dont get the wrong impression of what you stand for.

Moderate/tolerant/"mainstream" Christians have not doen a very good job of publicly dis-associating themselves from those of a more extreme nature.

If you dont want non-christians to assume all christians share the views that they see a small-group that loudly proclaims its christianity as the proof/support/cause of their intolerance... you have to provide rebuttal... not just inside your church, but publicly to the non-beleivers who cant distinguish you from the others.

I'm not a christian, but I have too many good friends who are to be anti-christian. They are good people, doing good things, and have some failings.... just like everybody else I know.

Posted by FletcherB : 12/07/2006 10:07:00 AM

Recently on Natrad Prof. Lloyd Geering made the observation that in his view modern, inclusive pluralism is the true inheritor of the christian message and is Christianity sans God - in other words, Christianity for the age of science and reason. Its certainly good to see that despite all the noise and heat from the Rapture crew, superstition is still in full retreat in New Zealand.

Posted by Sanctuary : 12/07/2006 10:24:00 AM

"Incidentally, the rise of secularism began in the 1960s, illustrated in my famous song, Imagine."

Which, incidentally, lead Mark Chapman to shoot you. Fundies like him got seriously riled by lines like "imagine there's no heaven."

Anyway, nice to see you back on deck, though a little surprising to discover that it now appears to be statistics rather than world peace that rocks your boat.

Posted by woppo : 12/07/2006 10:50:00 AM

I/S , whata crap analysis = or should I say anal - ysis. I've blogged a response which includes your refuasal to distinguish the difference betweeen religious adherance and religious belief.

I have a religious belief,a Christian belief actually, I decided not to declare it, and I am not a regular church attender. Therefore I am in your 35 percent category - but Im certainly not godless.

Posted by Dave : 12/07/2006 12:04:00 PM

A couple of posters above hint at what I personally observed to be a reason for people transfering from "Christianity" to "no religion". During the late 70s, 80s and 90s many "conservative" (small 'c') congregations were essentailly taken over by evangelical fundamentalists.

These folk were difficult to oppose, they had a strong commitments to God. But they put many, including myself, off church and eventually off religion totally.

In my view they moved away from the social and community lessons of Christianity (as described by the ex-Methodist above), and concentrated much more in the individual who had to be "born again" and saved. The fact that it mirrored the rise of Reaganism and Thatecherism should be no surprise.

This is not the Church my socail democratic grandparents spent so much time working in and for. To me it is a church that actually ignores some of the most fundamental teachings of Jesus, as, for example, expressed in the beatitudes. Indeed, if you want a striking view of this change look nor further than the retranslation of "blessed are the poor" to append the weasel words "in spirit". Presumably these words are not added because "rich in spirit" stand no show of achieving the "kingdom of heaven".

In short my thesis, based purely on observation and not at all on research, the decrease in general attendence has a lto to do with the rise of the evagelicals and the cult of the individual.

Posted by noddy : 12/07/2006 12:20:00 PM

hmm, hit publish rather than preview - but I am sure you get my point.

Posted by noddy : 12/07/2006 12:22:00 PM

What about the Anglican City Missions?
The Salvation Army?
Presbyterian Support Services?
Caritas?
The Catholic Worker Communities?
Catholic Social Services?
Methodist Missions?
St Vincent de Paul?

Who runs most of the foodbanks? Who cares for the homeless or the addicted? What about the Hikoi of Hope?

Posted by muerk : 12/07/2006 01:01:00 PM

muerk, the Government mostly (that is, me and you bia our taxes. Give yourself a pat on the back). The organisations you mention do pick up on the very few that are left behind, and that is very laudible.

Posted by noddy : 12/07/2006 01:19:00 PM

Noddy:

I should have been more specific, sorry. I was replying to FletcherB's comments about how non-right-wing-nut-job Christians don't publise enough.

Posted by muerk : 12/07/2006 02:49:00 PM

I think John L said he was..."Bigger than Christ", then he did a Don and denied this, saying he was mis-represented, what he meant to say was, ah, "Who cares, I'm very rich (or my wife is at any rate)".

BTW, perhaps the Religion question should NOT be on the census at all?

Posted by Anonymous : 12/07/2006 03:06:00 PM

The Salvation Army is you idea of _non_ right-wing-nut-job Christians?

Posted by Commie Mutant Traitor : 12/07/2006 03:49:00 PM

Commie Mutant Traitor:

Salvation Army seems to be a denomination that works very hard to help the poor or people in immediate need. They don't seem to be into the spirituality of maintaining personal wealth, like some American evangelists.

I don't think the Sallies turn up to any Ayn Rand fan events, but hey, I could be wrong.

Posted by muerk : 12/07/2006 07:06:00 PM

Anon, what John Lennon said was (of the Beatles), "We're more popular than Jesus!" To tell the truth, I thought the words of the song "Imagine" were idealist codswallop, but I did like John for his smart alec quips and quirky humour.

Re. revising religious texts, some egalitarian nineteenth century New Zealand Christian apparently removed the following verse from the hymn, All Things Bright and Beautiful:

"The rich man in his castle
The poor man at his gate
God made them high and lowly
He ordered their estate."

I wonder if it's been put back?

Posted by John Lennonist : 12/07/2006 08:39:00 PM

Twenty years ago the Sallies actively opposed the homosexual law reform bill here in NZ. In Australia John Howard has cultivated a relationship of convenience with the Salvation Army, appearing in public with a high-ranking church member to oppose moves to treat heroin addiction as a health issue. Howard's Sallie friend is on record as stating re. heroin use: 'The wages of sin is death'.
The Sallies have been willing participants in the US neocon push to diminish state involvement in welfare provision and replace it with 'faith-based' alternatives. In states such as Florida the church has effectively become an arm of government, with the church's untrained members appointed by local courts to enforce probation orders for trivial offences, such as a teenager found guilty of publishing an obscene political cartoon What constitutes an obscene cartoon in the eyes of a redneck judge and a naive Salvationist is unlikely to reflect the wider views of the community.
I'm not suggesting that the Sallies are inherently evil. They're a big part of delivering government welfare initiatives, such as job training, here in NZ. It does seem, though, that they're not very interested in the wider implications of their involvement with rendering unto Caesar.

Posted by woppo : 12/07/2006 09:02:00 PM

"The rich man in his castle
The poor man at his gate
God made them high and lowly
He ordered their estate."


I prefer the more subversive little ditty from the middle ages...

When Adam spun/
and Eve span/
who then was a gentleman?

Posted by Sanctuary : 12/07/2006 09:27:00 PM

Hmmm... thanks Woppo, thing you learn.

Although I would like to say that being conservative about moral issues doesn't mean you are right wing. That seems to be muchly so, especially in the USA, but I know I am very left wing in terms of economics - ie. I'm pro public health, education, welfare, state housing, strong environmental protection, public transport, plenty of labour regulation, anti-war.

But otoh I'm also pro-life, marriage = 1 man + 1 woman, anti-euthanasia.

Which means that in America, I couldn't vote for _anyone_. I guess I put the Sallies down as a bit like me since they work with so many needy people.

Posted by muerk : 12/08/2006 03:58:00 PM

If we are now a secular country, does that mean you support the cancellation of all Legislation with Christian references.

Hope to see you at work on 25th December!

Posted by Michael : 12/11/2006 02:02:00 PM

It's not as if December 25th is a particularly Christian festival anyway.

Remember Saturn this Saturnalia!

Posted by Spectator : 12/11/2006 06:52:00 PM

"the proportion of Christians has dropped from 74% to 57%"

"We are no longer a Christian country"

"irreligious 35.7%"

"Christians are going to have to get used to being just one faith among many"

Hindu+Islam+Spiritualism+Buddhism: 4.3%

"Christians...57%"

"irreligious 35.7%"

lol keep dreaming. Christianity is very much still the moral and philosophical substance of this country. Sure we might be down 23%, but we are also minus a whole lot of fakes and hypocrites who were as much of a hindrance as a help...

Get real mate...

Posted by A. J. Chesswas : 1/11/2007 12:09:00 AM