Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What is "A Christian Country"?

From this morning's Herald...
A national interfaith forum has agreed to a statement that New Zealand has "no state religion" - but only as a basis for further public debate.

A draft statement that also asks schools to teach about all religions was amended slightly at the forum in Hamilton yesterday.

But attempts by the Destiny Church, the Exclusive Brethren and the evangelical Vision Network to change the statement to say that New Zealand is a Christian country were unsuccessful.

Evangelical churches are accusing the Government of "religious treason" for promoting a statement that Christianity is no longer New Zealand's state religion.

At a national inter-faith forum opening in Hamilton tomorrow Destiny Church and the Vision Network of evangelical churches are preparing for battle against a draft national statement on religious diversity which says "New Zealand has no state religion".

To make it very clear, I have no problem with any religion whether charismatic or not.

There is a very, very long stretch between acknowleding that the NZ "culture" is based upon the Judeo/Christian "western" civilisation, and having (as Destiny would like it) the NZ State - government, governance and laws - based upon a "Christian" system.

It might seem that there are quite a few who agree...
Responses to the Herald, after an earlier version of the statement was published on Saturday, ran four to one in favour of the view that New Zealand is still a Christian country.

Christians dropped from 60.8 per cent of the population in 2001 to 51.2 per cent at last year's Census, but were still 10 times as numerous as all other religions combined (5.1 per cent).

Those professing no religion rose from 29.6 per cent to 32.2 per cent, and 13.3 per cent refused to answer the question.

... but I must point out that there is a significant difference between "...New Zealand is still a Christian country..." and "..."religious treason" for promoting a statement that Christianity is no longer New Zealand's state religion..."

As I have published earlier -

In a previous visit, Long told a Destiny congregation that the church would be "ruling New Zealand" before its 10th anniversary.

"That means you control the wealth, that means you control the riches, that means you control the politics, that means you control the social order, that means you are in charge", he said.

It means a lot more than that as well. Who can forget Destiny's Blackshirts and their protest against the Civil Union Bill?

This is not a case of enforcing or preventing the right of groups or individuals. This is not about the right to freedom of worship, freedom of belief.

The crux here is the right of one group to impose their beliefs upon others through the force of law. The proponents of these views are no dummies. They understand politics and the processes of governance. They know, as well as do Auntie Helen and Jonkey, the critical importance of the half-truth. Not the half-lie. The half of the truth that suits their ends and the half of the truth that they do not want revealed.

I have no problem in acknowledging that the culture of this country is predominantly Christian.

I have a very major problem when the personal interpretations of "Christian law" start appearing in the statute books as the law that I am expected to observe.

I have a very major problem when those who believe their personal interpretations of God's Law is the only "correct" interpretation.

As I have said previously -
The warning that GG should be spreading, the warning that we should ALL heed is this -

Religion and governance are immiscible fluids.

That was proven in Europe 600 years ago and since.

It is the one reason for the modern cultural differences between Europe and Christian culture generally and Islam.

The power of the Church was removed from national governance in all of the European nations through events such as the French Revolution. Henry VIII intentionally weakened the power of the church in England by creating the English Church. In Germany and the Low Countries it was Luther who attained the same objective. In Spain it was not until the 20th Century that the final bonds between Church and State were finally broken by Franco. The replacement of religious belief by the "worship of the State" has been proven to not work with the collapse of the Eastern European communist regimes.

Looking at the other side of the argument, nations where religion is part of governance the tendancy is toward totalitarian government. The obvious examples of the moment are the extreme Islamic nations - Afghanistan under the Taliban, less so Pakistan though they have their "moments", even Indonesia. Less obvious are the "Christian" totalitarian states; Phillipines under Marcos, Mexico, even Ireland (I know that scratches the barrel bottom but remember the ban on the "pill"?). And, to follow the previous paragraph, the "worship of the State" group would still number China and Cuba amonst their ranks.


This morning's Herald has both editorial and op-ed pieces on this subject.

First, the editorial...
Many eyebrows must be raised at a strange discussion of religion taking place at the Government's behest. A "national interfaith forum" has been held in Hamilton this week to discuss a draft national statement on religious diversity and it has ended in agreement that New Zealand has "no state religion". Well, we knew that.

Nobody except the Destiny Church has claimed the country does have a state religion, and even the Destiny pastor was talking about the country's heritage rather than the usual meaning of a state religion, an officially favoured church.

New Zealand, as the national statement observed, has been a non-sectarian state since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi when Governor Hobson affirmed in response to a question from the Catholic Bishop Pompallier that, "the several faiths of England, of the Wesleyans, of Rome, and also Maori custom shall alike be protected".

Nothing has changed in that regard in the 167 years since and nothing is likely to change. Why, then, is the Government fomenting this discussion? When the exercise was announced, the Prime Minister presented it as an antidote to the potential for religious extremism among second- and third-generation immigrant minorities. We welcomed an effort in that direction. This country must do what it can to avoid the avoid the kind of tensions seen in Britain, and in Australia last summer when Sydney beaches were the scene of riots in reaction to real or perceived offences by young Muslim Lebanese.

But the debate this week is about how much the country needs to deny its Christian heritage in order that other traditions may be assured they have equal rights and recognition here. Those who have no regard for religion at all would be happy to deny that a Christian heritage has any role in the country's modern life, but they are wrong. Most of the attitudes and values that underpin our laws, education and codes of behaviour grew from the teachings of Christianity.

Secularists seemed not to realise that the more a national statement downplayed the country's Christian heritage, the more true to that heritage it would be. Destiny Church, the Exclusive Brethren and other evangelicals who want Christianity to receive some form of official recognition appear unaware they would deprive their religion of one of its prime distinctions.

If the object of the exercise is to reassure Muslim and other immigrant groups of their religious acceptance, the first task is to ensure they understand the place of religion in Western liberal societies such as this one. That understanding is not advanced by arguments that Christianity is in any sense a state religion. The distinction between moral and legal authority is not easy for others to grasp, but it has to be realised if adherents to different spiritual and moral guides are to observe the same laws.

Tapu Misa puts a personal point to it...
Whatever the atheists say, true faith, the Christian variety, isn't something you can get from someone else, or absorb by osmosis. Nor can it be imposed from without. It's a journey that must be travelled, if it is to mean anything.

Which, perhaps, is the point missed by Christian organisations like Destiny Church, protesting the declaration in the draft statement on religious diversity that "New Zealand has no state religion".

Can Brian Tamaki and others seriously believe the state can impose a religion almost half the populace doesn't want? Given the history of the Christian church, no thinking Christian should wish it.

It was Christians, after all, who formulated the principle of separation of church and state, beginning as far back as the 4th century, with St Augustine (from whom comes one of my favourite lines: "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet".) Even earlier, was Jesus' instruction in the New Testament to "render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's".

For once, I also agree with Brian Rudman...
zealots like self-anointed Bishop Brian Tamaki or underhand political activists like the Exclusive Brethren can have their say, then the nay-sayers were surely entitled to be represented as well.

A heathen or two might have resisted, for instance, the watering down of clause six of the statement, which in its original draft, read: "Schools shall teach an understanding of the diversity of religious and spiritual traditions in an impartial manner."

Nobody of a rational bent could surely have argued against that, especially if there was a requirement that the lessons also went into the misery and mayhem that religious extremism and rivalry has caused.

But the extremists obviously objected and, in the search for inclusiveness, the well-meaning drafters have come up with a meaningless substitute: "Schools should teach an understanding of the diversity of religious and spiritual traditions in a manner that reflects the community of which the school is a part."

This leaves it wide open for a clique of religionists to take over a school board and impose whatever religious tradition they deem reflects their community.

I can't argue with the opening statement that "the state seeks to treat all faith communities and those who profess no religion equally before the law. New Zealand has no state religion."

Unfortunately, if the Prime Minister presents this statement as an article of faith at the May Asia-Pacific meeting at Waitangi, she will be leaving herself wide open to questions about such acts of mono-cultural religiosity as the Christian prayer that opens the day in Parliament, or the prayers that open many local council meetings, or the swearing of oaths on the Bible in courts.

Even Bishop Randerson admits to discomfort at leading prayers in public at events such as Anzac Day services which end with a Christian flourish. He rightly acknowledges they leave the rest of us feeling excluded.

While this habit of employing Christian prayers and oaths on state and civic occasions continues, it will be hard for Helen Clark to convince visitors from overseas, that New Zealand has no state religion, and that everyone, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Heffalumpians and non-believers alike, is treated equally.

But best of all comes from a quite unexpected source, Clay Nelson who is currently one of the priests at the Anglican St Matthews in the City -
If my resistance to deem New Zealand to be a Christian nation makes me a traitor, as Brian Tamaki suggests, take me to the Tower, or the New Zealand equivalent, for it would be greatly preferable to living in such a country.

You might think, then, that I am one of the 48.8 per cent of non-Christian New Zealanders.

I am not. I am an Anglican priest serving an Auckland church. And no, I'm not Bishop Richard Randerson under a nom de plume.

As an immigrant from America I know what it means to live in a Christian nation. That's why I left. New Zealand's respect for human rights is why I chose to live here as a permanent resident.

Before Christians hasten to denounce my position, take a close look at the only Christian nation. To be fair it should be described as a Fundamentalist Christian nation.

Such Christians, in my experience, imagine that no faith is more loving or forgiving than theirs, while hating and devaluing all other beliefs. They are totally intolerant of criticism, especially of the Bible they hold inerrant and the doctrines they draw from it.

When so many countries, such as New Zealand, have been clearly blessed and cursed by Christianity, how can I say the United States is the only Christian nation? It is not because its motto in support of diversity, "E pluribus unum", (Out of many, one) was ominously replaced with "In God we trust". And it is not because politicians who want to get elected end their speeches with "God bless America" and - by implication - no one else.

It is because the evangelical Christian right, after losing the battle to have God mentioned in the Constitution in 1789, now strongly influences or controls every branch of government. They are using this power to rapidly dismantle the wall separating church and state so carefully constructed by the founding fathers. This could not happen without the support of the American people.

I leave the remainder of his thoughts to those who might wish to read them - certainly I recommend and commend them to you.

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