Friday, May 27, 2022

Caleb Anderson: The Emergence of a State Religion

In recent years karakia (Maori prayers or chants) have become relatively standard at special (and even not so special) events. I know of an incident recently when a visiting departmental head preceded and finished a regional visit with a karakia, even when politely asked beforehand that a karakia not be performed.

Government documents, press releases, and news reports, sometimes contain allusions to pantheism, and associations to things mystical. 

Government buildings are being adorned with spiritualistic images (including of ancient gods and even taniwha) and incantations to past gods and ancestors are commonplace. 

A fifty-meter-high statue was proposed at the entrance to the Waitemata Harbour in honour of the Maori Earth Mother. 

Even the treaty is considered to be a mystical, spiritualistic, and evolving document ... something other-worldly.

There has been unrelenting pressure in recent decades to expunge Christian prayers, and allusions, from public life, and from the various agencies of state, most particularly schools. A clear message has been delivered by prominent parliamentarians, that Christianity should be a private and not a public matter. Christians can share their beliefs within, but not beyond, those of similar mind. Even the Speaker of the House was successful in having all references to Jesus removed from the official parliamentary prayer. The Prime Minister was happy to have the Muslim call to prayer broadcast nationally after the Mosque attacks, while her antipathy to Christianity remains palpable. And yet all of these voices have appeared conspicuously silent when it comes to karakia. How might we explain these paradoxes? What is really going on? Should we be concerned?

For almost three hundred years liberal democracies have been sensitive to the implications of a church and state union. The actions of the medieval papacy testify amply to the dangers when religious systems have the ear of the state, or when the state is used to enforce matters of religion. The history of Islam is no different. The emerging republican and constitutional governments of the eighteenth-century were acutely aware of these tensions, and of the risks of church-state union. Their founding constitutional documents often explicitly safeguarded freedom of religious association and the separation of church and state.

The founders of the United States were explicit. The first amendment reads as follows "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...". Many of those migrating to the new world were escaping religious persecution in their homelands. They knew just how bad things could get. While numbers are contested, it does seem that several tens of millions of lives were lost in Europe through the crusades, the inquisition, and the religious wars during and post the reformation period. This is not to say that motivations were always, or entirely, religious, it was more complex than that, but it does suggest that when church and state combine things can get ugly.

Interestingly, those nations and movements that railed most vehemently against state-church union, often did not move far from these in actuality. The arbiters of the French Revolution raged vehemently against the Roman Catholic Church, only to replace it with an ideology that equaled or exceeded the former in its brutality. Marx is well known for his criticism of Christianity, but the record of almost all Marxist countries testifies to a state promulgated ideology that has many of the hallmarks of religious dogma, in both its implementation and its ultimate results. It is generally accepted that Marxist countries murdered in excess of a hundred million of their own citizens, in what looks remarkably similar to the religious persecutions of earlier ages. It seems that religious, or religious type, belief systems meet a need present in all societies. This makes people vulnerable to manipulation. We have religious 0rientations without realizing it. We naturally seek answers beyond the known and demonstrable facts of life, if not in religion, in something that looks remarkably similar. Even Freud, Jung and Frankl, the heavyweights of psychotherapy, saw an inherent yearning for the religious in all people. Interestingly, Carl Jung noted in "The Undiscovered Self" the tendencies of twentieth-century man to worship the state in ways that earlier people had worshipped the religions of old.

I believe that we should be very concerned about the creep of pantheistic religion into public life. Increasingly, references to things spiritual have been used to silence debate, or to fill the gaps when logic, reason, and facts are lacking. Not infrequent assertions that the Treaty is a spiritual taonga, vested with mystical power, in and of itself, is a clear effort to make the arguments of its most animated adherents uncontestable. When you move into the realm of the mystical, reason no longer applies, and familiar democratic safeguards can be progressively dismantled.

Our government has a duty to safeguard the rights of people to worship as conscience dictates, but equally to ensure that the worlds of the mystical and the real do not merge. The merging of state and religion always, ultimately, ignites the basest of emotions, leads to the suppression of free speech, and gives license to those who are inclined to persecute and marginalize those with whom they disagree.

One world government will ultimately produce a one-world religion, of sorts. History forewarns us of how this will end up.

Caleb Anderson, a graduate history, economics, psychotherapy and theology, has been an educator for over thirty years, twenty as a school principal

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DeeM said...

The West, including NZ, seems obsessed with embracing any religion or ancient belief system other than Christianity, the religion that most of its populations worship.
It's all part of the current woke craze, which is founded on neo-Marxist principles, to overthrow any and all establishment practices and beliefs, for no other reason than a tiny number of elite activists think its a good idea.
To be replaced by what? Some hotch-potch, socialist, minority, inclusive, anti-white system that is made up as they go along.
It's a disaster in the making, as we're currently seeing first-hand here, led by a group of ideologues who don't have a practical bone in their bodies.

Anonymous said...

perhaps the rules of the game should have been 'separation of religion and state' rather than 'separation of church and state'...

in many of the meetings at the university, the vc would call upon one of the maori ladies to say the prayer. 95% of the attendees don't know what it means as neither the written version is provided nor the english meaning is shared afterwards. the irony is that the poor lady is simply reading from a screen and perhaps herself unaware of what it means.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

I was with the writer until he started talking about 'one world government' which ain't gonna happen any time in the foreseeable future by which I mean centuries.
The main reason why religion should be left out of governance is sectarianism. There is no such thing as 'a Christian govt', it would be a Catholic govt or a Lutheran govt or an Adventist govt etc. Likewise 'Islamic govt' gives way to Sunni govt or Shia govt etc.

RockyJ said...

I was recently involved in a DOC sponsored marine conservation initiative. Most of the participants were classic left wing Greens. Before the meeting we had a prayer in Maori which involved invoking Tangaroa. I thought how bizarre for a bunch of people who would doubtless identify as atheists to be bending the knee to a pagan god.

Anonymous said...

I don't mind if the karakia is the Lord's Prayer in Maori, which it often is.

Deirdre said...

A minor point - perhaps - I was disappointed to see the writer departed from New Zealand English [meter instead of metre] when rightly criticising the attack on our language by increasingly intrusive Maori statements

Don said...

Following a Treaty settlement process in Parliament recently a large group of the affected tribe took over the House from the gallery and were allowed to sing a long waiata complete with actions. There seems to be no protocol in the House for dress or behaviour as long as the bizarre actions are carried out by Maori. The dignity of Parliament suffers from these excesses.
Twenty years ago my grand-children were at a State Primary school where their day began and ended with a karakia. Luckily children seem to be impervious to indoctrination.

Empathic said...

'Karakia' of course is a Maori adaptation of the English word 'prayer'. One might see it as one of many examples of cultural appropriation. Many karakia involve references to Atua, being a monotheistic deity whereas traditionally Maori had polytheistic beliefs. Most karakia end with 'Amine' and there are often references to Jesus. They might also contain concepts or gods from traditional Maori beliefs or, more correctly, the beliefs of one or another iwi. Karakia then can be confused ideological potpourris. The term 'spiritual' is also a confused term vaguely and variously applied, usually referring to a 'feeling' rather than any spirit world. Even the term 'religion' has no clear definition.

As an atheist I will show respectful tolerance during other people's karakia at Maori events, at someone else's home or space, when said by Maori clients and so forth. However, as an employee, volunteer, group member, ratepayer or citizen I object to being coerced into going along with magical beliefs. In those situations I will excuse myself if possible while karakia are spoken or I will just avoid the meeting. It's more acceptable though when people take turns to utter their own versions of well-wishing so that at least tolerance is mutual between the various beliefs.

There is an interesting U.S. church called The Satanic Temple that doesn't actually worship or believe in a Satan or any god but is guided by reason, science, compassion, principles of justice and so forth. Its followers then demand equal privileges to those accorded to other churches and religions. So I now close with my prayer to the Tree of Knowledge.

Anonymous said...

If a whale washes up on the beach, or even a dead penguin, I am quite capable of meditating on my own "spiritual" feelings about it without having some Maori thug usurping and polluting the event.