Sunday, August 28, 2022

Barend Vlaardingerbroek: The desecularisation of NZ government

The first New Zealand Parliament … in 1854 separated church and state more sharply than in the Australian colonies. In rejecting a state church, New Zealand was more secular than its parent societies. 
-  Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand (original emphasis)

Addressing Rurawhe as "Mr Speaker elect" the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern recited a phrase in Te Reo Māori. "Translated it means, 'may the mouthpiece of e hoa, the temple of Rātana support and guide the mouthpiece of the house'."
– 1News 24 August

Well, I for one hope that ‘e hoa’ – or any temple for that matter – doesn’t do anything of the sort.

When I asked Google whether NZ is a secular country, I got the following answer:

New Zealand is a secular State with no State religion, in which religious and democratic structures are separated. In legislation and policy, the State respects freedom of thought, conscience and religion. (original emphasis)

Now of course Queen Lizzy 2 is Head of both State and church – C of E to be precise (gasp) – and is also the Head of State of NZ. While she doesn’t often turn up in the Beehive, she, through the Gov-Gen, gives Royal Assent to bills that then become Acts, and can even dissolve the NZ Parliament. These anachronisms need to be addressed some time, but the point I want to make today is that these powers have no connection with her being the Head of the C of E as well as Head of State.

There are seats in the British House of Lords reserved for C of E bishops, but while that casts a shadow over the secular nature of Her Majesty’s Government, it does not affect us here even indirectly.

What is a secular government anyway? To refer to Wikipedia,

A secular state … is or purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion. A secular state claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of religion, and claims to avoid preferential treatment for a citizen based on their religious beliefs, affiliation or lack of either over those with other profiles. (emphasis added)

It follows that the secular State should not discriminate against people on the basis of their non-adherence to a religious faith either.

Should a secular government have a parliamentary prayer? Google this adding ‘nz’ and you will be directed to the NZ Parliament website where you will see the following:


The Speaker took the Chair at 2 p.m.


SPEAKER: Almighty God, we give thanks for the blessings which have been bestowed on us. Laying aside all personal interests, we acknowledge the Queen and pray for guidance in our deliberations, that we may conduct the affairs of this House with wisdom, justice, mercy, and humility for the welfare and peace of New Zealand. Amen.

This version had replaced an earlier one that was specifically Christian in orientation. After all, we should be inclusive and accommodate other faiths, right? That includes Islam, a religion which categorically does not believe in the separation of church – or rather, mosque – and State. It opens the door to religious bickering in relation to matters of State, as the erudite sociopolitical commentator Brian Tamaki explained in referring to Islam as

... a Violent, murdering movement that will not stop in their drive to Destroy western and christian civilization. We allowed The essence of that religion to be declared and prayed from our Parliament over our Nation. Its Time for NZ to Wake Up and sort Our National Identity and Declare our Religious Heritage is Christianity...not Buddist, Islam, Hindu, Atheism or any other!

(taken from the Radio NZ website at complete with numerous boo-boo’s)

Do we need this sort of crap taking up time and energy when we have pandemics and cost-of-living crises to concern us? I say not.

What is the alternative to a secular State? Answer: a sectarian State. There is no such thing as a Christian State; it will be a Catholic or a Protestant one (Calvinist for example) or an Adventist one etc; likewise there is no such thing as a Muslim State – it will be a Sunni or a Shia State etc. That’s actually good news because in-house squabbling will usually prevent the effective operation of such a government (with exceptions where there is one overwhelmingly dominant sect, such as in Saudi Arabia). Again I ask: do we need this kind of hassle when we have real issues to deal with?

Here in NZ we have a situation where a composite religion containing elements of Christianity (reference to the Queen – Head of the C of E – in the parliamentary prayer makes a mockery of the claim that the prayer is non-sectarian) alongside ethnocultural beliefs invoking various spooky entities is being foisted on us all through instruments of the State – spooks in science classes for example. Some people don’t want anything to do with the one, some don’t want anything to do with the other; some people (yours truly for instance) don’t want anything to do with either. Government and law should be spook-free zones (see my article ‘The non-religious origins of law’, Breaking Views 5 December 2015).

Freedom of belief is a fundamental human right. Freedom to impose religious beliefs on others is an infringement of their right to not believe. People in high places with religious beliefs that they regard as being superior to the system of governance and law that prevail in their country are dangerous in that they are ideally placed to force their religious beliefs on society at large. I have argued elsewhere in these annals that we need to be circumspect about appointing such people to very senior positions in government and the judiciary (‘Do candidates’ religious beliefs matter when appointing senior public figures?’, Breaking Views 5 October 2020).

My position is very straight-forward: NO RELIGION IN GOVERNMENT AND LAW, end of story, full stop. That includes monarchs who head a church as well as the State, Christian or any other deities, parliamentary prayers in any guise. Well, at least I’m consistent. I know many readers will argue against me in relation to Lizzy 2 but they are harming their own case – if prayers referring to a Head of State who is also the head of a Christian sect are OK, so are karakias.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek is a retired academic who taught at universities in Papua New Guinea, Botswana and Lebanon.


Anonymous said...

Well said Barend, we do have far more important things to address in both Govt & Local Bodies than wasting even a moment with spook related mumbo jumbo that is not universal in its acceptance. We are a secular state and should demand this thin-end-of-the-wedge nonsense be expunged forthwith.

Anonymous said...

I think France is the best example of a secular state, although it only came about in the early 20thc. You are so right there is no such thing as a Christian state, it is either Catholic, Anglican or Lutheran. And it always persecutes; it discriminates against those who belong to a different sect or even religion, and favours those who adhere to the state sanctioned creed. It is poisonous, but is coming back again through the back door by the promotion of all things Maori. The Maoris were polytheists, seeing god in every aspect of nature. Kaumatuas now are asked to bless a traffic black spot after a fatality has occurred before it can be used again. Rahuis are put in place regularly, which again have a spiritual dimension. We should resist in every way the Maorification of our society, because it is enthroning religion again, when it should be a matter of private belief only, completely separate from a secular state.

RAYMONDO said...

A Christian state may be one that has its basic values in the Christian religion without the need to create or declare it or label it as a theocracy. To suggest that we can have a non religious state is a fiction because we all operate on what we believe. The state sets down secular beliefs through the wording of its laws. Even Einstein had a personal belief system that was not materialistic. Communism in the USSR had a system of belief no one was allowed to argue with. The democratic state has to allow a free speech environment in Parliament and in the nation there should be by law no place any belief system cannot be held and debated.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

None of the 'basic values' of the modern State come from Christianity. They stem from the Enlightenment which in itself was a giant step away from basing morals and ethics on religion and basing them on so-called natural law instead.

Don said...

Can anything be more nonsensical than giving a project a "blessing' before work is commenced? Yes: running about a new project and touching various items to imbue them with "life Force." No mention is made of the fee paid to the people who call themselves the conveyors of these non-existent qualities at the expense of ratepayers and taxpayers. How can people who call themselves educated and intelligent support such mumbo-jumbo?