Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Graeme Reeves: Is New Zealand a “secular” society or have we descended into a “sectarian” society?

Noted humanist and author Jim Herrick defines secularism as follows,” Secularism in the largest sense means that people do not refer to religion to make decisions, to adopt policies, to run their lives, to order their relationships, or to impel their activity.”  

For our purposes we can substitute the word    “people” with the word “state”.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a sectarian as, “a person who very strongly supports the religious or political group that they are a member of, in a way that may cause problems with people of other groups.”

At the inaugural meeting on the Kaipara District Council’s Council meeting the New Mayor intervened when the newly elected Maori Ward Councillor attempted to recite, without notice or consent, a Karakia.

The Mayor justified his action as follows,” This is a council that’s full of people who are non-religious, religious, of different ethnicities and I intend to run a secular council here which respects everybody and I will not be veering from that .”

The Mayor's actions created a furore of responses from all of the people you would expect including the Race Relations Commissioner who invoked the Treaty of Waitangi without referencing which of the articles of the Treaty supported his claim.

The question raised by the incident is twofold:

Was the Mayor correct to assert that New Zealand is a secular society?

What is the nature of a Karakia?

I don’t think we need to expend too much energy on whether or not New Zealand is a secular society. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 guarantees the right for all New Zealand citizens to freedom of religion and in so doing the freedom not to have a religion. It is a private matter for each individual either separately or collectively in private with other like-minded people and is of no concern to the state.

The “state” is all encompassing.

National government and all the institutions of the national government as well as local government and all of the institutions of local government.

What then is the nature of a Karakia?

The Te Aka Maori Dictionary defines the verb Karakia as follows, “to recite ritual chants, say grace,pray,recite a prayer,chant.”

The noun is described as, “incantation, ritual chant, chant, intoned incantation, charm, spell - a set form of words to state or make effective a ritual activity.”

Traditionally a karakia starts with an invocation of the “ atua” (gods of which there are many).

It is not for me to have an opinion on what gods a person wishes to worship. That is their private business.

But it is, in my opinion, my right to not be compelled when performing a function either as an elected representative or an employee of any state organisation to be subjected to what is in essence a religious prayer or chant which is intended to herald a “ritual Activity”.

For the sake of this article I use “ religion”and”spirituality” as being synonymous.

The business of government is not a “ritual activity”.

The same objection is raised for any other form of prayer in the same circumstances no matter what the particular faith or culture is.

In the same vein the invocation of the gods by Met Service to explain to the population of New Zealand:  

“CYCLONE GABRIELLE - All you need to know about what Tawhirimatea (Atua of winds) has in store for us over the next few days.

Tawhirimatea and all our Atua Maori are just doing their thing!

Respect the natural laws and natural behaviour of our Atua and our Taiao.

Stay calm, be wise and look after each other. Like all storms this too shall pass.”

One would think the function of the Met service, an instrument of the State, is to apply the scientific knowledge it has accumulated over centuries to forecast the weather for the benefit of all New Zealanders, not to engage in mythology and philosophising.

What then is the answer to the question posed at the being of this article?

I look forward to receiving the readers input to this debate in a respectful manner of course.

Graeme Reeves is a lawyer and former National MP.


Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

Do not conflate 'secular society' with 'secular government'.
A secular government has no official position on religion. It neither affirms nor denies any religious claim. Religion is not on its radar screen.
The karakia is an instance of religious mumbo-jumbo and it should not figure in the proceedings of a secular government entity.

Anonymous said...

Well thank you Graeme, for the opportunity to comment. Of course we are a secular society, but our Government and those other woke virtue signalling idiots in the 'Public Service' seem to think otherwise and that the Treaty of Waitangi somehow (despite what it says) creates other obligations upon us to, in effect, that we must be beholden to and worship all things Maori. To consult with them, as though we were in some mythical 'partnership', and to embrace their 'world view' and beliefs as though they were in fact on a significantly higher plain than the Gospel and thereby, above our secular status.
I see, Sean Plunket interviewed Richard Dawkins today and that weather issue was raised. It is, indeed, a travesty that we have to endure this utter bs and that it is not called out for what it is. History will record the stupidity of those now promulgating this nonsense. The real question is: will we as a nation (majority? ) wake up in time and, if not, do we know and appreciate the consequences?

Robert Arthur said...

I suspect the great majoritty have little idea what secular or sectarian means. The msm do not attempt to comment so are no help and therefore the distinction exists in the minds of a few.

CXH said...

So James Shaw has the effrontery to believe we can influence Tawhirimatea, a God.

Don said...

When my two grand-children attended Primary School ( About 25 years ago) I was perturbed to find they began and ended the day with a karakia. It is no new thing and I am pleased to report that the indoctrination did not work on them.
However I am annoyed by the frequency at which Parliament endures waiata and karakia and the expectation that these things are to be honoured at Council Meetings and other public affairs. I have no argument with these customs by those who want to do them but I am incensed by having them forced on everybody
regardless of whether you want to participate or not. Unwanted domination is a form of bullying and the whole Maorification process reeks of it.