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ReligioNZ April 19, 2007

Posted by Ian in Religion.
Tags: ,

Religion in New Zealand is a strange beast.

In our early days life in New Zealand was dominated by the English colonisers and their missionaries. We grew up as a country which largely copied the cultural traditions of our motherland and therefore English Christianity became a big part of life.

Today religion appears in very few places. It is almost completely absent from the legislative framework and plays a very small part in politics. Even the most religious of our major parties, United Future, takes great pains to avoid the tag as a christian party – stating on their website “United Future is a centrist political party that seeks innovative solutions to issues based on common sense, not ideology.” They deliberately and actively avoid the tag of a christian party presumably because its simply bad for politics in NZ. The incumbent Labour Party’s view on religion is rather hard to figure out, it doesn’t even feature on their website and I am going to contact the local MP to find out. I presume the national party is much the same.

Religion simply doesn’t play a big part in the day to day practical lives of your average kiwi as shown by the lack of discussion on it by political parties (a sure sign!). That doesn’t stop well over half the population claiming a religious affiliation though – during the 2006 census only 35% of the population claimed no religion. However this was up from 24% in 1996 – a significant increase over 10 years with a raw change of over 50% (Source: Stats NZ Census Data).

In my view religion does not dominate the lives of anywhere near half the population of New Zealand despite the statistics. My flatmate, as an arbitrary example, is a devoted catholic girl but I have never seen her pray, go to church or act any differently to anyone else in the more than 12 months I have known her and she is not unusual in NZ. There is a large population of Kiwis that are religious by name only, and will only rarely actually observe or act on it. I would dearly like to see some statistics on the number of New Zealanders that regularly go to church for example. I suspect this would be closer to 35% than the 65% the census claims. It seems not unreasonable to me that the non-believers and the active believers are roughly on a par with each other in New Zealand. If anyone has any hard stats on this I would like to see them.

Looking at the types of religions in New Zealand the only religion type going down (and this is absolute numbers not percentages!) is Christians. However of the Christian denominations in New Zealand, the Anglicans have lost over 100,000 people (!) from 1996-2006. Most of the others have grown, especially the catholics. This trend I find a bit baffling and I will be asking around to see if anyone knows why. Of the non-christian religions I have to add with some amusement that there over twice as many satanists as there are scientologists 🙂 Sorry – couldn’t resist!

There are certainly a lot of churches floating around New Zealand, and from so many different denominations that its hard to keep track. Most of them seem to me to be really family/community centres and their numbers/constituents don’t change much. There is a growing trend of the more hip youth church type thing with bands and such in New Zealand reminiscent of the evangelicals of America. Fortunately kiwis are more relaxed than your average American so I don’t see it taking quite such a stranglehold here but they are attracting those in their early 20s. The success of the Parachute festival is an example of why. While I have no idea who runs it or funds it, it has all the hallmarks of this sort of thing. I’m sure someone will put me right on this one though!

One final comment is that religion still has one stranglehold on New Zealand – in our pathetic national anthem! It’s called “God defend New Zealand” and this the most negative possible national song I can imagine! Help god, save us! Give me a break. This is solely a reflection of the time the anthem was written I suspect – we need a new one, of that I have no doubt whatsoever.

Thats me for this one. My next post will be about the science vs. religion debate.



1. A. J. Chesswas - May 2, 2007

Hi Ian. Interesting to discover your blog, through Technorati. Will provide some useful comment at some stage, I’m currently preoccupied with Section 59. Look forward to further musings 🙂

2. Ian - May 2, 2007

I thought it might catch your attention 😉 I’ve been meaning to post a comment on yours for a while, but I never quite got around to it lol. We should catch up at some stage – its been a while!

3. Chrisgane - May 16, 2007

Parachute is recording Label also. They get a lot of funding from it’s “Support’s Club” But also from sales at the festival and CD sales etc thru there distribution of Christain music to a network of local stores and there online store. I’m sure a lot of churches from a lot of denomonations also donnate towards it. My sister was an intern working for them last year. http://www.parachutemusic.com

4. Ian - May 16, 2007

Thanks for that, appreciated!

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