Should religion be something you can denigrate?

August 11th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

New Zealand has imposed some of the world’s strictest blasphemy laws by stealth, a Humanist group says.

The new Harmful Digital Communications Act, intended to stop cyber-bullying, could have the effect of landing a person in jail for two years for committing blasphemy, the New Zealand Humanist Society said this week.

Not really, as it hs to be ham to an individual, not harm to a religion. But they raise a useful point:

The Act stated digital communications “should not denigrate an individual by reason of his or her colour, race, ethnic or national origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.”

You can’t choose your colour.

You can’t choose your race.

You can’t choose your ethnic or national origin.

You can’t choose your gender.

You can’t choose your sexual orientation.

You can’t chose whether to be disabled.

But you do choose your religion.

Religion seems the odd one out to me.

If someone choose to be a Scientologist, I reckon I should be able to mock them for that choice, just as I can mock someone if they choose to join the National Front.

11 Herald facts on God and NZ

May 20th, 2015 at 3:15 pm by David Farrar

The Herald, as part of a series on religion in NZ, has these 11 facts:

  1. Rich Kiwis have turned their backs on God and religion, with religious New Zealanders living mainly in poor suburbs.
  2. Wellington is the “godless” capital of New Zealand, with five in 10 people there saying they have no religion. And Dunedin is the godless capital of South Island, with almost half of the city’s population declaring the same.
  3. In the South Island, Haupiri in Grey District has the highest percentage of Christians, thanks to the Gloriavale Community. In the North Island, Temple View in Hamilton has the highest percentage of Christians, thanks to the popularity of Mormonism.
  4. Auckland is the only New Zealand city becoming more religious, with a 1.2 per cent increase in religious residents in the 2013 census.
  5. But across New Zealand, the number of people declaring themselves religious has fallen 5.5 per cent since the 2006.
  6. The earthquakes in Christchurch failed to bring people back to God – Christianity lost 16.5 per cent of the flock there.
  7. Nelson and the Coromandel are centres of New Age spiritualism. Both areas have recorded the highest percentages of people who follow new age religions.
  8. South Auckland is one of the most religious areas in the country.
  9. Auckland has the biggest Muslim population, with 2.4 per cent of its population following Islam. Walmsley and Wesley towards West Auckland are areas with highest percentage of Muslim population.
  10. The number of wiccan and witchcraft covens have fallen from 2082 to 1452 followers in the last Census. And the number of people who say they worship Satan has fallen from 1167 to 843.
  11. Wiccans and Satanists are most likely to be New Zealand Europeans.

So in a fight the wiccans outnumber the satanists almost 2:1.

Interesting that Wellington is leading the way for cities becoming non-religious while Auckland is becoming more religious.

You can check out on the map provided, the religious profile of your local area.

In my local area unit of Thorndon (deprivation decile 5) we are 49% no religion, 41% Christian, 2.8% Buddhist, 2,5% Hindu, 0.8% Jewish and 0.5% Muslim.


Religious groups should not be tax exempt

April 23rd, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The secretive Gloriavale religious community owns assets worth $36.6 million, including a dairy farm, deer enterprise and an aircraft repair firm.

The tax-exempt charity operating as the Christian Church Community Trust is run by four church leaders and overseen by Hopeful Christian, who is referred to in documents as the “Overseeing Shepherd”.

Assets and financial results of the West Coast Gloriavale Christian community are listed on the Charities Services website, a government agency which is part of the Department of Internal Affairs.

The trust’s annual returns for August 2013 through July 2014 show it is worth more than $36.6 million and made a net profit of more than $1.86 million in that year.

Former members Elijah Overcomer and Mordecai Courage told Campbell Live the trust owns everything in the community, and when members leave they take nothing with them.

Mr Courage said he had spent his whole life in the community and worked for the benefit of the community, but was entitled to nothing after he left.

The 30ha farm in the Haupiri Valley where the community lives and works is worth $10,200,719, and no community members are paid for their work in its eight companies.

Merely promoting a belief in a supreme being should not qualify an organisation for tax exempt status.

If an organisation (whether religious or not) does charitable work, then they should qualify on the basis of what they do – but not on the basis of what they believe.

Advancement of religion should not be a charitable purpose

February 23rd, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Food giant Sanitarium appears to be safe from an ongoing Government crackdown on charities that has some sporting bodies worried they may lose their charitable status.

The maker of Weet-Bix and Marmite has a controversial exemption from paying tax on its business earnings as a result of its ownership by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in New Zealand, a registered charity. …

The Internal Affairs spokesman said no sector, sporting or otherwise, was being specifically targeted, but organisations that “no longer meet a charitable purpose” or fail to comply with their obligations will be deregistered.

There were no issues with Sanitarium’s registration, the spokesman said, as “advancement of religion” was considered a charitable purpose under the Charities Act.

That rationale harks back to archaic British law, which some critics argue is no longer relevant in a secular, 21st century democracy.

It isn’t. You should not get tax exempt status because you promote belief in a supreme being, or multiple supreme beings.

The relief of poverty, widespread community benefit and advancement of education are also considered charitable purposes under the Charities Act.

Many churches do worthy things which do help the poor and benefit the community. And they may qualify for charitable status on the basis of their activities. But they should not qualify because they promote religion.

Second largest religions by US states

June 9th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar


An interesting graphic from the Washington Post showing the most popular religion after Christianity in each US state.

In the North East it is Judaism.

In the mid west it is Buddhism.

In the South and Great Lakes it is Islam.

And in three states it is Hindu or Baha’i.

The state that is most Jewish is New York at around 6%.

Utah by the way is 58% Mormon.

Great way to make a living

February 8th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

City Impact Church founders Peter and Bev Mortlock are selling their Whangaparaoa mansion – and its pricetag has surprised one church member, who says some in the congregation are struggling to pay their bills after giving so much to the church.

The couple are selling their luxury mansion in Gulf Harbour, north of Auckland, for $1.88 million.

Best known for fronting a weekly church-funded TV programme, the Mortlocks have put their 548sq m private home on the market.

A person who has been attending City Impact’s two Auckland branches in Mt Wellington and Albany for the past three years knew of a church member who was struggling to pay his bills after giving so much to the church.

I reckon setting up a church or religion must be one of the easier ways to make money.

The churchgoer said representatives made a big push during each service about the importance of giving to the church before baskets were passed around for the weekly offerings, given on top of tithings of 10 per cent of people’s salary.

What other business has a variable price based on income, rather than a fixed price as most goods and services have? It’s a good business model, so long as you can convince people the price means they get salvation.

Payments could be made by credit card, Eftpos, cash, internet banking or a new mobile app.

Smart. Good to see the business up with the technology.

Mr Mortlock, a former salesman and real estate agent, and his wife front the religious show.

Not so much a career change, as a change of product that he sells.

Freedom of religion means for all religions

December 23rd, 2013 at 8:43 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission voted on Thursday to ban new monuments on statehouse grounds until a court battle is settled with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is seeking the removal of the Ten Commandments, local media reported.

Commission officials were not immediately available for comment on Friday.

The Oklahoma branch of the ACLU this year sued to have the Old Testament monument removed, saying the state should not be in the business of legitimising religion and that the precedent could result in a spectacle of religion.

No decision has been reached in the case.

Socially conservative Christian groups fought for years to have the Ten Commandments displayed at the statehouse, and the monument went up in 2012.

I like the ten commandments. But they should be displayed at churches, not on government grounds.

Oklahoma has put a halt to new monuments at its Capitol after groups petitioned to have markers for Satan, a monkey god and a spaghetti monster erected near a large stone tablet inscribed with the Ten Commandments.

Heh. If the state allows monuments to one religion, then they find it hard to say no to others. Personally a statue of the spaghetti monster would be very cool!

Scientology now a religion in the UK

December 13th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Scientology has been recognised officially as a “religion” in Britain after the country’s highest court swept aside 158 years of law to rule that worshipping a god is not essential to religion.

Five Supreme Court justices redefined religion in law in order to enable Scientologists to conduct weddings.

If anyone can set up a religion, it makes me wonder whether religions should have any special rights under the law. I’m all for having the right to believe or follow any religion you want to, but the state should not be recognising what is a religion, and granting religions certain rights.

NZ by religion

December 11th, 2013 at 7:46 am by David Farrar

The top 10 religions in NZ from the census are:

  1. Catholic 491,421 (11.6%)
  2. Anglican 459,771 (10.8%)
  3. Presbyterian 316,329 (7.5%)
  4. Christian  217,177 (5.1%)
  5. Methodist 97,320 (2.3%)
  6. Hindu 89,082 (2.1%)
  7. Buddhist 58,212 (1.4%)
  8. Baptist 53,496 (1.3%)
  9. Muslim 45,963 (1.1%)
  10. Pentecostal 45,777 (1.1%)

The mainstream Christian denominations represent around 40% of New Zealanders. Of those who have no stated religion they expressed it as:

  • No religion 1,635,348 (38.6%)
  • Not stated 301,608 (7.1%)
  • Object to answering 173,034 (4.1%)


On NZEI’s side on this one

June 16th, 2013 at 8:46 am by David Farrar

The HoS reports:

Teachers at a state school have called in the union to protest about being asked to lead pupils in daily karakia.

The NZEI union has been asked to address concerns held by some staff at Auckland’s Kelston Intermediate School over reciting a Maori prayer before lessons start each day.

The school recites a karakia at the start of its weekly assembly and in classrooms before lessons begin.

Staff deliver the prayer, which asks for the day to be blessed, help with work and to have a good week.

An NZEI spokeswoman confirmed the union was intervening at the school.

“NZEI is helping facilitate further discussion at the school on the issue and the school is welcoming of this.” Kelston Intermediate principal Phil Gordon said he had no idea some staff were unhappy with karakia in the classroom until contacted by the union representative.

A Ministry of Education official said state primary schools were required to be secular – but this didn’t preclude teaching about religion.

There is a difference between teaching about religion, and compulsory prayer sessions led by a teacher.

NZEI is right to intervene and stand up for the rights of their members not to have to partake in a religious ceremony.

Gordon said he reassured the union representative the karakia was a cultural component of school life and an expression of beliefs that reflected the Kelston community.

“I guess what they might have been inquiring about is the presence of karakia, etc, within school so we talked about what we’re doing is not a religious thing but a cultural thing.”

It is both religious and cultural. They can do cultural stuff that is not religious, but prayers by their nature are religious.

Belief in God

April 5th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Another interesting UMR poll. I like the scale they used which was:

  • Are absolutely certain it is true
  • Are fairly certain it is true
  • Believe it’s true but are not too certain
  • Believe it’s true but are not at all certain
  • Believe it’s not true but are not at all certain
  • Believe it’s not true but are not too certain
  • Are fairly certain it is not true
  • Are absolutely certain it is not true

The first four can be totalled to be agreement and the last four disagreement, but as interesting as the totals are the breakdowns.

On belief in God, the responses were:

  • 28% absolutely certain it is true
  • 13% fairly certain it is true
  • 9% believe it’s true but are not too certain
  • 11% believe it’s true but are not at all certain
  • 6% believe it’s not true but are not at all certain
  • 5% believe it’s not true but are not too certain
  • 11% are fairly certain it is not true
  • 16% are absolutely certain it is not true

I am amused at the 44% who answer absolutely certain there is or is not a God. I’d love to know how they can be “absolutely” certain!

The demographic breakdown is interesting:

72% of women believe in God, compared with 52% of men.

That’s a large difference, and not one I was aware of previously. Why would 20% more women believe in God? Is it men are more into proof than faith?

65% of Maori and 72% of Pacific people believe in God.

Less surprising.

Another question was if you believed Jesus Christ was a real person who lived 2,000 years ago. This was regardless of if you think he was the son of God, a prophet, a preacher etc.

  • 29% absolutely certain it is true
  • 25% fairly certain it is true
  • 10% believe it’s true but are not too certain
  • 14% believe it’s true but are not at all certain
  • 4% believe it’s not true but are not at all certain
  • 4% believe it’s not true but are not too certain
  • 6% are fairly certain it is not true
  • 8% are absolutely certain it is not true

I’m surprised 14% are fairly or absolutely certain that Jesus never existed.


January 23rd, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

AP report at Stuff:

Indonesian police say a civil servant who posted “God does not exist” on Facebook faces a maximum penalty of five years behind bars for blasphemy. …

Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim nation of 240 million, recognises the right to practice five other religions. But atheism is illegal.

Atheism is illegal?

Do they also prosecute people for talking about evolution? Or gravity?

What sort of a supreme being needs laws to force people to believe in him? If there is a supreme being, I suspect he is very ashamed of Indonesia.

Choosing your religion

January 6th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Religious fanaticism

December 30th, 2011 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Sadly all religions have fanatics. Of course the proportion of a religion who are fanatics is not the same in each religion, but here’s an example of some in Israel:

A shy 8-year-old schoolgirl has unwittingly found herself on the front line of Israel’s latest religious war.

Naama Margolese is a ponytailed, bespectacled second-grader who is afraid of walking to her religious Jewish girls school for fear of ultra-Orthodox extremists who have spat on her and called her a whore for dressing “immodestly.”

Anyone who calls an eight year old girl a whore should be ashamed of themselves, because their God most definitely will be.

The girls school that Naama attends in the city of Beit Shemesh, to the west of Jerusalem, is on the border between an ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood and a community of modern Orthodox Jewish residents, many of them American immigrants.

The ultra-Orthodox consider the school, which moved to its present site at the beginning of the school year, an encroachment on their territory. Dozens of black-hatted men jeer and physically accost the girls almost daily, claiming their very presence is a provocation.

No, firing guns is a provocation. Yelling whore at eight year olds is provocation. Going to school is not.

The televised images of Naama sobbing as she walked to school shocked many Israelis, elicited statements of outrage from the country’s leadership, sparked a Facebook page with nearly 10,000 followers dedicated to “protecting little Naama” and a demonstration was held in her honour. As the case has attracted attention, extremists have heckled and thrown eggs and rocks at journalists descending on town.

“Who’s afraid of an 8-year-old student?” said Sunday’s main headline in the leading Yediot Ahronot daily.

Beit Shemesh’s growing ultra-Orthodox population has erected street signs calling for the separation of sexes on the pavements, dispatched “modesty patrols” to enforce a chaste female appearance and hurled stones at offenders and outsiders.

Great to read of the response from most normal Israelis. The fanatics sound like they would be happy living with the Taliban.

Naama’s case has been especially shocking because of her young age and because she attends a religious school and dresses with long sleeves and a skirt. Extremists, however, consider even that outfit, standard in mainstream Jewish religious schools, to be immodest.

Maybe a hajib?

Protesters held signs reading, “Free Israel from religious coercion,” and “Stop Israel from becoming Iran.”

The abuse and segregation of women in Israel in ultra-Orthodox areas is nothing new, and critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye.

The ultra-Orthodox are perennial king-makers in Israeli coalition politics – two such parties serve as key members of the ruling coalition. They receive generous government subsidies, and police have traditionally been reluctant to enter their communities.

Worth remembering this story, when our own extremists advocate getting rid of a threshold for MMP, so we would end up like Israel (which has been increasing their threshold).

A seperate religious debate thread

February 10th, 2010 at 8:22 am by David Farrar

A couple of people have commented to me that they are finding the daily general debate threads are being dominated by religious debates, which of course tend to never get resolved.

Their suggestion was that we have two general debate posts a day. One “General Religious Debate” and one “General Debate”, with the latter out of bounds for religious comments and debates.

I don’t spend a lot of time in General Debates myself, so unsure how much of an issue this is, and whether the proposed solution is necessary or preferred. On the face of it, it seems sensible and in fact it mirrors what we did on Usenet many years ago – set up a nz.soc.religion alongside nz.general.

The church and the media

January 4th, 2010 at 7:02 pm by Jenna Raeburn

I am currently reading Tony Flannery (ed) Responding to the Ryan Report (2009, Columba Press, Dublin) as I have been asked to help review it.

The Ryan Report was the report by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse which sent shockwaves throughout Ireland, as it detailed an incredible number of allegations of physical and sexual abuse in Irish Catholic institutions. The fallout for the Catholic Church has been far worse in Ireland than in other countries (US, Australia, NZ) where similar reports have been published. Many elderly nuns don’t wear a habit in public anymore, for fear of being spat on or assaulted – whether or not they are involved with any of the institutions mentioned in the Report, and whether or not they have ever had anything to do with child care.

The book is written as an attempt to broaden the debate about abuse in the Church. The authors are Catholic, but none are apologists for what happened. They simply try to examine the problem from different angles: why it happened, how to avoid such things happening in the future, what aspects of church teaching might have led to this. The examination of centuries of oppressive teaching on sexuality is particularly telling.

It has always bothered me that church leaders (from the Catholic church and others) withdraw from PR problems. It is easier to resign as an expression of apology rather than defend yourself against false allegations. It is easier not to apologise, for fear of looking like you did something wrong. It is easier not to talk to the media, for fear that they will twist your words and use leading questions to make you say something you didn’t mean. It is easier to pay compensation than fight a legal battle. One author puts it particularly well:

Because the thinkers in the church had run away from the challenging possibilities of electronic media, nobody was available to it, throughout the perfect storm of the child abuse story, to analyse the economic circumstances which caused an influx of grievously unfit people into ministry, to delineate the power relationships regnant within big church institutions which drew sexual abusers to them or to discuss the group dynamics which turn good intentions into bricks on the road to hell.

This is from my favourite chapter so far – it discusses how the Church has failed to engage in the opportunities given to it by electronic and visual media, and has been left powerless in the face of the publication of the Report, and the media attention given to victims.

This is in no way saying that the Report contains dishonest accounts; nor that victims don’t have a right to be heard. It simply attempts to explain the deafening silence from the Church. It is a silence which has prevented unconditional apologies and debates over constructive reform. But it is one created by years of avoiding the mainstream and retreating into the shell of the Church – a far cry from the centuries of missionaries harnessing new technologies to spread their message. Books like this are good, but they’re no substitute for engaging in the debate eight months ago in mainstream media. This failure is, and will continue to be, the major contributor to the demise of Catholicism unless something changes.

ODT on Intolerance

December 28th, 2009 at 11:36 am by David Farrar

The ODT editorial:

Central Auckland might not be Iraq or Afghanistan but it has been the scene of extremist religious reaction.

It was perfectly reasonable for certain churches and for various individuals to express their displeasure and even horror at what they saw as unsuitable or blasphemous in the Joseph and Mary billboard.

But the man who painted over it and the woman who attacked it with a knife are intolerant religious fanatics.

As such they are dangerous. In the name of their God they saw it as their right, even their obligation, to break the law and damage property.

The point I made.

While their actions are clearly of a different ilk to the suicide bombers of 9/11 or of a Baghdad market place, the fundamental impulse is the same. In the righteous name of God, they felt called to do their duty.

I agree. The moment you think doing God’s duty puts you above the law, it is a slippery slope.

But do the very values of the West contain the seeds of their own destruction? Is tolerance – and so-called “progressive” Christianity for that matter – a licence for wishy-washy thinking, policy and behaviour? Do the fanatics and the intolerant simply take advantage of weakness? Are the institutions and principles of democracy callously abused by ideologues for their own ends? These are dilemmas which liberal democracies face.

These are the concerns that echo through modern Western Europe as immigration swells the numbers from cultures and beliefs where ethics like individual human rights are far from sacrosanct.

The way forward has to be to ensure pride in the basic values that underpin democratic society and to defend them with vigour.

It means being prepared to be tolerant of different cultures and different beliefs but intolerant when aspects of those cultures and beliefs threaten the core on which Western democracies are based. Already, countries, institutions and individuals have been bullied over freedom of speech, with the most stark example the furore over the Danish Mohammed cartoons.

And the answer is to defend freedom of speech, not to applaud those who would deny it in Auckland.

Christian Intolerance

December 19th, 2009 at 12:05 pm by David Farrar

It has been amazing to see the intolerance on display by some extremist Christians. They have applauded the destruction of a church’s private property, because they don’t like the message on display.

It is only a small way removed from the Islamic extremists who burnt down an Embassy, because they didn’t like the cartoons of a newspaper in a country. Of course that was a more extreme act, but what they have in common is both sets of people think their God allows them to break the law to try and suppress a message or image they do not approve of. It is the thin end of theocratic rule.

There are many legitimate ways people could take action against the billboard of St Matthew-in-the-City. They include:

  • Complain to the Advertising Standards Authority (as Family First did)
  • Protest outside St Matthews
  • Put up your own billboard with an alternative message
  • Lobby for the leadership of St Matthews to be disciplined or sacked by the church hierarchy (if possible)
  • Try and have the entire parish booted out of the Anglican Church

But instead the nutters have won, with their campaign of destruction:

After the latest attack, by an elderly woman with a knife last night, the church said the billboard would not be replaced.

The Vicar of St Matthew-in-the-City, Glynn Cardy, said the billboard was “attacked by a knife-wielding Christian fanatic who was then apprehended by a group of homeless people who care about our church. Later in the evening another group of fanatics ripped it down.

I wonder how the fanatics would feel if someone threw bricks through all the windows at their local church, because someone doesn’t like their message.

It isn’t far removed from the morons who vandalise Jewish graves because they don’t like Judaism.

There is no right in New Zealand not to be offended by a religious message. If you are offended, then tough. Either take action under the law, or lump it. But you do not have the right to destroy private property of a church, because you are offended by their message.

But for all those who cheer on the extremists and vandals, well don’t cry out for sympathy when the same happens to your church. I mean if the Catholic Church beatifies Pope Pius XII, then it must be legitimate for Jewish activists to vandalise Catholic cathedrals to protest such an offensive move (Pius XII refused to publicly condemn the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews), if you think it is legitimate for Christian activists to vandalise St Matthews billboard.

New Reality TV Show

July 9th, 2009 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

CNN report:

A Turkish television show is offering contestants what it claims is the “biggest prize ever” — the chance for atheists to convert to one of the world’s major religions.

The show, called “Tovbekarlar Yarisiyor,” or “Penitents Compete,” features a Muslim imam, a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi and a Buddhist monk attempting to persuade 10 atheists of the merits of their religion, according to CNN Turk.

If they succeed, the contestants are rewarded with a pilgrimage to one of their chosen faith’s most sacred sites — Mecca for Muslims, Jerusalem for converts to Judaism, a trip to Tibet for Buddhists and the chance to visit Ephesus and the Vatican for Christians.

I hope they show it here, along with the audience reaction shots!

Hat Tip: Andrew Bolt