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May 26, 2008 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

A Tale As Old As Time

A long time ago, when the world was still flat, it was home to People Who Believed. They believed through droughts, storms and frozen nights. Later, they believed despite threats of eternal damnation and torturous death for their refusal to renounce those beliefs. Or rather, as in many cases, for the demonstration of very similar beliefs in a slightly different manner. There was fear, but there was also hope. They believed in something greater than themselves, and thus found comfort and companionship in dark times.

Years passed. The people of the Western world lost themselves in the brilliance of knowledge and discovery. Religion drifted to the sea. Oh, it was still a strong and influential force, but it changed significantly. It became shallow in parts, and in others there grew such a confusion of hues of greens and blues. And on and off in the distance were whirlpools and the crashing of monstrous waves, sending ripples in all directions…

But look, there – a child shuffling back and forth along the shore. At first glance, it has the look of having just scampered back to the sand. Yet, peering closer, one would find that any hints of water had been caused instead by wind, and the splashing of the noisier kids further out. In truth, it had barely waded in ankle-deep. And even then, only because Mummy was there.

The child’s name: New Zealand.

Ah, imagery. And connotations, OH the connotations! Because that’s what it’s all really about, isn’t it? For traditional Christianity, the stained glass windows in our minds scream of the stereotypical monotony: the tidy little pews, the bowing of heads, and being preached at during sermons that all sound the same. The endless rules, the stiffness of your Sunday best, and the patronizing voices of old men. The ever-nagging guilt. Then comes the scandal – the corruption, and the stories of priestly fondness for young boys.

And before all that lies religion’s stigma, a tale of violence and fear, wars and persecution. Today – well, more wars. But now at the forefront of our imaginations emerges the dark faces of crafty men, with heads wrapped in turbans and waists wrapped in explosives. With all that has happened in the name of religion, it is no wonder that people here can be silent when it comes to their own beliefs. While in earlier times there were ardent God-fearing people, there are now people-fearing people – and in the growing quiet, a half-mumble that maybe we’ve been to a church, and maybe we’ve even heard a few Bible stories, but we wouldn’t really call ourselves ‘religious’ as such… So you needn’t blow us up for not believing in your god, because we don’t believe in any god, really.

Entwined in this, in place of the close-minded insensitivity to beliefs foreign to one’s own, is something quite new. One would have thought that religious pluralism and a culturally diverse nation such as New Zealand would have resulted in people each finding something to embrace. Instead, there is an increasingly common attitude to religion as a whole: “Meh.”

Again, the ideas we associate with religion don’t help. The development of faiths separate to the more classic ones led to intriguing additions to the existing assortment, but not many capture the general public’s attention in a good way. Anything too conservative is reminiscent of primitive backwardness, and can scorn the modern comforts that we so enjoy. Religions founded more on nature can bring to mind delusional youths with overgrown hair, circling a bonfire naked under a full moon. And of course, one cannot forget the secluded communities whose beliefs can justify the sexual abuse of their children. The Catholic Church didn’t help itself either, when it had its midlife crisis and tried to make its deadly sins hip and relevant; “Yo dawg, thou shalt not experiment with genetics, ‘cause G-man says that shit is whack!”

So, ‘atheist’, in New Zealand at least, has almost become the default option. Or so one can gather from over a third of the population having declared to associate with no religion in the 2006 census – and that’s not including those who just tick the same box as their parents. Well, armed with this irreligious identity, one is able to escape further contemplation or conflict. Maybe not the annoyingly chirpy door-to-door preachers, but they too can be shut out. Really though, how many selfproclaimed ‘atheists’ have sat down and really thought about what they might or might not believe in?

Science is a handy excuse for some. Why settle for faith when you can have hard evidence? It’s a tad weak though. Not because science is ‘wrong’, but because the two don’t entirely cancel each other out. One can find a miracle in the process of reproduction (I mean birth, by the way), and one can scientifically explain the wonder of a rainbow. There are people who believe in both science and a religion, so it’s sad that there is a sense that a rational and technological world cannot also have a seemingly groundless faith in something else.

But perhaps ‘atheists’ have been thinking about religion more than they let on. Perhaps some discovered that they do believe in something after all – but choose to stay silent. There’s still the fear, of course, and the dreaded politics. And the more you can distance yourself from those horrid connotations, the better. Still, despite the ethnic groups who brought with them a multitude of beliefs, and despite hearing of the many who constantly fight for the right to follow their own religion, New Zealand seems to be facing a faith-deficit.

Will we live happily ever after?


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Comments (9)

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  1. Guy says:

    nice one Sarita
    There’s a lot of religious and scientific info that never makes it to the public eye, so lots of us aren’t getting the real deal regardless of where we come from. I like your relaxed angle, lots of people get really worked up over this.

  2. maggie says:

    I think you are talking about agnosticism not atheism. They are not the same thing.

  3. J-dub says:

    Are you speaking from experiance, from mindless observations provided to you by the media, or actual refutable research?

    Are you talking about your own faith, somebody elses or something you read from wikipedia?

    You’re article is controversial which is entertaining but your idea’s are not new and are easy to contest. Like your article on Climate change, this article is factually deficient, mere speculation and an inspirational failure.

  4. J-dub says:

    I’m sorry looking back on that comment I sound like a heartless bitch…..but I stand by it. Afterall what doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger.


  5. Marguerit says:

    silence heartless bitch

  6. Sloop John B. says:

    Is it just me or do peeps not get subtle humour any more? Good article Sarita, don’t let these mindless drones getcha down :)

  7. Sarita says:

    Well, I thought that atheism is not believing in god/s etc, while agnosticism is more like, having determined that gods or a certain god in particular could not possibly exist. Or something along those lines. So I was basing it on that sort of definition.

    And I’m speaking more from my experience of New Zealand compared to what I’ve noticed elsewhere. As well as the difference between each of my parent’s side of the family – that is, not religious versus varying-levels-of-intense-Roman-Catholicism – which is conveniently divided racially. Ahaha.

    But yeah. *ahem*

  8. “Well, I thought that atheism is not believing in god/s etc, while agnosticism is more like, having determined that gods or a certain god in particular could not possibly exist. Or something along those lines. So I was basing it on that sort of definition.”

    Yea, thats kinda completely wrong. Atheism, is the disbelief in any possible god (or the ambivalence to the concept of deities, and deistic creation, etc) agnostics are the fence sitters.

    Anti-theism, on the other hand, is the active disbelief of deities and persecution/opposition of those who DO beleive.

    All that being said, I call a pox on you haters. I liked the article.

  9. Sarita says:

    Ach, dag-fiddlesticking-nabbit.

    You know how some people have all those embarrassing drunken photos of themselves on Facebook that come back and bite them in the arse when they’re older? Betcha Salient will end up being that for me.

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