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July 13, 2014 | by  | in Opinion Politics | [ssba]


We’ve finally won our atheist state. The current Prime Minister doesn’t believe in God; the one before him didn’t either. Even Colin Craig’s Conservatives and the more pious members of the National Party emphasise that their mission is a secular one. Despite Parliamentary prayer and the tax exemptions awarded to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the fact is that our politik has discarded its faith. On the rare occasions when morality enters the public domain, deference to the Church is considered a neglect of our intellectual responsibilities. Secularism has become a presumption of our democracy.

Yet most respondents to last year’s census considered themselves religious. For more than half of us, the scriptures still matter. By ejecting God from the chambers of power, we’ve ejected the basic epistemology of most New Zealanders. The religious are typically not white, typically not university-educated, typically not gifted with our middle-class malaise. That their entire ontology has been publicly rejected should provoke at least a little unease. If we are to cling to our progressive pretensions, we must consider the possibility that the religious are religious for a reason.

For those without degrees in analytic philosophy, religion provides a proxy for morality. When we talk about Heaven and Hell, we talk about justice and desert. Note that religious people never find dogma sufficient: “because God says so” cannot satisfy even the most pious. Dogma is justified through its effects on the real world. Sometimes this leads to bigotry, such as religious homophobes insisting that gays are poor parents or that same-sex marriage will corrode the family unit. But such bigotry leaves itself exposed to the patient truth of reality. When bigotries are proven false, the dogma can evolve, and with it evolves the morality of the masses.

Religion asks questions that the public debate has forgotten. Our legislators have an incredible ability to ignore the need to reform abortion law. We generally blame the conservative right, but at least they’re willing to discuss it. In liberal society, governments concern themselves with marginal tax schedules and school funding allocations; matters as personal as an abortion aren’t worthy of our attention. The obvious irony is that this has left morality hostage to the conservativism of 1977. Even as we detest their oppressive conceit, we should give credit to the religious for having the conversation.

If spirituality is a connection with that which is bigger than ourselves, the distinction between spirituality and politics is much more subtle than we insist. When we talk about God, we provide an avenue by which the soul of the community can be examined. But, of course, God’s been dead for a while now. Let’s make sure public morality doesn’t die with him.



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