Religion in New Zealand (and the rest of the world)


In order to understand the role religion plays in modern New Zealand culture it helps to understand the role religion plays in cultures in general. Anytime you analyze religions that have diffused into foreign cultures you’ll see the new religion wipe out some of the old cultural folkways and norms. For example, ascetic religions (like Christianity) tend to turn wild, promiscuous pagan cultures more Puritanical. However, cultures will also wipe out parts of invasive religions that are too incompatible with the beliefs/practices the locals’ ancestors handed down to them. For example, most Christians today believe slavery is ethically wrong even though the Bible approves and even promotes the practice of slavery multiple times.

So invasive religions end up getting changed by their host cultures as much as they change it. The perfect example is how some African American Christians have pictures hanging in their living rooms of a strong Negro-skinned Jesus while next door their Caucasian Christian neighbors have a picture of a blonde haired, blue-eyed suburban Jesus.

Christianity has definitely left its mark on New Zealand culture. Christianity’s arbitrary Puritanical moral code has rooted itself in New Zealand civil law…and yet those laws are different than Christian-based laws in other Christian countries. For example, in New Zealand the age you can legally drink and have sex are lower than in other Christian nations. Yet, New Zealand Christians still won’t let gays marry.

Christian Kiwi politicians might have woven puritanical Christian asceticism deeper into the law books except the majority of New Zealand population aren’t western-thinking Christians. Immigrants from Asia and the Pacific islands make up a significant percentage of New Zealand’s population and thus New Zealand’s cultural identity. Plus, Christians from different cultures have brought their own distinct flavors of Christianity with them that clash with other cultures’ expression of Christianity fracturing the greater Christian culture in New Zealand instead of giving them strength in numbers.

Think of New Zealand as a petri dish. Every time a new demographic appeared in New Zealand a new bacteria got dropped into the dish. Originally there was only a glob of brown Maori bacteria. Then a huge glob of white pakeha bacteria got dropped into the dish, and it spread and turned the Maori bacteria a few shades whiter, but the Maori bacteria also turned the white pakeha bacteria a little bit brown. Then a small but steady stream of yellow and red bacteria started dropping into the dish. For as long as those four cultures have been trying to diffuse to the point of equilibrium tiny drops of bacteria of other cultures all over the world have been splattering into the dish as well. As a result, no single cultural or religious identity has been able to claim New Zealand. Since solidarity isn’t possible Kiwi culture has adapted by keeping their religion to themselves for the most part.

It shouldn’t be surprising that kiwis would settle on such a lasses faire solution to the question of religious identity since island culture is laid back, and British colonial culture is private and tactful. When all of those cultural tendencies are combined they produce people who don’t fight with their neighbors over religious differences.

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