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Steve Nicoll



During the break, the idea that New Zealand’s identity might involve Christianity became apparent when I tried to order a beer after midnight on Good Friday. Despite my relatively coherent recollection of how the Bible endorsed my intention (Jesus turned water into wine, didn’t he?) the bartender didn’t see my point. Walking away without a drink, I started wondering about why, as a nation, we bother to observe a Christian holiday. Especially when a good number of the people I know are humanist, agnostic, or atheist. Those kinds of thoughts probably don’t deserve to be entertained on a Friday night, so I was thankful that I bumped into the blogger David Farrar who converted my spirits. We joined some friends of his and had a few more for good measure. The cheeky bastard put my mug shot up on his web site too, thus exposing further proof of my alcohol problem (I’ve got him testing Vic’s pies next week as punishment – see Salient next week for who ate all the pies).
The serious point that I’m trying to make is that the notion that we are a Christian nation is becoming increasingly harder to believe, especially after Easter. Here’s my attempt to explain why. According to a recent poll, 51 percent of us say we are a Christian nation, whatever those surveyed took that to mean. While that represents a fair chunk of the population, non-Christian worldviews are on the rise. Back in 1901, when one in thirty Kiwis said they had no religion, Christianity was the pervasive ideology. One hundred years later, that proportion increased to twelve in thirty, and the trend continues.
While on the wane, the number of us who still believe in the notion of God is pretty significant. Perhaps that’s the biggest shock: because while nearly half of us think we are a Christian nation, our behaviour is paradoxically secular. If you consider our record for giving to the poor – one of the defining ideas of Christianity – I’ll show you what I mean. In Bob Geldof’s speech to the New Zealand Government last year, he claimed we are the second-least generous country in the world, with just 0.27 percent of our wealth going towards the poorest countries through government aid. While a variety of philosophies (Humanism, Buddism, etc) would also take issue with that statistic, other measures, like the widening gap between our rich and poor, show how far we are from J.C.’s intentions. Turning to the good and holy book (that’s being used as a door stop for half of you) we read that Jesus said righteousness is defined by whether we’ve fed the hungry, slaked the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and visited the prisoner. Also, despite the sixth commandment (thou shalt not kill), our homes are filled with violence. According to the National Party’s police spokesman, Chester Borrows, we have a higher murder rate than England. Divorce rates are not much better. This flies in the face of the bearded one’s lessons.
How does a relatively faithful nation get Jesus wrong? That question must be on the mind of Christian, Thomas Yadegary, an Iranian overstayer who was arrested two and a half years ago. Mirroring the appalling treatment of Ahmed Zaoui, Yadegary was not charged with, or convicted of, any crime. Since converting to Christianity in 1997, Yadagary has effectively created his own demise, because if deported to Iran, he faces the standard penalty for conversion from Islam: death. Despite numerous proverbs urging us to “show mercy” and “do justly,” this Christian remains behind bars. Lying there, Yadegary must be wondering whether his Bible has been replaced by Franz Kafka’s The Trial.
When a rich man came to Jesus one day and asked what he should do to get into Heaven, he was not told he should invest, spend, and let the benefits trickle down. Jesus said sell what you have, give the money to the poor, and follow me. In our nation, that unpopular idea flies in the face of our consumer-orientated lives. Whether we live in a Christian nation or not, this urge to satisfy ourselves is a powerful one; perhaps so powerful that even self-professed beliefs of us being a Christian nation are overcome by it.