Saturday, 1 August 2015

The state of the faith: NZ

So this week as I write (which is a while ago now) we had a news item I just couldn't ignore (for some reason) from the Herald, confirming what we always knew - that people who are richer are likely to be less religious in New Zealand.


The interactive map from statistics New Zealand was a lot of fun, and was interesting, but really wasn't too surprising. Apparently the 11 facts on another of the herald reports on the same subject are 'eye-opening', and of course they are true, but 'eye-opening', really? It would have been stretching it even over a year ago when the data came out, not that I can talk, since I've left this article in the editing phase for almost 2 months, exams and travel will do that to you.

As to the reporters' conclusions from interviewing Dr Nick Thompson from the University of Auckland. I think perhaps less flippancy is called for with conclusions especially from an expert in the field.

"The trendy vicar who tried to get down with the kids in the 1960s has now become a figure of fun, most of the radical thinkers in the mainstream churches are now receiving pensions."

I don't even know anything of his vicar archetype ( a quick google search - "Trendy Vicar, Kids" gave an article about a vicar making public that increased child beheading in the middle east is a trend, I think it's more important to be aware of kids being beheaded, than being cool) so clearly it's outdated and doesn't really exist any more even as a figure of fun, maybe it's amusing... who knows. As to 'radical thinkers' in the mainstream churches; firstly it doesn't matter if they are receiving pensions they are still radical, actually what does radical even mean? Most Christians would say that Jesus was radical, or perhaps William Wilberforce or, Kate Shepherd, or James K Baxter, or Bishop Justin Duckworth, or Pope Francis, all of whom are still influential.
As I am writing Pope Francis has most recently posted the following on his twitter account (@pontifex)

It is better to have a Church which is wounded but out in the streets than a church which is sick because it is closed in on itself.

I would posit, and the pontifex agrees, that the most radical thing isn't thinking at all, but doing. I am glad that the Christian faith still continues to be collectively the largest charitable institution on the planet.

As to Pentecostal religions having high turnovers- this is a Statistics NZ survey remember, so those who ticked the box for 'Pentecostal' ticked the box, and those who are turned over aren't measured, so to clarify we are talking about the 'current attendance metric' whereby many Pentecostal/Charismatic churches (often also classified as 'protestant, not affiliated') are growing as stipulated by the census (2013) and by Dr Thompson.

On the other hand I do think it true that it is useless for the church to continue to 'modernize itself' if they mean what I think they mean - sure being engaging is great, the Pope now has twitter (with more followers than the population of NZ), but at the end of the day, honestly, Christians follow a roughly 2000 yr old teaching because we think it's still relevant. Modernising Jesus' teachings and example beyond recognition would mean that churches will no longer actually be Christian.

Speaking of beyond recognition, now to the prosperity gospel and Businessman Ron Clark's ideas. The prosperity gospel is a contradiction in itself, never relevant, and should always be treated with the suspicion it deserves (asking for money in exchange for blessings... this is simply medieval). His comments are out of line with mainstream Christian thinking, and for good reason. Mainstream churches are places where the rich can network too, there's no reason why they shouldn't be, it's simply that they should also make people uncomfortable about wealth that is not given to those in need - Pope Francis has said much on getting to know the poor and has phrased assisting people in poverty as an obligation for Catholics (Evangelii gaudium) . This at least will always be relevant while there is still impoverished people. Moreover Jesus said:

...Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."
Matt 19:24 (NIV)

Also relevant, especially while people starve.
Perhaps this is why a successful businessman would leave the Catholic Church for one that makes him feel good about himself. As an aside, those church subgroups reported as having grown (esp. Evangelical, and protestant non-affiliated) by and large don't "target the rich" in this way.

As to the article in general - here is what I would write (from the so called Godless capital of NZ), if I got the chance to have my own little subheading along with all the other opinionated people: Jesus spoke to the poor, and I suspect His message will always be more relevant to those on the margins than to those in power. Love for the poor is what Jesus intended, so it's not an 'eye-opener' at all that, in general, there are more Christians in poorer suburbs. I hope that Christianity continues to be most relevant to those who physically need it the most.

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