Losing our religion: Kiwis losing the faith in record numbers. Could be fertile ground for alternative faiths?
Our so-called ‘God’s own’ country is fast becoming anything but.
A century ago New Zealand was one of most religious places on the planet, with the great majority of Kiwis, Pākehā and Māori alike, believing in some form of Christianity.
Fast forward a few generations and not only Christianity, but belief in any form of religion, has dissipated to the point where almost half of all Kiwis don’t associate with any religious belief at all.
Comparing the decline in religious belief over the past five national censuses shows just how accelerated non-belief has become since the 1990s.
So what’s behind the decline?
Massey University professor Peter Lineham has studied religious history in New Zealand for decades, and says today’s society does not value religious commitment, as our free time and financial circumstances have changed.
“Historically, religion flourished among what we would call middle income people, the middle classes. Now today, that’s the area of tremendous decline in religiosity.”
Auckland is still our most religious city
New Zealand’s biggest city is by far the country’s most religious, but the topography of where that religion is based has changed markedly.
“In the old days, Remuera and the North Shore were the areas of strong religious groups,” Professor Lineham says.
“Today they’re significantly weaker, that’s because in South Auckland and West Auckland you have these very large pentecostal mega-churches frequented by Pasifika peoples, and the large Catholic churches are strongest.
Migrants are far more religious than Pākehā and Māori
Most migrants to New Zealand bring with them some kind of religious belief – but they arrive in a country that has very little.
Professor Lineham says Pacific Island peoples, Chinese, Koreans and Filipinos are now the dominant people in New Zealand’s traditional churches.
“That’s a very big change. New Zealand is very irreligious compared to most other societies. Koreans come here to live and are alarmed by our secular society.”
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