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The island country of New Zealand has just released data about religion from its 2013 Census, and the figures point to a nation where the religiously unaffiliated (the “nones”) are the largest grouping, with Catholicism trailing in the distance.

Maori rock carvings at Mine Bay on Lake Taupō, over 10 metres high and are only accessible by boat or kayak. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Maori rock carvings at Mine Bay on Lake Taupō, over 10 metres high and are only accessible by boat or kayak. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

“According to Census 2013, 4 of 10 Kiwis have said they follow no religion which makes New Zealand one of the most secular countries in the world. The data revealed that a Christian majority in New Zealand is uncertain with less than 1.9 million Kiwis affiliated with a church compared to more than 2 million in 2006. Paul Morris, a religious studies professor at Victoria University, said New Zealand was moving into “new territory” with Christianity no longer a prominent part of society. Mr Morris said Christianity is not the clear majority when it comes to religion since 1901.”

Anglican Ink notes that the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church in New Zealand have both been shedding numbers, and another Anglican site points out that the Christian population is getting older and older.

“Last census there were 41,000 Anglicans over the age of 80, only slightly less than those under 10. But this still means that many Anglicans in 2006 have changed their affiliation since then – probably to “none”. Meanwhile, for the first time in New Zealand history Roman Catholics outnumber Anglicans. Catholics now number 492,324, although they too have declined slightly from the last census. The big growth has been in those of “no religion,” up from 32.2% last census to 38.6% this census. And when we add in those who objected to state their religion or who didn’t answer the question, a majority of New Zealanders (50.82%) now have no religious profession.”

So, a country that’s probably most famous (in American minds at any rate) for being the place where the Lords of the Rings films were made (among other blockbuster fantasy pictures), is now also famous for being a country that’s part of a slowly encroaching post-Christian West. So, now that Christianity is definitively on the wane (outside of a small number of Protestant denominations), are religious minorities growing? What about modern Paganism? Are there many Pagans in New Zealand? Yes, yes there are. If you tally up the Wiccans, Animists, Druids, Pantheists, and self-declared Earth/Nature Based religionists, they number over 5000.

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Now, around 5000 Pagans doesn’t sound like a lot, but you have to remember that New Zealand isn’t only about Christians and “nones,” it’s one of the most ethnically diverse nations on Earth. Thanks to where New Zealand is positioned, there’s a large Hindu community, a small Shinto community and, of course, Māori traditional beliefs, and Māori new religious movements like Ringatū and Rātana. The cumulative effect is that New Zealand must govern a nation where no single sect or religion holds absolute sway. Post-Christianity doesn’t mean the absence of Christianity, merely that it must co-exist with other faiths within a culture.

“A post-Christian world is one in which Christianity is no longer the dominant civil religion, but that has gradually assumed values, culture, and worldviews that are not necessarily Christian (and further may not necessarily reflect any world religion’s standpoint, or may represent a combination of either several religions or none). Generally, therefore, post-Christian tends to refer to the loss of Christianity’s monopoly, if not its followers, in historically Christian societies.”

So, in short, New Zealand is a more diverse, and less traditionally religious place. It can be seen as a bellwether for larger nations that are undergoing the same process, and hopefully, we can all learn from how the island nation moves forward in serving their diverse land. For more on Paganism in New Zealand, see the website for the New Zealand chapter of the Pagan Federation International.