by Bob Brockie

 I look forward to this  year’s census to see what has happened to our religions over the last five years. 

The last census (2018) revealed that the number of New Zealanders with no religion outnumbered Christians for the first time. All over, churches are being sold and turned into bars, restaurants, homes, and art galleries. If past trends continue, this year’s census will show even more kiwis with ‘no religious affiliations’. 

Previous censuses shows flocks of Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian, and Methodist, churches have shrunk over the last 20 years, but devotees of smaller religions have grown.  We now have about 140,000 Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Born-again Christians, and 21,000 Seventh Day Adventists. The 2018 census revealed we had 175 other faiths, including 54,000 Muslims, over 20,000 Hindus, 18,000 Sikhs, 4,000 members of the Church of Jedi, and 20,000 believers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. These religions are all on the make. But with 7,068 respondents, 7.5% of New Zealanders are atheists. Atheism is also on the make.

How do we compare with other countries?

Californian Professor Phil Zuckerman reckons 500-750 million of the world’s population are atheists, with most of them in China and Russia.  At 7.5%, New Zealand atheists don’t come anywhere near Sweden, Denmark,  Norway, or Vietnam, where over 70% of their people are atheists. 

Some countries are very religious. The Vatican, for example, is 100% Catholic, with Peru, Paraguay and Poland not far behind. Ten countries between Morocco and Indonesia are nearly 100% Muslim. In Pakistan, vigilantes murder atheists. 

83% (phew) of the US population is religious.  In a population of 332 million, only five million of them (1.5%) are atheists.  Nearly all American scientists are atheists. They are the most reviled minority in the States.  

Religion, of course, is rooted in the supernatural — Gods, the Divine, Resurrection, Heaven and Hell, Angels, Saints, the Afterlife, Miracles, Prayer, etc. We atheists find the supernatural hard to swallow because, like scientists,  we can find no evidence of it.  Famously, in 1996, the American sceptic James Randi, put up $1,000 reward to anybody who could give objective proof of the supernatural. The reward later rose to a million dollars. But, over twenty years, nobody passed beyond the preliminary tests.  Several experiments show the futility of prayer. At a cost of $2.3 million, prayers of three churches were intoned for 1800 Americans with bypass heart surgery, some of whom knew they were being prayed for, others did not. Prayers did nothing for patients. Indeed, those patients who knew they were being prayed for, suffered more complications. 

See also this post from 2021 —Eds