Around that time our local newspaper, The Press, offered a considered Editorial on this news, which is here.
I felt that it was a moment when it is reasonable for a church leader to also make public comment and I wrote and submitted an op-ed to The Press. So far it has not been published so I will publish it here.
This is what I submitted:
"“Has Godzone turned Godless?” is the right question for The Press Editorial (27 September 2019) to ask in response to recently released statistics about religious affiliation in New Zealand. The 2018 Census is the statistical point in our history ‘when “no religion” eclipsed Christianity as the leading religious affiliation’ in our nation.
For most churchgoing Christians this news will not be new. For decades now we have known that there is a huge gulf between the number of citizens willing to declare themselves Christian in the census and actual attendance in churches. Another way of understanding the figures the editorial discusses could be to say that 2018 is the year when we decided to change our conversation from talk of the decline of the number of Christians to talk of the growth in the number of post-Christians. The editorial, after all, rightly notes that we are a nation in which “A sense of being spiritual replaces the idea of being religious,” and that “Philosophers such as John Gray have persuasively argued that even as ‘secular liberals dismiss Christianity as a fairy tale, their values and view of history remain essentially Christian’.”
I think we could develop the last observation. As we respond to climate change, to tragedies such as the shootings on 15 March 2019, and to poverty, to name but a few issues of our day, we see virtues such as compassion, mercy, and grace motivating the vast majority of our nation to act selflessly, to love our neighbours as ourselves. In other words the no longer Christian nation by stated religious affiliation remains still a Christian nation in respect of attitudes and actions.
We are not, however, united as a nation around these values. If compassion and generosity, for instance, were to the forefront of responses to 15 March 2019, we have also been painfully aware that racism continues to be a feature and not a bug in our post-colonial society. That raises the question, What will sustain Christian values in a post-Christian nation? Can a nation with declining allegiance to Christianity be sure to remain admirably Christian through a long post-Christian future? The 2018 census figures offer no guidance as to what kind of nation we might become in the long term as an increasing majority jettison affiliation to Christianity.
Ron Hay, a Diocese of Christchurch cleric and writer has a probing, percipient blogpost here, also in response to the Press Editorial on the census figures.