Friday, January 16, 2009

Paved with good intentions

In which Dr Cooke gets himself all in a tangle, when asked about publicly-funded tapu-lifting ceremonies:
Association of Rationalists and Humanists spokesman Bill Cooke said though the amounts involved were small, "one might ask whether taxpayers' money could be better spent on other things".

"It seems to be pandering to the prejudices or predilections of a very small number of New Zealanders, and we're all footing the bill."

However, he said he would not support a ban on blessings, which would be "a knee-jerk reaction, the kind of intolerance shown by some toward those who do not share their beliefs".
One of the most insufferable traits of Hoomanists is their more-tolerant-than-thou grandstanding. And this is a fine example of said trait: on the one hand, alliteration panders to the prejudices or predilections of a very small number but, on the other, Hoomanists carry the mighty Sword of Tolerance, and would not want it banned because that is the sort of thing that religious people do.

So, before you can say White Liberal Guilt, Dr Cooke has supported ceremonies which invoke spirits and mysterious powers, organised by the people who build the roads and paid by us. It would have been a prime opportunity for Dr Cooke to say that this sort of witchcraft is a load of hokum which should not be supported by the Crown, but he wouldn't do that, would he, because he is so feckin Tolerant.

Less tolerant counsels might also suggest that the business of uncovering taniwhas and tapu whenever a construction project is proposed is a form of extortion: you give us breakfast and we won't disrupt your building project. The various government agencies who indulge these spooky fantasies of spirits and demons should have said, a long time ago, something to the effect of "grow up" (in the case of those who seem to really believe this nonsense) or "feck off" (to those who seem to be looking for a fast buck or a warm croissant). Instead we have succumbed to these infantile beliefs. It is even considered necessary to cleanse the offices of our diplomatic representatives overseas: apparently our taniwha can be found in New York, London, Paris and Munich, every place where a New Zealand Embassy or High Commission is sited, although (oddly enough) these beings are invisible to the locals. The old men who are expert in the detection and removal of evil spirits do very nicely out of this superstition, enjoying travel and expenses from the public purse.

All that said, the Dom Post article is not itself an exemplar of exposition. It fails to note that the increase in expenditure on this voodoo is attributable to the one case that it cites, that of the Bell Block bypass. Thus the writer defeats his own argument: it is not that expenditure on ceremonies has risen overall, but that one case was inordinately expensive. If we were to omit this case, then expenditure has not have risen. In fact, given that the number of ceremonies has doubled, the Transport Agency could claim that it has halved the unit cost of such ceremonies, achieving twice as many rites at no additional expenditure.

While we are on the subject, why is it only the Maori ceremonies that are subjected to this sort of scrutiny? Has the Dominion Post made any Official Information Act requests about the costs of the funeral of Sir Edmund Hillary? My guess would be "no." But here was an extravagant public event, conducted in an Anglican cathedral according to the arcane rites of that Church, at the expense of the taxpayer. We, the people, have also supported the belated interment of the Unknown Soldier and many dawn services. We also pay for prayers in Parliament, Bible in Schools and a whole lot more, yet nobody from the Papers ever seems to complain about these. I wonder why.

My thanks to Owen for bringing this to my attention.


Lyndon said...

Perhaps this is just the performing artist in me, but I have warm regard for the psychological importance of the generic ceremony, as a symbol group assertion of whetever it is. So I basically ignore any bothersome details about what the man in the funny costume is saying.

A public funeral is kind of an example of that. While it was inevitable it would be the Anglican, I know from experience it's partly finding a venue big enough that is still funeral-y. Unfortunately the rites come with the hall, although some denominations can do a certain amount of accommodating.

At the same time, coming from the head of the humanists it does seem disappointing.

Incidentally, I don't know what the dawn services are like but you might notice the monuments have a determinedly humanist tone to them. I believe the returned servicemen felt their clergy somewhat to blame for getting them into the business, and kept them out of it as much as possible.

Paul said...

I too enjoy a funeral and I do not begrudge Sir Ed's kith and kin his send-off.

An interesting thought about the war memorials: I must do some research.