Thursday, January 04, 2007

Thrown and altered

The Fundy Post sends its congratulations to Lewis Holden, author of Holdenrepublic, who has been elected President of the The Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand. The announcement has provoked a response from Archbishop Boniface Grosvold of London, Ontario. His Grace cannot comprehend the idea of a Republican organisation existing in a Monarchy. But then, His Grace is an Archbishop of the Old Roman Catholic Church, which broke away from the even older Catholic Church in 1870 because its members could not stomach the idea of Papal Infallibility, a surprisingly new notion promulgated at the First Vatican Council.

Meanwhile, back in New Zealand, my former employers have released their Submission on the Draft National Statement on Religious Diversity, which you can download from their home page . The Draft National Statement is something devised by the Human Rights Commission in a moment of ecumenical hand-wringing. Quite what it is supposed to do is beyond me, other than prompt a fresh blossoming of smugness among leaders of faith communities. The Prime Minister thinks it will stop the fundies fighting each other and us, which is a little optimistic.

I mention it here only because the NZARH submission includes this little gem:

“New Zealand has no state religion.” This is not strictly true. New Zealand is a Constitutional Monarchy, and our Monarch is the head of the Church of England. Furthermore, our Parliament opens with a prayer, our Flag has three Christian crosses on it, our public holidays are Christian, and our National Anthem refers to the Christian God.

I would recommend that the Government remove the prayers in Parliament, change the flag to something people from overseas will recognise, and find a more musical National Anthem.

We will leave aside the peculiar comment about the crosses of the flag. What troubles me is that something seems to be missing from the recommendations. Can you spot it? The Anthem goes, the flag goes, the prayer goes... but what about the Monarchy? After all, the Monarch is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England (and a member of the Church of Scotland when she is on holiday). More to the point, she is Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. Not only is she obliged to be an Anglican, she is Queen because God Himself chose her ancestors to Defend the Faith. Surely, if we want New Zealand to be a secular nation, we will have to let her go.

Not so fast. The NZARH may be trying to balance religious influence in government, law, state etc, but it is not going to try that hard. Getting rid of the Monarchy is a step too far and is not to be mentioned.

There is a reason for this timidity. Although the Rationalists for years had been a haunt of every kind of lefty, the dominating influence on the NZARH these days is Dr Bill Cooke, now Vice-President of the NZARH and Editor-in-Chief of the Association's unreadable "journal." Dr Cooke has many passions and among these is Our Own Dear Queen. Since the NZARH Council would not dare contradict him, the not inconsequential matter of the Divine Right of Kings cannot be spoken.

This is not the first time that the vexed issue of Monarchy has arisen. When news came of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the NZARH Council decided to send a message of condolence to HMQ, without asking the membership. Bill Cooke, who has confessed to having shed tears when Princess Barbie died, was the instigator of this collective act of forelock tugging.

What is extraordinary about the submission is that the NZARH would be happy to see religious schools closed down and religious parents prevented from educating their own children but avoids the obvious matter of the Head of State. The NZARH Education Policy is new to me (and possibly the membership) but it hardly represents the commitment to "promote a tolerant, responsible and open society" which is enshrined in the Association's Objects. When it comes to a relevant Constitutional problem for non-believers, however, the Association's response is silence.

As Dr Cooke said in the Autumn 2001 edition of the "journal"

I make no attempt to justify my commitment to the monarchy on rational lines. It is a purely emotional attachment. I don't see this as in any way compromising my commitment to Rationalism

The NZARH's commitment to Rationalism, on the other hand, can always be compromised when it comes to Dr Cooke's attachments.


Anonymous said...

It's also still the case in New Zealand that incoming jury members are offered a bible to swear on. Given the high proportion of New Zealand residents with no religion, and the growing number of non-Christian religionists, I bet that for around half it means nothing, so why bother with the practice? Convention, I guess. Like horsehair wigs. It would be worth adding this to the list of things to remove.

Paul said...

It would save on Bibles as well. When I took the NZARH to court, the Clerk obviously had the good sense not to offer anyone a Bible.

On another occasion in England, I was a witness in a case where the defendants were Christian pacifists (don't ask). When I told the Clerk that I had no religion, I am sure the air chilled.

Lewis said...

Aww thanks for the linkage.

Anonymous said...

Er, yes. Incidentally, why are they so indiscriminately opposed to postmodernism? Granted, Derrida does have some religious aspects, and Baudrillard is unreadable, but Foucault and Barthes have much to offer the analytical secularist.

Craig Y.

Paul said...

Funny you should mention that, Craig. It's Dr Cooke again: he is obsessed with the menace of PoMo. Of course he knows nothing about it, but that never stopped him. Unfortunately, all discussion is stunted by his prejudices. I will write about this soon.

I agree with you about the value of PoMo thinkers for secularists. Feel free to make suggestions for a reading list of online resources.

Anonymous said...

Assorted religions .. they will not go away. Assorted royals ... they are unlikely to go away either. What to do?

Bill Clinton, in the Introduction to the Madeleine Albright's book "The Mighty and the Almighty" realised this...

"To have faith is to believe in the existence of absolute truth. It is quite another thing to assert that imperfect human beings can be in full possession of this truth, or that we have political ideology that is fully true and allows us to PENALISE, COERCE OR ABUSE those who believe differently.


Among the limitations our founders placed on those in government was that they could not establish an official state religion, or abridge the right of anyone to worship freely. The founders understood from history that the concentration of policial and religious authority in the same hands could be toxic.

We know, of course, that the power of faith is often expolited by those seeking to enhance thier own power at the expense of others. In the Balkans, Slobodan Milosevic talked much about defending Christian Europe, but his real interest was in using religion and extreme divisiveness to fortigy his hold on power.


In the wrong hands, religion becomes a lever used to pry one group of people away from another, not because of some some profound spiritual insight, but because it helps whoever is doing the prying."

The above is applicable to this argument regarding religious tolerance and diversity. And we do have people with Milosevic attitudes in the NZ right wing - they often pay "independent" tax-free charitable "Think Tanks"/Churches (or more accurately PR businesses) to promulgate their agenda!

The Government in various aways seems to me to be trying to address all of the above.


Paul said...

I hope they succeed. I would like to think that establishing a true wall between church and state would help but then I think about what is happening in the USA.

Still, the state must recognise that the non-religious are the largest and fastest-growing group in NZ.

Paul said...

I hope they succeed. I would like to think that establishing a true wall between church and state would help but then I think about what is happening in the USA.

Still, the state must recognise that the non-religious are the largest and fastest-growing group in NZ.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that the Exclusive Brethren may be the fastest-declining religious group too.

Here is a good link if you want some insights into the nutter in Australia that is keeping them on this stupid direction.

I have just noticed that wearing of shorts is not allowed by "Mr Bruce" - hilarious stuff.

As indicated above - if Hales and others want to have faith in absolutes like wearing of shorts then good luck. But don't assume that anyone else should follow suit, so to speak.

NZ Party Babe

Anonymous said...

Well, the New Right certainly have Milosevic attitudes toward anyone dependent on a social welfare benefit. I suspect that they'd endorse 'social cleansing' a la
Brazil if they thought they could get away with it...

Craig Y