Friday, April 3, 2009

God bothering

So this isn't strictly the Herald's fault (although they ran it). But this NZPA story has three of my favourite things - odd use of statistics, a weirdly irrelevant picture of the Pope and a Massey University survey.
There has been a sharp rise in the number of New Zealanders with no religious affiliation, new research shows. In a study of 1000 people by Massey University, 40 per cent said they had no religious affiliation compared to 29 per cent 17 years ago.
Good news, you might think, although I'm sceptical of cause-effect relationships between religion and stupidity in public life. Rather than producing rational debates about ethical and policy issues, increased secularism really seems to correlate with people getting their tits out in ads and reality television. And there's always the slim chance that God will smite our nation with earthquakes, tsunamis and bird flu if we ever hit 50 per cent. Meanwhile:
Just over a third of New Zealanders described themselves as religious.
So what do the other quarter think? They don't know whether they are religious or have no affiliation? Perhaps they're stuck in some painful limbo where they are quite literally losing their religion. But I imagine that wasn't an option on the survey.
Fifty-three per cent said they believed in God (although half of those said they had doubts), 20 per cent believed in some form of higher power and about third said they didn't believe or didn't know.
53 plus 20 plus "about third" equals about 106 per cent. But I don't find that surprising. What precisely is the difference between God and a higher power? And what about between having doubts about God and not knowing. Oh, OK, it turns out surveys are worthless.

Interestingly, the Herald only ran a shortened version of the whole press release, under the headline "NZers becoming less religious: Survey". But the numbers don't really support that claim in a meaningful sense. Firstly, they don't seem to have asked (or, at least, reported on) to which religions people subscribe. I suspect that a lot of Anglicans and Presbyterians are dying, whereas all the cool kids these days are joining the Destiny Church. As a previous Massey study showed, your average Anglican is only 46 per cent religious, but Destiny members come in at a whopping 83 per cent. That's almost double the religion!

Also, the fuller report has some further interesting results that didn't make the Herald.
The study found that significant numbers of New Zealanders believe in the supernatural with 57 per cent believing in life after death, 51 per cent believing in heaven and 36 per cent believing in hell.
Who are the two per cent of people who believe in God but not in heaven? Where does He live then, genius? But seriously, that's quite depressing.
A quarter of those surveyed think star signs affect people's futures, 28 per cent say good luck charms work and 39 per cent [!] believe fortune-tellers can foresee the future.
I would recommend two measures to improve political outcomes in New Zealand by the next election. The government could run official horoscopes on the week and day of the election, warning that "Mars is in the seventh house, meaning that today is a bad day to vote - just stay at home and eat a bag of chips." Concurrent with this, all psychic hotlines should be forced to warn clients away from polling booths with terrifying stories of imminent death. Actually, I'm not certain that this would alter the makeup of parliament at all.

Also, the Herald ran a picture of the Pope next to the article online. He's religious, you see.


  1. Wait, how do they determine what percentage religious you are? Does it involve probes?

  2. Funny you should mention the photo of the Pope. I have been watching the Heralds overuse of "stock" photo's, and discovered that they only use 12 - in almost strict rotation. If you're interested, they are;

    Religion (any) - The Pope
    Accident - Ambulance moving
    Health Crisis - Ambulance from side
    Hospital - Ambulance from front
    Ambulance Service - Random shot of Starship Hospital
    Politics (Good) - John Key looking decisive.
    Politics (bad) - John Key smirking
    Politics (Really bad) - Was Winston Peters - replaced with Richard Worth trying to hide under desk.
    Politics World(Good) - Barak Obama
    Politics World(Bad) - Barak Obama, same shot
    Politics World(Really Good) - Mr & Mrs Obama
    Riot (World) - Whangamata, New Years eve circa 1998. Captioned as Lebanon, Serbia, Downing Street etc. as required.

    Don't think I have missed any.

  3. You seem to expect people to have consistent and coherent views about a supernatural entity and His place of being. This puzzles me.

  4. You seem to expect people to have consistent and coherent views about a supernatural entity and His place of being. This puzzles me.

    Well...I wasn't before. NOW I'm puzzled.

  5. Brilliant. You forgot the stock photo of 'Wall Street and the Flag'. Think they have used it every day since the crisis began.

  6. I just stumbled on this blog and I have to say Thank You! I read the Herald every day and at least 87% of the time it makes me angry. Your blog makes it all okay by being insightful, funny and intelligently critical. You could be the web/print Jon Stewart of New Zealand. That is possibly the highest compliment I've ever given anyone.