The census held in March 2013 shows that the majority of New Zealanders are not Christian. In the lead up to the census the NZARH conducted a radio campaign educating people to be honest about their religious affiliation. It encouraged people to tick ‘no religion’ who identified culturally with a religion, but do not believe in the doctrine and supernatural aspects or regularly go to church. The campaign was run nationally on several radio stations.
The summary of census results recently published by Statistics New Zealand shows that a majority of New Zealanders are not Christian. As expected the number of people not professing any religion has increased following the trend of the previous census. Christianity is seeing a decline due to multiple reasons. The single biggest factor is the aging population of believers. The younger demographic tend to be substantially less religious that the older generations.
Also playing a role in the decline of Christianity, but having a positive influence on relgiousity as a whole, is the immigration of a more diverse set people from different cultures with existing beliefs that are not Christian. However, other religions outside Christianity still play a relatively small role in the religious landscape.
Another potentially important change has been the influence of the Internet. According to statistics from the World Internet Project New Zealand, Internet usage peaks in the early twenties, trailing off as age increases. Even so, organisations such as SeniorNet are helping make the Internet to the fifty plus demographic accessible. The impact of the Internet has been to make a huge volume of material available that would have been difficult to find otherwise.
The religious can now research questions for themselves online. That this is having an influence on religion is indicated by a recent religious surmon from Thomas Monson, President of The Mormons, warning the membership about the Internet. In a video addressing the women of the Mormon church he said “To an alarming extent our children today are being educated by the media, including the Internet… [content on the Internet] is in direct opposition to that which we want our children to embrace, and hold dear. It is our responsibility not only to teach them to be sound in spirit and doctrine, but to help them stay that way regardless of the oputside forces they encounter.”
It is not only young people who are leaving the religion however. After many of his church members came to him with questions after doing research on the Internet Hans Mattsson, a leader in the Mormon Church, began to do his own research. The interesting point made in his story is that it was the easy availability of information on the Internet which enabled him to research the truth.
Mainstream Christianity is also suffering through easy access to excellent sources. YouTube has been responsible for allowing people to see debates and speeches by popular atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. It has also supported scolars of scripture such as Bart Erhman who examine the history of the New Testament scripture. The Internet is certainly having a signifocant influence on the younger generation, and this is was reflected in the census.
Christianity can no longer claim that the majority of people in New Zealand are Christian. We are increasingly becoming a multicultural society with a range of beliefs, including a large and growing population of non theists. We must therefore review the remaining State support of Christianity, including the Parliamentary Prayer and the National Anthem.