Monday, 19 August 2013

From church to shrine

On Sunday I took a drive out to Waiuku.

Now I suspect not too many readers know about Waiuku, and to be frank, there's no reason you should. It's a small town on the edge of Auckland, famous for not a lot, other than being a fairly pleasant small town, and boasting New Zealand's oldest pub, established in 1853, The Kentish.

I parked the car and took a stroll down the main street, as one does, to see the sights. In Waiuku this takes all of ten minutes at a slow clip.

Which is when I saw this.

Clearly this is a church building with a history. I forget which denomination it used to represent... something fairly staid like Anglican or Presbyterian I think.

But even in sleepy Waiuku the winds of change are blowing. The board outside the former church declares this stately old wooden house of worship to now be a Shinto shrine.

I read it twice, three times. A Shinto shrine. In Waiuku?

New Zealand is a rapidly secularising society, and the traditional Protestant churches are in terminal decline. But who'd have expected that this prominent edifice, set prominently on a hill in the main street, would be transferred to an alternative world faith.

Please don't misunderstand. I don't have anything against Shinto shrines. Or mosques, Sikh temples or whatever. All communities have a right to establish centres for fellowship, affirmation and worship. Brilliant!

But what does this say about the state of those predominantly Anglo religious bodies, the Anglican church and its various derivatives, which once dominated in the English-speaking world. It seems they're greying out of existence.

So down the gurgler of irrelevance they go, rapidly; disappearing without any great trauma before our very eyes.

And I'm reminded of the adage, variously attributed; "better a live heresy than a dead orthodoxy."

Now if they turn The Kentish into a sushi bar... then there'd be cause to get really upset.


  1. I'm reading The Life of Pi, I'm currently bogged down in the too long struggle with the tiger, but loved the presentation of the genius of three religions in the early part of the book. Perhaps just as Pi could be a faithful Hindu, Christian and Muslim a Shinto Shrine may help some in Waiuku listen deeper to the heartbeat of the world than the jingle of cash tills to which we usually attend.

  2. Here in the U.S., many former churches have been converted to restaurants. Others are now community centers or other secular uses. Converting churches to secular uses is a trend I'd like to see continue and accelerate.

  3. Not surprised to see Christianity crashing and burning all around us, it's such a dreadful religion, almost any religion is better. The only good legacy it leaves is large well constructed empty buildings that fortunately can be economically repurposed for many useful functions.

  4. It may all be economics. Much money is required to properly maintain any historic building, even a church. In my state here in the Southwest USA, we have industrial properties such as former supermarkets being converted into churches by the Calvary organization, auditoriums in public schools being rented by start-up Christian churches, and even facilities at hotels being regularly reserved for services. Seems as if the faith is healthy, although I am certainly not a clearing house for all the stats.


    1. Bob - your point is well taken. While some churches are closing down, others are starting up. Much of it has to do with changing neighborhood demographics and changing denominational preferences. I really don't know whether the overall statistics indicate an increase or a decrease in "faith". How would you measure it anyway - church membership, church attendance, number of churches - none of these separate true believers from nominal believers. Not to mention all the shades in between. Plus asian religions, new age beliefs, etc.

      Oy veh. It's enough to make anyone's head spin. All based on "faith" with little or no evidence. It's much easier to be an unbeliever.

    2. It would be hard to argue that Christianity isn't in a state of decline in the US.

      Gallup, whose polls have been tracking religious trends, shows the following-

      * The percentage of Americans saying they do not have a religious identity has risen from 5 percent in 1948, to 16 percent in 2010.
      * The percentage of Americans saying religion is "largely old-fashioned and out of date" has risen from 7 percent in 1957, to 28 percent in 2010.
      * The percentage of Americans who are Christian has fallen from 91 percent in 1948, to 77 percent in 2008.

      The U.S. Census does not ask about religion, so that's not a source of information regarding religion or lack thereof.
      However, the New Zealand Census and the Australian Census do ask about religion, and both show a strong decline in percentage of Christians (as well as strong increase in percentage of people of no religion) in recent years.

    3. Norm, those are positive trends! Plus, keep in mind: at least in the U.S., many people are quite reluctant to admit they are unbelievers. There are serious social and career consequences. I'm sure the U.S. numbers for "Christian" are inflated due to reporting bias, while the numbers for "no religious identity are understated.

  5. The stats are available:
    X'ianity is in serious decline - especially in B'-Belt - devastating for those trying to put a positive spin on things.

    1. Good to hear. How about Islam? Religion in general?

  6. Dream on, Byker Bob. At best, part of the population is trading traditional Bible-thumping Christianity for the sometimes less uptight independent evangelical brand. Mega-churches have grown while Main-street churches have dwindled. Millions more in America have just dropped out altogether.

    What most people in the Western world fail to realize is that Christianity, for almost the entirety of its existence, was no better than what we witness in Islam today. Religious wars, raping and killing in the name of God (i.e., the Crusades), societal purges (the Inquisition), the killing of suspected infidels (Inquisition, Salem Witch trials), etc. etc. was as commonplace in Western Christianity as recently as 200 years ago as it is in Islam today. And this behavior continues to exist today across much of Christianized Africa and to a lesser extent South America. Given that Christianity has been around for 2,000+ years, that is quite an indictment.

    The societies with the most developed critical thinking skills are also the least religious. It is no coincidence. Education ultimately destroys superstition.

    The only thing that bothers me about the decline of Christianity is that it mirrors the decline of Western civility, particularly in the United States. As we import more and more individuals from less-educated foreign cultures, and encourage them NOT to assimilate for fear the Political Correctness police will come after us should we dare suggest such a thing, we will continue to witness a decline in the respect for the rule of law. Belief in the rule of law is strongest in Western Europe and North America; it is the single greatest cultural attribute that differentiates us from the rest of the world. I say that as someone who has traveled to 6 continents and lived half his life moving to a new country every 3-5 years for his job.

    To be clear: immigration with enforced cultural assimilation has historically been a good thing. But without assimilation we will end up like the Baltics one day, assuming the Corporations don't enslave us all first.

    1. [q] better than what we witness in Islam today..., the killing of suspected infidels[/q]

      Apostasy can be a capital crime but they go easy on the legacy Zoroastrians in Iran.
      Why? Because they have an irrefutable counterargument:
      "Our God [Mazda] is 2000 years older than your god; where was this Allah 3000 years ago?"

    2. One thing I love about this blog is the wide variety of opinions that are expressed in the comments section. "Enforced Cultural Assimilation" indeed. Who coined that phrase - Hitler, Stalin or Mao?

      The fact is, each immigrant group HAS assimilated and IS assimilating - over the course of one to two generations - to American SECULAR values and norms. And that's what keeps this country strong.

  7. Christianity, even with all its warts and blemishes, has primarily been responsible for the development and success of Western Civilization, which has been a blessing to the entire world. And, has been responsible for worldwide technological progress and affluence.

    As Critical so aptly put it, we are witnessing a decline in respect for the law that correlates with the decline in Christianity. Although he didn't specifically state it, I believe the two are not only related, but inextricably intertwined.

    While some view this as positive(!), and an indicator that Christianity is just so much superstition, those of us who know and understand the Scriptures (and prophecies) are not only not surprised; but have in fact, been expecting such a paradigm shift. This is actually confirmatory for Christianity.

  8. Is there something going on in the Baltics that I don't know about? They had no choice about the influx of Russians during the years 1945-1985, what with being involuntary Soviet Socialist Republics. I don't believe their was any other kind of immigration into these nations.

    Whether Russian, Lithuanian, Latvian or Estonian, the predominant religion in the Baltics is Christianity of one sort or another. Not counting the atheists of course. Please clarify your comment about the Baltic republics experiencing a breakdown in civility due to religious differences?

  9. My mistake, I meant to say Balkans, not Baltics. That's what happens when you've had one glass too many at a late hour :) But my point about the Balkans has less to do with religion than it does with cultural assimilation (or lack thereof).

    And larry, Western respect for the rule of law is derived from the Romans -- a culture that existed long before Christianity. Such an ignorant comment reveals a lack of education, which only further proves my point that religion flourishes where education lacks.

    1. Way to go Critical! Never miss an opportunity to insult someone, even if you don't know them, or what you're talking about.

  10. I was surprised when I lived in Denmark to see how different Christianity was in Denmark (Europe) than in the United States. Here (U.S.) maybe 40% of Americans are regular church-goers. In Denmark its about 1%. In Denmark 70% of Danes are members of the state church (Lutheran), which is paid for out of a special tax that is able to be "opted-out" if someone does not wish to pay the tax, but only 1% attend church. Strangely 70% of Danes do not opt out of the tax. Most Danes remain voluntary taxpayers of this tax (on top of already high tax rates) to remain members, even though largely secular in mind and practice. As far as I can tell the reasons for the 70% of willing tax payments to support a church which is hardly ever attended are the following: (a) tradition; (b) Christmas Eve and children's confirmations (both very big deals); (c) churches are valued like we might value museums, as historic artifacts one is willing to pay a little bit to keep around just for their own sake--most churches stem from the 1100s-1400s and many have painted murals inside with a lot of history there; (d) residual afterlife insurance (even if one doesn't think or know much about it, just in case). GregD

    1. "Here (U.S.) maybe 40% of Americans are regular church-goers."

      The actual percentage may actually be about half of that.

      A study by Hadaway, Marler, and Chaves done in rural Ohio in the 1990's showed that actual church attendance was approximately half of 'self-reported' church attendance, in both Protestant and Catholic churches.

      In other words, this indicates that although 40 percent of citizens report they regularly attend religious services, the number is more like 20 percent.

      Interestingly, Hadaway et al. concluded the overreporting was mainly a result of people having perceptions of themselves as "churched" Americans, and not because they were afraid to reveal to the interviewer that they are "bad Christians."