OPINION: Christianity soldiers on in Southland, though the latest 2013 census data is a double-edged sword for the faithful.
Christianity doesn't just feature strongly in our social makeup - we are still more Christian than not. Statistically, anyway.
It's what 52 per cent of us profess when the census document is in front of us.
Whether attendances and meaningful involvement in church communities fully reflect this is a somewhat different question.
It's a striking figure, for all that, since we also have the highest proportion of Christians in the country.
This will in some quarters be interpreted, with all due condescension, as signifying that Southland is the province furthest behind the times when it comes to outgrowing religion.
Others will argue that Southland is, essentially, the better for the extent to which it has striven to hold on to Christian values.
The thing is, though, the census data reveals a mightily significant trend.
We've also had the largest national increase in the proportion of people with no religious affiliation, up fully 10 per cent to 43 per cent.
So the momentum is not with the church, or the Christian church anyway.
Other faiths are showing statistical growth down here too, though for the most part this seems a natural consequence of greater ethnic diversity.
Much of the corrosion in religious adherence could be put down to advances in scientific, or even just secular, knowledge providing enough answers for the idly curious, and the churches' own shortcomings costing them in terms of attracting and rewarding those who might be seeking answers.
Perhaps it's also the distractions of the age. Maybe we face so many small decisions we don't address profound ones.
Or, as some will no doubt point out to us, it might simply be a rising tide of sinful error, fed in no small part by the godless news media. In fact, the phrase "willing tools of Satan" has been applied in this context.
Which brings us to another thing.
Nowadays a lot of people are suspicious of nothing so much as zealotry.
It's perhaps best summed up in postmodern terms: "You believe what you want to believe, so will I, so let's just leave it at that and can I go now?"
This leaves churches in the tricky position of trying to communicate their message with enough ardour to convince people that it really does matter, without going so over the top that they spook them.
Then there's the small matter of hectoring. We get a bit of that down here. If people feel guided to do so, then that's their choice, repellent though others tend to find their shrill attempts to replicate the authority of the prophets.
The Christian church has a battle on its hands, no question. Who knows - adversity might bring out the best in it.
As many of them have long been saying, one of the best ways to do this is through good example.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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