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Spiritual Mumbo-Jumbo

There’s a lot of spiritual mumbo-jumbo around today, especially related to groups which no one wants to offend like indigenous cultures and traditional religious groups. But just about everyone is afflicted with this sort of nonsense to some extent. This was a point made in a recent opinion piece I read which compared Maori spiritual nonsense, such as the belief in taniwhas (Maori water monsters), with the equally unsubstantiated beliefs of the majority culture.

There are a lot of things which could be seen as mumbo-jumbo when they are analysed critically. New Zealand’s national anthem would be a good example. The word “God” appears no less than 11 times in the English version of this rather insipid example of a national song, and as far as I can tell the Maori version is perhaps even worse (the lyrics have only a superficial resemblance to the English version).

Compare this with the Australian anthem which has no references to god or any form of religion at all (although there was an attempt at one point in the past to insert a “Christian verse” which was wisely rejected). Also, I know that there have been some who have commented on the anthem as being “dull and unendearing to the Australian people” but it could be a lot worse. They could have one like ours!

So I some people might criticise me for not singing the Maori version at special events but I refuse to participate in the English version too, so my objection is more to the superstitious content and bland nature of the song rather than to political correctness. Yeah, actually, I can’t sing either, so it’s probably best for all concerned that I abstain from this practice anyway!

The anthem seems to consist of a series of requests to God to protect our country, make it more admired, more peaceful, shielded from potential enemies, more blessed, more full of love, etc, etc. It’s rather weak and pathetic really. Shouldn’t we all be aiming at doing that sort of thing ourselves instead of relying on a non-existent entity we inherited from the distant past?

And yes, few New Zealanders have much religious faith and I think very few would ever consider relying on a god to make the country better. The national anthem is a load of mumbo-jumbo, I don’t think there’s much doubt about that.

Most people avoid overt criticism of religion such as I often indulge in. Actually, I should be more accurate here: they avoid criticism of the dominant religion – in New Zealand’s case Christianity – but many enthusiastically criticise other, less favoured religions, with Islam usually at the top of the list.

Yes, some Muslim practices seem backward and absurd to us, but those people who attack Islam so willingly should be a bit more careful about their criticism. This is not because any religion deserves automatic respect or protection but because many of the people who point out the absurdities in one religion actively participate in, or at least respect, similar beliefs in another.

Certainly Christianity isn’t immune from belief in mumbo-jumbo and participation in ludicrous activities. Here’s a list of a few Catholic beliefs and practices which are supported to varying degrees by different types of Catholics: exorcism, self-flagellation, wearing the cilice, and transubstantiation. And don’t think this sort of thing is restricted to just one form of Christianity, crazy stuff like speaking in tongues is common in many fundamentalist sects.

I would suggest that any of these are as silly as what Muslims are criticised for. What is sillier: believing that 72 virgins await you in paradise or believing that during the Eucharist, the bread and the wine is changed into the body and the blood of Jesus?

Note that the problem of Islamic extremism and violence is a different issue. I fully agree with those who think that Islam is the biggest threat to world peace today, but in this blog entry I am restricting myself to discussing superstition rather than violence, although the two are often connected.

In an ideal world superstitions and other irrational beliefs wouldn’t give anybody special privileges. But if you are going to deny one group special treatment because they just happen to believe in something totally nonsensical then you should apply the same standards to everyone else. The conservative commentators who ridicule Maori belief in taniwhas would never apply the same level of criticism to the beliefs of mainstream Christianity.

They should be more consistent if they want to be taken seriously. But I suspect that their comments aren’t aimed at the sectors of society who think logically and deeply about the subject. They’re probably more aimed at those who would agree without realising how hypocritical they are being. And those people just love this sort of stuff!

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