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Dismissing religion born of prejudice, ignorance

The poetry of the karakia should be embraced not disdained, Peter Matheson writes.

"I’m not religious". You sure hear this mantra a lot, reflected in the dwindling numbers attending church services. I have been studying and teaching religion all my life, here in Otago, in Scotland, Germany, the United States and Australia, so I know most of the arguments for and against religion.

Many of my own family and acquaintances keep clear of religion, although this is less true of Islamic, Māori and Pacific Islander friends. And then, of course, there is the recent kerfuffle about karakia at council meetings, which throws up all manner of intriguing issues.

In the course of a long teaching life I have had to bone up on just about everything in church history from Jesus to Martin Luther King, so not much about religion surprises me any more.

I haunted the Hocken Library in my student days and have never lost my fascination with missionaries like Hadfield, who challenged settler perceptions. So the fascinating and multi-textured stories about religion, its saints and sinners down the ages, are always with me.

Culturally, socially and politically religion has always formed the life of societies. Deformed it, too, at times. The sick piety and arid dogmatism you encounter in religious history hit you in the face, especially if you are not privileged and male.


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