Secular karakia slips through prayer blockade

Keeping our nation free from antiquated religious influences is a thankless task but someone’s got to do it.

Dr Pita Sharples, Maori Party Co-Leader, supported Kelston’s initiative saying that ‘schools have to reflect and respect the culture of our kids to make them feel welcome and connected’ and noting that karakia, ‘is a vital part of our lifestyle.’

Pita was probably talking about Maori lifestyle but even so, our collective, multi-cultural Kiwi world is well on the way to being an eclectic blend of cultural and religious rituals.

I was thinking about all this during a Matariki service last week at the hospital where I work as a chaplain. My colleague, another Anglican priest who happens to be Maori, led the service.

God, the Christian version and a combination of older models, was addressed in the karakia nestled amidst chanting, singing, good humour, tree planting and a cuppa afterwards. It was heart warming.

However, if we’d tried to celebrate a Christian festival honouring the changing of the seasons and the sacredness of the Earth, few, if any would have felt obligated to turn up. Instead it would have been seen as religious, an attempt to force an unwanted and irrelevant belief system on others.

In one sense what Dr Sharples says is true. However, it’s also true that communities focused on Christianity, Judaism or Islam would not be able to introduce their prayers into a state school as Kelston has done because we have enshrined religious prejudice in law.

This is why church schools in New Zealand are now the only places teaching an intellectually rigorous curriculum of religious studies, values, ethics and philosophy; remarkably useful subjects for growing citizens of a diverse world.

Religions grew out of human struggles with life, the quest for an understanding of the ‘more than’ of our existence. Continue reading


Sande Ramage is an Anglican priest and blogger.

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