Rejuvenation and Contemporary Values
By Geoff Troughton (Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington)
While our thinking about rejuvenation should not be limited by present conditions, reflection on current context is nevertheless essential.
Earlier in 2015, I was invited to lead a discussion for the Alpine Presbytery on contemporary values in New Zealand. We enjoyed a marvellously rich evening of conversation about these issues. Our conversation revealed not only a depth of intuition within the group, but also how difficult it can be to get hold of broader community values. The increasing cultural and ethnic diversity in our nation (‘superdiversity’ in the case of Auckland) is one factor in this difficulty (See Our Futures/Te Pai Tāwhiti: The 2013 Census and New Zealand’s Changing Population (Wellington, 2014). (http://www.royalsociety.org.nz/expert-advice/papers/yr2014/our-futures/). Another is the extent to which we mythologise who we are. As one visiting European academic recently reminded us, New Zealand often presents itself as a small, trade-dependent nation, when it is actually medium-sized (in land area and population) and ranks comparatively low in ‘trade intensity’! (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/69859719/Its-time-for-some-myth-busting-about-safety-laws-and-our-place-in-the-world). What other cultural and religious myths do we tell about ourselves?
Social surveys have limitations, but provide us with empirical tools for probing New Zealanders’ values. They are particularly useful when examined in the light of local circumstances and variations. I have found two longitudinal studies to be especially helpful: the World Values Survey (WVS), (http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/wvs.jsp), in which New Zealand participates; and the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS). (http://www.psych.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/our-research/research-groups/new-zealand-attitudes-and-values-study.html).
Our conversation in the Alpine Presbytery gathering included some analysis of data from these and other sources. This revealed some interesting, and perhaps surprising, patterns:
- We may be notoriously vague about our identity, but according to the WVS nearly 90% of us are “very proud” (63%) or “quite proud” (26.5%) of being New Zealanders. That figure is actually higher than for either Sweden (82%) or the USA (87%).
- Asked to rank from 11 qualities considered most important for children to learn at home, New Zealanders’ rate the following most highly: tolerance (83%); responsibility (56%); independence (54%); and hard work (50%). The lowest ranked, by some distance, are religious faith (16%) and obedience (24%). New Zealand men care much more about instilling “hard work” in children than New Zealand women; both care way more about this than the Swedish do.
- New Zealanders identify quite highly in terms of “altruistic” values. That is, they claim to value creativity, care for nature, and express desire to make a difference for good in society. They express more commitment to behaving “properly” than following tradition, and do not tend to identify strongly with what we could call “hedonistic” values—success, wealth and adventure.
- On the other hand, New Zealanders express deep ambivalence in terms of their “trust” of others—particularly of neighbours and people of “another religion”.
- Despite an historical commitment to egalitarianism, more New Zealanders apparently now feel that “we need larger income differences as incentives for individual effort” than that “incomes should be made more equal”. The same data suggests that we believe strongly in the need for more “personal” (rather than governmental) responsibility, and that “competition is good”.
Some of the most telling differences in New Zealanders’ reported values are generational. For example, in terms of social values, those under 30 years of age are 3x more likely to claim that sex before marriage is “always justifiable” than those over 50 years; they are also 3x less likely to regard euthanasia of the incurably sick as “never justifiable”, and much more liberal in their views concerning issues such as drug use and divorce. There is some evidence that New Zealand young people, like those elsewhere, are becoming more narcissistic (M. Wilson and C.G. Sibley, “Narcissism Creep?” NZ Journal of Psychology 40, no. 3 (2011): 89-95.).
This data is shared by way of provocation. It is presented baldly, though it really repays much closer and more careful evaluation. The data is also deliberately presented with very little reference to “religious” values, though both the NZAVS and WVS surveys also reveal interesting patterns in this area (confirming generational differences, for example, and the existence of a more diverse religious field than high rates of census “no religion” suggest).
The hope is that such provocation can encourage more careful attention as we think about our context. We need to be deep and attentive listeners—to the Spirit, ‘the church’ and ‘the world’.