There has, understandably and appropriately, been a great deal of focus here in the last couple of weeks on the 50 deaths (and dozens of other injuries) in the attacks on two mosques in Christchurch. It was a shocking and horrifying event, and will shape memories and influence debate here for decades. It was perhaps all the more shocking because there have been so few terrorist attacks in New Zealand. In my lifetime, I can think of only a few:
- the (suicide) bombing at the Wanganui computer centre in 1982, which killed no one other than the bomber,
- the Trades Hall bombing in Wellington in 1984 (still unsolved) in which one person was killed,
- (whether “terrorism” is the right label or not) the 1985 Rainbow Warrior bombing in Auckland by the French security services in which one person died, and
- the Christchurch mosque attacks in 2019 in which 50 people died.
Putting them together like that, it is striking to realise how many episodes (mercifully, claiming few lives) there were in the early 1980s.
But that is 52 murders and one suicide in 40 years (probably many decades more – there were other violent attacks, but none involving fatalities). Terrorism is shocking, but the number of lives it claims is few.
By contrast, over that almost 40 year period, about 2150 other murders have occurred in New Zealand, each one shocking – not just to the victim, but to their families, and those in their communities. Perhaps not all victims were that “innocent” – gang feuds etc – most were. Many were killed by people known to, or even related to, them – a pretty fundamental betrayal, shattering all sorts of assumptions and norms we should be able to count on.
In the worst year – 1986 – 79 people were murdered in New Zealand. Since the trend rate of murders has fallen off considerably (here and in other countries) and since New Zealand’s population is now so much larger, it is quite probable that this year’s murder rate (even including terrorist deaths) will not exceed the 1986 rate.
What about road deaths? In the 40 years 1980 to 2019 we’ll have had getting on for 21000 road deaths. There are so many, and quite a bit of year to year variability, that in the last year for which the Ministry of Transport has official annual data, the yearly increase in road accident deaths was about the same as the number of terrorist fatalities. Probably amid those road death numbers, there will be a few suicides and more than a few who took their lives in the hands, driving recklessly, and lost them. But many more will presumably have been innocent people who each set out one morning never supposing they wouldn’t come home alive. The numbers are staggering (even if advancing technology means the death rates are a lot lower than they were).
One could add the toll from drownings. In the colonial period, drowning was so common it was known as the New Zealand death. I couldn’t see good time series data, but we still lose almost 100 people a year to drowning.
There are all manner of other forms of accidental death, including workplace ones (50 or so a year).
But all these numbers are swamped by the deaths authorised by and paid for by the New Zealand government. Over the years 1980 to 2017 (latest published data on the SNZ website) 501289 babies were murdered in utero. Those were the authorised and recorded official abortions. The abortion rate has fallen back quite considerably in recent years, such that “only” 13285 babies were killed by the state, at the request of the child’s mother, in 2017.
The terrorist attacks in Christchurch were both shocking and inexcusable. They were (it appears) the work of one man, likely now to spend the rest of his life in prison.
And yet what words do we have for the 500000 babies dead, killed by the state? And for those who initiated and committed those killings. It can be no solace that their mothers (sometimes fathers too) requested the murder: rightly, we deplore other incidents of family violence, and remove children from the care of their parents if the threats of neglect or violence are serious enough. When a parent kills a child, it is perhaps the greatest betrayal humanly conceivable. And yet when the state does it, at the parent’s request, the whole slaughter is sanitised and normalised. There is talk, example, of abortion as a “health issue” – as if death is not the ultimate in anti-healths. One even finds the official statistics on abortion numbers, on the official Statistics New Zealand website, under “Health statistics” (as it happens the only statistics lodged there).
Ministers of health and/or justice, who preside over the abortion regime and delivery services cycle through portfolios and on towards comfortable retirements. Doctors who perform these murders, nurses who assist them, health board officials who facilitate them, all are comfortably remunerated. Who knows if they experience moral qualms. Perhaps, but there are no legal consequences. The state authorises, pays for, and commits these murders of the most defenceless among us. Our Prime Minister now wants to normalise the whole business even further, with legislative amendments to further play down the idea that here the state sanctions the taking of an entirely innocent life (in fact, 13000 of them a year).
There has been much talk in recent days of the need to come together around “common values”. Mostly – and on the important stuff – there are no such things. There are common courtesies, the decency with which we treat fellow humans, but even those are far from universally held (though probably more so in practice, one to one, than on – say – Twitter).
And there are universal moral laws, from nature and from God, but no obligation on any individual or government to follow them. Do no violence (against the innocent)? Well, that clearly isn’t universally held – least of all by our Prime Minister, championing a still more liberal abortion law. Leave everyone to their own beliefs? Well, neither Christianity nor Islam hold to that proposition – both are evangelistic faiths. Christ teaches that no one comes to the Father except by him. Without setting out to be obnoxious about it, there is a gospel imperative to proclaim the eternal consequences of ignoring God’s offer of salvation. Take everyone as they are and respect their own choices? But I wouldn’t do that for, say, someone who’d walked out on his/her spouse and kids. Or someone who actively treats with an evil regime?
Different religions aren’t just brands for social work or community gathering purposes (the “harmless” take, of the sort outlined by Stephen Pinker in his Enlightenment Now, dismissive of any truth claims). Serious religions claim more than that, they matter more than that. Modern liberalism often makes such bold claims as well, championing values, beliefs and practices quite inconsistent with the gospel. It might be, at one end, the normalisation of Sunday work and trading. Or it might be the attempt to force out of the public square – or out of business altogether – those who refuse to recognise and accept their radical redefinition of (so-called) marriage. In fact, the notion of (serious) shared values falls down quickly in the presence of anyone – secularist, Christian, Muslim – who takes their faith seriously, as a source of authority and rule for life. In some of these areas, serious Muslims and serious Christians have more in common with each other than either do with aggressive secular liberals. In others, not – after all, most of the aggressive secular liberals have grown up in societies still suffused with the legacy of 1500 years of Christianity, and the way it shaped art, literature, government, individual rights and so on.
Sadly, too much of the western Christian church has tagged along just a little behind the secular liberals. Perhaps that is why one can sit in the pews of churches in New Zealand for years and hear never a mention of the massacre of the innocents perpetrated each day in the public hospital nearest you.
But no serious Christian (or, I suspect Muslim), and probably no serious champion of the secular liberal position, really believes in common values. They each believe in truth and will – rightly – contest vigorously for their version of truth, aspiring to build a society shaped by that vision. I read last night a piece (which had been circulated by someone once a stalwart of New Zealand evangelical Christianity) about the long-term impossibility of compromise on these issues. It was about homosexuality (Scripture teaches the practice is wrong – if no worse than other sins – while the secular liberals insist we treat it as normal, even good, and they hold the upper hand in our society present). But it might as well have been about those 500000 murdered babies, here in our land. The slaughter goes on, acts of fresh evil committed each day. The Christian should have no truck with that.
Taking a stand doesn’t make for the quiet or easy life. It may come at a cost. But surely we are called to bear witness to the truth Christ proclaims. For what does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul. The only things we really value as those we prove willing, should the need/occasion arise, to pay a price for.