Skeptic News: Protest finale, Investigative journalism? RIP Shane Warne and more.
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NZ Skeptics Newsletter

We have a bumper issue of the newsletter this week, with contributions from quite a few people. And what a week it’s been! The main event of the week, here in our country, has been the end of the protest at Parliament in Wellington. It came to a fairly quick end once the police moved in. In a previous newsletter, I'd expressed concern at how much leeway the police were giving protestors. I think, with the actions of last week, it was becoming clear that the protestors needed to be moved on. 

It's been interesting to monitor the social media accounts of those behind the protests and see how much they're rationalising things (at least in my opinion). They're clearly "smarting" from the perceived loss - especially in that they didn't achieve their goal of ending mandates and having the government meet with them directly.

Of course, the world is focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I've nothing specific to say about that in this newsletter apart from acknowledging the situation. It's certainly likely that misinformation and propaganda will play a part, and has already done so with Putin's announcements.

There’s plenty to talk about, so let’s dig in.

Craig Shearer

Protest finale

Last Wednesday, the “anti-mandate” protest at the Parliament Grounds in Wellington, which had lasted for 23 days, came to an end. It was not an end that the protestors wanted, but was forced on them by police action. 

Over the past few weeks, Mark and I have written about the protest. It initially started out as something of a curiosity, and Mark visited it in person. Over time, it appears to have become increasingly dangerous, with many protestors displaying increasing hostility toward those not agreeing with their cause(s).

Despite protestations to the contrary; that the protest was peaceful; that all they wanted was dialogue with the government about ending mandates, there were numerous examples, caught on social media video posts, where less-than-peaceful behaviour was on display.

And the protest was never just about ending vaccine mandates. The protestors covered a vast array of topics including those that wanted an end to the government, including executions of politicians and media. Most protestors were firmly anti-vaccine. All, it would seem, were in the grips of rampant mis- and dis-information.

There were undoubtedly some highly organised groups behind the event. I’ve written many times about Voices for Freedom, and Mark has covered other groups such as Counterspin Media and their people. Voices for Freedom, identified by their distinctive colouring of their signs and t-shirts, were on full display. 

With the arrival of the Omicron variant of Covid on our shores and a lot of community transmission, it became clear that the protest would be a super-spreader event. Protestors were invariably maskless, and,being  camped on site, living in close quarters for extended periods.

Amusingly, symptoms of Covid were blamed on EMF weapons, and we saw images of protestors wearing tinfoil hats, in a misguided attempt to reduce their susceptibility to EMF radiation. It does seem clear that a large number of people at the protest now have Covid, though most are resistant to testing so it’s unlikely we’ll know the full extent of the infection.

On the day that it all ended it was all shown on video - with various prolific “alternative media” channels covering things in great detail. I spent a bit of time watching it all unfold on Chantelle Baker’s livestream on Facebook. 

We’ve covered Chantelle Baker before, but briefly she’s the daughter of ex-New Conservative Party leader Leighton Baker. (Baker senior was also at the protests, and got arrested, and, as a bonus, has tested positive for Covid.) Her livestream commentary on the day was quite enlightening. There were moments where she witnessed less than savoury behaviour, and called it out. There were also times where she suggested that the “bad actors” were actually Antifa people rather than genuine protestors. I guess that’s a good example of cognitive dissonance and the No True Scotsman fallacy at work

Image from Braden Fastier/Stuff

The police ended up using pepper spray on protestors. Amusingly, we saw images of people treating the pepper spray by pouring milk into their eyes - a clear misunderstanding of just how that works - water would work better, whereas milk, not being sterile, could possibly lead to an infection especially after the eyes have been aggravated by the pepper spray. It would seem that people thought that when you have hot food, milk is good for that. The way that works is that the fat in the milk forms a protective layer on the tongue to insulate the taste buds from the chemicals causing the hot sensation. That’s not going to work on your eyes.

Towards the end of the day things devolved into tents being set alight, and there was certainly the danger of the fire spreading uncontrollably (with all that hay on the ground), with consequent danger to protestors and police. Chantelle Baker claimed, or at least gave air to comments that suggested that the police started the fires - by knocking over a generator in a tent. Later analysis of video from the day showed that the police were about 5 metres away from the tent when the fire started. More details about the fire here

I personally witnessed, on Baker’s livestream, instances of protestors throwing items into the fire in an effort to make it bigger - items including gas bottles! And I also saw a person actively transferring fire from one tent to another.

Near the end, protestors were seen digging up paving stones to throw at police. 

The videos taken on the day will make useful viewing for the police in identifying people who actually performed criminal acts (over and above the act of trespassing on the grounds). It would seem that some livestream videos are being removed from social media, in an attempt to hide the evidence, but I’m reliably informed that it’s already been saved elsewhere.

There are clear parallels with the January 6th attack on the US Capitol, and it seems that at least some of the protestors were hoping that an actual storming of parliament would take place. We can only hope that police here take swifter action to hold the criminal elements and organisers to account than appears to be happening in the US.

There's clearly a misinformation epidemic in the world, and we're not isolated from it here in Aotearoa/New Zealand. While the protest has now been shut down, I don't expect that the underlying causes will go away anytime soon.

Investigative journalism?

Speaking of Voices for Freedom, last weekend investigative journalist Melanie Reid from Newsroom did a video piece on the protest - Visit to Freedom Village - which featured the Voices for Freedom leaders in a very positive light.

Melanie Reid is no stranger to controversy. Back in 2017 she did an investigation into the debunked anti-vax film Vaxxed, portraying it in a positive light. 

And way back in 2004, NZ Skeptics awarded Melanie Reid our Bent Spoon award for her coverage of claimed psychic medium Jeanette Wilson. At the time, Reid was on TV3’s 20/20 programme, and Wilson had a series called Dare to Believe. Reid’s investigation on the 20/20 documentary programme of Wilson’s purported psychic powers came to the conclusion that she was genuine!

Back to the video from last week, Reid portrayed the three Voices for Freedom women as just concerned mums, and asked no critical questions.

Reid should have probed their anti-vaccination stance, and questioned whether they were vaccinated. She should have asked why they claim the protest is all about ending mandates when all of their communications heavily promote anti-vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories.

She should have also asked them more about their funding sources. While she asked the question, she allowed Claire Deeks to waffle on about how their funding was largely from individuals in small amounts.

In reality, Voices for Freedom, while claiming to be a not for profit organisation, is a limited liability company with the three women as directors. Their own FAQ page on their website claims they will make information about their finances public:

"Like any well run organisation receiving funding we intend to provide basic information on finances such as to provide accountability and transparency at appropriate junctures and at least annually."

To date, after being in existence for over two years, they have not done so. Voices for Freedom is a large misinformation organisation - spending large sums of money convincing people not to be vaccinated, and spreading conspiracy theories.

Today, Radio New Zealand did a piece which criticised Reid’s Newsroom video which makes very interesting reading and listening

In the accompanying podcast, a person (who remains anonymous) tells the story of how he was concerned about the lack of vetting of vaccine injury stories. He decided to submit some made up stories of his own to an anti-vax website and was then contacted by Melanie Reid to do an interview on vaccine injury. It would appear that Reid sits firmly in the anti-vax camp herself.

Committee member, Jonathon Harper has these comments:

So what is a skeptic to make of all this?

  1. previous serious credulity and gullibility may be a predictor of  future behaviour
  2. the conspirators are partly right in that mainstream media cannot always be trusted
  3. nevertheless, VFF seized upon Reid’s reporting apparently claiming it is reliable
  4. maybe Ardern and other politicians were correct in refusing to talk with VFF etc (there may have been a slight benefit by reducing paranoia, but I think not enough)

Freedoms

Just what are freedoms that the protest groups are saying are being trampled on and restricted? Two senior lecturers in Psychology at the University of Canterbury wrote a good piece on The Conversation, defining what is meant by freedom - the concepts of negative and positive liberty.

At the heart of this lies the distinction between a narrow conception of freedom known as “negative liberty” and the wider concept of “positive liberty”. The former, seemingly preferred by the protesters, implies a freedom from imposed restrictions on people’s behaviour – such as lockdowns and vaccine passes or mandates.

The counter-argument is that reasonable restrictions, if justified to prevent significant harm from COVID-19, actually increase overall freedom. In that sense, the freedom to behave in certain ways becomes a “positive liberty”.

It’s a good read, and nicely lays out how negative liberties and positive liberties interact.

Liz Gunn

I’ve written about Liz Gunn before. She used to be a respected broadcaster on TVNZ’s One News, but has now gone well down the rabbit hole. Last year she claimed that an earthquake was Mother Nature's response to Jacinda Adern’s Covid-19 response . She announced her FreeNZ movement, which appears to have political aspirations. 

She was present at the protests, and has now appeared on the disinformation outlet Counterspin Media. 

There’s a clip of parts of her interview here, claiming that she got sick at the protest from stuff that the government put on the crowd that affected people's immune systems. She’s clearly sick from Covid (ok, that’s the most likely explanation - maybe she’s got a bad cold - I’m not a doctor!)

You can watch the video on YouTube

She even questions the legitimacy of Jacinda Adern’s prime ministership, claiming that that will be examined one day, when the people take back power.

The interview had to end when she complained of her temperature spiking and having trouble breathing. 

Hopefully she pulls through her Covid infection successfully. Will she infect others? Will this make her realise that Covid is real? Will we see more of her in the future?

RIP Shane Warne

We don’t often cover sports stories in our newsletter, and I’m certainly not one for writing them, but yesterday we heard the news of the untimely death of Shane Warne, the Australian Cricketer. Warne was only 52 and died of a heart attack.

It didn’t take long, but the anti-vax crowd have come out and blamed the Covid vaccine for Warne's death.

Of note are Dr Guy Hatchard - who’s been featured by Voices for Freedom, and Free NZ (Liz Gunn’s outfit) - and Pete Evans.

Interestingly Dr Guy Hatchard has a Ph.D, a fact touted by those promoting him. If you dig deeper though, his Ph.D is from Maharishi International University  in Iowa in the US. His doctorate is listed as a Doctor of Psychology in the department of Vedic Science. He has just three publications to his name. While the university doesn’t appear to be a diploma mill as such, it’s not highly ranked, and specialises in consciousness-based education and transcendental meditation.

Pete Evans is an Australian Chef and TV celebrity and has had a bad relationship with vaccines, and was even fined $80,000 by the Australian Health Department for promoting unlawful devices and medicines. 

Neither of these people should be trusted for their medical opinions and advice!

While it’s sad that Shane Warne has died, he did suffer from Covid last year and was on a ventilator. It’s certainly plausible that his Covid infection could have had an effect on his heart which led to an early end. Again, I’m not a doctor!

Chaplaincy for the non-religious

Contributed by Colin Woodhouse

The population of New Zealand is changing – and not just because there are more of us, including many new immigrants, or because people are living longer. The other great change is that fewer people are religious and New Zealand is increasingly secular.

Nurses recognise the importance of holistic care, part of which is religious, spiritual or pastoral support, but are we delivering this properly? As a nurse and humanist, I firmly believe we’re not.

The 2013 census showed 42 per cent of the population were not religious.1 The data also showed the proportion of Christians had decreased. The religious groups that had increased were Sikh, Muslim and Hindu, reflecting the immigration of people from Asia. Independent research done last year by the faith-based Wilberforce Foundation showed the non-religious proportion of the population had increased to 55 per cent.2 The 2018 census data isn’t available yet.

Hospital chaplaincy is the responsibility of the Interchurch Council for Hospital Chaplaincy (ICHC). ICHC has held a contract with the Ministry of Health to provide chaplaincy services to district health boards since 1993. The council comprises representatives from nine Christian churches. It can hardly be argued that this fairly recognises the differing beliefs of the religious population, never mind the spiritual feelings of the non-religious.

Chaplains are usually ordained Christians, who have undergone additional training to work as chaplains. They provide support for people of all religions or no religion. Working alongside the salaried chaplains are volunteer lay people. These volunteers, too, have been trained to speak with believers and nonbelievers. All hospital chaplaincy services have contact lists of people available to talk with those from specific Christian denominations, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons. There will also be contacts for other religions, such as Islam or Judaism. So why isn’t there one for the non-religious?

The chaplains and their co-working volunteers are trained to speak with people of no religion. I have no doubt many of these people have done so, and it has been of help to the patients involved. However, there is no service offered for those who are not religious and do not want to talk with a religious person about their spiritual needs, feelings or goals. An example of this is a homosexual man who feels that, throughout his adult life, the church has condemned and opposed him.3 There is no expectation that people who are Hindu, Buddhist or Baha’i should talk with a Christian chaplain. Similarly, there should be no expectation that the non-religious should only speak with a religious person at a time of need.

UK survey results

A recent survey by Humanists UK showed 62 per cent of the religious people who took part were in favour of non-religious pastoral support workers.4 The survey also showed that non-religious people felt far more likely to access pastoral and spiritual services if non-religious support workers were available.4 I intend repeating this survey in New Zealand.

The Netherlands has had non-religious pastoral support available in hospitals, universities, prisons and the armed forces since the late 1950s. About 70 percent of Dutch people are not religious. The hospital chaplains are non-religious and offer pastoral and spiritual support to everyone. If a patient is religious, the appropriate religious person will be asked to come in to address the patient’s needs.

The United Kingdom now has three salaried non-religious pastoral care providers. Somewhat surprisingly, one of them is the chaplaincy and pastoral care service manager for a National Health Service hospital trust. Less surprisingly, she is from the Netherlands and has given me a great deal of information over the last nine months.5 In addition to the three paid staff, there are several hundred volunteer support workers.

New Zealand is changing in many ways and pastoral support provided to patients needs to change too. The system, as it stands, may be seen to be unconsciously discriminatory. I believe the failure to provide non-religious pastoral or spiritual support for non-religious people is a breach of the Human Rights Act 1993 Section 21(d). This failure also breaches the Health and Disability Commissioner’s code of rights 1(3).

When an increasing number of people are not religious, “hospitals can’t simply neglect them by providing religious chaplaincy and nothing else”. (Humanists UK 2019).

Colin Woodhouse, RN, PGDipHSci, works on a neurosciences ward at Christchurch Hospital. He aims to write a thesis on this subject for a master’s in health sciences.

References

Humanists UK 2017 https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Humanists-UK-polling-on-pastoral-care-in-the-UK.pdf

Humanists UK 2019 https://humanism.org.uk/2019/03/19/the-art-of-listening-an-interview-with-humanist-pastoral-carer-lindsay-van-dijk/

Savage, D. (2019). Non-religious pastoral care: A practical guide. London. Routledge.

Stats NZ (2014) http://archive.stats.govt.nz/Census/2013-census.aspx

Wilberforce Foundation (2018) https://faithandbeliefstudynz.org/

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Skeptic News: Protest finale, Investigative journalism? RIP Shane Warne and more.
Read this in your browser
NZ Skeptics Newsletter

We have a bumper issue of the newsletter this week, with contributions from quite a few people. And what a week it’s been! The main event of the week, here in our country, has been the end of the protest at Parliament in Wellington. It came to a fairly quick end once the police moved in. In a previous newsletter, I'd expressed concern at how much leeway the police were giving protestors. I think, with the actions of last week, it was becoming clear that the protestors needed to be moved on. 

It's been interesting to monitor the social media accounts of those behind the protests and see how much they're rationalising things (at least in my opinion). They're clearly "smarting" from the perceived loss - especially in that they didn't achieve their goal of ending mandates and having the government meet with them directly.

Of course, the world is focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I've nothing specific to say about that in this newsletter apart from acknowledging the situation. It's certainly likely that misinformation and propaganda will play a part, and has already done so with Putin's announcements.

There’s plenty to talk about, so let’s dig in.

Craig Shearer

Protest finale

Last Wednesday, the “anti-mandate” protest at the Parliament Grounds in Wellington, which had lasted for 23 days, came to an end. It was not an end that the protestors wanted, but was forced on them by police action. 

Over the past few weeks, Mark and I have written about the protest. It initially started out as something of a curiosity, and Mark visited it in person. Over time, it appears to have become increasingly dangerous, with many protestors displaying increasing hostility toward those not agreeing with their cause(s).

Despite protestations to the contrary; that the protest was peaceful; that all they wanted was dialogue with the government about ending mandates, there were numerous examples, caught on social media video posts, where less-than-peaceful behaviour was on display.

And the protest was never just about ending vaccine mandates. The protestors covered a vast array of topics including those that wanted an end to the government, including executions of politicians and media. Most protestors were firmly anti-vaccine. All, it would seem, were in the grips of rampant mis- and dis-information.

There were undoubtedly some highly organised groups behind the event. I’ve written many times about Voices for Freedom, and Mark has covered other groups such as Counterspin Media and their people. Voices for Freedom, identified by their distinctive colouring of their signs and t-shirts, were on full display. 

With the arrival of the Omicron variant of Covid on our shores and a lot of community transmission, it became clear that the protest would be a super-spreader event. Protestors were invariably maskless, and,being  camped on site, living in close quarters for extended periods.

Amusingly, symptoms of Covid were blamed on EMF weapons, and we saw images of protestors wearing tinfoil hats, in a misguided attempt to reduce their susceptibility to EMF radiation. It does seem clear that a large number of people at the protest now have Covid, though most are resistant to testing so it’s unlikely we’ll know the full extent of the infection.

On the day that it all ended it was all shown on video - with various prolific “alternative media” channels covering things in great detail. I spent a bit of time watching it all unfold on Chantelle Baker’s livestream on Facebook. 

We’ve covered Chantelle Baker before, but briefly she’s the daughter of ex-New Conservative Party leader Leighton Baker. (Baker senior was also at the protests, and got arrested, and, as a bonus, has tested positive for Covid.) Her livestream commentary on the day was quite enlightening. There were moments where she witnessed less than savoury behaviour, and called it out. There were also times where she suggested that the “bad actors” were actually Antifa people rather than genuine protestors. I guess that’s a good example of cognitive dissonance and the No True Scotsman fallacy at work

Image from Braden Fastier/Stuff

The police ended up using pepper spray on protestors. Amusingly, we saw images of people treating the pepper spray by pouring milk into their eyes - a clear misunderstanding of just how that works - water would work better, whereas milk, not being sterile, could possibly lead to an infection especially after the eyes have been aggravated by the pepper spray. It would seem that people thought that when you have hot food, milk is good for that. The way that works is that the fat in the milk forms a protective layer on the tongue to insulate the taste buds from the chemicals causing the hot sensation. That’s not going to work on your eyes.

Towards the end of the day things devolved into tents being set alight, and there was certainly the danger of the fire spreading uncontrollably (with all that hay on the ground), with consequent danger to protestors and police. Chantelle Baker claimed, or at least gave air to comments that suggested that the police started the fires - by knocking over a generator in a tent. Later analysis of video from the day showed that the police were about 5 metres away from the tent when the fire started. More details about the fire here

I personally witnessed, on Baker’s livestream, instances of protestors throwing items into the fire in an effort to make it bigger - items including gas bottles! And I also saw a person actively transferring fire from one tent to another.

Near the end, protestors were seen digging up paving stones to throw at police. 

The videos taken on the day will make useful viewing for the police in identifying people who actually performed criminal acts (over and above the act of trespassing on the grounds). It would seem that some livestream videos are being removed from social media, in an attempt to hide the evidence, but I’m reliably informed that it’s already been saved elsewhere.

There are clear parallels with the January 6th attack on the US Capitol, and it seems that at least some of the protestors were hoping that an actual storming of parliament would take place. We can only hope that police here take swifter action to hold the criminal elements and organisers to account than appears to be happening in the US.

There's clearly a misinformation epidemic in the world, and we're not isolated from it here in Aotearoa/New Zealand. While the protest has now been shut down, I don't expect that the underlying causes will go away anytime soon.

Investigative journalism?

Speaking of Voices for Freedom, last weekend investigative journalist Melanie Reid from Newsroom did a video piece on the protest - Visit to Freedom Village - which featured the Voices for Freedom leaders in a very positive light.

Melanie Reid is no stranger to controversy. Back in 2017 she did an investigation into the debunked anti-vax film Vaxxed, portraying it in a positive light. 

And way back in 2004, NZ Skeptics awarded Melanie Reid our Bent Spoon award for her coverage of claimed psychic medium Jeanette Wilson. At the time, Reid was on TV3’s 20/20 programme, and Wilson had a series called Dare to Believe. Reid’s investigation on the 20/20 documentary programme of Wilson’s purported psychic powers came to the conclusion that she was genuine!

Back to the video from last week, Reid portrayed the three Voices for Freedom women as just concerned mums, and asked no critical questions.

Reid should have probed their anti-vaccination stance, and questioned whether they were vaccinated. She should have asked why they claim the protest is all about ending mandates when all of their communications heavily promote anti-vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories.

She should have also asked them more about their funding sources. While she asked the question, she allowed Claire Deeks to waffle on about how their funding was largely from individuals in small amounts.

In reality, Voices for Freedom, while claiming to be a not for profit organisation, is a limited liability company with the three women as directors. Their own FAQ page on their website claims they will make information about their finances public:

"Like any well run organisation receiving funding we intend to provide basic information on finances such as to provide accountability and transparency at appropriate junctures and at least annually."

To date, after being in existence for over two years, they have not done so. Voices for Freedom is a large misinformation organisation - spending large sums of money convincing people not to be vaccinated, and spreading conspiracy theories.

Today, Radio New Zealand did a piece which criticised Reid’s Newsroom video which makes very interesting reading and listening

In the accompanying podcast, a person (who remains anonymous) tells the story of how he was concerned about the lack of vetting of vaccine injury stories. He decided to submit some made up stories of his own to an anti-vax website and was then contacted by Melanie Reid to do an interview on vaccine injury. It would appear that Reid sits firmly in the anti-vax camp herself.

Committee member, Jonathon Harper has these comments:

So what is a skeptic to make of all this?

  1. previous serious credulity and gullibility may be a predictor of  future behaviour
  2. the conspirators are partly right in that mainstream media cannot always be trusted
  3. nevertheless, VFF seized upon Reid’s reporting apparently claiming it is reliable
  4. maybe Ardern and other politicians were correct in refusing to talk with VFF etc (there may have been a slight benefit by reducing paranoia, but I think not enough)

Freedoms

Just what are freedoms that the protest groups are saying are being trampled on and restricted? Two senior lecturers in Psychology at the University of Canterbury wrote a good piece on The Conversation, defining what is meant by freedom - the concepts of negative and positive liberty.

At the heart of this lies the distinction between a narrow conception of freedom known as “negative liberty” and the wider concept of “positive liberty”. The former, seemingly preferred by the protesters, implies a freedom from imposed restrictions on people’s behaviour – such as lockdowns and vaccine passes or mandates.

The counter-argument is that reasonable restrictions, if justified to prevent significant harm from COVID-19, actually increase overall freedom. In that sense, the freedom to behave in certain ways becomes a “positive liberty”.

It’s a good read, and nicely lays out how negative liberties and positive liberties interact.

Liz Gunn

I’ve written about Liz Gunn before. She used to be a respected broadcaster on TVNZ’s One News, but has now gone well down the rabbit hole. Last year she claimed that an earthquake was Mother Nature's response to Jacinda Adern’s Covid-19 response . She announced her FreeNZ movement, which appears to have political aspirations. 

She was present at the protests, and has now appeared on the disinformation outlet Counterspin Media. 

There’s a clip of parts of her interview here, claiming that she got sick at the protest from stuff that the government put on the crowd that affected people's immune systems. She’s clearly sick from Covid (ok, that’s the most likely explanation - maybe she’s got a bad cold - I’m not a doctor!)

You can watch the video on YouTube

She even questions the legitimacy of Jacinda Adern’s prime ministership, claiming that that will be examined one day, when the people take back power.

The interview had to end when she complained of her temperature spiking and having trouble breathing. 

Hopefully she pulls through her Covid infection successfully. Will she infect others? Will this make her realise that Covid is real? Will we see more of her in the future?

RIP Shane Warne

We don’t often cover sports stories in our newsletter, and I’m certainly not one for writing them, but yesterday we heard the news of the untimely death of Shane Warne, the Australian Cricketer. Warne was only 52 and died of a heart attack.

It didn’t take long, but the anti-vax crowd have come out and blamed the Covid vaccine for Warne's death.

Of note are Dr Guy Hatchard - who’s been featured by Voices for Freedom, and Free NZ (Liz Gunn’s outfit) - and Pete Evans.

Interestingly Dr Guy Hatchard has a Ph.D, a fact touted by those promoting him. If you dig deeper though, his Ph.D is from Maharishi International University  in Iowa in the US. His doctorate is listed as a Doctor of Psychology in the department of Vedic Science. He has just three publications to his name. While the university doesn’t appear to be a diploma mill as such, it’s not highly ranked, and specialises in consciousness-based education and transcendental meditation.

Pete Evans is an Australian Chef and TV celebrity and has had a bad relationship with vaccines, and was even fined $80,000 by the Australian Health Department for promoting unlawful devices and medicines. 

Neither of these people should be trusted for their medical opinions and advice!

While it’s sad that Shane Warne has died, he did suffer from Covid last year and was on a ventilator. It’s certainly plausible that his Covid infection could have had an effect on his heart which led to an early end. Again, I’m not a doctor!

Chaplaincy for the non-religious

Contributed by Colin Woodhouse

The population of New Zealand is changing – and not just because there are more of us, including many new immigrants, or because people are living longer. The other great change is that fewer people are religious and New Zealand is increasingly secular.

Nurses recognise the importance of holistic care, part of which is religious, spiritual or pastoral support, but are we delivering this properly? As a nurse and humanist, I firmly believe we’re not.

The 2013 census showed 42 per cent of the population were not religious.1 The data also showed the proportion of Christians had decreased. The religious groups that had increased were Sikh, Muslim and Hindu, reflecting the immigration of people from Asia. Independent research done last year by the faith-based Wilberforce Foundation showed the non-religious proportion of the population had increased to 55 per cent.2 The 2018 census data isn’t available yet.

Hospital chaplaincy is the responsibility of the Interchurch Council for Hospital Chaplaincy (ICHC). ICHC has held a contract with the Ministry of Health to provide chaplaincy services to district health boards since 1993. The council comprises representatives from nine Christian churches. It can hardly be argued that this fairly recognises the differing beliefs of the religious population, never mind the spiritual feelings of the non-religious.

Chaplains are usually ordained Christians, who have undergone additional training to work as chaplains. They provide support for people of all religions or no religion. Working alongside the salaried chaplains are volunteer lay people. These volunteers, too, have been trained to speak with believers and nonbelievers. All hospital chaplaincy services have contact lists of people available to talk with those from specific Christian denominations, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons. There will also be contacts for other religions, such as Islam or Judaism. So why isn’t there one for the non-religious?

The chaplains and their co-working volunteers are trained to speak with people of no religion. I have no doubt many of these people have done so, and it has been of help to the patients involved. However, there is no service offered for those who are not religious and do not want to talk with a religious person about their spiritual needs, feelings or goals. An example of this is a homosexual man who feels that, throughout his adult life, the church has condemned and opposed him.3 There is no expectation that people who are Hindu, Buddhist or Baha’i should talk with a Christian chaplain. Similarly, there should be no expectation that the non-religious should only speak with a religious person at a time of need.

UK survey results

A recent survey by Humanists UK showed 62 per cent of the religious people who took part were in favour of non-religious pastoral support workers.4 The survey also showed that non-religious people felt far more likely to access pastoral and spiritual services if non-religious support workers were available.4 I intend repeating this survey in New Zealand.

The Netherlands has had non-religious pastoral support available in hospitals, universities, prisons and the armed forces since the late 1950s. About 70 percent of Dutch people are not religious. The hospital chaplains are non-religious and offer pastoral and spiritual support to everyone. If a patient is religious, the appropriate religious person will be asked to come in to address the patient’s needs.

The United Kingdom now has three salaried non-religious pastoral care providers. Somewhat surprisingly, one of them is the chaplaincy and pastoral care service manager for a National Health Service hospital trust. Less surprisingly, she is from the Netherlands and has given me a great deal of information over the last nine months.5 In addition to the three paid staff, there are several hundred volunteer support workers.

New Zealand is changing in many ways and pastoral support provided to patients needs to change too. The system, as it stands, may be seen to be unconsciously discriminatory. I believe the failure to provide non-religious pastoral or spiritual support for non-religious people is a breach of the Human Rights Act 1993 Section 21(d). This failure also breaches the Health and Disability Commissioner’s code of rights 1(3).

When an increasing number of people are not religious, “hospitals can’t simply neglect them by providing religious chaplaincy and nothing else”. (Humanists UK 2019).

Colin Woodhouse, RN, PGDipHSci, works on a neurosciences ward at Christchurch Hospital. He aims to write a thesis on this subject for a master’s in health sciences.

References

Humanists UK 2017 https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Humanists-UK-polling-on-pastoral-care-in-the-UK.pdf

Humanists UK 2019 https://humanism.org.uk/2019/03/19/the-art-of-listening-an-interview-with-humanist-pastoral-carer-lindsay-van-dijk/

Savage, D. (2019). Non-religious pastoral care: A practical guide. London. Routledge.

Stats NZ (2014) http://archive.stats.govt.nz/Census/2013-census.aspx

Wilberforce Foundation (2018) https://faithandbeliefstudynz.org/

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