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Fear on the rise among New Zealanders

A survey of New Zealanders' values shows that belief in sin has almost doubled since 1985, from 30% to 56%, but that their belief in sin remains significantly lower than that of Australians (71%).

Alan Webster, founding director of the New Zealand Values Study and retired associate professor of human development and education at Massey University, surveyed 1200 people in the most comprehensive study of values conducted in the country. He found that the other "fear-inspiring beliefs" - in the devil (30%) and in hell (26%) - remained much lower. Conversely, 48% believed in heaven.

Dr Webster, aged 72, attributed the heightened belief in sin to several factors - the uncertainty and rapid change of modern life, a destigmatisation of the concept of sin, and the country's growing number of Pacific Islanders and Maori, who tend towards traditional religious beliefs.

"It seems to be a reflection of the greater seriousness that has struck modern people about the many very frightening and bad things going on in the world, and they don't mind using the word sin to explain them."

While 51% of those aged 60 and over believed in sin, it rose to 64% for those aged 31-40, suggesting a generational reaction against the youth culture of the 1960s.

But New Zealand still ranked low in sin belief, behind Australia (71%), South Africa (79%) and the United States (87%). Institutional religion and traditional religious beliefs seemed to be at a lower ebb than in Britain, Australia and the US. But Dr Webster said it would be wrong to say New Zealand was growing less religious.

The survey showed that while only 35% confessed faith in a personal God, a further 40% believed in a "life force or spirit". New Zealanders were not as strongly determined as others to have high economic growth, he said.

"That's a Kiwi thing. We just want a good life."

The Future of the Church in New Zealand (Reality Magazine)

NZ Herald