New Zealand hospital rejects a Christian chapel in favor of a multifaith one; Christians outraged

October 8, 2020 • 1:00 pm

According to the blog post below by Barry Duke at the Patheos site TheFreeThinker, and also from an article in the Otago Daily Times, a new hospital in Dunedin, New Zealand decided it would devote its chapel space to a multifaith facility rather than a Christian one. This has pissed off a lot of Christians, including the Anglican Bishop of Dunedin, all of whom petitioned the Health Board to guarantee there would be a Christian chapel. No dice—the facility doesn’t have sufficient space. Read for yourself, especially the ludicrous justification for a specifically Christian chapel in the hospital.

Have a look at this one:

An excerpt from the paper (my emphasis)

. . . a petition signed by 52 people, mainly leaders of Presbyterian congregations across the South, but also including the Anglican Bishop of Dunedin, the Right Rev Stephen Benford, seeks assurance from the health board that a Christian chapel and an office for chaplains be given priority for the new hospital.

The signatures are attached to a letter to New Dunedin Hospital programme director Hamish Brown, from Leith Valley Presbyterian Church minister the Rev Richard Dawson, which calls for hospital planners to revisit their plans and include a “discernable Christian presence” in the new hospital.

“Hospitals and the health systems in which they operate can largely be said to be an invention of the church and they certainly rely on values espoused by the church throughout its 2000-year history,” Mr Dawson writes.

“More than this, however, is the concern that the Christian faith will not be primarily represented within a city founded on Christian principles and a country in which, still, the largest group of people claiming religious adherence are Christian.”

He argued non-denominational chaplains at the new hospital would administer to the spiritual needs of anyone using the hospital, but said the nature of modern hospitals was due to the impact of Christian churches on ancient military hospitals.

And he asked that “the faith tradition upon which this nation and this city have relied on to guide them in forming an holistic health system be duly recognised”.

This is pathetic. While I don’t mind that they create a place to worship the supernatural in a hospital—after all, hospitals are places of grief and pain, and for those who are religious there’s no harm in creating a quiet for meditation or prayer—I do mind them prioritizing Christianity. And the rationale for that—that Christianity invented hospitals—would be ludicrous even if it were true. But it doesn’t seem to be true, as you find out quickly when you consult the Wikipedia article on “hospital”:

In early India, Fa Xian, a Chinese Buddhist monk who travelled across India c. AD 400, recorded examples of healing institutions. According to the Mahavamsa, the ancient chronicle of Sinhalese royalty, written in the sixth century AD, King Pandukabhaya of Sri Lanka (r. 437–367 BC) had lying-in-homes and hospitals (Sivikasotthi-Sala).  A hospital and medical training centre also existed at Gundeshapur, a major city in southwest of the Sassanid Persian Empire founded in AD 271 by Shapur I.  In ancient Greece, temples dedicated to the healer-god Asclepius, known as Asclepeion functioned as centres of medical advice, prognosis, and healing. The Asclepeia spread to the Roman Empire. While public healthcare was non-existent in the Roman Empire, military hospitals called valetudinaria did exist stationed in military barracks and would serve the soldiers and slaves within the fort.  Evidence exists that some civilian hospitals, while unavailable to the Roman population, were occasionally privately built in extremely wealthy Roman households located in the countryside for that family, although this practice seems to have ended in 80 AD.

So much for that, but even if the very first hospital was constructed by the Christian church, that gives Christians no priority over other faiths in having a dedicated place of worship in a hospital.  As for the “faith tradition” of the country and which is supposedly majority Christian, well, the paper adds this:

[Hospital Programme Director Hamish Brown’s] report noted that between the 2006 and 2018 censuses the number of Otago people who identifed as Christian dropped from more than half (54.1%) to about a third (33.4%).

Those identifying with no religion rose from 38.8% in 2006 to 55.8% in 2018.

It seems to me that they need a Secular Center, not a Christian one!


17 thoughts on “New Zealand hospital rejects a Christian chapel in favor of a multifaith one; Christians outraged

  1. The idea that Christians are and have been “the” religion of New Zealand totally discounts the aboriginals. Christians check out the lion dens. You weren’t there first.

  2. There are so many catholic hospitals in the states it is hard to find one that isn’t. In the city where I live everything was Via Christi and now Ascension. They just change all the signs but it all means the same. When you check in at the hospital they always ask what religion. I just say atheist isn’t a religion.

    1. “ many catholic hospitals in the states..”
      and the US health industry so unconscionably profitable that they may make enough to pay all those lawyers defending them in the child abuse cases.

  3. Having worked at the current Dunedin Hospital for about ten years, I can’t actually remember there being a chapel. But that’s probably because I’m an atheist and have no use for one. My spouse, also a previous employee of Dunedin Hospital, isn’t sure but thinks it may be on the ground floor.

    To a secular person a chapel represents a hospital funded space that is not actually being used for the primary purpose of the hospital. If the hospital is paying for the space then they have the absolute right to determine the use of the space and should not be required to pay for a chapel.

    If a Christian organisation wants there to be a specifically Christian chapel in a hospital then they should fund the space required and so get naming and usage rights.

    Other hospitals I’ve worked in have a non-secular room allocated and furnished for quiet contemplation. They seem to have a reasonable amount of use. It would be interesting to know if contemplation rooms in hospitals have greater use than hospital chapels.

  4. Funny how both those headlines (possibly unintentionally) imply there’s no chapel facility at all.

    I guess I don’t object to the idea of there being some sort of ‘quiet room’ where people can go to meditate, so long as they do so quietly without intruding on others. Maybe we need segregation, one room for the goddies and another for the irreligious. 😉

    Far more significant – in NZ we’re having an election, voting in progress, wraps up in about 8 days. Most likely winner is Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party, Jacinda’s not religious (though she doesn’t make a big thing of it). The opposition National Party is now led by Judith Collins, who is religious but is also not making a big thing of it (because here in NZ, that would cost her more votes than it gains).

    BUT ALSO, we’re voting on a referendum to validate the End of Life Choice Bill which would make voluntary euthanasia legal. Provided >50% vote ‘Yes’, and it looks like it will score well over that (Fervently wishing it be so). The public are well ahead of our politicians in that. So I’ve got my fingers crossed. My mother would have benefited (or rather, she suffered appallingly and inexcusably from the lack of such a law).

    I’m awaiting the screeching from the ‘pro-life’ idiots when the ‘Yes’ vote arrives.

    Oddly enough, the End of Life Choice Bill was a private members bill proposed by David Seymour, leader of ACT, which is generally regarded as the most right-wing party (and he also opposes gun control for example), I guess the answer is he tends to be libertarian.


  5. I’m in BC, Canada. In the early 90’s a devoutly religious Premier put a prayer room in the BC Legislature. It was promptly invaded by Wiccans and other assorted oddballs who did a lot of chanting and howling at the moon. This is BC after all. They got rid of the room fairly quickly.

    1. “…did a lot of chanting and howling at the moon…” presumably asking it to come out from behind all those B.C. clouds.

      Joking of course–one time at a week long summer conference it was wall-to-wall sunshine every day.

  6. I spent the first 19 years of my life in (mainly) Australia and (many years in) Auckland, New Zealand.
    This story surprises me – NZ is one of the least religious countries I’ve ever been to, even more than my happily godless Australian motherland.
    When I came to America, age 21, I was very shocked at how religious this country is. So I settled in NYC. We’re pretty secular here. 🙂
    The story is typical though – Chriiistian chauvinism is international: equality is oppression for the iron age fairy tale believers.
    D.A., NYC

    1. Well there’s a certain PC element to a ‘chapel’. A non-denominational room that anyone can use, from Catholics to Wiccans to completely non-religious, fits quite well with the current flavour of NZ society, so that doesn’t surprise me. I’m just a little surprised that the few Christians got their knickers in a twist about it.

      We also have non-denominational industrial chaplains – someone has figured out that even non-believers may still find it beneficial just to talk to somebody at times.


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