The Christchurch earthquake has triggered a return to religious faith. A new world-first study has proved that people are drawn to religion in a time of crisis, and bucks a 50-year trend of New Zealanders turning away from religion.
One Christchurch congregation was in full voice this morning, and the number singing God's praises there is growing.
“There's definite comfort and help in the word of God and the belief that when things happen to us they happen for a reason,” says church member Geoff Siave.
That's backed up by an Auckland and Victoria University study, which found that as the steeples fell in Christchurch, the number of people turning to religion rose.
“Over 26 churches fell,” says Victoria University religious studies lecturer Joseph Bulbulia. “We found that secular people were drawn to faith and that's a unique, interesting finding.”
There was a 3.4 percent increase in religious faith by those affected by the quake, which is not a huge number until you consider that for more than half a century New Zealanders have been turning away from religion at the rate of about 1 percent per year.
“The quake's just one of those things that just nudge people to think, ‘hey, what's life about?’” says pastor Alan Jameson.
“For me God is a really loving presence,” says church member Ruth Sharr. “So when you’re scared you return to that safe place.”
The study also asked people about their health and well-being pre- and post-quake. Religion didn't protect people from feeling worse, but those who had lost their faith suffered more.
“There's something about that combination of the earthquake and loss of faith that indicates a significant drop in subjective wellbeing,” says Mr Bulbulia.
The study will run for another 16 years, gauging New Zealanders' attitudes and values and how they respond to any future upheaval.