Religion and faith
Te hāhi me te whakapono

"He kākano ahau i ruia mai i Rangiātea"
I am a seed which was sewn in the heavens of Rangiatea.

What is religion?

The terms religion, faith and spirituality are often confused with one another, and even used interchangeably. They can mean different things to different people, especially when you apply a different cultural or linguistic lens, which creates a challenge when attempting to precisely define them.

For some people their connection with religion may only go so far as a descriptor on their birth certificate. For others, it plays a central role in defining their meaning and purpose in life, their morals and ethics, and how they live day-to-day. Religious practice may be individual or communal, centred around gatherings in places of worship or embedded in daily customs and personal routines. It usually relates to a faith, with many people of faith describing religious practice as the practical outworking of their faith - the mechanics of nurturing their faith. They 'have' faith, whereas they participate in a religious practice. For many it provides a guiding compass, assurance and foundation for wairua as they navigate through life, and a source of strength, comfort and meaning through difficult times. 

Religion may have been an important part of our growing up, and continue to be - or over time we may have become disconnected from it. Some find, or rediscover, religion later in life. In our communities and workplaces it's likely many religions and faiths will be represented. Take the time to reflect on the role religion plays in your own life, and to respect and learn about other people's religion and the role it plays in their lives.


The Oxford Dictionary describes faith as complete trust or confidence in someone or something. We often hear the phrase “I have faith in you” - in other words, I trust or believe that you are able to do something that is yet to be done. When the word faith is used in the religious context it is driven by a strong belief - sometimes in the doctrines of a religion - generally based on a spiritual conviction rather than proof. Faith is something we have, rather than something we do. Faith is about believing in someone or something without scientific, empirical proof or justification.

Many religions

In its simplest form, religion can be described as our way of relating to the things we regard as holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual or worthy of special reverence. It also consists of practices such as worship, prayer, meditation and other rituals that are expressed to a god, gods or the spirits associated with that specific religion. It can describe how a faith is practiced.

A simple search of the internet will reveal more than 4,000 different religions and religious bodies, but it is generally accepted that there are five main religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. A brief summary of those five religions is provided here, but it is easy to find out more online.


Judaism traces its origins back to Abram, who received a divine call from God to leave his people and travel to the land of Canaan. Their history is told in the Old Testament of the Bible starting with the creation story of Adam and Eve, Abram (whose name was changed to Abraham), Moses, and on through a succession of kings and prophets. The focus of their worship is through temple sacrifices and the celebration of Holy Days which included the Passover, Shabuot, Yom Kippur, Sukkoth and Hanukkah. Judaism has a number of sacred writings including the Tanakh (Hebrew scripture which also forms the First Testament of the Bible), Mishna (tractates and regulations on the Law), and the Talmud (exposition of the Mishnah and Torah).


Christianity is founded in the worship of Jesus Christ. The historical account of Jesus’ life and works are contained in the Bible's four Gospels, though there are references to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in Hebrew and Roman writings from that time. Since the time of Jesus, Christianity has split into hundreds of denominations that practice different styles of worship, but most follow a similar creed and celebrate the two main festivals of Christmas and Easter. Christianity's sacred writings are contained within the Bible, including the Old (or First) and New Testaments.


Around 20% of the world's population follow Islam, which is second to Christianity as the world’s largest religion. Islam was founded by the prophet Muhammed who received a series of revelations from the angel Gabriel, which were eventually compiled into Islam’s sacred scripture - the Qur’an. Followers have five obligations they are required to keep; they are to recite the Shahadah (to bear witness), Pray, Fast (Ramadan), to give to the poor, and to make the pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca at least once during their lifetime.


Hinduism’s origins can be traced back to around 1500 B.C. in what is now India. It began as a polytheistic (more than one god) and ritualistic religion. The sacred river of Hinduism is the Ganges and its waters are seen as the symbol of life without end. Hinduism has no single founder, sacred book, hierarchy or creed. It has however developed into a rich pluralistic religious culture with a variety of customs, forms of worship, gods and goddesses, theologies, philosophies, stories, arts and music. Hindus accept that they share common beliefs, principles and structures. For many, Hinduism isn’t so much a system of belief, as a way of life, a religious culture, a spiritual and intellectual quest, and an intense identification with the myriad ways in which the sacred is presented in India. If asked about their beliefs, many will start by talking about ethical teaching: kindness and truth, hospitality to guests, respect for the family and particularly for elders and parents. They may have beliefs in particular gods or goddesses, the authority of certain sacred texts, the merits of pilgrimage, or the doctrine of karma. Some (not all) may accept the social hierarchy of the four varnas (cast system) and certain principles of purity and pollution. 


Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama - commonly known as the Buddha ("the awakened one"). The Buddha lived and taught in the north-eastern Indian subcontinent sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. He is recognised by Buddhists as an awakened or enlightened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end suffering (or dukkha), achieve nirvana, and escape what is seen as a cycle of suffering and rebirth. Buddhists live their lives following five moral precepts (sila) in that they should refrain from: the taking of life (all forms, not just human), stealing, immoral sexual behaviour (monks must be celibate), lying, and the taking of intoxicants.

What about religion in the NZDF?

With more than 13,000 members of the NZDF whānau, it is little wonder that we are a diverse bunch when it comes to religion. As of March 2021, we identified as belonging to more than 12 different religions (one option was ‘other’, so we don’t know exactly how many). Of those 12 religions, Christians were the most diverse - with more than 20 different denominations identified.