Last week I attended, online, the funeral of Ngaire McCarthy, who died just over a week ago from cancer. Ngaire was an outspoken Māori atheist, humanist and rationalist who spoke to the NZ Skeptics (opens new window) at our 2014 conference in Auckland. She told us about how the census shows comparable rates of dis-belief amongst Māori and Pākehā in New Zealand, and how Christianity had imposed itself on Māori culture, merging in a way that makes it hard to pick them apart today.
Ngaire was, for a few years, the President of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists, and later became the organisation’s librarian, where she diligently catalogued the NZARH’s large collection of books on religion, atheism, humanism, free thought and skepticism. The library includes a collection of books once owned by the NZ Skeptics, which were donated to the NZARH for safekeeping many years ago.
Ngaire pushed for secularism in New Zealand, arguing for Religious Instruction and other faith-based observances to be removed from primary schools. She believed that religion in schools is detrimental to children, often causing long term damage to class cohesion and scientific literacy.
For all of you who met and spent any time with Ngaire, I’m sure you’ll remember her sharp wit, infectious laugh and most of all her warmth. She was one of those people who could make you feel like an old friend the first time you met them.
Ngaire’s sister Hema, who is the current President of the NZARH, officiated at the funeral. Several of Ngaire’s children and wider family members spoke of her love for science and rationalism, and how she used to tell them as kids that they were made of stardust, and that answers were to be found in science, not religion. It was sad to be saying goodbye to her, but heartwarming to hear the effect she’d had on those around her, and the respect she’d earned from her peers for her tireless efforts to combat religious privilege in New Zealand.
If you want to know more about Ngaire’s life and her beliefs, these two articles are a good start: