If there's one thing NZ has plenty of, it's charities - but should the churches be among them?

Charity may begin at home, but in New Zealand, things are getting out of hand. Go to any crowded city mall at lunchtime in this country and toss a rock - chances are you'll hit someone whose organisation enjoys tax-free status and other perks, all because it's a registered charity.

We now have a charity for every 172 Kiwis. Congratulations everyone, it's another example of New Zealand leading the world: it takes 297 Poms and 446 Australians to make a charity.

Not only are all those charities breeding faster than a South Australian fly, they are also very wealthy.

The top 10 charities alone own $4.5 billion in assets, including $1.8 billion in investments, according to media reports. And there are 23,000 more of the things out there - just imagine the total earnings, all of it tax-free.

Charities are in the news because the industry watchdog is cracking down, and not just on the usual suspects: pub charities and footie-related community groups. Greenpeace and women's groups have been denied charitable status, as has the Canterbury Development Corporation.

The first two are out because they serve political purposes; the latter a business one, according to the Charities Commission.

If that's the measure, take another look at that top 10 list and - good God! - almost all involve organised religion.

The Catholics, as well as the Anglicans and myriad other Protestants, are great believers in creating lots of little trusts - what's known in the trade as "splintering" - each sitting on pots of property and equity churning out billions of dollars in untaxed earnings.

Yes, I know the churches do good work for New Zealand's poor, but it's a valid question to ask how much of that enormous wealth is applied to genuinely charitable purposes. Many people, and I am of their number, believe the primary purpose of all those religious trusts is the accrual of more money and power.

Let's be charitable and classify their proselytising on behalf of some invisible deity, about whom no objective data exists, as a charitable purpose.

I do so on the same basis as my belief that clowns and children's entertainers should also receive Government assistance.

But the religionists also serve a political purpose, and one that is diametrically opposed to modern standards of common decency.

Human rights, women's rights, gay rights, male genital mutilation (otherwise known as circumcision) - the churches have their fingers all over that stuff.

At the same time, we now know, for decades they've been holding an annual running of the altar boys. Apparently it's charitable work.

The Anglicans are supposed to be the good guys; kind of Catholic but not so hung up on following the rules.

But for every gay-embracing St Matthew-in-the-City, there's a churchman like the late Archbishop Whakahuihui Vercoe, who not so long ago opined that being gay was unnatural and immoral.

Aside from gay-bashing and kiddie-fiddling, the other thing I associate with the major religions is guilt. You'd think they'd be racked with the stuff. If there's a real God, they should.

It's gratifying, then, to report that when it comes to sex, they are.

A new study involving 14,500 Americans shows the only difference between us non-practitioners and God-botherers is guilt about sex. They feel it much worse.

There's no difference in the amounts of sex, the variety of partners, masturbation and same-sex proclivities.

They do it all, like the rest of us, but just feel worse about it afterward, which is probably why the Catholics, at least, are such big believers in mortifying the flesh, lashing away their sinful thoughts.

The study also shows that when Christians give up their beliefs they enjoy sex much more. Maybe there is a God after all?