If the jousting goes on much longer' />

Don't you wish Bishop Tamaki and John Campbell would stop all their highly public flirting and just meet up?

If the jousting goes on much longer, I'll start to think it's all a publicity promo for the Destiny leader's new pre-breakfast time show on John's channel.

There was a time when I might have joined the fulminating about how super-salesman Brian Tamaki was brain-washing simple folk into parting with their hard-earned cash so he could enjoy the good life. But on reflection that does seem rather patronising.

If people want to hand over 10 per cent or more of their hard-earned cash in the hope of a life of luxury in the kingdom to come, then more fools them. But it's a free world and the good bishop is only repeating what popes and other prelates of the established churches have been preaching for 2000 years.

My advice to his followers would be to invest the money in a Lotto ticket instead, and take a punt on a lifestyle change for the better in the now and present. But if people convince themselves of the need to clutch a religious Linus blanket, then why not Bishop Brian's brand?

It's not as though he squirrels away his loot and pretends to a humble life of poverty. He flaunts his boat and his flash motorcars and claims from the pulpit that he deserves it.

As Peter Lineham, associate professor of religious history at Massey University pointed out last year, "unhealthy over-deference" to religious leaders isn't new to New Zealand churches. He noted how the founder of the Ratana Church was considered a mouthpiece of God.

Pacific Island congregations can also treat their leaders with great respect. My colleague Tapu Misa a few years back criticised her old Porirua Samoan Church when the leaders got the parishioners "to cough up" $500 for each family to shout the minister a $20,000 holiday in Samoa.

Some rebels among the congregation pointed out the minister owned four houses worth $750,000 and lived rent-free in a church house, paying neither power nor phone bills.

In this you can't help noting, these new-to-New Zealand churches are only aping the past practices of the old churches. The Anglicans seem to be going through a sackcloth and ashes phase at present, but it's not so long back that their prelates lived in palaces and answered to My Lord.

There was as much genuflecting to them as to the Lord they were supposed to be worshipping. Even the old vicarages were substantial residences.

And if tithing is not now in fashion, it's partly because the large land banks built up in the first years of settlement provide a financial cushion the newcomer churches don't enjoy.

But I find it rather one-sided that there seems to be open season on the Destiny Church, while the similarly whacky beliefs of the mainstream churches go unremarked.

The poor old Catholics, for example, have had to call time out in their fast-tracking of Pope John Paul's ascension into sainthood. Seems that three years ago a bed-ridden French nun provided the "miracle" needed to prove John Paul was saintly.

She said she'd prayed all night to him and awoken cured of her Parkinson's disease. There was jubilation in the Vatican. The poor nun has now had a relapse, exposing the silliness of the whole process.

To me, the sensible thing to do where religion is concerned is to ignore it and it will eventually go away. At the last census in 2006, 1.3 million New Zealanders - a third of the population - happily declared themselves heathens. Another 12 per cent either didn't answer or refused to answer the question.

Given the low turn-out and advanced age of most church attendees, one presumes that this year's census will show a further increase in the ranks of non-believers.

Even amongst the Christians, many seem to be having a bet each way. The Anglican dean of Auckland a few years ago confessed to not believing in Adam and Eve or that there was any proof of the virgin birth.

And just a couple of weeks back, Archdeacon Glynn Cardy, vicar of St Matthew-in-the-City, spoke up in support of a group of atheists who had been blocked by New Zealand Bus from running ads on its buses reading "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy life."

Mr Cardy argued that free speech was good. True, but hardly a ringing endorsement of one's product.

What struck me about the advertisement was why the organisers were bothering.

With the $23,000 they'd already collected, why didn't they take a leaf from Bishop Tamaki's book, and, as their advertisement says, "stop worrying and enjoy life".

* An earlier version of this story included a quote attributed to Brian Tamaki's website. This was mistakenly taken from a fake website.