Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Pope is in bed with the (ahem) MSM

A comment on the article Consigned to Banality; or, Can Truth and Beauty Survive in a Media Age? Part One


It's bad enough that the ABC Religion and Ethics page ignores the general audience and instead models itself as a sort of trade paper for clerics and theology students. But now the editor wants the rest of the media to follow his example!

When the doddery old Catholic church tells the newfangled European parliament it's looking a bit wrinkly, it's a classic "man bites dog" story.  The "bond between human dignity and transcendence" would have a pretty high switch-off factor. The cub reporter who filed that as a headline would not have a long career, unless of course funding cuts at the ABC are reversed and the Religion and Ethics page creates a new position.

And surely this intimate relationship between the Vatican and the media is totally consensual. From "remember the poor", through to "expect a punch", the perfect soundbite is delivered repeatedly by this Pope. Just like politicians and their spin doctors everywhere, they know how to play the game. 

I also don't recognise this demonised form of liberalism spelled out here. People exercise individual rights when they go to church, just as much as when they go the Gay Mardi Gras.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Enough of the Jesus already!

My response to: 
Competitive Scapegoating? The Case of Two Nations, and Two Condemned Men

I come to the ABC Religion and Ethics page expecting to be appalled by the garbled delusions of believers. For a moment I thought this article would be an exception. After all, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 3, and the commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill" are an excellent example of secular and religious values coinciding. All Australian governments, federal and state, have abolished the death penalty. I feel good about that. It should NOT be a surprise that politicians, the general public and the media are showing solidarity on this issue. The media interest is what you'd expect, given the history of the Bali 9, and the precedent set by Van Nguyen and Barlow and Chambers. It's exactly what you'd expect.

And speaking of Van Nguyen, we are again seeing that the victims of capital punishment are from Asian backgrounds, but that does not stop us from thinking of them as Australian, as our own. They are like the kids we went to school with, the kids we lived next door to. Anglos/skips/white Australians (whatever my ethnic group is called) have had boyfriends, girlfriends, sons and daughters in-law just like them for decades now.

The "moment" I mentioned earlier has passed. It seems to me that Scott Cowdell is desperately looking for some sort of sin for Jesus to save us from. We don't need this sort of old-fashioned fire-and-brimstone condemnation from his pulpit. Isn't there enough real racism out there for him to condemn without resorting to inventing some phantom so he can promote his theology?

Friday, February 27, 2015

A bit more Frying

A little comment I made on God, Suffering and Stephen Fry: A Response to John Dickson:


Joel's reasoning reminds me of Douglas Adams' little fable asking us to picture a muddy puddle which might somehow develop intelligence:

'Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, "This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, may have been made to have me in it!"'

Likewise, the beautiful things in the world were not made for us, we evolved to see them as beautiful.

By the way the puddle story ends with the sun rising and evaporating the puddle. What an evil God to make such a destructive sun!

The appreciation of beauty is also better explained in evolutionary terms: we love the environment which sustains us, and this love is amplified by culture and social interaction, e.g. poetry as a courtship ritual. It doesn't lessen the meaning and nature of beauty. I prefer it to be believable rather than dependent of a mysterious God.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Islam is STILL not a race

Here's my reply to the article  Religion and the Racial Discrimination Act: Don't Muslims Also Deserve Protection?


Death threats and online bile from the likes of the Australian Defence League deserve condemnation. A racist might target a person because of their race, and then use religion as a weapon in their racist arsenal.

So some racists appear to be critics of religion. But not all critics of religion are racists. There are legitimate reasons to criticise religion which have nothing to do with race. Criticising a religion should be accorded the same respect as the concept of freedom of religion.

Including religion in anti-discrimination laws is a bad idea as it will curtail that freedom... we have the freedom to worship God, the Earth Mother, Odin or Satan, and we also have the freedom to blaspheme against them as much as we like.

The section in this article claiming that people born into a religion do not have a choice is also worrying. I think measures need to be taken to ensure that people born into a religion have as much choice as possible. People born into Islam should have a choice to leave Islam, as much as people born into any other religion have that freedom.

If they do leave, they might want to take part in the criticism of their former religion, criticism which might include satire and even ridicule. Restriction of the freedom to criticise religion is a restriction which disadvantages Muslims too, if they find themselves in this situation.

Somehow Mariam Veiszadeh's effort at making religion a compulsory part of life reminded me of the liberal government's insistence on our "Judeo-Christian" foundations, which I also find to be an erroneous imposition. 

UPDATE
JUSTIN BROWN left the following response to my comment:

04 Mar 2015 9:18:48pm
It's one thing to criticise a religion.

It's a completly different thing to say that all proponents of a religion or atheism should be assimilated, segregated, banished or even worse exterminated from society.

Racism/Anti-credism goes much deeper than mere criticism. It's a deep felt hatred for another's belief, culture or race. They have the same root, an unjustified anger against your fellow man, without first having tried to understand the individual himself.

And I left the following  response to Justin:

What I'm saying is that hatred of a belief is a different thing to hatred of a race. It's wrong to lump them together as you have. You might hate communism but love Chinese people. It wouldn't be very good if the government declared that in order to protect Chinese people, vilification of communism would be banned. No, we should be free to mock communism, or capitalism, or environmentalism any way we like. Plenty of Chinese people are not communists, and they would feel a bit miffed at this misguided attempt to protect them, which is actually only empowering their political rivals.

It's the same with religion. Plenty of people from South America are not Catholics, and they want the freedom to mock Catholicism, especially if the power of the church is improperly entrenched in corrupt dictatorships. Plenty of  people from Iran/Syria/Indonesia/Saudi Arabia etc. are not Muslims. They already face segregation, banishment and indeed extermination in countries which have the death penalty for apostasy. And from what I have observed, they are pretty unhappy at proposals to  bring in laws enshrining the protection of Islam or any other religion. It is not protection for all the people, it is acquiescence to a powerful religious elite. 

Justin, I do not dispute your argument against deep-rooted hatred. But what we are talking about here is the proposal to create the blunt instrument of a law which could hurt people, including some of the very people it's intended to protect.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Abortion in America

Here's my comment on an anti-abortion article from the ABC Religion and Ethics site.

The high temperature debate in the United States is not a good test bed for consideration of this issue in Australia, where opinions are likely to be more mellow.

But if I pretend to be American, I'd say the author is not taking any middle ground, and seems himself to be at one of the poles:  the pole where people gather and say "ban abortion".  Likewise the claim that opinion is shifting in that direction seems a bit premature. We'll see about that when it comes to the debates, the rulings in the supreme court, the mass rallies, the social media campaigns, the celebrity endorsements, the Hillary Clinton candidacy etc. etc..

My preferred middle ground is to take the prohibition threat out of the debate, then set about reducing the number of abortions by other means. Making contraception free and increasing resources for sex education would be good. I am glad to see equality in the workplace is already on the table in Mr Camosy's vision.


Je Suis Stephen Fry

An article which tried to explain Why Stephen Fry's Complaint Against God is Unconvincing - if You're a Christian was spectacularly unsuccessful. Here is the comment I posted in response.

The problem of evil is just one of many reasons not to believe in god. For some it would be exhibit A. This was certainly the case in Jonathan Miller's "Rough History of Disbelief", which began its elegant and thoughtful story with Epicurus and his riddle "whence cometh evil".

For others, the problem of evil might be exhibit E. Mr Dickson is asking us to pretend we don't have a problem with A, B, C and D, and THEN try to understand why E can also not be a problem. That's a lot of pretending, and to be honest, I'm not quite sure of the point of the exercise, as the arguments all hold each other up in the air like some kind of Escher drawing, with none touching the ground.

His reasons for asking us to try this thought experiment are problematic. Firstly, I don't think you can say "the vast majority of people" believe in a creator". China with its state atheism, India with its ambiguous Hinduism, Europe and Japan with a statistically high proportion of atheists, don't add all that many. Plenty of cherrypicking churchgoers are also far from convinced and are really just hitching their vague pantheism to the wagon of Christian ritual.

John Dickson then asks us to accept a conceptual version of Russel's teapot (or the Flying Spaghetti Monster to take a more modern example). "You can't prove that X doesn't exist, therefore X exists" is the nature of this argument. In this case, we are being called on to prove that God's mysterious plan doesn't exist. Even if we fail, it still doesn't prove the plan is out there somewhere.

We are also required to set aside the frankly unsustainable claim that Jesus was or indeed IS God. We must then accept that the cruel execution of one person is somehow compensation for all the unjust suffering that has existed throughout history. And even if it meant more because that person WAS God, the whole thing was actually orchestrated BY God who could have stopped it in the first place.

I'm still failing to make any sense of it whatsoever.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

I've got soul, but not A soul

I'm just about to post this comment to the article How Politics Lost Its Soul: Liberalism and Its Discontents

The author acknowledges and then completely glosses over the major problem with this article: there really is no such thing as a soul. It's an imaginary concept to describe sensations which are all in the brain, influenced by and interacting with other parts of the body, especially the endocrine system. The soul is about as credible as a ghost story in a Scooby Doo cartoon, and giving such deep consideration to this concept is no basis for government. Political entities which have claimed to be motivated by the well-being of the soul include the Islamic Republic of Iran and former US President George W Bush. I would like to see a pro-soul party promise that, if elected, they would provide evidence of the existence of the soul (the evidence being along the lines of James Randi's million dollar paranormal challenge, and not just an appeal to philosophical theory). It could then be added to the list of political promises that includes "no cuts the the ABC", and "no carbon tax under a government I lead". Read my lips.