Why does the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference hate freedom?

17 03 2009

I think gambling is a complete and utter waste of time and money. I have never enjoyed visiting the casino with my friends, and when I did, I never placed a bet, considering the practice the equivalent of emptying the contents of my wallet into the toilet.

But hey, that’s me. Many others, for reasons I personally cannot fathom, enjoy gambling. As long as their activities don’t harm others, who am I to stand in their way?

Who am I? I’m not a Catholic bishop, that’s who.

When you’re a Catholic bishop, you believe not only that you are, by virtue of the notion that you are the representative of a deity, able to deliberate authoritatively to the wretched paeons and sinners on how they ought to conduct their lives. You also believe that the law of the state should coerce people to conduct themselves in accordance with your dogmas, regardless of whether they belong to your religion.

You are, in effect, an enemy of liberal democracy. You are an enemy of religious freedom, and the separation of church and state, because for all your bluster about being God’s representatives on earth, about serving a higher power than any that humankind can devise, either the God you claim to represent is utterly weak, or your powers of reason and persuasion are so pathetically handicapped, that you need the earthly powers of the state to force people to do what you want them to do. You have always needed this.

It’s simple, really. Don’t like gambling, drinking or shopping on one of your “sacred” holidays? Then don’t do it. Don’t like others gambling, drinking or shopping on one of your “sacred” holidays? Then make an argument, convince them that they shouldn’t.

Or else prepare to be mocked for your obscene presumptuousness in dictating to the rest of us how we should live our lives. That mockery is a sign that human society is liberating itself from the superstitious and unnecessary fear and awe of old male virgins wearing funny robes. History is pwning you. And that’s a good thing.

Great Moments in the History of “Christian Love” (TM): How Religious Fascism Poisoned Little Axe

28 02 2009

A recent episode of Ed Brayton’s Declaring Independence podcast (Feb 5th 2009) featured an interview with Joann Bell, one of the plaintiffs in a 1980s suit against the school district of Little Axe, Oklahoma. In 1981, the town’s elementary school was allowing a “voluntary” teacher-sponsored student prayer group called the Son Shine Club to operate on school grounds before classes began. The school buses used to drop students off in front of the school 30 minutes before classes began, and since school rules dictated that no student was allowed inside the building without permission before the first class, students had to choose between standing outside in the rain or cold, and joining the prayer meeting inside the school. Eventually, peer-pressure forced more students to attend Son Shine Club meetings, which would sometimes run over into the first class.

Bell, who belonged to a different denomination than the Baptist Son Shine Club, brought up the issue with the school board, where she was told to take it up with the ACLU. When she along with other parents brought a lawsuit against the school district (which the plaintiffs won on appeal), that’s when all hell broke loose: including death threats, assaults on herself and her children, and eventually the firebombing of her family home, forcing the family to move away from the town.

More details are available at Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, where we also learn the school superintendent’s response to his community’s loving Christian treatment of the plaintiffs: “The only people who have been hurt by this thing are the Bells and McCords. The school goes on. They chose to create their own hell on earth.”

Things they would have difficulty believing in Salt Lake City XXX

14 02 2009

The week in fundie:

  1. For starters, given that it was Darwin Day only a couple of days ago, here’s the idiot quote of the week from Australian Bishop Tom Frame:

    The problem I face is weariness with science-based dialogue partners like Richard Dawkins. It surprises me he is not chided for his innate scientific conservatism and metaphysical complacency. He won’t take his depiction of Darwinism to logical conclusions. A dedicated Darwinian would welcome imperialism, genocide, mass deportation, ethnic cleansing, eugenics, euthanasia, forced sterilisations and infanticide. Publicly, he advocates none of them. (Brisbane Times)

  2. In Irasburg, Vermont, a public school is being sued by two families after it was claimed that a schoolteacher proselytised in class, bought religious (including creationist) literature with school funds for dissemination in the classroom, and punished students who complained. (Times Argus)
  3. OMGTEHHOMOSEXUALAGENDACONTROLSTELEVISION!!!!!!!!!!!! World Net Daily shrieks hysterically about teh radical homosexual agenda to control your TV sets and convert your children to gay homosexuals. “Note” “their” “over-use” “of” “scare-quotes” “around” “the” “word” “gay,” “as” “if” “gays” “don’t” “really” “exist”—“even” “though” “they’ve” “just” “spent” “the” “whole” “article” “whining” “paranoiacally” “about” “them.” “Morons.”
  4. Meanwhile, in Australia, loving Christians are up in arms at the Victorian Police Commissioner’s plans to march in the Pride Festival. Article writer Peter Stokes, of Christian group Salt Shakers, quotes Peter Stokes, of Christian group Salt Shakers: “The normalisation of homosexuality by these people is a disgrace!” (Christianity Today)
  5. There have been more than 50 murders of suspected “witches” in Papua New Guinea over recent months, according to Times Online. One woman was burnt alive on a pyre of rubber tyres. Another woman escaped death when she began to give birth while hanging from a tree.
  6. In the Indian state of Bihar, eight members of a poor family were shot and beheaded after a family member married a wealthy girl. (UPI)
  7. Also in India, Hindu extremists who recently stormed a bar, dragging out women and beating them, have warned that they will attack anyone they catch celebrating Valentine’s Day. (Telegraph)
  8. Journalist Laurie Lebo takes a look at anti-Darwinism as a “peculiar American institution.” (Religion Dispatches)

Feel like bashing a disgusting religious apologist?

15 01 2009

Have a crack at Madeleine Bunting, who not only completely misses the point of the atheist ad campaign on London’s buses, but in the same breath manages to be excruciatingly patronising about religious working poor (but we’ll get to that).

At first I thought it just plain daft; why waste £150,000 putting a slogan on hundreds of London buses: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” It managed to combine so many dotty assumptions – belief in God as a source of worry or as a denial of enjoyment – that I couldn’t see who it was supposed to convince. Besides, how can “probably” change someone’s mind?

What is the point of the campaign, by the way? Let’s take a look at the FAQ section of the campaign’s official website, which is more than Bunting bothered to do:

The campaign began when comedy writer Ariane Sherine saw an advert on a London bus featuring the Bible quote, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find Faith on this Earth?” [sic]. A website URL ran underneath the quote, and when Sherine visited the site she learned that, as a non-believer, she would be “condemned to everlasting separation from God and then spend all eternity in torment in hell”.

Incidentally, some Christians in the UK have complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that the ad—which reads “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”—is “offensive” (while, presumably, ads condemning non-believers to eternal torment and hellfire are not offensive).

Anyway, Bunting continues:

Then I thought about how it might look through the eyes of some of the people who travel on the buses I use from Hackney. The ones who look exhausted returning from a night shift of cleaning. Often they have a well-thumbed Bible or prayer book to read on their journey. And along comes a bus emblazoned with that advert. A slogan redolent of the kind of triumphal atheism only possible when you have had the educational opportunities, privileges and material security of the British middle class. The faith of this person is what sustains their sense of hope and, even more importantly, their sense of dignity when they are confronted every day by the adverts of affluence that mock them as “losers”, as failed consumers. Ouch, I winced that we can be so blindly self-indulgent to this elitist patronising.

Yes, Bunting: how can you be so elitist and patronising—not to mention positively Straussian? Suggesting that while we middle-class types can afford the luxury of our non-belief, the poor benighted plebs with whom you are forced to share a bus, and into whose psychology you claim profound insight in spite of such a fleeting acquaintance, need a faith to cling to. And who do those mean and nasty atheists think they are, with their mean and nasty bus slogans, making her fellow passengers, whose inner life Bunting purports to know intimately, feel bad about themselves? Perish the thought that the atheist bus campaign might be directed at these passengers also. No, no, says Bunting: they haven’t the education to cope with that.

Madeleine Bunting is a textbook illustration of the argument that religious moderates give cover to religious fanatics. Not in the least because, like many other religious moderates, she seems more concerned with demonising non-believers than with combating extremism and fundamentalism. To a moderate like Bunting, secularism, not fundamentalism, is the real Enemy.

Oh, and she doesn’t miss the opportunity to scoff at atheists’ support for Obama:

The irony of course is that the trio of intellectuals roped in to launch the advert, led by Richard Dawkins, are in all likelihood going to be celebrating the presidential inauguration of a passionate Christian, Barack Obama, next week – a man commonly agreed to be one of the most intelligent politicians of our age. But what they might prefer to overlook is that he chose – after an agnostic upbringing with doses of atheism from a distant father – to become a Christian in his 20s. “I felt God’s spirit beckoning me and I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth,” he writes in his book, The Audacity of Hope. You can’t do pick and mix on Obama: he is pretty forthright that Jesus died to redeem his sins.

There is no irony, of course, because simply being an atheist or a secularist does not preclude one from supporting public figures who have strong religious beliefs. (Even when they invite bigots such as Rick Warren to preside over the inauguration.) What matters is whether they advocate policies based on an appeal to reason, evidence and reality . . . and not on the basis of “because my sky-daddy says so.” And on that score, I’ll give Obama himself, c. 2006, the final word:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Religious misanthropy and the case of the Muslim-only housing development

7 01 2009

OzAtheist posted recently on a Muslim-only housing development and recreation centre planned for the Perth suburb of Rivervale:

Islamic Council of WA spokesman Rahim Ghauri said the group had an architect-designed concept plan for a six-storey housing development, an underground carpark and a hall for weddings, conferences and religious and recreational activities.

Mr Ghauri rejected claims the housing would further isolate sectors of the Muslim community from mainstream society, claiming the venue would be used to teach Islamic youth how to become good Australian citizens.

The West Australian did not report Ghauri’s explanation of how Islamic youth the children of Muslim parents might learn how to become good Australian citizens by hermetically sealing them off from Australian society—you know, where Australian citizens live. In a sign that the Islamic Council of WA ought to consider firing whoever is in charge of their PR, the organisation’s religious spokesperson offered the following apologia: Read the rest of this entry »

If it’s Tuesday, it must be schadenfreude

6 01 2009

. . . or perhaps just your garden-variety pwnage. Quadrant editor and right-wing culture-warrior Keith Windschuttle has Sokal on his face.

Via Larvatus Prodeo

Jesus Camp: one sentence review

16 07 2007

This is child abuse.

Today’s text

21 06 2007

In my view, the only culture war that really matters was won during the Enlightenment, when we realised that we didn’t need a theory of God to be ethical or to explain the Universe. Today’s reactionary culture-warriors are fighting a rearguard action in a battle that was lost long ago.

The Myth of church-state separation in Australia

26 05 2007

“The Myth of church-state separation.” Google that phrase, and you invariably come up with historical revisionist articles claiming that America’s Founding Fathers were strict Biblical literalists who intended the US to be a Christian Nation ™. That’s because, however devoutly the American Christian Taliban wish it to be otherwise, the First Amendment has repeatedly been interpreted to have established a “wall of separation” between church and state. Probably the most significant legal ruling to be based on such an interpretation was Kitzmiller v. Dover.

In Australia, many of us take it for granted that a similar wall of separation exists in our democracy. Well, perhaps we shouldn’t.

In a 2005 issue of Australian Humanist, Max Wallace points out that there are only two places in the Australian Constitution in which religion is mentioned—in the Preamble and in section 116:

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

As Wallace’s article demonstrates, High Court judges and constitutional law experts alike have been unanimous in insisting that a notion of church-state separation cannot be inferred from the wording of section 116, much less from anywhere else in the Constitution. This interpretation was crucial in the 1981 Defence of Government Schools case, in which the Federal Government’s funding of church schools was challenged.

Justice Sir Ninian Stephen said s.116:

… cannot readily be viewed as a repository of some broad statement of principle concerning the separation of church and state, from which may be distilled the detailed consequences of such separation.

That is pretty unequivocal. The day after the case, none of the newspapers reporting the case published what the judges had said. Also, in many histories of Australia, these words, and the subject of church and state, do not appear. Textbooks on politics in Australia do not discuss it. We have an Australian Republican Movement that is arguing for a republic with no mention of church and state on their website. This is despite the fact that separation of church and state is the foundation stone of two of the leading republics in the world: the American and the French.

It is, in other words, the elephant in the room of Australian democracy. It places us, Wallace suggests,

somewhere between democracy and theocracy. I suggest that is an unacceptable state of affairs for a modern liberal democracy. We can hardly criticise regimes that refuse the distinction when we have not formalised it ourselves.

Indeed. On this National Day of Secularism, it is truly sobering to consider that the separation of church and state in Australia is even more tenuous than it is in the maniacally-religious US. You can just imagine what might transpire if the Religious Right (whether it’s the Opus Dei Liberals or the Pentecostal megachurch Liberals leading the parade) ever attains the same level of influence here that it has attained over there.

Other resources on this topic:
“Separation of church and state?” (Michael Hogan, University of Sydney)
“Church and state in Australia” (also by Max Wallace)
“Church and state” (Anglican bishop Tom Frame, who has also written a book on the subject)

UPDATE: May 26th also marks the tenth annual National Sorry Day, and it has been remiss of us not to have mentioned it earlier.

So the Australian Prayer Network just happened to select this date for their National Day of Thanksgiving? How interesting. I wonder who they think the members of the Stolen Generations should be thanking. See Simmo’s post.

Blog Against Theocracy: National Day of Secularism May 26th

22 05 2007

The National Day of Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and in an election year you just know the pious frauds on both sides of politics (but let’s face it, mainly the Right) will be screaming more loudly than ever about religion, values (which, as we all know, only the religious possess) and the “spiritual emptiness” that is the hallmark of a secular democracy (apparently).

Well, as Bruce has declared, enough’s enough.

Bye-bye, ta-ta, theocrats take your disingenuous political stunt with you. You
haven’t fooled me or anyone else with a functioning brain.

That’s right, fundies–the evil secularist babykilling hordes are fighting back. Let May 26th henceforth be known as The National Day of Secularism!

This is a tagging meme, so I’ll let Bruce tell you the rest:

How the “meme” works
This “meme” works in two steps; first the “Tagging stage” and then the “Blog against theocracy stage”.

Tagging stage
If you are tagged by the meme, then it’s the same old format; mention this entry so
people can see the rules and then tag five other bloggers (preferably Australian given the nature of the NDoT.) You can link back to these rules and display the above (rather modest) banner by inserting this code at the end of your entry

(Check Bruce’s post for the code–Blogger won’t let me post it here)

Feel free to copy the PNG file to your own host and alter the code accordingly, and remember when entering the code to enter it into the “code” window of your blog editor (blogger and wordpress users, I know there is a tab for this above your editing window)!

This meme does however have somewhat of a difference; an additional stage…

Blog against theocracy stage
If you have been tagged (heck, even if you haven’t, it doesn’t bother me) then in addition to tagging others, it is also hoped that you will write a blog entry about the separation of Church and State in Australia. It could be a critique of Pell’s “normative democracy”, the historic anti-democracy sermonizing of Archbishop Daniel Mannix, inevitable discrimination by the funding of (approved) chaplains in public schools, the state backed imposition of bans on forbidden women’s dress or whatever Church-State issue you find important.

Preferably, such a blog entry would be published on the 26th, but I’ve been lazy in getting around to this and I’ve left people little time so there is no deadline as such.
Just a couple of caveats; 1) the church-state anti-theocracy blog entry should mention the phrase “National Day of Thanksgiving”, possibly mentioning that the entry is a response to the NDoT, and 2) feel free to add the (again admittedly modest) banner.

I, in turn, tag the following: A Churchless Faith, BeepBeepIt’sMe, Smogblot, Super Simmo and The Dog’s Bollocks.

UPDATE: We haven’t spoken too soon, evidently. John Howard courted uber-fundies Catch the Fire in January; now Kevin Rudd’s at it. Now let me get this straight. They umm and aahh and fiddle with their diaries when it comes to meeting the Dalai Lama, but they’re falling over themselves to court an organisation whose leader claims to have personally met Jesus “face to face on 21st July 1997 at 3.40am (He spoke to me for 2 hrs. 20 minutes.);” who in the run-up to the 2004 election called on his followers to pull down “Satan’s strongholds,” including brothels, gambling places, mosques and temples; and who in 2005 addressed a meeting of the Australian League of Rights.

What’s going on here? First the Exclusive Brethren, and now Catch the Fire? Has the batshit insane fundie vote really become that significant?