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Scientology’s personality test said I have “no real reason to live”

As published in The Daily Telegraph Scientology’s personality test said I have no reason to live -13/01/17 and Rationalist Society website

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Stepping inside Scientology’s Castlereagh Street headquarters in Sydney, with its images of erupting volcanoes and Star-Trek-style video pods, I feel like I’d been transported back into the realm of 1960’s science-fiction.

Waist-coated attendants zip back and forth.

Soon, I’m looking down at Scientology’s Oxford Capacity Analysis personality test: 200 often strangely worded questions, asking how I “feel RIGHT NOW” about a disparate range of issues.

“Does an unexpected action cause your muscles to twitch? ”

“Do some noises ‘set your teeth on edge’?”

“Do you browse through railway timetables, directories or dictionaries just for fun?”

“No,” I answer, to all of these.

Pondering whether I “enjoy telling people the latest scandal about my associates”, I’m distracted by the roped-off office of church founder, the late L. Ron Hubbard. Presumably, the great man beams in from out-of-galaxy from time to time.

Suddenly, a young man is talking.

“Hi, I’m Scott*, come and let’s check out your results,” he says.

“This graph indicates what you have told us about yourself”, he says, reciting the standard preamble. “These results are not my opinion, but a factual, scientific analysis of your answers.”
Pinpointing scores on a scale from -100 to +100 for ten personality traits, including items like ‘Stable’, ‘Happy’, and ‘Composed’, the graph divides them into regions for ‘Normal’, ‘Desirable State’ or ‘Unacceptable State’.

My graph was disturbing to say the least: a mostly submerged iceberg, with only the tip rising above ‘Unacceptable’.

Staggeringly, I scored the lowest possible -100 for ‘Depressed’, along with dire scores for ‘Nervous’, ‘Critical’, and ‘Withdrawn’.

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At first I laughed in surprise and embarrassment. Apparently, I am the most depressed person in the world.

But then, I recalled giving answers suggesting that I’m not depressed at all: answers indicating that I’m generally happy, I often sing or whistle just for the fun of it, I sleep well, I find it easy to relax, and I cope with the everyday problems of living quite well.

How did these answers fail to improve my worst-possible score for depression?

Scott said the analysis is a complex reading of all my answers.

“What this shows is there’s something on your mind. You’ve got some problems in your life, right now.”

“Have you had any breakups, or loss?”

Sure, I said, but haven’t most people?

Noticing Scott reading from a printout, I asked if I could see it.

One after another, the page was filled with blunt, judgmental observations.

“You see no real reasons to live as your life is full of problems and difficulties that your despondent attitude prevents you from solving”.

“You are completely irresponsible.”

“You are very irritable and can become hysterical or violent in your actions.”

And so on. No longer was I laughing.

Recommending urgent treatment in Scientology’s Dianetics program, Scott brought out the books and the DVD’s. I stopped him there. Explaining to Scott that he could put it down to my critical nature, but I simply didn’t accept the report’s findings.

Jokingly, Scott pointed to me -96 score for ‘Critical.’ We both laughed.

Scott gave me a copy of the printout, shook my hand, and then let me loose on central Sydney.

Seemingly, the personality test is calibrated to generally produce an alarming result. L. Ron Hubbard advocated reinforcing the “ruin” of the subject’s personality, followed by advice on salvaging it by using Scientology. Regarded as manipulative and unethical by many psychology organisations, the test is not scientifically recognised, nor has it been substantiated using standard psychological methods.

As I left the Sydney building, I noticed what looked like Uni students in the lobby – and wondered how I’d have reacted to such a damning character assessment at such an impressionable age.

After a Daily Mail reporter undertook the test in 2003, she said felt like “curling up in a ball and never going out again.”

Only a few hours after taking the test in 2008, Norwegian student Kaja Bordevich Ballo, took her own life by jumping from her 4th-storey dorm room window. Despite leaving a suicide note for her family apologising for not “being good at anything”, the resulting police investigation failed to confirm a causative link to Scientology.

Still, looking at these smiling young faces, I want to tell them to get out of here.

After kidnapping his wife in 1951, L. Ron Hubbard was reportedly diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic by her doctors. This may explain Scientology’s hostility to the field of psychiatry, which it describes as “an industry of death”, and why the church spurns psychiatric drugs in favour of vitamin supplements, and spiritual practices.

The ramping up of advertising for free personality tests coincides with the recent opening of a $57 million ‘Scientific Wonderland’ in Chatswood, NSW, where Scientology will treat people with mental issues caused by depression, substance abuse and trauma.

Despite diagnosing and treating mental illness, Scientology escapes the regulation of health authorities because it offers its services under the guise of religion – that’s how it continues to get away with claiming it’s services are “factual”, and “scientific” – without proper scrutiny. Surely, this is a loophole which needs closing.

 

Oxford Test Explanations Printout

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In Defence of Santa: Why he’s just as likely to exist as Jesus

In Defence of Santa – The AIM Network 24/12/2016

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By now, the elves are wrapping the toys. The reindeers are running test flights. Santa is busy double-checking Xmas lists, and plotting the logistics of the world’s greatest overnight delivery.

But a new UK board game, Santa vs Jesus, has blighted the festive season with unwelcome sectarian dissension, presenting Xmas as a pitched battle between Jesus and Santa. Cries of “insult, blasphemy” ensue: the satirical board game is accused of falsely equating belief in Jesus with belief in Santa Claus.

My blood boils at this sacrilege. Yet another example of politically correctness gone mad, and elitist intellectuals tainting our most cherished institutions. How dare they demean the good name of Santa Claus? On behalf of children everywhere, let us rise up and defend Santa’s honour. If not for own sake, for the sake of our culture, of our civilization, and by God, for the real meaning of Christmas.

That is, what Christmas really is: an end-of-year celebration, retail bonanza, and family reunion. A shop-til-you-drop procession of tinselled shopping malls, parking rage, office parties, Kris Kringles, twinkling streetscapes, Die-Hard and Love Actually re-runs, culminating in the once-a-year family get-together with the usual disputes and rows – all of the above made tolerable, joyous even, by stupefying quantities of sugar and alcohol.

Arrogantly, anti-Christmas-carol activists poke fun at the Santa story. How could anyone believe a jolly fat man at risk of early-onset-diabetes has the stamina and wherewithal to deliver gifts to every child in the world? Claiming that Santa is only Coca-Cola’s amalgamation of the yuletide characters of various traditions, these immoral, believe-in-nothings only demonstrate their blindness to the value of culture and tradition. Can they prove Santa isn’t real? No.

Frankly, I’m agnostic about the existence of Santa. But just because infrared technology fails to find any trace of an enormous toy shop at the North Pole, doesn’t mean I should rule him out altogether. Sure, I’m sceptical about Santa even fitting into most chimneys and I’ve never seen a flying reindeer. But “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, as they say.

And, since when must omniscient beings lower themselves to mere terrestrial standards of empirical proof? Why should the lowly and common measures of evidence be applied to Santa alone? Indeed, using the arguments applied to other contemporary deities, belief in Santa is more than reasonable.

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”

As St Anselm argued: given we can conceive of the greatest possible being – and, we accept that a being which exists, is greater than one purely imagined – then, that greatest being must exist. Thus, if we accept the premise that Santa is the greatest gift-giver, then, by irrefutable logic he must exist. Never mind that this also applies to the greatest sophist, the greatest idiot and the greatest obscurantist. They exist also, and often employ St Anselm’s argument in favour of their own articles of faith.

And, as we know, faith is an element of proof in itself. Have faith and ye shall be rewarded. Where a deficit of proof exists one can legitimately insert “faith” to bridge the gap. Then – Poof! – the object of faith reliably appears!

Behold, every year, millions of children put their faith in Santa and the Christmas team dutifully delivers. After days and days of breathless anticipation the big day comes… Then, hurrah! Squeals of delight, and yelps of excitement attend the feverish unwrapping of real, actual gifts. Ask any child how convincing this is.

Further, Santa is ubiquitous during the festive season, appearing on television screens constantly. News services track his progress from the North Pole. Parents everywhere use the supervising presence of Santa to wring some good behaviour out of their otherwise insolent offspring. Either Santa exists, or most of the adults in the world are complicit in a global Santa hoax conspiracy.

If this still fails to satisfy, allow me to borrow one of the planks of Biblical scholarship. The “criterion of embarrassment” states that if historical accounts are embarrassing to their author they can be assumed to be true. Now, consider the story of a ridiculously attired and morbidly obese man who supposedly travels all around the world on flying reindeers delivering presents to children he somehow divines as good. Embarrassment galore! Increasingly, scholars dispute the validity of this criterion – justifiably so, considering debate in the Australian Senate.

Austere scientific thinkers may have trouble accepting the Santa narrative. But remember, this is a moral tale not a scientific one, not meant to be taken literally. It’s about favouring “nice” over “naughty”, “good” over “bad”, by rewarding the good children with presents and lumbering the rest with smelly coal.

But, as all parents of young children know, this begs the question as to how children actually behave. The problem of evil. Given Santa’s omniscience and superpowers, how do we explain the continued reign of terror by these frightening midgets? Free will hardly suffices to explain temper tantrums, impudence and addiction to video games, rivalling that of present-day Australian tennis stars. Seeing as the incentive of gifts has conspicuously failed, and since global warming has curtailed Santa’s access to coal, a more interventionist policy is warranted. It’s unsurprising that the world’s major religions moved to slightly harsher penalties such as an eternity of roasting and re-roasting in the flame-pits of hell. Likewise, it’s easy to see how the religions of Abraham condemned the whole of humanity as corrupt and fallen, requisite of salvation.

And so, a radical new plan emerges. A new prophet will arise – Santa Junior – an elfin messiah of the children. He will be seized by secular powers and gruesomely tortured to death, signifying Santa’s gift of redemption to horrid little monsters everywhere. And then, showcasing Santa’s full repertoire of magical powers, Santa Junior will be sensationally brought back to life. Although this somewhat negates the supposed sacrifice, it caps off the story nicely. And, if this doesn’t work, Santa will equip his sleigh with intercontinental ballistic missiles and commence laying waste to play centres and schools. So please, give Santa some respect. And kids, if you don’t like the sound of apocalyptic Santa, you had better actually be good from now on.

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Want to stop nativism listen to the tribe

From the Rationalist Journal December 2016

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On August 8 2016, over 100 mourners gathered at the Quetta Civil Hospital in Pakistan following the shooting death of the president of the Balochistan Bar Association, Bilal Anwar Kasi.

Nearby, an unknown member of the Taliban affiliated group, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), was strapping eight kilograms of explosives filled with ball bearings and shrapnel to his body. Soon, a sickening explosion ripped apart the emergency services ward of the hospital, killing 70 mourners and injuring over 120.

One of Pakistan’s most loved musicians, Amhad Sabri, was famous for performing devotional songs from the Sufi tradition dating back to the 13th century. He was shot dead by two men on motorcycles on June 22 2016, because the Taliban consider his music blasphemous.

A month later, in a church in Rouen, France, a priest’s throat was cut and four nuns were taken hostage before the two assailants were shot by police. They were later reported to have been “two soldiers of the Islamic State”.

A satellite view sees the Earth rocked by Islamist attacks on almost a daily basis. These always involve a multitude of different motivations: local, political, ethnic, religious, sectarian and other, but they are held together by a common and identifiable thread – fundamentalist, literalist Islam.

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While suicide attacks usually happen a long way away, and the chance of being killed by a local attack is small, it’s not irrational to hold some concern over the growth of militant Islam. In a post 9/11 world, where frequent Islamist atrocities coincide with an exodus of refugees from Muslim countries caused by a war being waged in the name of Islam, it would be astonishing if such concerns did not exist. The horror of Islamic terror – its distinctive methods, such as suicide vests and beheading, and the indiscriminate killing of civilians, including women and children – is a language which articulates a clash of cultures in an undeniable way. Even the most illiterate of observers cannot fail to notice.

The concerns and fears which fuelled the Brexit movement and the rise of hard right politics in Europe is made comprehensible by the proximity of millions of mostly Muslim refugees. In contrast, the rise of Donald Trump and our own home-grown groups such as Reclaim Australia and One Nation, come from exploiting and exaggerating these fears. Populist policies have been rewarded by the quadrupling in Hanson’s support, and polls suggesting nearly half Australians want to ban Muslim immigration. This poll is not so surprising after considering Pew’s 2016 survey, which noted a median 43% of the populations of European countries have an unfavourable view of Muslims. A 2013 Ipsos survey commissioned by the newspaper Le Monde noted 74% felt Islam was incompatible with French society. Despite the rhetoric of western politicians who’ve promulgated the nothing-to-do-with-Islam narrative, public perception consistently forms the view that jihadism has everything to do with Islam.

Nativist attitudes are exacerbated by the excuses presented for terrorism. Extremism is excused by Western aggression, the invasion of Iraq, and a long list of other complaints. The Grand Mufti of Australia blamed the 2015 Paris terror attacks on “causative factors such as racism, Islamophobia, curtailing freedoms through securitisation, duplicitous foreign policies and military intervention”. It’s difficult to ignore the veiled threat in his warning that “any discourse which attempts to apportion blame” to a “certain segment of society” would “undermine community harmony and safety”.

The explainer for extremist views is radicalisation. Somehow we’re meant to imagine that no sane person could hold such views unless they come under the hypnotic spell of evil recruiters. And, that most people who rush to join ISIS or join terror cells are already vulnerable to radicalisation because they have been brutalised, racially abused or disenfranchised by their own country. “Radicalisation” joins hands with the “nothing-to-do-with-Islam” narrative obscuring the unpalatable truth that terrorism is undertaken by rational actors pursuing an explicit religio-political ideology.

Reflecting upon this, we must acknowledge that the religion and culture of Islam is a broader church than Christianity. Commentators and apologists are right to criticise those who associate all Muslims with terrorism. We can and should focus on the specific groups and ideologies within Islam who explicitly advocate war with the west. Most modern Muslims view the Quran and the Hadith’s in a similar way to the way Christians view the violent episodes in the Bible. It’s those who do not who represent the problem.

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“Radicalisation” joins hands with the “nothing-to-do-with-Islam” narrative obscuring the unpalatable truth that terrorism is undertaken by rational actors pursuing an explicit religio-political ideology.

A simple but key distinction remains. Within the religion of Islam, specific groups under the umbrella of Salafism reliably spout hateful, intolerant, violent and misogynist philosophies. The subset of Wahhabism, the form of Salafism exported to the world by the oil money of Saudia Arabia represents the revivalist ideology in its most puritanical form. Salafist groups such as al Qaeda, ISIS (ISIL), Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, the Taliban, and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba all promote a similar insular ideology predicated on the universal application of hard-line sharia law and an apocalyptic vision where Islam finally conquers the world. Regarding other Muslims such as Shias, Sufis, liberal Muslims and other sects as kafir or heretics, terror groups engage in regular sectarian attacks against them.

These groups and ideas are plain to see. There’s no reason why an attitude of tolerance and acceptance must be extended to the small yet identifiable ideologies within Islam that plot our own destruction. To accept that not all Germans were Nazi’s would not have justified tolerating the violence and anti-Semitism of the growing Nazi party.

Several studies on jihadism in France, indicate that deep religious convictions may not be crucial to becoming radicalised. Most recruits are young, some are religious novices, and many are recent converts to Islam. Olivier Roy 2015 writes that jihadism represents “the only cause on the global market”, and “if you kill yelling ‘Allahu Akbar’ you are sure to make the national headlines”.

Even so, these studies provide little succour to those who fear Islamic attacks. It’s remains the case that the ideology of Salafism dictates the goals and the methods used to bring terror. Arising usually from within Islamic communities, jihadists attend mosques, observe Islam, often becoming part of a terror cell which is exclusively dedicated to propagating political Islam.

Similarly, scant consolation is derived from the adage that the victims of Islamic attacks are predominantly Muslims. This only indicates the sectarian nature of the conflict, and bears out the enormous span of the Islamic faith. This platitude if often used to emphasize prosaically that not all Muslims are terrorists. Yes, but if we could just get past this simplistic distinction, we’d acknowledge the sectarian nature of the violence suggests that it has everything to do with the perfervid pursuit of a religious and political ideology.

Moreover, little comfort is found in the fact these atrocities are committed by small minorities within the Islamic community. Yet again, let’s acknowledge that not all Muslims are Islamists, but that jihadists come from attributable groups within the Muslim community.

And since we know the names and character of these ideologies, nothing should stop us from openly discussing them. We should discriminate and mitigate against those who profess them, while guarding against the stereotyping of Muslims.

Further, there’s no reason why it should be unacceptable to discuss which cultural or religious beliefs hold pride of place in our society. We have no trouble discussing and enforcing acceptable community attitudes to sexism or racism or free speech. But we have a curious reluctance to discuss religion, and Islam particularly. If a secular group demanded the right to wear clothing which demeaned women there would be an open discussion. If a secular group wanted to install a separate legal system for its own adherents this would be met with derision. (Yet, sharia councils exist within the UK). Christian views on the sanctity of marriage, right to life, or euthanasia are often the subject of vociferous criticism. Whether a person agrees with these views or not, suppressing debate about them because of religious or cultural sensitivities is bound to result in unresolved tensions building beneath the surface.

For such a small minority at 2.2% of the Australian community, Islam receives undue media attention, but also undue deference. Whether this is because of the success of the “Islamophobia” campaign or fear of reprisals and fatwa’s it’s difficult to know. It’s worth noting the anti-racism leader who coined the phrase “Islamophobia”, UK Labour politician Trevor Phillips, now says, “he got almost everything wrong” on Muslim immigration, with migrants fostering “nations within nations”.

Rather than daring to speak openly about militant Islam, we have government policy operating by stealth. Immigration is offered to other parts of the world rather than trouble spots in the middle east. Malcolm Turnbull proclaims that we have a non-discriminatory immigration policy. But the government has no intention of allowing open slather for Muslim migrants.

If we want to curtail the rise of the xenophobic wingnut right, represented by One Nation, we need to listen to the tribe. Without resorting to farcical policies, such as banning Muslim immigration altogether, we need to listen to the concerns and address the issues. Adopting an attitude of nuance and tolerance entails more than relentlessly reasserting the fatuous claim that not all Muslims are jihadists. We need to discard the obligatory accusations of Islamophobia or bigotry, and engage in an honest discussion which acknowledges the challenges of integration, and the genuine problems within Islam.

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The Child is Father of the Man

As published in the Rationalist Society of Australia Journal, September, 2016

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What should we tell a child about the world? How do we distinguish between knowledge and beliefs? Answering this question requires us to reach deep down into ourselves and grasp for the forgotten struts that hold one’s view of the world together. Proceed with caution however, as once the supports are prized away the whole thing is apt to collapse.

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My atypical view comes as a result of my six-year-old son’s placement in a fundamentalist and evangelical religious instruction (RI) program. Despite us immediately pulling him out of it, and even after I’d written opinion pieces opposing RI in the Australian media, our boy was put back in the class without our knowledge.

The experience brought me unwillingly face to face with the question of what to tell my son about religion. I’d prefer him to find these answers on his own. The conversation went like this: I tried to explain the limits of our knowledge, and cast some doubt on his new found certainty of the existence of a Creator God; while my son grilled me as to what I believed – presumably so he could instantly adopt my position. The resentment at being placed in this position cements and reinforces my opposition to proselytising in schools.

The school curriculum is a perennial source of controversy. Was Australia settled or invaded? Is Safe Schools an anti-bullying program or misguided social engineering? What should we teach children about culture, and religion? Opponents of both religious instruction and the Safe Schools program argue against teaching children contested beliefs or ideologies.

One of the architects of Australia’s National Curriculum, Professor Ken Wiltshire, recently demanded a stop to the “outsourcing’’ of religious instruction and sex education to “ideological interest groups’’.

“We don’t want material creeping into the curriculum without it being quality assured. You should never outsource the development of a curriculum to any group with a particular agenda, or blindly accept any curriculum material they have provided to be used in schools”.

The issue is fraught by evolving attitudes toward the rights of children – no longer merely the “don’t speak until spoken to” property of parents.

We should distinguish between rights as they apply to learning in three ways: the rights of parents, the best interests of society, and the rights of the child. In western cultures, parents still enjoy inordinately high levels of control over their child’s education.

According to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR), parents have the right to bring up their children in their chosen religious or non-religious belief system.

Consider the tension between the rights of parents, and the rights of the child. The child cannot assess what is best for them and can only rely on the assumed best intentions and good judgement of their parents. But what if the parents insist on inculcating their child into an extreme or harmful belief system?

We also need to balance the entitlements of parents with the utilitarian notion of what is best for society, and reflect on the significance of a child’s potential.

As poet William Wordsworth noted “The child is father of the man”.

 

My heart leaps up when I behold

A rainbow in the sky:

So was it when my life began;

So is it now I am a man;

So be it when I shall grow old,

Or let me die!

The Child is father of the Man;

I could wish my days to be

Bound each to each by natural piety

 

Our days “bound each to each” the child begets the adult, connected by a continuous line of experience. The outcomes of what we teach children extend well beyond the lives of the parents, influencing the temper and texture of our future society.

But how can we measure the rights of parents? Beyond chattel ownership, parent’s rights can be measured in maximising the child’s ongoing welfare and opportunity to flourish.

So, to the extent that the parent’s rights rely on satisfying the best interests of the child, then the child’s rights take precedence. The rights of the parent turn on the best interest of the child. Given the prevailing balancing of parent’s rights over children’s rights, this should give us cause for alarm.

Children’s rights aren’t adequately protected when it’s legal to indoctrinate them into closed orders, send them to extremist schools, or proselytise fundamentalist dogma in state schools. Serving the best interest of society involves providing the child with knowledge and arming them with the critical skills to deploy it.

Those arguing against teaching contesting beliefs strike upon the crucial distinction: beliefs are secondary to knowledge. By definition, beliefs lack the verifiability and or universality which would otherwise render them as knowledge.

So, how about this rule of thumb? If adults cannot agree on a particular proposition, don’t teach it to children.

Challenging the generally accepted meme of parental entitlement, involves allowing the child greater autonomy and freedom of thought to develop their own framework of ideas and beliefs. Wordworth’s phrase evokes the unbroken link between a child’s world and the adult world, but it should also motivate us to reflect upon the gradations between belief and knowledge.

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Great Offense at Gay Marriage

A response to a letter to the RSA expressing Great Offense at Gay Marriage that is #SSM #samesame.

Published by the Rationalist Society of Australia website – 21 November 2017


From time to time we get unsolicited letters relating to one or other of our campaigns or policy stances. This one queries why the minority of LGBTI people in our community are being “allowed to undermine the rights of the majority.”

To RSA: On Civil Liberties and Human Rights, by Marianne Melnikas

I take great offense at Gay Marriage that is marriage equality. The LGBTI group will never have the equality of heterosexual couples. Why, simple as a norm a heterosexual couple can produce offspring without the need for a surrogate, donor egg or donor sperm. Yes some heterosexual couples do have trouble conceiving and need assistant of IVF, however this is not the norm.

For LGBTI people they will always need assistance to reproduce, why should a minority have a access to a program which was originally set up to assist otherwise childless heterosexual couples. Now it is down to whoever has the money.

As to actual marriage ceremony, it should be confined to civil ceremonies only, the State does not have the right to tell any religious body what services they can or cannot undertake.

LGBTI play both sides of the coin, they co-habitat and claim to be single when claiming Government Assistance. Yet a heterosexual couple are less able to make the same claims.

An individual, regardless of their sexual orientation, should not be forced to provide a service to a LGBTI couple wishing to marry or arrange to have a child. The right of the individual is being set aside to satisfy the LGBTI group, therefore discrimination is taking place which is not being addressed.

Why is this? Why are a minority Group being allowed to undermine the rights of the majority?traditionalmarriage

Yours

Marianne Melnikas

To Marianne Melnikas Re: Offense at Marriage Equality

Thank you to for your letter to the Rationalist Society of Australia outlining your “great offense at Gay Marriage”. Your argument provides an insight into some of the objections to Same Sex Marriage. In responding I’d like to try to clarify precisely what your offense at gay marriage entails, because your argument appears to fall prey to the fallacy of the non sequitur. As I’m sure you’re aware, this occurs when the conclusion does not logically follow from the previous argument or statement, often referred to in shorthand as “does not follow”.

You say “the LGBTI group” will never have equality with heterosexuals because “as a norm” they don’t produce offspring. And then, you readily acknowledge that some heterosexual couples cannot produce children either. You ask why should the minority LGBTI community, who will “always” need assistance to reproduce, have access to IVF which was set up for childless heterosexual couples? Well Marianne, why shouldn’t they have access to IVF? You seem to have omitted your reasons for excluding them. Aren’t both the LGBTI community and childless couples minority groups? What exactly is your rationale for wanting to grant the rights of one minority group and deny the other?

Even if IVF was set up for heterosexual couples, there’s no reason why this fact should exclude other couples. We need to assess the legitimacy of your reasoning to prohibit LGBTI couples. Perhaps a clue is found in your first sentence highlighting your “great offense”. Why take offense? Implied within your argument is the premise that because LGBTI couples cannot naturally have children, they should not be allowed to. You might also recognise this as the “naturalistic fallacy” — ie, just because something is natural does not necessarily mean it is right or good. MIT cognitive scientist Steven Pinker describes this as follows:

“The naturalistic fallacy is the idea that what is found in nature is good. It was the basis for social Darwinism, the belief that helping the poor and sick would get in the way of evolution, which depends on the survival of the fittest. Today, biologists denounce the naturalistic fallacy because they want to describe the natural world honestly, without people deriving morals about how we ought to behave (as in: If birds and beasts engage in adultery, infanticide, cannibalism, it must be OK)”.

 

I’m confident you don’t ascribe to the naturalistic fallacy, and so I’m confused as to your “great offense”. Is it because of their sexuality? Because they’re not normal or immoral? They offend you because they are different?

You go on to assert several ways you feel LGBTI couples are infringing on the rights of individuals. Individuals may be forced to provide services to gay couples wanting to marry. But aren’t LGBTI people individuals also? What about their rights? It appears you want to deny their right to marry and raise children because they are a “minority” and “not the norm”.

But equality does not depend on what is the norm.

We assign rights on the basis of our shared humanity, rather than how similar we are to each other. That’s the whole basis of civil rights. That’s why it’s offensive to segregate black people, to refuse to service them or to relegate them to the back of the bus. Our rights do not depend on being part of the majority. Quite the opposite, in fact, as modern notions of human rights are rooted in the post-World War 2 Declaration of Human Rights which specifically sought to protect minorities.

You make the curious claim that governments should not have the right to tell any religious body what services they can or cannot undertake. Notwithstanding the fact that no government has proposed that churches be forced to perform same sex marriages, your assertion also subordinates our democratically elected government to any group claiming to be religious. Is this intentional? Should any religious body have carte blanche to perform any religious service? Think of exorcisms, animal or child sacrifice, circumcision, crucifixions, self-flagellation (such as Ashura day), sharia punishments, infant dropping, vine jumping and countless other harmful practices. I’m confident your answer would be no.

You claim that LGBTI couples cohabit but claim to be single, while claiming Government assistance, whereas heterosexuals are less able to do so. What evidence do you have of this claim? Wouldn’t this be a consequence of the law disallowing them to marry? So, if we make Same Sex Marriage a reality your problem is solved.

Feel free to respond with the missing premises of your argument. Irrespective, I hope this response provides some food for thought.

Best regards

Hugh Harris

Rationalist Society of Australia

We received no further correspondence from Ms Melnikas.

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The danger of being swamped by confident idiots

 The danger of being swamped by confident idiots – The AIM Network 8 November 2016

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Five years ago, who’d have thought Donald Trump would be the leader of the free world? Truth may be stranger than fiction, but if there’s any lesson here, it’s that too many people prefer fiction to the truth. Conspiracy theories have gripped the public imagination to such an extent that a dangerous novice stands at the White House lawn.

Acting as a mirror for America’s anger, prejudices and grandiose delusions, he relies on the public consuming a diet of lies, conspiracy and misinformation. Working back from whatever outcome would “make American great again, Trump proposes ideas and solutions on the fly – building a $25 billion wall, or deporting 11 million immigrants – seemingly unconcerned with how implausible, dangerous, or just plain stupid these ideas might be. An egomaniac who believes his own latest thought bubble is good enough to become policy for the world’s most powerful country, may soon learning how to operate the nuclear codes.

But evidently, stupidity knows no borders. Closer to home, we have One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts, who’s still enthralled by the vintage conspiracy theory that Jewish International Bankers control the world. He may have read Pauline Hanson’s ironically titled book, The Truth, in which she supports the crazy paranoia about the “New World Order”.

Since that déjà vu moment, when her quavering falsetto echoed through the Senate chamber, informing us that we’re in danger of being swamped by Muslims (not Asians), her support has quadrupled.

Mysteriously, the conspicuous failure of Asians to overrun us, hasn’t dampened Hanson’s confidence, or fatally wounded her credibility. Quite the opposite, in fact. Why is this so?

An answer may be found in the Dunning-Kruger effect: the curious phenomenon of “confident idiots” emboldened by their own ignorance, rather than cautioned by it.

The 1999 Dunning-Kruger study found those armed with low metacognitive skills grossly overestimated their own competence in metacognitive tasks. Those with test scores in the 12th percentile estimated themselves to be in the 62nd.

And so, according to David Dunning, those with intellectual deficits are often “blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge”.

This hasn’t passed through history unremarked: Recall Shakespeare – “a fool thinks himself to be wise but the wise man knows himself to be a fool”.

As Dunning states:

“Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack…”

The Dunning-Kruger effect applies to all humans. Beleaguered by an impressive array of confirmation biases which evolved to allow us to survive in a bewildering world of imperfect knowledge, we’ve adapted in ways which compensate for the gaps by applying greater certainty. The effect is something to be conscious of and to guard against.

Misbeliefs, according to Dunning, arise from cherished ideals, “narratives about the self, ideas about the social order—that essentially cannot be violated”.

“And any information that we glean from the world is amended, distorted, diminished, or forgotten in order to make sure that these sacrosanct beliefs remain whole and unharmed”.

Scorn of scientific expertise represents the hallmark of the “confident idiot”. Climate change denial has become the bellwether of a conspiracy theory epidemic, which has taken hold of many otherwise intelligent people. Luminaries such as Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt think climate change is part of a one world government conspiracy, aided and abetted by the United Nations, our own Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO. But somehow they are apparently embarrassed by Malcom Roberts assertions that’s it’s all a NASA cover up. Alternatively, Donald Trump thinks the global warming hoax was created by “the Chinese to make U.S manufacturing non-competitive”.

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Increasingly, the ability to discard inconvenient truths, to suspend belief in scientific fact, and to succumb to half-truths and spin, becomes a necessary skill-set used to choose whatever belief butters our bread, or suits our biases. Google provides an easy way of aligning the world to suit one’s prejudices: using the wrong-way round research method of finding the argument to suit the conclusion. Just by falling down a hole in the internet, crackpot theorist’s such as Flat Earthers, 9/11-Truthers, Chem-trailers, and Anti-Vaxxers, can find all the “empirical evidence” they need.

Science is not above reproach, or immutable. But its limits are well established enough. Adhering to established scientific fact should be a prerequisite for participating in public debate. Political correctness might have gone too far, but it’s consequences pale in comparison to scientific incorrectness.

Hopefully, Donald Trump won’t become President of the United States and we’ll look back on his candidacy as a grotesque caricature which appeared briefly, and then floated away, like a blimp at New York’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But the 50 million or so US citizens who’ll vote for Trump represent a more widespread malaise in critical thinking.

Muslims or Mexicans aren’t about to “swamp” us anytime soon. But we needn’t consult our tea leaves or call a psychic to recognise the danger posed by the Dunning-Kruger effect, and to wonder why we’re not doing more to mitigate the influence of confident idiots.

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The Open Secret of Religious Instruction in State schools

The Open Secret of Religious Instruction in State schools – ONLINE opinion 19 October 2016 #RE #SRE #Baird

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It’s long been an open secret that educators and politicians turn a blind eye to proselytising in faith classes.

In spite of numerous media reports highlighting proselytising in the Connect series of special religious instruction (SRE) lessons, Premier Mike Baird has pledged to continue with SRE, based purely on his own personal faith. Listen to him tell Werrawee Anglican Church:

“I’m not going to distance what I believe from who I am, and, in that context, I think, SRE should remain as part of our schools and will remain as part of schools while I’m there.”

And his Education Minister Adrian Piccoli stubbornly refuses to release the $300,000 report by ARTD consultants, investigating various concerns about SRE and ethics (SEE), despite holding on to it for nine months.

Advising on “the nature and extent of SRE and SEE” in NSW schools, a source from ARTD consultants said the report was an objective analysis, which no-one would be happy with. That could be why the state government has filed it under the rug.

Responding to inquiries about Connect lessons proselytising, the NSW Education Department Director, Jason Miezis (on behalf of Minister Adrian Piccoli), advised on 20 July 2016:

“Given that parents/caregivers have indicated their preferred religious persuasion for the child on enrolment, proselytising should not occur in school authorised activities”.

In other words, parental consent equates to a child being considered a Christian.

So, proselytising – soliciting a child for a decision to change their religious affiliation – should not occur.

The problem is, we’re talking about 6 and 7 year olds.

And, if the fallacy isn’t plain enough, the authors of Connect themselves remind instructors that most of their audience is not yet Christian. That’s why they’re proselytising! The NSW Education department earns the “Computer-Says-No” award for deliberately missing the point.
Additionally, the letter from Miezis states the department is perfectly happy for SRE volunteers to inform students of local church run activities.

“How about asking your parents if you could come along to kids club or kids church. (This would be a good time to hand out flyers.) (Connect Upper Primary, B2, Lesson 17, p. 181)”.

“Hand out the flyers for local church services if you have them (Connect Upper Primary, C1, Lesson 10, p. 100).”

But, in contrast, the recent Queensland education department review found the above were examples of possible proselytising.
Disturbingly however, it found no legal obstacle to proselytising.

“…legal advice provided by faith groups has indicated the view there is no legislative basis for prohibition of proselytising in the EDPA or EDPR [the relevant Education Acts]. The Department’s Legal and Administrative Law Branch supports this view”. (Page 6)

And nothing further has been done about it. While Education Minister Kate Jones has taken commendable steps forward in addressing age inappropriate and outdated materials in faith classes, the failure to address proselytising is curious.

Even more curious is the way the advocates of bible classes claim proselytising doesn’t occur, before rushing off to obtain favourable legal opinions to safeguard it.

Educator’s find themselves entangled in a Gordian knot. Scripture classes are by their nature evangelical. Making disciples is the unambiguous mission of evangelical Christians. For example, Connect’s own youthworks website says making disciples is why they exist.

When challenged, they will point out SRE is “preaching the gospel”. And so, reviewer’s must either tell evangelists not to evangelise, or allow faith classes to proceed on the basis of soliciting children to Christianity. In a nutshell, evangelising is allowed. Thus, parents should be aware that, as in NSW, consent to SRE is viewed by government as a license to convert their child to Christianity.

The Queensland review muddles the issue further by attempting to distinguish evangelising from proselytising. The Oxford online dictionary defines evangelise as: “convert of seek to convert someone to Christianity”, or “Preach the gospel”. To proselytise is to “convert of attempt to convert someone from one religion, belief or opinion to another”.

The following examples from the lesson materials illustrate how this is a distinction without a difference. Following allegations of proselytising, the authors of Connect preface the concluding prayer as follows:

“This is how Christians talk to God. If you would like to pray with me please join me. If you don’t then please lower your head so we don’t get distracted while praying this short prayer”.

And the prayer follows:

“Dear God, thank you that Jesus dies on the cross so I could be part of your family. I am sorry for wanting to live my own way, but now I want to live your way. Please forgive me and help me to learn more about you. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer in your head, welcome to God’s family! You’re a Kingdom Kid”.

Another example:

“The Bible tells us there are two kinds of people; the people who have faith and will live forever with God, and those who say no to Jesus.
“We need to decide which type of person we want to be. Will we follow Jesus?”

It hardly matters whether you regard these as proselytising or evangelising. Such muscular, coercive entreaties to join the faith, are plainly inappropriate for primary age children. Why are such brazen and explicit attempts to induct children into “God’s family” even necessary if they are already observant Christians?

Parents who think they’ve signed their child up to a harmless introduction to the bible, should think again.

Breaking the Gordian knot involves removing evangelical SRE classes from state schools altogether. Replace them with comparative classes run by state school teachers, or remove them entirely.

The NSW Education department earns the “Computer-Says-No” award for deliberately missing the point.

No need or reason demands them given the multitude of churches and faith based schools in our country. But for now, it’s up to parents and principals to navigate contradictory and deceptive policies surrounding special religious instruction.

We’re left to wonder when State governments will honestly deal with the uncomfortable truth about proselytising, and whether Minister Piccoli will ever release the $300,000 taxpayer funded report.

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Review Signals the Beginning of the End for Bible Classes

 

Review Signals the Beginning of the End for Bible Classes – AIM Network 28 September 2016

 

The recent Queensland government review of the “Connect” Religious Instruction (RI) materials bring to light several reasons why, ultimately, faith-based classes will cease in school hours in the Sunshine state.

Also, given Connect’s lessons are widely used, the New South Wales government would be wise to take note. However, driven by his own Christian faith, Premier Mike Baird has committed to maintaining special religious instruction (SRE) while he’s in office. He’s supported by Education Minister Adrian Piccoli, who stubbornly refuses to release the $300k report by ARTD consultants, investigating various concerns about SRE, despite holding on to it for nine months. A source from ARTD consultants said the report was an objective analysis, which no-one would be happy with.

In contrast, Queensland Education Minister Kate Jones deserves credit for instigating the review and following up its recommendations. Stung into action after Windsor State School principal Matthew Keong scrapped the Connect RI program because he found 39 examples of “soliciting” students to Christianity, the review lists numerous examples of “outdated and inappropriate content”.

Disturbing material includes the “grooming” of seven-year-olds to form “special friendships” and keep secrets with instructors. Also, lessons discussing whether disabled people are being punished by God, using dead animals as sacrifices to God, and using tomato juice to simulate the drinking of blood.

Beset by controversy, recent media reports highlight Youthworks Connect lessons featuring vampires and beheadings. Concerns have been raised by the sin and salvation messaging, which denigrates children as sinners akin to dirty towels, and menaces them that they’ll die if they’re selfish.

A statement from Ms Jones admitted there had previously been “no consistent oversight of materials being used for religious instruction in Queensland state schools”. Consequently, the education department will forthwith exercise greater control over lesson content.

Enrolling in RI will become explicit and opt-in, mitigating a common cause for complaint that many students are placed in RI by default, without parental consent.

Enrolments plummeted by nearly half when it became Opt-in in Victoria, and three years later RI was removed from school hours due to lack of interest and “to focus teachers and students … on the core curriculum”. (It’s still available at school out of hours).

There’s no reason to think this pattern will not repeat itself in Queensland. And the momentum towards change becomes irresistible when we consider some of the other concerns.

Australia’s slipping performance in literacy and numeracy – as noted in our PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) and NAPLAN results – reinforce the consistent findings of educational reviews – that the curriculum is overcrowded.

One of the architects of our school curriculum, Professor Ken Wiltshire recently demanded a stop to the “outsourcing’’ of religious instruction and sex education to “ideological interest groups’’.

Furthermore, studies undertaken by Stanford University professor, David Labaree, show that add-on programmes targeting social issues such as alcohol abuse, drug use, and racial equality, have little, or no effect.

Our priorities in education are reflected in how we measure it. If we’re going to measure our education system on literacy and numeracy, then we need to sharpen our focus on those key areas.

But, as our society becomes less religious and more diverse, the push to revive our Christian tradition becomes ever more aggressive and desperate. State school RI programs have become more fundamentalist and proselytising.

The “right” for faith groups to teach religion like “any other subject”, has been championed by Australian Catholic University fellow, and Australian curriculum author, Kevin Donnelly.

But alas, RI is not taught like any other subject.

Instructors are not required to have formal teaching qualifications. According to Queensland Teacher’s Union President, Kevin Bates, classes often become unruly requiring the supervising teacher to step in and retain control.

RI Classes bear scant resemblance to knowledge based classes, such as politics or economics, which provide a comparative reading of competing ideologies. In contrast, these entreat children, (identified as mostly non-Christians by Connect’s lesson materials), to recite prayers and accept the message of Jesus.

Youthworks own website says making disciples of children is “why we exist”. Disturbingly, the publisher of Connect even obtained legal advice to suggest that proselytising is allowable unless aimed at converting a child from one RI approved faith to another. The review agreed with this advice, but disappointingly, failed to make any specific recommendations forbidding proselytising.

And so, in the short term, schools will continue to divide up classrooms for evangelical bible lessons. The project reeks of social engineering and discriminates against nonreligious families and those who do not belong to the faiths on offer. There’s simply no necessity to teach religion in public schools.

Australian parents retain the freedom to bring up their children in whatever faith (or lack thereof) they choose. Under-patronised churches, built for that very purpose, stand within a slingshot of most state schools. We even have independent faith-based schools as an option.

RI allows approved faith groups to co-opt state school classrooms for up to one hour a week. Children who don’t participate must be offered other unspecified non-curricular activities. Wasting time, in other words.

The “Every Day Matters” policy of QLD’s Education department seems startlingly at odds with a curriculum where bible classes take up nearly a full term of a child’s primary school tenure. Rather than continuing with the same policy and praying for a different result, schools will eventually discard contested and non-core courses, and focus on reading, writing and numeracy.

For good reasons, pressure continues to mount on State governments to move faith classes outside of school hours.

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Music Points to God, Kiss My A***

Barney Zwartz, senior fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity, makes a strange and circular argument that the music of Mozart and others, “points us to God”.  According to Zwartz every music lover is “aware of its link to the spiritual”, and that music points to the “divine rationality and beauty of the Creator”.

But alas, Zwartz is troubled by the fact that many people love music and still manage to be unmoved to faith in God. How could this be? But, the apparent challenge to his unsupported claim is dismissed on the basis of some nice anecdotes of composers who claimed divine inspiration.

Quoting the great Jewish Hungarian conductor Sir Georg Solti:

“Mozart makes you believe in God – much more than going to church – because it cannot be by chance that such a phenomenon arrives into this world and then passes after 35 years, leaving behind such an unbounded number of unparalleled masterpieces.”

I wonder what Solti and Zwartz thought of Mozart’s dirty music. A perennial favourite the 1782 canon in B-flat major “Leck mich im Arsch” (literally Lick me in the arse).

Leck mich im A… g’schwindi, g’schwindi!
Leck im A… mich g’schwindi.
Leck mich, leck mich,
g’schwindi

(‘g’schwindi’ means ‘quickly’)

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The phrase, which roughly translates to “kiss my arse”, was changed by a later publisher to “Let us be glad”.

Another Mozart composition “Bona Nox” concludes triumphantly, “Shit in your bed and make it burst, Good night, sleep tight, And stick your ass to your mouth”.

Rounding out the rear-end inspired trilogy is “Leck mir den Arsch fein recht schön sauber” (“Lick my arse nice and clean”) – (although there is some doubt about whether he composed this later work).

Do these point to God?

Maybe not.

Mozart was famously and often at odds with his own Catholicism. In one of his letters he describes a sojourn his cousin and he had with a priest Father Emilian in Augsburg:

“[Father Emilian] was an arrogant ass and a simple-minded little wit of his profession… when he was a little drunk which happened soon, he started on about music. He sang a canon… I took the third voice, but I slipped in an entirely different text: ‘P[ater] E: o du schwanz, leck mich im arsch’ [“Father Emilian, oh you prick, lick me in the ass”]

But we can thank Mozart for providing the best answer to Zwartz. You think music points to God? Well, I’ll point you to this – “Leck mich im Arsch!”

 

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Legislating 18C Unbinds the Coalition from the SSM Plebiscite

This entry has previously been published as: Trying to Silence Unwelcome Views Only Perpetuates ThemThe Huffington Post Australia 6 September 2016
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The Coalition went to the last election promising not to put before parliament a vote on Same Sex Marriage, nor changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

And so, if the Coalition jettisons its pre-election commitment and supports Corey Bernardi’s bill to amend section 18C then there’s nothing stopping it from similarly considering marriage equality.

The “we-went-to-the-election-with” mantra is mute.

And if it succeeds, the government could quietly cancel what some have described as a $160 million festival of homophobia. Perhaps that’s a little unfair. (The final bill will probably be much more).

Liberal Senator Corey Bernardi has apparently secured the support of up to 20 Senators for a private members bill watering down Section 18C.

The free speech issue does not command the same level of public support as marriage equality.

But it should. It’s in Australia’s best interest to legislate on both amending 18C and marriage equality.

It’s folly of the highest order to imagine we can protect everyone in the country from offence or insult.

Remarkably, most of the commentary fails to acknowledge Section 18D whatsoever.

18D exempts art work, scientific debate and fair comment on matters of public interest from 18C, as long as they are said reasonably and in good faith.

Even though 18D goes some way toward mitigating 18C, it would still require mind readers and psychoanalysts to determine what speech is “reasonable” and in “good faith”.

Whether a recent cartoon by Bill Leak is reasonable or in good faith remains the subject of much ill-tempered dispute.

There’s plenty of things I’d like to say to Corey Bernardi that would offend and insult offend a reasonable person.

And, in the meantime, several QUT university students have their reputations and career prospects in tatters, by charges which will no doubt be ultimately thrown out.

Advocates for retaining 18C in its present form bring up the tiny percentage (3-5%) of convictions as an argument for retaining it; as if the huge numbers of spurious complaints, which choke up our legal process and benefit neither party, represent a virtue.

Don’t be fooled by the super-sized red herring which asks you to reject changes to 18C because most of the free speech advocates are whale-sized bigots.

Even if some of them are, it’s not their opinions at stake. It’s about what the general public – that is, you and I – are allowed to read or hear.

Do we really wish to censor ourselves from such views?

Those with unorthodox views on race or ethnicity don’t appear to have changed their minds in the decades 18C has been in place. We even vote some of them into parliament.

Meanwhile, we’ve cultivated a culture of vilifying people who do or say the “wrong” thing.

The media feeds on and recirculates the outrage until it becomes a many-headed hydra, bigger and scarier and more hateful than the prejudice from which it was spawned. And the media-storm seems to attract more followers to the xenophobic cause than it turns away.

The phenomenon is more advanced in other western democracies, resulting in unfortunate blowback in the form of Brexit and the popularity of Donald Trump.

Give bigots their right to speak. History teaches us that trying to silence unwelcome views only ferments and perpetuates them.

Disagreeable and prejudiced views should not be answered by outrage, rather by well-formed evidence based arguments placing the spotlight on their failures, fallacies and inherent bigotry.

The same logic applies to debate on same sex marriage. While I think the parliament should simply legalise marriage equality, we have nothing to fear from debate.

Sure, it will bring unsavoury views to the surface. And certainly, those views will insult and offend many in the LGBTI community. But would we rather pretend those views did not exist?

Wouldn’t discussing and challenging those views, debating them, and ultimately defeating them, be far more satisfying than silencing them?

Notwithstanding that, SSM has been debated ad nauseam for a long time now. We don’t need a non-binding plebiscite to tell us what opinion polls already have: the majority of Australians support SSM.

Bernardi claimed in March 2016 that redefining marriage is not dinner table conversation outside of the “militant homosexual lobby” and “twitterati”.

But 18C is? It’s hard to imagine tweaking the Racial Discrimination Act is dinner table fare for anyone beyond libertarians, and hard liners.

In response to the suggestion that other priorities super cede changing 18C, Bernardi said the government should be able to “walk and chew gum at the same time”.

While this leaves us imagining Senators entangled in chewing gum while eating their dinner, there’s no reason or mixed metaphor, which would preclude the government from legislating on both important issues.

Remember the golden rule of eating gum – you must bring enough for everyone.

If Malcolm Turnbull can seize the gauntlet and use the bill on 18C to justify a free vote on marriage equality, he’d achieve the dual benefit of reasserting his own leadership and seeing the back of two distracting and divisive issues.

So, let’s offer a toast to Corey Bernardi, wishing him good luck in removing “insult” and “offend” from Section 18C, thus, bringing marriage equality to the table. Resolve these and the Turnbull regime can move forward.