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Fear not God or secularism: Census 2016

Fear not God or secularism: Census 2016 – 02 August 2016, On line Opinion

 

For some, the August 9 Census question on religion looms like pale death over the cherished idea of Australia’s Christian nationhood. In 2011 the combined sects of Christianity recorded 61% compared to “No religion” at 22.3%, but the 2016 Census will bring about a dramatic closing of this gap.

If other countries are anything to go by, the 2016 Census result could herald a discernible shift in Australia’s religious landscape. When the 2013 Census answers were similarly reordered in New Zealand, “No religion” leapt from 35% to 42%. In the UK and Wales “No religion” surged from 25% in 2011, to 48.5% in 2014.

Weekly church pews have been vacated by all but 8% of Australians. Nearly half said they were irreligious in a May 2016 Ipsos poll. Sportsbet offers “No religion” as the favourite to overtake Catholicism as the highest group in the 2016 Census. But for those whose daily bread is buttered by the tax payer, the poll foreshadows a more secular Australia, where the privileges of faith are increasingly under threat.

And so, Anglican Rector Michael Jensen (Spectator 20 July 2016) claims that if you tick “No religion” in the Census it will be a lie.

“There’s no such thing as a non-religious human being”, he boldly asserts, then redefines religion to include Marxism, the cult of ANZAC, caring for the environment, Don Bradman, or anything else you might describe as a philosophy.

I’m not sure which is worse: branding nonbelievers as liars, or the self-serving Humpty Dumpty-ism stripping religion of any distinctive meaning.

“So belief in God isn’t a defining characteristic of ‘religion’”, claims Jensen.

I’m not sure the wrathful, jealous God of the Old Testament would agree. A defining characteristic of faith involves the supernatural and the transcendent.

In 1983 the High Court of Australia nominated a two-fold criteria for religion:

 

“first, belief in a Supernatural Being, Thing or Principle;

and second, the acceptance of canons of conduct in order to give effect to that belief,”

 

The above mentioned criteria allowed Scientology to achieve tax free status.

Abandoning such criteria would allow all nonbelievers to partake in religion’s conspicuous benefits.

We’d all be free of tax, but the Commonwealth would have a big revenue problem! Don’t worry, that’s hardly the intention.

Also, by Jensen’s lights many Christians would be surprised to find themselves simultaneously members of various “religions”.

How would they honestly mark the Census?

We might see a syncretism of new sporting faiths such as the Australian Kangaroos of Christ, the Lady of the Assumption Vixens, or even the Melbourne Church of Latter Day Demons.

A similar transparent effort to discredit unbelief by Christian minister, Spencer Gear, asks “Is ‘no religion’ a new religion?” (Online Opinion, 19 July 2016).

It begins with the charming parable of the fruit cake. A baker has made a beautiful fruit cake, but he doesn’t want to call it a fruit cake.

He wants to call it a “furphy cake” or a “non-cake”.

Well, what a dilemma!

The parable is supposed to suggest that “No religion” is actually a religion.

But what if we change it so the baker presents two plates; one with a fruit cake, and one without? The empty plate has no cake. “No cake”. “No religion”. No problem.

The insistence that no belief constitutes a religion has an undistinguished theological pedigree. The standard response of atheists is to agree it’s a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.

To say that “No religion” is actually a “religion” is unbaked nonsense.

Gear contrives an argument erroneously posing “Secularism” as a type of non-belief.

The key element of “Secularism” is the separation of church and state. If it were a religion its goal would be self- referential, and incongruous.

Enshrined in the Enlightenment age of universal religiosity, “Secularism” protects the religious freedom of all faiths and none.

It’s part of the Baptist tradition, evidenced in the campaigning of the Danbury Baptists, which resulted in then President, Thomas Jefferson, enshrining in the First amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Our own Section 116 of the Constitution reads similarly:

“The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance…”

Secularism is supported by 84% of Australians, many of faith, because it’s about allowing people to believe and practise what they want, free of state interference. Ironically, those who fear the rise of irreligion should take much comfort to that they might otherwise oppose – secularism.

Census data provides crucial evidence informing government policy and funding.

The Census asks “what is the person(s) religion?” According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the major world religions are Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Tao, Confucian, Tribal and Animist.

Notwithstanding superficial comparisons of “religious” behaviour in sport or politics, the Census asks about real affiliation with real religions.

There’s no danger of Census data diverting funding to fanatical Marxists, or crazed sports fans – even those who might pray to effigies of Lenin, or believe Gary Ablett Junior is Jesus and Gary Ablett Senior is God.

That’s why I agree wholeheartedly with Michael Jensen’s plea for honesty. When faith influences so many Australian institutions, correctly understanding the numbers is imperative.

For the many Australians who once identified as Christians but have “lapsed” in their church going, the Census provides a chance for honest reassessment and mature reflection.

Do they still believe in the profession of the faith – the Nicene Creed? Was Jesus born of a virgin? Are God and Jesus made of the one substance? Did Jesus come back to life after three days and ascend to Heaven? Will Jesus return to judge the quick and the dead? How plausible is the idea of Hell, and eternal damnation?

I hope the Census provokes Australians to think carefully about their beliefs. For those who are Anglicans, they’re free to choose Anglican. For those who worship Buddha, choose Buddhism. Vouchsafing these freedoms is just the point. For those who want a genuine separation of church and state, and who don’t belong to any particular religious order, “No religion” is an easy choice.

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The Census Asks About Religion Not Culture

My Neighbour Can Say There Are 20 Gods Or None, Just Not On Census Night The Huffington Post Australia 9 August 2016

Until recently, I was ambivalent about the welcoming smiles of faith. I’ve always admired the famous quote from U.S. Founding Father Thomas Jefferson: “It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods, or no god.”

 But when my son came home from state school singing songs about Jesus and waxing about the amazing Creator-God who made the world, I was jolted out of my metaphysical slumber. Apparently, not everyone is ambivalent. Ingratiating smiles suddenly hardened with purpose.
 Many Australians inherit a cultural affinity with Christianity. Many of us have attended Christian schools, baptised our kids, been married in church-run ceremonies, or attended church for life’s big moments. But cultural heritage is unaccompanied by belief in the tenets of the religion, or by regular participation and membership.
Thus, question 19 of the 2016 Census provides an opportunity to reflect upon our beliefs and to reassess our religious affiliation. The Census collects data used for planning and funding.

The beneficiaries of religious funding are organised faith groups. The state provides hundreds of millions for chaplaincy and Sunday school style faith classes, it pours $11 billion into religious schools, and forgoes about $20 billion in tax. Many tax-free faith groups run profitable businesses as well. Taxpayer funded faith-based groups enjoy blanket exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.

More taxpayer money per student is provided to independent schools run by the secretive Plymouth (ex-Exclusive) Brethren, and those linked to Scientology, than to State schools. While new developments in genetics and evolutionary biology make headlines, we spend a billion dollars on schools teaching Creationism.

There’s scant benefit for the nonbeliever in the state financing of religious enterprises. The taxpayer sponsors groups who may discriminate against them, espouse disagreeable views, and provide no public benefit. Since the primary goal of most faith groups is to promulgate their own beliefs, citizens marking the Census should carefully consider whether they still subscribe to those beliefs.

Do they believe in the profession of the faith? The Nicene Creed? The Apostle’s Creed? Was Jesus virgin-born? Do they believe in God? The Trinity? Do they still believe in Heaven and Hell? Did Jesus rise from the grave and ascend to heaven? Are humans aggregated to either eternal bliss or damnation on the basis of faith?

Many Australians have turned away from church because of the child sex abuse scandal, and the spectre of jihadism. Despite Muslims only accounting for 2.2 percent of the population, a preposterous scare campaign encourages lapsed Christians to tick a Christian denomination on the Census to avoid Australia becoming an Islamic country.

Even if this fear were remotely justified, a more appropriate response would be reasserting our secular nature by marking “No religion”: the only response likely to lessen the influence and funding of faith-based groups.

Other Australians have turned away from faith due to skepticism of its non-evidenced and unverifiable claims. In an information exploded world, where facts are clicked in an instant and where medicine and technology proceed at warp speed, the dizzying claims of faith face an unprecedented challenge.

Most Australians strongly support secularism: 78 percent of those polled by Ipsos in January thought it important to separate religious beliefs from the business of government.

We inherit a rich cultural tradition, arising out of enlightenment thinking, Christianity, Westminster, free-market economics, and secularism, and we are now a culturally diverse, multi-faith society.

We applaud the freedom “for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods, or none”, but as Jefferson went on, “It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg”.

Alas, in our democracy, religion does pick the pocket of taxpayers. Governments are hardly ambivalent towards faith, subsidising it to the tune of billions of dollars, despite fewer and fewer tax payers subscribing to it. So when filling out the Census on Tuesday night, I hope Australians look beyond a historical cultural affiliation, and critically reflect upon their religious or irreligious beliefs.

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Suspend Religious Instruction in QLD and NSW State Schools

Religious Instruction should be suspended in all QLD and NSW state schools pending an investigation into inappropriate and proselytising teaching materials.

The Youthworks produced Connect program has been the subject of ongoing controversy with lessons involving beheadings, vampires, threats of damnation, threats of death, denigrating children as dirty sinners, and the blatant soliciting of conversions to Christianity.

The following is a small sample of media reports relating to Connect:

The Queensland government is reviewing the Connect material after it was suspended by the principal of Windsor State School, because it was found to be proselytising.

But given how shockingly unsuitable the material is on a number of levels, it should be withdrawn from schools without delay. Anything less is tacit approval for religious fundamentalism, proselytising and age inappropriate teaching.

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Mark ‘No religion” on the 2016 Census

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Religious Candles and Cross --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

What Parents aren’t told about Connect Religious Lessons: The Vampires of Religious Instruction and the Contest for the Souls of Children

What parents aren’t told about the  #Connect #religiousinstruction lessons – Hunting Little Souls: The Vampires of Religious Instruction – @NewMatilda 21 June 2016

Parents who thought religious instruction was benign have been misled by both a lack of oversight, and the ratcheting up of evangelising in the materials. Most school websites inadvertently mislead parents by reassuring them the RI program mustn’t proselytise.

Parents see only a sanitised version of lesson aims, and since they have no idea of the confronting and proselytising nature of the content, the program fails to satisfy the basic requirements of informed consent.

Lax enrolment procedures ensure a far greater percentage of children attend these classes than are approved. The program is Opt-out rather than Opt-in, and in QLD there’s no Ethics or secular alternative. Secular Public Education advocate Ron Williams says,

On a weekly basis we receive an ongoing stream of complaints from parents who have had their children placed into religious instruction contrary to their clearly stated wishes within the Education Queensland enrolment form.

These appalling circumstances must not be allowed to continue. It is most urgent that religious instruction in Queensland public schools be suspended immediately.

“These books are about vampires”, begins the Connect religious instruction lesson for seven to nine year old children, introducing the well-known “Twilight” series of vampire novels, well known for their blend of eroticism and horror.

Recommended for ages 13 and over, the series follows the trials of Bella Swan, who falls in love with the pale but good-looking vampire, Edward Cullen. It tells of his struggle to resist the strong sexual desire aroused by the scent of Bella’s blood, and his choice to protect her from a coven of evil vampires.

“Some of your older brothers and sisters, or even your parents, may have read these books,” the lesson continues.

The Connect religious instruction (RI) program is produced by the Sydney Anglican group Youthworks, and is widely used in NSW and QLD.

“Who can tell me what they think a vampire is?” the class are asked.

“In these made-up stories about vampires how do you think someone becomes a scary vampire?”

“Accept responses. A vampire bites them and drinks their blood, the person dies and then the person comes to life again but this time they are not a person, they are a vampire”.

The Christian fascination with the vampire myth relates to the inversion of the communion sacrament. The human immortality resulting from drinking the blood of Christ is contrasted with the immortality of drinking human blood and belonging to a fallen, demonic world.

Twilight’s author, Stephenie Meyer uses her Mormon faith to infuse the series with themes of sexual abstinence, evil, and immortality.

 

 (The Connect Lesson on Vampires)

“There aren’t any vampires in the Bible because the Bible is not a made-up book – it is a book containing facts”, the Connect lesson continues.

“But there are some true stories in the Bible about people dying and then coming back to life again and we’re going to look at one now”.

Evidently, the point of the lesson is to emphasize the authority of the Bible. A fundamentalist adherence to the literal truth of scripture is a key element of Connect: “To understand that the Bible is God’s word: that it is historically reliable and still relevant today.”

The program emphasizes the literal truth of familiar Bible stories such as Adam and Eve, and Noah’s Ark. Connect refers to the story of Jesus turning water into wine as: “a true story…Jesus really did this; it wasn’t a magic trick.”

The authors apparently have no scruples with using violent and age inappropriate material to generate interest in the Bible.

Recent media reports have highlighted lessons threatening children they “will die” if they’re selfish, and asking them to roleplay the beheading in the David and Goliath story. Young children are denigrated as “sinners” deserving of punishment, and compared to dirty towels in need of cleansing.

The grisly material stands at odds with the protests of conservative religious groups about violent and pornographic material in video games and movies.

But the gravest concern is the contest for children’s souls – the explicit focus of the Youthworks Connect RI program.

 

(screenshot from Youthworks website)

Youthworks’ own website says that “the discipleship of children, youth and families is at the heart of everything we do.”

Making disciples “is why we exist”, they say.

Queensland RI policy prohibits proselytising, defined as “soliciting a student for a decision to change their religious affiliation”.

Vampires seeking to claim the souls of innocents is a ghastly, nightmarish thought: one that should frighten parents and children alike.

Read more..

 

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It’s time for an inquiry into the contents of religious instruction in Qld schools

It’s time for an inquiry into the contents of # religious instruction in # Qld schools

The horrifying religious instruction classes planned for Qld schools – Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Brisbane Times 20 April 2016.

Following publication of this article, Youthworks has withdrawn the class on David and Goliath, as per Buzzfeed: This Christian School Program Was Teaching “Beheading Lessons”

The immediate withdrawal of the program highlights how obviously inappropriate it is. It also raises a red flag – how many other lessons are similarly barbaric, age inappropriate or overtly evangelical?

The Qld Department of Education and Training has advised “Principals can suspend program delivery until any issues are resolved”.

According to the Daily Mail Australia, A Department of Education and Training spokesman said:

‘If parents of participating students have concerns with the content or delivery of religious instructions (RI), they are encouraged to raise this with their school principal.

‘RI programs are provided by a religious denomination or society (known as a faith group), not the Department of Education and Training,’ the spokesperson said.

‘RI is only to be provided to students from Year 1 in state primary, secondary and special schools whose parents have nominated the faith group on enrolment, or to students whose parents have given written permission for their child to attend.

‘Parents can change their preference for their child to participate in RI or other instruction at any time by notifying the school in writing. Principals can suspend program delivery until any issues are resolved.’

This creates a new and impractical onus on each school principal to review religious instruction content. If this content is available for one hour per week, in all Queensland schools, then DET should be monitoring it. It’s part of our school education system.

Visit the Queensland Parents for Secular State Schools facebook page for more information.

The moral of the lesson is to teach students to 'recognise that it was God who defeated the Philistines through David' and 'appreciate that God saves his people in unexpected ways' (stock image)

(image courtesy Daily Mail Australia)

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The Church and its weakening grip over Telstra and taxes

The Church and its weakening grip over Telstra and taxes – ABC’s The Drum 14 April 2016

News that Telstra has apparently bowed to pressure from the Catholic Church and backed away from public support for marriage equality comes at a time many Australians are reconsidering the role of religion in our society.

Telstra and other corporations had lent their logos to a full page ad run by Marriage Equality Australia in May last year.

The Archdiocese of Sydney wrote to these corporations “with grave concern” about the marriage equality campaign, highlighting how the Catholic Church is “a significant user of goods and services from many corporations”.

Telstra quietly capitulated, saying it has “no further plans to figure prominently in the wider public debate”. According to the Australian, a “person familiar with the company’s decision” said Telstra did not want to “risk its commercial relationship with the church”.

Using its buying power to effectively threaten a boycott is a high handed and cynical move on the part of the Church. Perhaps this sort of behaviour helps us to understand why antipathy towards organised religion seems to be increasing in Australia.

Nearly two in three Australians think tax breaks for advancing religion should go, according to two recent surveys.

According to a new poll by Ipsos, 64 per cent of Australians favour scrapping tax free status for churches and basic religious groups. Less than 20 per cent said tax breaks should remain, and 16.5 per cent were unsure.

More than half (55.1 per cent) of those surveyed disagreed that advancing religion is of public benefit. Only 20.7 per cent said they agreed, with a further 24.2 per cent saying advancing religion may be of public benefit.

The results provide a stunning correlation with last week’s Essential Report, where 64 per cent of those surveyed disapprove of the tax free status of religious groups. Significantly, 39 per cent “strongly disapprove”. Disapproval was consistent across all major parties, with the Liberal/National Party voters recording 63 per cent, and those aged 55 years and over at 73 per cent.

If antipathy to religion and its special treatment continues to grow, the pressure on governments to respond accordingly will eventually become irresistible.

Public opinion has undergone a seismic shift. Rather than ask why remove tax free status, Australians are now asking, “Why not?” The thought that only one in five Australians think advancing religion is beneficial to the public must be deeply troubling for religious advocates.

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Queensland law should reflect public support for abortion

Queensland law should reflect public support for abortion – The Brisbane Times 07 April 2016

Abortion is legal in Victoria, ACT and Tasmania, but not Queensland.

(Photo courtesy The Brisbane Times 07 April 2016)

Nearly one in three women has an abortion at some time in their life. It’s hard to believe but terminating a pregnancy remains a criminal offence in Queensland. Consider some other way this glaring contradiction could be reconciled other than a smack down for 21st century women.

Let’s face it: if men bore children ending unwanted pregnancies would’ve been legal long ago, even if the sunny land of Sir Joh, don’t you worry about that.

Thankfully someone is doing something about it. The ex-ALP Independent Member for Cairns, Rob Pyne, has pledged to draft a private member’s Bill to legalise abortion.

Women’s rights have come a long way in a century.

In 1902, Australia was the first country to allow women to run for parliament.

In 1965, Queenslanders Merle Thornton and Rosalie Bognor chained themselves to the bar of Brisbane’s Regatta Hotel, and ended the ban on women entering public bars.

A hundred years ago women couldn’t vote, stand for parliament, drink in bars, enter the workforce, use “the pill”, or end unwanted pregnancies.

After a century of progress, the glaring anomaly is that Queensland women still cannot exercise control over their own body – a hangover from an era when women had virtually no rights.

Abortion is legal in Victoria, ACT and Tasmania.

Mr Pyne was originally motivated by the prosecution of a young Cairns local couple in 2010, for allegedly obtaining an abortion using the drug RU486.

“When that couple were on trial in Cairns, the injustice of it really touched a chord with me,” Mr Pyne said.

“Having an elderly male judge and prosecutors talking about the most intimate details involving a woman’s own body, that’s just wrong.”

Queensland doctors continue to risk criminal charges by providing about 700 procedures a year in the far north, relying on 30-year-old court ruling that ending the pregnancy is allowable when it poses a serious danger to a woman’s physical and mental health.

In an October 2015 Medical Journal of Australia editorial, Professor Caroline de Costa and Professor Heather Douglas argued that Queensland law must be updated to provide uniform access to legal and safe terminations for women in Australia.

read more 

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End The Safe Schools Hysteria, Start A Parliamentary Enquiry Into Religious Instruction

End The Safe Schools Hysteria, Start A Parliamentary Enquiry Into Religious Instruction

A life size Noah's Ark, built in the Netherlands and now operating as a tourist attraction. (IMAGE: bert knottenbeld, Flickr)

A life size Noah’s Ark, built in the Netherlands and now operating as a tourist attraction. (IMAGE: bert knottenbeld, Flickr, courtesy New Matilda)

 

Just over a month since the kids went back to school, and it’s the easily distracted adults having conniptions over the curriculum. Fact-resistant back of the class blowhards, such as George Christensen, demand a parliamentary enquiry into the Safe Schools anti-bullying program.

Outrage has been manufactured out of the program’s allegedly ideological agenda – that is, ideas and beliefs which are contested. The schoolyard is once again the battleground of our ongoing culture war.

Meanwhile religious instruction (RI) classes commenced again. These involve faith-based groups presenting the ideas and beliefs of their religion. That these involve contested ideas and beliefs is demonstrable by the large numbers of parents opting out their children.

If there’s a parliamentary enquiry into Safe Schools, by the same irrevocable logic, there must be one into religious instruction.

It’s undesirable to divide classes so that some receive RI and some do other non-curricular activities. Consider the absurdity of an “overcrowded” curriculum containing countless hours of squandered class time due to contested beliefs.

Given religious instruction isn’t acceptable to all, we should question what its benefits are.

According to the Queensland Government policy statement, RI encourages “students to develop as a whole person, in particular, in beliefs, values and attitudes”.

Notwithstanding the idiotic and discriminatory claim that we must entertain religious ideas to be “whole” persons, the very next statement is startlingly at odds with it: “State schools respect the background and beliefs of all students and staff by not promoting, or being perceived as promoting, any particular set of beliefs in preference to another”.

Well may we wonder what theological gymnastics are employed to help students develop beliefs, without promoting any beliefs.

How many parents know what their child is taught in RI? Despite the requirement to provide parents with detailed information, most schools leave parents in the dark.

Most are Christian classes using teaching materials developed by evangelical Christian groups, promoting a “sin and salvation” message.

The Year 6 “BIG QUESTIONS” program from the Connect Bible based curriculum advises instructors:

Many students will have no awareness that they stand guilty before God… They will probably have little understanding of just how seriously God takes sin and how greatly they, personally, have offended him.

I’ve no doubt many parents, Christians included, would have serious reservations about telling their children they’ve “personally” offended God.

It may be helpful to refer them to the story of Noah and how seriously God dealt with the sinfulness of the world then.

Students are encouraged to learn that the Bible is God’s word: that it is historically reliable and still relevant today.

Note the befuddling of beliefs and facts happening before our children’s eyes.

Is the preposterous story of Noah’s Ark “historically reliable”? Paraphrasing biologist Richard Dawkins: how did those marsupials hop from Mt. Ararat en masse, and settle exclusively in Australia leaving no trace anywhere else?

Read more here…

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Religious Instruction in Queensland schools is discriminatory

Religious Instruction in Queensland schools is discriminatoryBrisbane Times 14/03/16

When I found out my eight-year-old had been taught at school that there’s no God, I was shocked.

Well, actually, it’s the opposite: I’m an atheist and in Religious Instruction, my son was taught that God exists, and his saviour is Jesus.

Religious Instruction has no place in Queensland schools, argues Hugh Harris.

Religious Instruction has no place in Queensland schools, argues Hugh Harris. (photo: courtesy The Brisbane Times)

This admittedly contrived example illustrates why religious instruction is inherently discriminatory.

Considering we’d previously opted out our son from the program, I was appalled when he still attended the first class of the year. How vigilant must I be?

Read the rest here.