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Did you remember secular values this Easter?

Christoncross

An earlier version of this article published in Rendezview The Daily Telegraph 17/04/17 – Christianity no longer a central part of Australian life

 

Last week, in the Courier Mail, Dr Kevin Donnelly felt the need to remind us that celebrating Easter proves the influence of the Bible.

Having taken off the bunny ears and coaxed our chocolate-filled bellies off the couch, most Australians observe the unfastening and remoteness of family Easter festivities from the biblical story of a risen Christ.

And, if Easter really did prove the importance of the Bible, why would we need reminding?

Because, it’s not due to short term memory loss that 9 out of 10 Australians no longer attend church regularly. Nor is sudden memory-failure the reason non-belief will soon overtake Catholicism to become Australia’s largest religious affiliation.

Quite simply, the Christian church is no longer a central part of Australian life, and gentle reminders will be insufficient to revive it.

Increasingly unmoored from religious rituals, it’s worth noting that Easter – a word derived from Eastra, the goddess of spring – was originally a celebration of the spring equinox, with the date determined by the cycles of the moon.

Resurrection and rebirth myths go back as far as recorded history. Cuneiform tablets from 2100 B.C document the resurrection of Ianno, who was judged and killed in the underworld, raised from the dead after three days and restoring fertility to the earth.

And that’s not denying the importance of the Bible in understanding western civilisation. Without it, it’s difficult to comprehend how we got here. Since Constantine adopted Christianity in the 4th century, it has been integral to the character and fabric of western civilization.

But acknowledging our history, does not imply that we should deny the pluralism and diversity of our current society, nor make us intransigent against change. Further, one cannot help but detect a “culture war” theme motivating Donnelly’s argument.

Why for instance does he quote Professor Higgins, from My Fair Lady, saying that English is the language of “Milton, Shakespeare and the Bible”?

The Bible was written in Aramaic, and Jesus was a Palestinian. The Bible was finally translated to English by Protestant reformer William Tyndale in the 16th century amidst theological outrage. The original translations were burned, and Tyndale was finally rewarded for his efforts by strangulation and burning at the stake.

Western civilisation began long before the supposed virgin-birth of Jesus. Rather than being founded upon the New Testament, western culture integrated Christianity into a milieu of Jewish wisdom, Greek philosophy and Roman law.

Again, I would not wish to understate the value of the Bible as part of western literature, but it is a prism through which we understand the past, rather than a light that guides the way in the future.

The recent furore over Coopers Brewing and their support for the Bible Society over same sex marriage, demonstrates the increasing chasm between biblical beliefs and modern secular values.

The idea that our society is somehow held together by the teachings of Jesus, is decisively undermined by the Enlightenment – the secular project, which finally wrested control of government and science from the church.

Finally, secular values allowed different sects and different religions to coexist without endless conflict. The era of science conforming to theology was over, and progress was thereafter swift.

Moreover, the Ten Commandments retain little influence on the modern Australian legal system or indeed modern ethics. Nor were they particularly innovative moral teachings in their time. Surely, it wasn’t the meeting of Moses and God for 40 days and nights on Mt Sinai, which convinced humanity that murder was inadvisable. The prohibition on murder, along with other values such as the golden rule, all appear in the civilisations of India, China, Athens and Rome, predating Christianity by thousands of years.

Raising his Bible to ward off Islamic terrorism, like a crucifix to a vampire, Donnelly suggests the antidote to religious violence is yet more religion. But promoting conformity to Christian teachings will only infuriate and isolate those from other cultural traditions. What we need is a broadening of cultural tolerance, not a narrowing.

What we should remember at holiday times is the things which unite us, not those which divide. Namely, the Enlightenment values of tolerance, secularism, freedom of thought, the rule of law, and democracy. If we owe a debt to Christianity, it’s because of the excesses and dogmas which necessitated modern secular values.

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)

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.

read more

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.

Slurs Are A Poor Counterfeit For Reason

Slurs Are A Poor Counterfeit For Reason – The Huffington Post 25/02/16

CORY BERNARDI

(image courtesy The Huffington Post Australia)

In the current charged atmosphere fuelled by cultural issues such as same-sex marriage, it’s unsurprising to see some erecting invisible force-fields around their beliefs. Senator Cory Bernardi claimed the Safe Schools anti-bullying campaign attempted “to indoctrinate kids with Marxist cultural relativism”.

Bill Shorten branded Bernardi a homophobe. Slurs are a poor counterfeit for reason, as are conspiracy theories. As we’ll see, relativism is a charge that likes it both ways.

Bernardi described Shortens jibe as “a really sad indictment on the modern character of political debate”. Whilst true, this is not coming from the saviour of reason.“Bestiality” and “Burqas” are words inversely associated with that comparison. When he joined the Coalition front bench as a comparative young man, some feared his star had risen too soon — he’d become an anachronism before his time.

Read more

Professor who said Christians and Muslims Worship the Same Imaginary Being resigns from Wheaton

Charges of firing politics Professor Dr Larycia Hawkins have been withdrawn. So says Wheaton College provost Stan Jones, although the “place of resolution and reconciliation” they’ve come to, has resulted in Dr Hawkins moving on.

This follows her controversial suspension for her posting on Facebook where, whilst wearing the Hijab, she claimed Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

I stand in solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.

Wheaton College suspended the professor because her comment doesn’t conform to their Statement of Faith. Wheaton’s response was described as “religious bigotry” by the Chicago Tribune, and as “anti-Muslim bigotry” by Theology professor at Yale, Miroslav Volf, whose book Allah: A Christian Response, makes the argument that Jews, Christian and Muslims all worship the same God.

Consider for a moment how facile this debate is. Grown men and women attempting to decipher whether their religion’s unseen thing is actually the same unseen thing worshipped by others.

This provides an interesting parallel to the religious project in general, in which competing sects insist with utter certainty their own version of the unknowable is true and that all others are certainly false. So much certainty aimed at what is always erstwhile admitted as unknowable.

After leaping into the unknowable, theologians return claiming ultimate knowledge, blithely claiming to have achieved the impossible.

As he was about to burned at the stake, Protestant reformer, Jan Hus exclaimed “Sanctus Simplicitus!” referring to an elderly woman who threw a comically small amount of brushwood onto his pyre.

Meaning “Holy simplicity”, this phrase, in this context, reminds us of how disputes over unverifiable dogma have perennially stoked the fires of division and hatred.

We’re reminded of the aftermath of his execution when the Hussite Bohemians began to reject to teachings of the Papacy resulting in Pope Martin V’s Crusade against them. Where there is no answer, or where the answer is unverifiable, certainty somehow becomes absolute and an oppressive force.

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

Let’s consider some equally pointless questions.

Imagine hillbillies arguing about whether the correct name of the mythological hairy monster is Sasquatch or Bigfoot.

They are soon to be joined by a Himalayan who insists what they are really talking about is the Yeti. But his friend violently disagrees. It’s actually the abominable snowman on vacation.

Is the invisible fire-breathing dragon in my garage the same as Carl Sagan’s one?

Which brand of invisible new clothes does the Emperor wear?

Such questions are plainly absurd as they speak of undiscovered, abstract concepts.

Gods are defined by the various characteristics assigned by the religion and the mythology.

The claim that both Christianity and Islam worship the same God is unverifiable, and arguably, nonsensical. An entity is defined by its nature, and simply cannot be regarded as the same entity as another entity which has different qualities.

Unless one wants to argue that God is protean and relativistic, and can simultaneously exist as whatever everyone wants him to be.

No-one knows if they’re worshiping the same God as another religion because there’s nothing to know. It’s a vapid, meaningless question.

Stan Jones apologized to Dr Hawkins for his “lack of wisdom and collegiality”. But even that’s a bit rich, considering that before wisdom one must first acquire common sense.