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nation of nonbelievers

The Census surge in non-belief heralds a new secularism

 
Census surge heralds a secular state – The Courier Mail 28 June 2017

MORE Australians ticked “No religion” in the 2016 Census than any other belief category. The results, released yesterday, show non-belief surging from 22.3 per cent in 2011 to 30.1, overtaking Catholicism which fell from 25.3 per cent to 22.6.

The change represents a watershed. The number of Christians has fallen from 88 per cent in 1966 to 52.1 per cent in 2016; a free fall which looks set to continue given 39 per cent of adults aged 18-34 now report no religion.

nation of nonbelievers

Christian dominance is ending and, marking a seismic shift in our belief landscape, nearly one third of Australians are now nonbelievers.

The effect should be wide ranging: a new voting block of nonbelievers surely forces us to consider bolstering our rather weak version of secularism.

Providing further impetus to consider this change is the fact that a fading religious belief runs deeper than just the rise in nonbelievers. Many of those marking “Christian” on the Census are expressing a “cultural” preference rather than genuine religious belief.

A 2012 McCrindle survey reported one third of Christians were more spiritual than religious.

In that respect, Australian data on Christian religious observance mirrors that of other western countries such as the UK, Ireland and the Scandinavian countries. Less than 10% of us attend church regularly, and the majority of weddings and funerals are now secular events. Caring more about everyday matters, mainstream Christians are mostly nominal, and unobservant.

Driven by our sharp decline in religiosity, we can expect to see our type of secularism become more robust, and more determinedly belief-neutral. In contrast to the US, which has enforced the Establishment Clause strictly, our Constitution’s Section 116 has always been interpreted narrowly (it doesn’t even apply to the states!), allowing a blurry and uneasy relationship between religion and governance.

Which explains how we allow prayers in parliament, along with Christian chaplains and faith-based religious instruction in secular state schools. Bizarrely, blasphemy is still a crime in most states of Australia. The lip service paid to secularism stands, sits uncomfortably with our decreasing piety.

Symptomatic of this decline, parents are increasingly opting their children out of faith-taught religious classes in NSW and QLD state schools. And in Victoria, religious classes were scrapped from curriculum time, in 2015, to allow more focus on core learning.

A new understanding of secularism resists the privileging of specific belief systems in the public domain. As the handmaiden of democracy, secularism insists that Abraham Lincoln’s democratic principle of government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”, remains pure and undiluted by prioritising the beliefs of one group over another.

A notable disparity exists when taxpayer-funded and tax-free faith groups enjoy blanket exemptions from anti-discrimination laws. So, the taxes of some nonbelievers subsidise groups who actively and legally discriminate against them.

Rising non-belief shines a light on certain areas of public policy where the lobbying of Archbishops and religious groups continue to stonewall progress. Why, for instance, is same sex marriage still not legal? Why is there such a deference to minority views, favouring religious convictions over nonreligious convictions, that the parliament fails to enact popular opinion?

Similarly, consider euthanasia: 75% of Australians support assisted dying and of those who object, 92% have religious connections.

Why does abortion remain technically illegal in NSW and QLD? Providing a safe and legal option for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies is supported by 80% of our populace.

Advancing religion remains a tax free charitable purpose, under laws dating back to the 1600’s, despite a 2016 IPSOS poll showing less than 20% of Australians support the measure. In the same poll, 55% of respondents answered that religion had no public benefit.

2016 census

Necessarily, the freefall in Christianity increases Australia’s diversity of beliefs, emphasizing our pluralism. Each year there are fewer of our fellow citizens who think religious freedom means the right to impose their beliefs on others. Most Australians would agree with the version of religious freedom expressed by article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which protects theistic, nontheistic, and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right to profess any religion or belief.

From this zeitgeist emerges a New Secularism. Underpinned by overwhelming popular support – 75% of Australians support the separation of church and state – the move towards secularism becomes inexorable now that non-belief joins the mainstream. Non-belief is the new normal. The bright light of secularism will guide us away from Christian hegemony, and towards a fairer, more inclusive, state-neutral approach to matters of belief.

religious chart info

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John Howard’s Christian Right Feels Silenced, And They’re Telling Anyone Who’ll Listen

John Howard’s Christian Right Feels Silenced, And They’re Telling Anyone Who’ll Listen – New Matilda 03/01/2016

A screengrab of former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, appearing on Channel 9's 60 minutes program in 2012.

“People are too scared to speak”, claims ex-Prime Minister John Howard amidst a mood of growing resentment towards the Coalition’s Christian Right. Howard has called out a “minority fundamentalism” where progressives attempt to silence others. By example, he cites the branding of those who oppose gay marriage as homophobes, and the controversy over the Tasmanian anti-marriage equality booklet.

We see this phenomenon regularly – the pre-emptive branding of an opponent’s view by some type of slur. But this applies to all sides of politics. Cory Bernardi heckled Bill Shorten calling him “a fraud”. Shorten responded in kind, dubbing him a “homophobe”. But then, a doe-eyed Bernardi complained that “it’s disappointing someone seeking to be PM resorts to name calling”.

Tut-tut – glass houses and all that.

Read more…

An Antidote to the Self Proclaimed Atheist Saviour

Only someone who hasn’t read Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell) or Sam Harris (Waking Up, Free Will, The Moral Landscape) or the many other works of new atheists (particular AC Grayling) or who has chosen to ignore them, could manage to “observe” that new atheism is solely concerned with telling theists they’re idiots on insulting Muslims, and then proceed almost in parody to insist new atheists are “jerks”, “racists” representing the “dickishness” of “white” “privileged know-it-alls”.

As the apparent spokesperson for the anarcho-syndicalist Left, the Left-that-Left-the-Building, Sparrow takes offence to the mockery of Noam Chomsky by Sam Harris:

 “Given a choice between Noam Chomsky and Ben Carson, in terms of the totality of their understanding of what’s happening now in the world, I’d vote for Ben Carson every time

 

 Ben Carson is a dangerously deluded religious imbecile, Ben Carson does not…the fact that he is a candidate for president is a scandal…but at the very least he can be counted on to sort of get this one right. He understands that jihadists are the enemy”

I suspect Sam Harris deliberately places this land mine to stir up controversy, so radicals such as Sparrow can write his publicity for him. Harris hasn’t forgotten the response he received some years ago when he claimed, “The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists”.

Sparrow’s wrath is based on Harris dual claims that jihadists are the enemy, and that he’d vote for a religious imbecile before Noam Chomsky. The “correct” response to this is taken from blog by fellow new atheist PZ Myers:

My favourite of his recent interventions includes the line: “Sam Harris [is] full of paranoid, racist shit.”

If the lauding of cheap abuse is not bad enough, the quote from PZ Myers is not actually based on anything Sam Harris actually said, but in response to a comment made by a contributor. One would’ve thought that sort of detail would benefit from checking, especially given the immoderate tone of the rest of Sparrow’s jeremiad.

 Sparrow sees his atheism as merely a tenet of his leftism given he regards new atheism “an intellectual step backward from a left that had recognised atheism as necessary but scarcely sufficient”.

I guess if you see your atheism as just a subset of your tribal commitment to the left, as just a tenet of Marxism or Communism or Anarcho-Syndicalism, then it’s clear why any criticism of religions such as Islam, are subsumed behind a tribal anti-western alignment and affiliation to the plight of the oppressed and the victims of capitalist aggression. 

 Thus New Atheism probably seems quite incomprehensible to demagogues like Sparrow.

 

The Trash-talking Hypocrisy of PZ Myers

As part of his effort to be crowned the Grand Poobah of Atheism, PZ Myers continues his trashing of other prominent atheists he apparently sees as rivals for the job.

Constructive criticism is certainly a good thing but there is line, which Myers illuminates by continually crossing over it, where criticism becomes trashing. As if attempting to prove the case for the narcissism of small differences, PZ Myers inevitably ends his analyses of luminaries such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris with charges of “bigotry” or “racism”.

Myers posts an article titled, Atheists should not condemn any culture, where he chides Richard Dawkins for tweeting about the “clock boy”. Referring to comments made by both Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins where they object to protecting the tenets of Islam by using the “it’s their culture” excuse, Myers concludes that “this is definitely bigotry”.

One is reminded of Myer’s own antics in threatening to urinate on the Koran, desecrating the Bible and Koran, and the iconoclasm of desecrating the stolen sacred Eucharist wafer’s of Catholics.

And what about his denunciation of Sam Harris for assuming Muslims are more likely to sympathise with jihadists. On his blog, Myer’s quotes a statement from a correspondent which contains a poor defence of Sam Harris argument. But then Myer’s sulfurifically condemns Sam Harris for the argument of the correspondent!

We don’t. QED, my correspondent and Sam Harris are full of paranoid, racist shit

Well, I couldn’t resist pointing out, in the comments, how it all seems to be conveniently aligned with prosecuting grudges. Not to mention infantile.

A mild storm of profanities and accusations of racism ensued, culminating with Myers banning me from the site. But not before giving himself the last say.

And with that bit of frothing, spittle flecked lying from Mr Hugh Harris, and all the rest of the batshit stupidity from him, he’s run his course and is out of here

Banned! Oh well. So much for the staunch defender of free speech.

But it’s not completely trivial. A Guardian article by Jeffrey Sparrow gleefully quoted Myers comment without realising it wasn’t based on anything Sam Harris actually said.

My favourite of his recent interventions includes the line: “Sam Harris [is] full of paranoid, racist shit.

I find this hysterical. Does anyone check this stuff? That Sparrow’s article garnered over 2000 comments (mostly negative), gives one the sad impression that trashing pays.

But I think the best refutation is provided by PZ Myers himself some years ago. (Ironically it was in response to earlier atheist hating article by the same Jeffrey Sparrow)

To the evil duo of Harris and Hitchens, he [Sparrow]  now adds Richard Dawkins, because he said “Islam is the greatest man-made force for evil in the world today”…which doesn’t sound racist or fascist. He’s targeting an ideology, not a people; if you asked him, he might even go on to say that Christianity is the second greatest force for evil. If we can’t even criticize ideological craziness without getting slapped with the accusation that we’re racist, we’re in trouble. Next thing you know, someone will pull up my denunciations of crazy American politicians Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann and declare that I’m clearly anti-woman and that I hate white people.

But this is 2015, and when it comes to Sam Harris, the views of Myers seem to have recalibrated themselves to the other side of the dial. In his podcast with Douglas Murray, Sam Harris observes that some percentage of Muslims are jihadists. Myers responds:

No, guy, making the assumption that being Muslim, the group most lethally targeted by ISIS, makes one more likely to sympathize with fanatical jihadists, is most definitely bigotry.

Hmmm. I’m not even sure this point is arguable, never mind bigotry, and I’m cautious of claims requiring modifiers like “most definitely”.  

Is assuming a Republican is more likely to sympathise with Donald Trump, bigotry?

What about assuming a Christian is more likely to sympathize with Christian fundamentalists: bigotry?

Or, assuming that a woman is more likely to have a baby?

But what about this? Assuming that any person who criticizes Islam is a bigot – is this bigotry?

Not all discrimination is unfair. We’re pattern seeking mammals, evolutionists point out. To demand we disavoy the obvious means adopting pretence as a virtue, and equates common sense with Orwellian thought crimes. And it results in the stifling of intellectual debate by harassment and no-platforming and, in the case of Maryam Namazie, even death threats.

Given jihadists belong exclusively and by definition to the Islamic religion, is it really so unreasonable to observe that in a group of Muslims we are more likely to find some who sympathize with jihadists? As opposed to Christians or Atheists?

Of course not. It’s just a fact. And it’s no insult to Muslims to make the observation. It is how this information is processed which makes the difference. If we assume ALL Muslims are terrorists, or seek to discriminate unfairly against Muslims, then we can start talking about bigotry. But, yelling “bigotry” for assuming a connection between Muslims and jihadism is akin to denying that jihadism exists within the Islamic tradition. Even though we know it exists, we must somehow assume it doesn’t.

We cannot be demanded not to assume what any person of common sense would assume. And we should not be prevented from discussing known facts and using common sense. But PZ Myers demands ideological blindness: closing your eyes and blocking your ears and yelling “WAAAAAAA!!!”

Hypocrisy is a handy accomplice for pursuing vendettas.

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

Nothing, Something, but mostly Nothing

James Wood’s article in ABC’s Religion & Ethics,  Everything, Something, Nothing: The Modern Novel and the Departure of God , offers some tantalizing references to modern fiction and how it encounters God and seeks to understand meaning in our lives, but only skims the surface. It’s certainly worth a read but one would have liked to have seen the references fleshed out and discussed in greater depth. Rather, the author is more concerned with demonstrating his own prodigious literary knowledge. Well, phooey for him.
I certainly agree the modern novel has plenty to say about the human condition, and much of it derives from our religious traditions. But he could have mentioned the existential attitude in the authors he mentions, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Kierkegaard, Camus, exploring the search for meaning within their own person in a seemingly absurd world. What of the repeated use of Ecclesiastes throughout modern literature? One thinks of Hemingway’s, Fiesta:The Sun Also Rises, reading it as an analogy for that biblical tome of existential despair .  “The earth abideth forever” was, according to Hemingway himself, the central concern of his exposition of the post Great War Lost Generation. Ecclesiastes 1:
What do people gain from all their labors
    at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them

Wood lounges in the smugness of his preexisting biases against the New Atheists of whom he has read only a finite amount, despite his claim of near infinite patience. The author cannot have read Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell” or he would understand the “agency” and other explanations of religious belief are not just something Dennett thought up one day, but rather, based on rigorous research by Boyer, Atran, Dunbar, Faber, Hauser and others. They deserve more than a flippant dismissal without evidence.The stale critique that new atheists are only concerned with celestial teapots, flying spaghetti monsters and refuting the literal interpretation of Scripture is just plain false. Has Wood noticed books by Sam Harris such as Free Will, The Moral Landscape, and Waking Up – the last which explores ways of attaining spirituality without recourse to superstition?This road has been traveled endless times by apologist’s and humanities professors, and its usually notable that they appear totally unaware of writers such as Stephen Pinker, Michael Martin, Michael Shermer, Michael Ruse, and A.C. Grayling. All of whom have many interesting things about making sense of the world without God.And I note the author’s comments are simply repeated from his own 2009 article God in the Quad. Like so many critiques of New atheists, the author is guilty of the charges he makes against them.