Why Rudd should let the Brethren slide

Prior to the Federal election, PM in waiting Kevin Rudd stated that the Exclusive Brethren were an “extremist cult” and called for investigation of their affairs by a number of government bodies. This was in response to allegations that the Brethren have a

disproportionately high taxpayer funding of Brethren schools, dishonest political campaigning, their charitable status in relation to rate and tax exemptions, and their well-known intimidatory tactics during traumatic Family Court cases

Which is fair enough. If you like a particular religion then by all means, support it how you see fit. Just don’t ask me to through my taxes. Religions should go it alone. There is no reason in a secular society for religions to received government largess.

However, Rudd’s calls for investigation of the Brethren has mellowed and the PM has

rejected the pleas of former members of the Exclusive Brethren for a broad-ranging inquiry into the sect, saying such an investigation would “unreasonably interfere” with their right “to practise their faith freely and openly”.

Now, on first thought, I was outraged but thinking a little more I offer the contention that Rudd got it right. While Australia does not have a constitution that explicitly states the church and state must be separated, going after the Brethren with governmental powers could be seen as an attack on religious freedom. And this is the correct view. The Brethren, no matter how despicable of a cult they are, should have their religious freedom. Rudd, by asking for any wrong doing by the Brethren to be directed to the police or other authorities, has made the right decision.

It seems that if there are instances of electoral and financial improprieties on behalf of the Brethren then they should be dealt with by the proper authorities. The federal government’s role should not be to show favour to the Brethren by allowing them access to the corridors of power nor target them as part of a (though understandable to be honest) campaign against them.

Elsewhere: North Coast Voices give their view.

The struggle over Einstein’s soul

Obviously atheists are pleased with the revelation that Einstein viewed religion as a childish thing. For believers it finally removes Einstein as the authority in a classic argument from authority.

But for non-believers, there is a note of triumphalism that understandable but we should be wary of using Einstein as an authority ourselves. James F McGrath’s piece at Exploring Our Matrix is close to my views:

Plenty of people reject the Bible and specific religious ideas without being “atheists”. The term “atheist” is itself confusing, since it is often unclear whether those who use the label understand it to mean a rejection of every notion of God, or a rejection of theism. Depending on one’s definition, pantheism may be a tertium quid left out of consideration, or a “sexed-up” form of atheism. At any rate, Einstein’s view of the term “god” as impoverished and human is one that plenty of mystics and theologians would share!

The Vatican want aliens to convert to Catholicism

The Vatican have announced they are comfortable with the idea of alien life. The good news for aliens is that they may be free of original sin. The bad news for aliens is:

…extraterrestrials would benefit equally from the “incarnation”, in which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, assumed earthlings’ flesh, body and soul in order to redeem them, which Funes called “a unique event that cannot be repeated”.

Indeed. The ucky aliens face prostelyzation when they come earth.

Aliens
: We come in peace and bring the secret of interstellar travel!

Humans: Have you heard about your Lord and saviour, Jesus Christ!

Aliens: Errr…we must be going. (to each other as they leave) Kang, you told us that there was advanced life on this planet.

Many moons ago I did read a short story (I remember the author as being Phillip K Dick but I could be wrong) on what happened when human religion encountered an alien religion. The aliens were quite aghast at the idea that adherents to a religion would eat the flesh and drink the blood of their god. They felt the opposite was a more ideal realization of god.

Which makes the point that aliens may not be devoid of religion and if they do have some concept of god, it would likely be very different to our own.

Godless or not, intelligent alien life would be a thorny issues for most major religions.

Atheism is not about ‘removing’ religion from society

Over in England, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor is worried. It seems there are attempts afoot to eliminate the christian voice the public sphere.

The cardinal is a little vague as to who wants religion removed from society. There seems to also be a thinking that a natural trend towards disbelief must have some movers behind it.

But the cardinal’s words allow me to address a canard often thrown at atheists. And that is we want religion removed from public life. Far from it. I don’t speak for all atheists but I don’t want religion removed from the public sphere. I just want any special status that is applied to views and beliefs because they are religious, removed.

And it is this idea, that religion needs to be demoted, that worries Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor the most. He reckons:

Last month, in an interview with the Guardian, he hit out at the representatives of an “aggressive secularism” he said was gaining ground in the UK, defended the church’s role in the debate over “hybrid” embryos, and argued that Christian leaders should hold a privileged position over the leaders of other faiths when it came to their input into public policy in Britain.

Sorry. But just being the dominant faith should offer no special favours. The idea that a belief or idea deserves special status because it has a religious foundation is absurd. One may claim to speak for God but God seems pretty silent about most things these days. Some followers reckon he wrote it all down in the Bible and seem content to apply the patriarchal, intolerant views of 2000 years ago (with some selection) to the modern day.

The cardinal obviously has his vested interested in maintaining Christianity as the leader of faith. But Christianity deserves no special privileged in arguments of public policy. Nor can Islam or Judaism lay any claim either. The cardinal fears most people questioning religious authority. If the only argument you can muster is a variant of “Well, God said so, so there” then you deserve to experience a decline in privilege.

The privilege has not been deserved through any intellectual rigor but simple being part of the religious old boys club.

Zeus versus Vulcan in Chile

An extraordinary image of a thunderstorm meeting with the dust cloud from Chaiten volcano. More can be found here.

Pamela Bone and the lived atheist life

Over the past few years, I didn’t take much to the writings of the late journalist Pamela Bone. She had tended towards routine attacks on so-called feminist inaction against Islam by conveniently ignoring what feminists were doing.

But with her death, The Age has reprinted a beautiful statement of hers, relating to how she found meaning without religion.

Commonsense on preachers and politics

Via a comment at LP, I stumbled onto an excellent article by Katha Pollitt on the need for presidential candidates to have crazy, preaching guys as their spiritual advisor (part of Obama’s sin is that he chose a black crazy preacher guy, not the usual white bread crazy preacher guy).

The on the money quote is:

But here’s the larger point: If we kept religion out of the election campaign, we could just debate the issues, like rational people.

This echoes a comment by The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart who went after the media for their obsession with Wright. Granted, Wright is his own worst enemy at times (and Obama’s) but surely there are more important issues facing the United States?

The need to pander to a collective superstition, of which whose leading practitioners seem to embody all that is wrong with religion, is a sad sign for the democratic process.

Maybe US citizens may see more of such alarmingly effective policy measures as praying for petrol prices to fall. Via Pharyngula.