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.

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The lot of an atheist

Bernard Keane is Friday’s Crikey mentions that lot of an atheists and says a few things that reflect my position as an atheist. The article is for Crikey’s subscribers only but I’ll quote a few choice selections.

Several complainants suggested I wouldn’t dare say such offensive things about Islam. Au contraire. Islam is about the only religion that makes Catholicism look enlightened in its attitude toward women. But, here’s the thing: oddly enough, we don’t shower tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money on Islamic celebrations in which over a hundred thousand young Muslims are invited to come to Australia.

I have come across this accusation before, often in political stoushes. Indeed, there are very stupid and deserving aspects of Islam but growing up in Australia, the majority of religious issues are framed around Christianity. It is the dominant strain of faith and hence the one most likely to come under attack.

And no matter how it is justified or spun, and whether it’s in micro, regarding the WYD, or in macro, with the tax-exempt status enjoyed by all religions, the fact remains that in an ostensibly secular nation, massive resources are directed toward religious institutions despite the profound damage inflicted by such institutions via their attitudes toward women, gays and lesbians and children. Moreover, the conflict of interest when politicians who are religious — like Morris Iemma — make decisions in favour of religious organisations is never discussed

Religion does have a privileged place in politics. Obviously there a votes involved. But a healthy lack of respect for religion should be encouraged and religions left to fend for themselves without relying on handouts from state or federal governments.

It seems that the World Youth Day will not be the saviour of the NSW economy, a reason used to justify the $100 million or so spent so far by the Iemma government.

This is not to suggest nothing but evil springs from the activities of the religious. For example, the Catholic Church, in which I was raised, has a relatively strong tradition of social justice, something almost entirely absent from the rather more fashionable happy-clappy churches like Hillsong, which seem more like lifestyle and self-help companies for aspirational dimwits than spiritual gatherings.

I remember to Catholic Church of my youth as being much the same. However, the point has been made that there has been a theological shift to the left in the congregation of the happy-clappy types.