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.

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.

The myth of Rudd’s religious right swinging voters

Welcome to A Freethinker from Oz.

My first post isn’t about atheism per se but a look a column by ex-Liberal big wig Micheal Baume in today’s AFR. It is worth examining for the claim that the Australian Prime Minster, Kevin Rudd, carried the 2007 election due to votes from religious conservatives. As an atheist I am interested in religious trends in society and consider such trends very important to understand and engage with.

Alas Baume’s article is not online but he takes a cue from Christoper Pearson in the Australian a few months ago. Pearson’s thesis is that the Rudd government is now beholden to the interests of the religious conservatives that carried him to power.

While Rudd makes no secret of his religious beliefs and there is a conservative streak, Rudd’s religiosity is also marked by a strong concern for social justice after one of his heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The Christian Rudd is a far cry from the Exclusive Bretheren types favoured by the Howard government.

The mistake of Pearson, and compounded by Baume, is to assume that the theological leanings of the evangelicals and Pentecostals that Rudd captured were the usual traditional conservative leanings with an over emphasis on sexual mores.

John Black (whose work Pearson and Baume both quote) and John Cleary in this interview point out that yes, Rudd did capture a good proportion of evangelical vote. However, Cleary argues that this theology of this voting block was not the traditional conservative concerns:

If you move around evangelical churches, particularly even to say places like Hillsong, the Pentecostal churches, they are deliberately widening their social agenda to say Yes, we care about the environment. Yes, we care about helping people in Third World poverty. You’ve seen the whole Wilberforce campaign last year with the anti-slavery movement driving itself out of evangelical and Pentecostal churches.

It is an interesting thesis and not without merit. One problem in regards to the influence of religion on politics in Australia is that we take our cues from what we see happen in the US. There is a tendency to forget that Australian needs to frame the arguments in our own terms, not through the prism of the US battles.

Also, it destroys Pearson and Baume’s contention that Rudd is under the thrall of the religious right. Rudd, by correctly capturing the movement towards a left leaning theology had no such concerns.

Note that I not condoning Rudd’s religiosity. There are aspects of Rudd that concern me as an atheist. However discussion is best served by placing the politics of religion in Australia in their proper context.