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Category: Religion

Religious Update:  2 items from Secular Australia

2 June 2024

Wording of the Census

A battle is brewing between Catholic Church leaders and secular groups over the religion question in the Australian census. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is currently testing whether it would be better to ask “Does the person have a religion?” rather than “What is the person’s religion?”, after 9.8 million people (approximately 40% of responses) indicated in the 2021 count that they had no faith. The new question would have a mark box for both “No” and “Yes (specify religion)”. The bureau is also testing the use of a write-in box for respondents who wish to indicate more detail on their faith, rather than simply picking from a small list of common religions.

The Lord’s Prayer in Parliament House, Victoria

Liberal upper house member Evan Mulholland has placed a motion on the Notice Paper in support of faith leaders who wrote to all members of parliament earlier this month demanding that the parliament continue to observe prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer, at the opening of each sitting day.

It has been 1034 days since the state Labor government promised to replace prayers with something more reflective and appropriate for Victoria’s diverse community.

Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes has acknowledged the government’s “unmet commitment”.

The flurry of activity – the letter from faith leaders and motions on the Notice Paper – may be a sign that the government is ready to deal with the matter.

Earlier in the year, Mr Mulholland declared that the Liberal Party would “fiercely oppose” any attempt to remove prayer.

Census data show that Christianity has plummeted from 85 per cent of the Victorian population in the 1970s to 41 per cent in 2021. The percentage of people who identified as having no religion at the 2021 Census was 39 per cent.

https://secularism.au/

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Secularism Australia Conference 2023

3 December 2023
I attended the Secularism Australia Conference on 2/12/23 at the NSW Teachers Federation in Sydney.
There were some interesting features:

Sponsors
There were a number of sponsoring groups, which cooperated to put it on. They were the NSW Teachers’ Federation, the Secular Assoc of NSW. Humanists Victoria, National Secular Lobby, Rationalist Society of Aust, Plain Reason and Humanists Australia. This seems a new level of cooperation, which is encouraging to see.

The Big Picture
Ex-Senator Chris Schacht drew attention to the 2021 Census which had 93% answer the religion question and a very large rise in the ‘No Religion’ percentage:
No Religion 38.9%
Christian 43.9% (Catholic 20%, Anglican 9.8%)
Not Stated 6.9%
Islam 3.2%
Hindu 2.7%
Buddhism 2.4%

It is also noteworthy that younger age groups are less religious with the 15-24 age group at 45.6% and 25-34 at 48.4%. Chris said that the political system and its patronage had in no way responded to this change and that it was necessary that they be forced to do so by more effective advocacy.

He said that a key problem was the reluctance of both Federal and State governments to reveal the true cost of the subsidies to religions. They get huge grants, pay no tax from their activities, not all of which may be charitable, and also have huge tax exemptions from State land taxes and Council rates. It would take quite an effort to get the full total of this, but it seems that neither Federal nor State gover\nemtns of both major parties do not want to draw attention to the issue. That is without considering aspects like private school funding, which is subsidised inequity. One politician when challenged said, ‘I have a 4% margin in my seat, and if I upset the Churches, it might be enough to change that’. Chris points out that if the ‘no religion’ votes were mobilised, it would certainly counter that fear, but most politicians have not considered the matter. And the ‘no religion’ voters have not demanded the end to these subsidies and unquantified tax lurks.

Senator David Shoebridge (whose speech is on his Facebook page) pointed out that there are 15,000 charities who receive government funding of $24 billion in addition to any tax-deductible donations. This is mostly for contracts for hospital or aged care services, but under legislation by Gillard they do not have to produce reports of how the money is spent!

School Funding
In terms of the Federal Government’s response to funding schools, Whitlam wanted a needs based formula and Gonski in his original report was similar, but the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) formula under Turnbull was that 80% of Federal money went to private schools and only 20% to public. Chris hoped to change the formula. The slogan should be ‘Excellence through Equity’ not through ‘choice and competition’, which has manifestly failed as Australia tumbles down the OECD Education rankings. Sadly the current Federal Minister of Education, Jason Clare, was photographed with the Parliamentary Friends of School Chaplaincy.

Religion and the Constitution
There was quite a lot of interest in the legal history, with Michael KIrby ex-Justice of the High Court and Prof Luke Beck an academic. The question was whether the government could support religion as the Constitution specifically forbids the government from having an official religion as discriminating on the grounds of it. There had been a prosecution of a Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) in 1894 for illegally working on a Sunday, and he had unsuccessfully argued that their Sabbath was on Saturday and he needed to work on Sunday. The guilty man was fined two shillings and sixpence (=25c) or two hours in the stocks. He chose two hours in the stocks, but it turned out that there were no stocks available and there was a bit of a fuss that the government declined to make any. SDA lobbying may have been the reason that the prohibition on the government sponsoring a religion was included in the Constitution. The precedent of course was the “Church of England’ set up by Henry VIII so he could divorce his first wife. Henry Parkes, the father of Federation did not want any mention of religion in the constitution, but the mainstream churches insisted, so it is mentioned, but not given any practical grounds to empower religious institutions.

When state money was first given to Church schools the Council for the Defence of Government Schools (DOGS) took a case to the High Court that it was unconstitutional to favour a religion. The High Court, whose members mostly came from private schools, ruled against the DOGS, Kirby himself writing a dissenting judgement. He wondered what would happen if the DOGS case were re-litigated today.

Religion and the Radical Right
Chrys Stevenson, a freelance researcher spoke on Christian Dominionism. These folk want a theological world where the second coming of Christ will be when there is a (Christian) God on the top of every mountain on every continent. I was inclined to think that this was crazy stuff, but it seems that huge amounts of money from the Right of US politics links to very conservative Christianity through the Atlas network, the Tea Party Movement and Charles Koch (22nd richest man in the world at $US 60 billion), There are quite a lot of ‘Think Tanks’ funded by these groups. It seems that a preoccupation with letting God fix things aligns quite well with unfettered market capitalism. There have been very successful efforts to put more religious people in political parties, particularly the Right wing evangelicals into the Liberals. The links between the religious Right and the US Republicans are well known. The Labor Party has a lot of Catholics. Chrys wonders if the religious nutters are ‘useful idiots’ for the Right. It may be crazy stuff, but I am less sure that it is irrelevant stuff.

Religious Education in State Schools
There was quite a lot of discussion of religious education in State schools. The National School Chaplaincy program was an idea of Peter Eawlings, taken up via Greg Hunt, Julie Bishop and John Howard. It had been previously called CHIPS (Christians Helping in Schools), but with the new funded program the new name for Chaplains became ‘Student Wellbeing Officers.’ Maurie Mulheron the ex-President of the NSW Teachers Federation noted the lack of qualifications of those delivering religious education in schools, which had increasingly been done by volunteers with a trend towards evangelicals as the only people willing to do it. They see it as an opportunity for recruitment. Bill Browne of The Australia Institute surveyed Chaplains on their knowledge of the National Student Wellbeing Program, which replaced the National School Chaplaincy Program. He asked 50 questions. 71% of Chaplains had not heard of the program, 10% were unsure, and 20% had heard of it.

Most schools had struggled to find alternatives to the Chaplains, and kids who stayed away for a free ‘do nothing’ period tended to be hard to get back to a school focus.

Prof Anna Halafoff had surveyed children 13-18 and found that 52% had no religion, as opposed to 45% in the 2021 census of 15-24 year olds.

A Western Australian teacher said that there was a preoccupation with Christianity, but she was concerned that girls in Muslim schools have to have their menstrual periods recorded as they cannot go to the mosque, which is a significant infringement of their privacy and human rights. She tweets under infidelnoodle.

Ron Williams had challenged religious education in schools under Section 51.23a of the Constitution, pointing out that $1.47 billion was spent on it since Howard initiated it, and that funding of $61 million a year was locked in until 2027. Albanese increased it to $307 million! Williams had run out of money so ran the case himself and lost in the High Court.

There is a group called FIRIS, (Fairness In Religion In Schools) run by Steven Cowgill and Craig McLachlan. The slogan is ‘Teaching not Preaching’. There is a similar group, ‘Queensland Parents for Secular State Schools’. It was felt that the teaching of religions should be by qualified teachers who would explain that there were diverse views with the object of increasing understanding and tolerance as well as ethical values.

Chaplains in the Military
Collin Acton was the former Director of Chaplaincy in the Royal Australian Navy. He pointed out that there needs to be reform of the Aust Defence Force (ADF) Chaplaincy service as the only training that the Chaplains have is a theology degree and there are a lot of problems in the ADF, PTSD being a major one. He wanted secular Chaplains, but the Religious Advisory Committee of the ADF targeted him and he was forced out. (There is a story about this on the Rationalist website). There are 150 full time Chaplains and 150 part-time ones, and all of them were Christian. The Navy changed this in 2017 and now has 2 Buddhists, 2 Islam and a Hindu. The British Ministry of Defence has its first 3 non-religious pastors! Acton points out that the major social divide in the ADF is between the military and the civilians. The Chaplains are embedded within the ADF so can be visited easily and without attracting attention. Seeing a counsellor or psychologist outside the military is likely to be noticed and may impact adversely on promotion prospects, so the existing chaplaincy service has an immense advantage.

Religion in Parliamentary and Council Governance Rules
There was quite a lot of discussion about the extent to which religion had embedded itself in society. Some politicians found it offensive that the Lord’s Prayer was said at the opening of Parliament every day, and absented themselves as I had while it was read. It is an opinion that since the Constitution forbids Parliament to make laws that favour any religion, the reading of the Lord’s Prayer is unconstitutional, but it has never been challenged, so the practice stays.

A local councillor from Boroondara in Victoria, Victor Franco, had challenged reading the prayer in his Council, which was in their ‘Governance Rules’. He pointed out that in the census 47% of his community were non-religious, 40% were Christians and 10% were the rest. He wrote to other councillors who still did not want to change. He said that he was going to mount a legal challenge with Prof Luke Beck and Morris Blackburn lawyers. A call for public submissions had 86% anti-prayer, and the Council caved in.

He had compiled some interesting figures of how many councils have prayers:
NSW 72/129 56%
Victoria 42/79 53%
Qld 35/78 45%
WA 11/137 8%
SA 23/70 28%
191/522 37%

He commented that because his Council caved in there was no test case that clarified the matter, and that it might have affected State and Federal Parliaments also.

Conclusion
The conference was felt to have been very successful in that a number of groups had come together to organise it.
It was intended to hold more conferences, regularly and in different States to draw attention to Secular issues and the anomaly of funding religions.
The huge rise in ‘no religion’ was felt to have been ignored and there was a large need to educate the politicians that the religious subsidies, tax exemptions and lack of financial reporting were no longer acceptable.
There was pressure on the politicians present to get the figures as to the extent of subsidies, which they conceded was necessary. All three present, Chris Schacht (retired Labor Senator), Senator David Shoebridge (Greens- NSW) and Abigail Boyd MLC (NSW Greens) said that they had tried without huge success, but would try again.
At an individual level, we need to get our voices heard!

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Priorities for a Pro-Life US State Senator

3 July 2022
One of my US friends quipped that ‘Republicans are pro-life until it is actually born’. During the birth
process Republicans are against free health care and after the birth they are against welfare, child
support, living wages, equal opportunity in education etc.
The Pro-life senator in Oklahoma, Wendi Sherman, who was the proponent of the abortion ban
there, said, “The purpose [of government] is to protect life, not to provide for citizens.”
The practical corollary of this definition of the role of government is that women are forced to have
children that they did not want and then forced to care for them, when they knew before the birth
that this was too difficult to attempt. One might ask whether this is the same religious view that was
extant when I was young that having a baby was punishment for the sin of having sex. There is no
quote or evidence of a question on this subject, but these sort of fundamentalist views do seem
extant in the US.
I wonder if political hardheads in the Republican party just use abortion to shore up the significant
religious vote. Abortion is painted as a ‘life and death’ issue and so has great weight. Other policies
like foreign wars, tax cuts for the wealthy and cuts to Medicare and welfare programs can sail
through because of this preoccupation/obsession.
www.abc.net.au/news/2022-07-03/abortion-rights-oklahoma-roe-v-wade/101167280

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Religious Discrimination Bill Dies- What about the Tax-Exemption?

10 February 2022

We note that the Morrison government despite a somewhat Pyrrhic victory in the lower house after an all-night session has sent the Religious Discrimination Bill to a Senate Committee, which will push it to after the election and kill it off.  This bill was promised by Morrison presumably to keep his religious right happy after the Marriage Equality bill was forced on the Liberals after the national referendum result.

There is no real evidence that religious people are discriminated against.  They have tax-exempt status and are hugely over-represented in Cabinet at both Federal and NSW State level.  (I do not know about the other States).  They seem to that they have the right to prosthetise in door to door situations and even if they are occasionally abused in these invasive situations think  the notion that they have the right be there persists, like tolerance for pesky door to door salespersons.

My own experience of being forced to go to religious ceremonies at boarding schools stuck with me. They knew that if it was voluntary the congregation would have declined by at least 95%, but they did not care.  In Parliament, proceedings opened with the Lord’s Prayer.  As an atheist since school I found this offensive and did not go in until it was over. Lee Rhiannon from the Greens was the same.  I assumed it had always been there but in fact Fred Nile had introduced it only a decade or so before.   So the idea that religion is in danger of being suppressed in Australia seems absurd to me.  They already have too much power. 

Far more significant is the historic tax exemption for religious organisations, however new or venal they may be.  As Jesus is quoted in Mark 17:12 “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  It seems that his is one of those texts that are not acted on.

I cannot say it better than The Shovel.

www.theshovel.com.au/2022/02/10/discrimination-religious-groups-taxation/?fbclid=IwAR3dlW-c3ESEBlrRM-cOw5brJT8nmfR7ywItqsgpYJJPZMp54u1e_-75Zv4

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Djokovic goes to Gaol or exile while Hillsong goes Scott-Free.

16 January 2022


Today Novax Djokovic is in Court trying to stop Immigration Minister Alex Hawke deporting him before the Australian Open Tennis starts tomorrow. For those who don’t follow tennis and have been sleeping under a rock, he is the number one seed and if he wins, he will be the first player to win 21 Grand Slam tournaments and as such, the Greatest tennis player Of All Time (GOAT).


Last time he went to Court he won, because the issue was whether the government or Djokovic had done the wrong thing in the visa application process. He won with costs and the government was heavily criticised by the Court (not to mention the rest of the world).


This time is different. Minister Alex Hawke, a young ambitious religious Conservative right-wing numbers man has excluded him in that he is a danger to the population from an infectious point of view, and because he is known to be anti-vaxx and will give publicity to that view. The Court decision is totally stacked the Government’s way because it only has to decide whether the Minister has the power to do this, and the legislation is written so that he would have this power and the meddlesome courts could not interfere. So what is likely to happen is that the government’s position will be upheld, Djokovic will be deported and Australia’s appalling immigration policies will be seen for the arbitrary farce that they are- beyond the rule of law.


The fact that ATAGI (Aust. Technical Advisory Group on Immigration) said that previous infection within the last 6 months could be a reason for vaccination exemption, that Djokovic had had such an infection and that a blind medical panel said that he was safe to come has been ignored. (‘Blind’ in the sense that the panel did not know the name of the person whose file they were reviewing). The point is that he is very unlikely to infect anyone, not to mention the fact that the virus has already escaped and there are few preventive measures in place. Anyone in Australia can fly into Melbourne and go to the tennis with no tests of anything and case numbers of omicron set new records every day. Djokovic has not trumpeted his anti-vaxx views, though one could argue that these are already well known. There is a whole industry telling us what famous people do and think, and that was before the anti-vaxx lobby.


Djokovic is not as popular as the ever-smooth Federer or the rougher battler Nadal, but his public image seems that he is a nice guy, if occasionally misunderstood and pretty ruthless in his quest for the top. Darker mumblings about his unsportsmanlike use of injury rules and mind games have surfaced from a few columnists recently, and one might wonder why. But this is all irrelevant. The government is excluding him ostensibly because he is a risk of infection (absolutely minimal), or that he will stir anti-vaxx sentiment (where the controversy has already done more for the anti-vax cause than his winning of the Australian Open would ever have done).


The real reason is that this government wants to look tough on border control and quarantine, having made a complete mess of the COVID epidemic, with outbreaks due to ‘careless’ border policy, (were there Hillsong groups on the Ruby Princess?), lack of purchase of vaccine, poor management of aged care facilities, and now a ‘let ‘er rip’ policy supposedly to help the economy. Today’s Sun Herald front page announces that ‘71% want Djokovic sent home’. So some hairy-chested populism is the order of the day.


On page 6 of the same Sun Herald (see below) NSW Police decided not to fine Hillsong church after videos were seen of people singing and dancing at a Hunter Valley religious camp. NSW State Health Minister Brad Hazzard is quoted as saying that the singing and dancing ban does not apply to religious groups, though it does apply to recreation facilities, nightclubs etc. Presumably a religious recreation camp is OK, but a non-religious one is a big problem. The fact that the same article notes NSW had 48,768 new cases, 2,576 in hospital, 193 in ICU and 20 deaths yesterday presumably is also irrelevant.


Is it relevant that Scott Morrison and Alex Hawke are members of Hillsong and NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard is in the same Liberal party?

Craig Kelly has called Djokovic a ‘political prisoner’, and for once I agree with him.

If the Court agrees to deport Djokovic because the Minister said so and they cannot appeal it, it will show the world the arbitrariness of Australia’s immigration laws and the government may win a populist victory at the cost of further damage to our international reputation.

As a tennis follower who saw the US Open final, I am of the opinion that Medvedev will beat Djokovic in the tennis if they play, but it looks as though political stupidity has game, set and match.

Hillsong let off as NSW posts 48,768 new cases and 20 deaths
Sally Rawsthorne, Sun Herald, 16 January 2022
NSW has recorded 48,768 new COVID-19 cases and 20 deaths on the third day positive rapid antigen tests are included in the daily infection numbers.Of the new cases, 21,748 were self-reported from at-home tests and 27,020 were from PCR testing.There are 2576 people in hospital with the virus, of whom 193 are in intensive care units. Eleven men and nine women have died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours.Yesterday, police confirmed they had decided not to issue a fine to Hillsong church for a camp in the Hunter Valley, after videos of attendees singing and dancing without masks sparked public outrage.‘‘NSW Police have attended an event in the Newcastle area and spoken with organisers. Following discussions with organisers and after consultation with NSW Health, no infringement will be issued,’’ said police in a statement.‘‘Event organisers are aware of their obligations under the Public Health Orders, and NSW Police will continue to ensure ongoing compliance.’’NSW’s Public Health Order prohibits singing and dancing at music festivals, hospitality venues, nightclubs, entertainment facilities and major recreation facilities.Health Minister Brad Hazzard said while the order does not apply to religious services, it does apply to major recreation facilities, which is defined as a ‘‘building or place used for large-scale sporting or recreation activities that are attended by large numbers of people, whether regularly or periodically’’.‘‘This event is clearly in breach of both the spirit and intent of the order, which is in place to help keep the community safe,’’ he said.Hillsong said the camp differed from music festivals and the organisation was committed to a COVID-safe plan.‘‘Our camps involve primarily outdoor recreational activities including sports and games. We follow strict COVID procedures and adhere to government guidelines,’’ it said.‘‘Outdoor Christian services are held during the camp but these are only a small part of the program.’’It said the video of attendees singing and dancing represented ‘‘only a small part of each service’’.Yesterday, the state government announced its rent regulation would be extended by another two months to March 2022. ‘‘Small business is the engine room of our economy and we need to make sure we support impacted businesses through this latest Omicron wave,’’ NSW Treasurer Matt Kean said. ‘‘With staff shortages and reduced foot traffic, many businesses are struggling at the moment but the ability to negotiate rent will give them a buffer so they can keep the lights on now and recover more quickly.’’Business tenants can access rent relief if they have an annual turnover of less than $5 million. Rent relief has the same eligibility criteria as the discontinued JobSaver and Micro-business Grant programs.It comes as almost 1000 NSW Health workers have resigned or been sacked after refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19, placing further pressure on the hospital system that has seen coronavirus patient admissions almost triple within a fortnight. As hospitals and general practices are overwhelmed with surging cases and almost 6000 healthcare workers are isolated across NSW due to COVID-19 exposure, the state’s health department on Friday confirmed 995 of its 170,000-strong workforce had resigned or been stood down after refusing the vaccine.

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Afghanistan- a Callous debacle

26 August 2021

A brief history of Afghanistan. 

It was a monarchy where the British and Russians had striven for influence for centuries. 

The British had invaded in 1838 and installed King Shah Shujah, who was assassinated in 1842.

The second Anglo Afghan war was 1878-80 and gave Britain control of Afghan foreign affairs.

In 1919 Emir Amanullah Khan declared independence from British influence and tried to introduce social reforms, in particular education. He flees after civil unrest in 1926

King Muhammad Shar came to power in 1933 and tacitly supported the Germans in WW2 as the Afghans did not acknowledge the 1893 Durand Line, the British-initiated border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and he wanted to unify the Pashtun nation, which straddled the border.  His government came under pressure from an increasingly educated younger population. He voluntarily created a Constitutional monarchy in 1964, but this did not lead to significant reform and his government lost prestige due to its mismanagement of a drought in 1969-72. There was a coup by another Royal, Prince Muhammad Daud in 1973. 

The People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan led by British-Indian-educated Nur Muhammad Taraki staged a coup in April 1978 and formed a secular leftist reformist government.  It was relatively pro-Russia and anti-religious.  It was more brutal than had been anticipated, and had internal infighting and resistance from conservatives and Muslims.  Taraki unsuccessfully appealed to Russia for help.

The Cold War

It might be noted that US President and Russian Chief Secretary Leonid Brezhnev met in June 1979 to discuss SALT 2 (the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty). 

(I read somewhere near that time that Afghanistan was mentioned and Carter, being somewhat naïve, said words to the effect that Afghanistan was in the Russian sphere of influence.  Carter’s horrified minders corrected him after the meeting, but Brezhnev took this to mean that the US would not interfere if Russia took action there.  I have been unable to confirm this story despite several efforts since, which either means that I imagined it or that it has been expunged from any written history that is available online).

The US began to help the mujahedeen in July 1979 to overthrow the Taraki government.  Taraki was overthrown and murdered by his protégé, Hafizuzullah Amin in September 1979.  The Russians invaded in December 1979.   The Russians were in some economic trouble, and it has been said that their government wanted a military victory that would distract attention and shore up the state.

President Carter refused to sign the SALT11 treaty and boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. The US also increased training and weapons to the Mujahideen. President Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan insisted that all this aid go through him and hugely favoured a more radical Islamist agenda, also getting aid from Saudi Arabia to set up large numbers of Islamic schools.  The Mujahideen guerrillas overthrew the Russians.  The USSR was falling apart when the Russians, now under Mikhail Gorbachev, departed in February 1989.

The Russian Legacy

The Najibullah government, installed by the Russians lasted until 1992, when here was a civil war with the Northern Alliance fighting the Mujadiheen, which was not a united force, but a number of warlords, each with their own territory.

The Taliban

Taliban means ‘student of Islam’.  The Taliban emerged in 1994 from the Pashtun nation who straddled the Afghan-Pakistan ‘border’, considerably helped by the money from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.  They were seen as less corrupt than the Mujahideen. 

In 1996 the Taliban got control of Kabul and controlled two thirds of the country. 

In 1998 the US launched air strikes to get the Taliban to hand over Osama Bin Laden.

In 2001 Ahmad Shah Masood, the leader of the Northern Alliance was assassinated.

9/11 Leads to the US Invasion

The US was shocked by the 9/11 (11th of September 2001) attack by Al-Qaeda on the Twin Towers in New York and invaded Afghaistan, ostensibly to get Osama Bin Laden. Some have said that the US hawks wanted to invade and 9/11 merely gave them the excuse.  They won militarily in 3 months, but were always an occupying force.

Interestingly in 2007 the UN stated that opium production reached record levels.

The Allied occupation was by many different national forces, and each country had different rules for the area it controlled.  It seems that some countries simply paid the Taliban not to make any trouble.  The Australians went in because the US did and cited our national interest.  The only way that this was our national interest was in pleasing the Americans.

Exit Wounds 2013

The book ‘Exit Wounds’ by John Cantwell, the Australian commander from both Iraq and Afghanistan was written in 2013. He had been on the short list to be the supreme head of the Australian Defence Force, but withdrew to treat the PTSD that he had hidden but had been suffering.  He stated that the war could never be won and it was his opinion that every Australian life lost there was wasted.  The pointlessness of the exercise was what caused his PTSD, and probably led to the feral actions of some of the forces, as is being uncovered. We might note that in a story on the ABC (26/8/21) a witness known as Captain Louise who was going to give evidence to the Brereton Inquiry into Australian War Crimes had her house bombed.  Her former husband is an SAS operator who told her of unauthorised killing and is under investigation after 4 Corners broadcast footage of him killing an unarmed Afghan in 2012 (Killing Field 16/3/20).  Clearly the hearts and minds of Afghans were not won. 

Corruption was rife in the Afghan government, and some of the 2009 UN election observers were killed in a bomb blast in their Kabul hotel. The UN could not insist on an independent investigation and the head of the UN team, who was not killed in the blast, was hurried out of the country. The re-elected government did the inquiry.  So much for democracy!

Australian Embassy Closed May 2021

The Australian Embassy was closed on 21 May 2021, 3 days before the last Australian troops left. Clearly our own intelligence was that things would not go well.  It made the investigations of war crimes more difficult and put the interpreters who had helped the Australian troops in much more danger.  An Australian digger who has tried to get his Afghan interpreter and his family since 2013 has been blocked and been unsuccessful, despite seeing Minister Dutton’s senior adviser 3 years ago.

Taliban Victory

The Taliban won a victory in a few weeks as government forces that we had been training simply declined to fight. Now there is a cordon around the airport and the Taliban are stopping people getting through to the Kabul airport, where the allies are trying to do an airlift of Afghan civilians.  The UN has been most desultory in not looking after locally recruited Afghan UN staff, who are at risk and do not even have foreign passports to allow them to leave.

The Europeans have asked the US to extend the deadline for evacuations, which is 31 August- 4 days away. The US has declined to extend the deadline.  Presumably this is because they are unable to even if they wanted to.  The Taliban surround the airport, and could easily shoot down any planes they chose or bombard the whole crowded area with huge loss of life.  American hubris would be very clearly shown.

The Debacle

It is a debacle- even when the Russians left the government that they established lasted a couple of years.  What is wrong with US intelligence- did they have no idea that the whole country would collapse?  It is hard to know why the Americans went into Afghanistan and why they stayed there.  One wonders if the arms industry is happy to have a war somewhere and really do not care very much how much damage it does or who wins.  One must ask what Australia is doing there and why we are so uncritical of the Americans.  Sadly, Australia does not have a Peace Movement worthy of the name and seem to follow the US blindly. But when the Australian military commander says we cannot win and we continue there for another 8 years, there is something absurd.

The fact that the Labor opposition said nothing is also a worry- does  our government work for us or the US?

The Fate of our Interpreters

Many people will be left behind outside the Taliban-controlled Kabul airport perimeter, or unable even to get near the city.  The Taliban have been searching them out and killing not only those who helped the foreigners, but also their families.  The idea that they have reformed seems very unlikely; the schools that taught them were radical Saudi Islam.  It is a horrible story that has not yet ended. 

www.smh.com.au/national/he-could-have-done-something-why-diggers-feel-let-down-by-scott-morrison-20210820-p58kks.html

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The 2021 Census- Why you should put ‘No Religion’

4 August 2021

I thought that Australia was one of the least religious countries in the world in terms of church attendance.  When I was in Uruguay a tour guide claimed that his was the least religious country, and I said that Australia was. Looking at church attendance statistics we were both wrong. 

Here are some figures from Pew Research in 2018: China 1%, Sweden 6%, Russia 7%, Norway 7%, UK 8%, Germany 10%, France 12%, Uruguay 14%, Spain 15%, Greece 16%, Australia 17%, Chile 19%, Canada 20%, Israel 30%, the US 36%, Bangladesh 58%, Indonesia 73% (From comparecamp.com)

Church attendance is declining everywhere in the developed world, but their influence here is rising due to their systematic entry into politics.  Scott Morrison is fond of saying ‘God helps those that help themselves’ and seems to live by this, getting Pentecostals into Parliament and into Cabinet, (not to mention helping himself with sports rorts and car parks).

The religious agenda of subsidies to religious schools to the detriment of State schools, the huge subsidy by tax exemptions for Church-owned land and businesses, the continuation of religious education in supposedly secular schools to the exclusion of secular ethics classes,  the exemptions to the Equal Opportunity laws that allow churches not to hire gays, the right to continue to smack children, and even demands to have special rights with the 2019 Religious Discrimination Bill which may have unintended consequences are examples enough.

The subsidies to religion through tax exemptions are principally a historic legacy of when secular law replaced church law.  No government has been brave enough to repeal them and in the 1960s ‘State Aid for Church schools’ was a catch cry that allowed governments to win elections as the Church claimed that parents who went to Church schools were paying twice in school fees and in taxes. When I was in Parliament I asked the then Treasurer, Michael Egan, what the cost of the Church tax exemptions were and he replied that it would be too expensive to cost these so he was not going to answer the question!

Another little gem that turned up during the NSW Upper House inquiry into Social Housing (Report No 7/53 2006) was that the NSW government was building houses on Church land.  I asked who would own the houses?  The answer was that it was a ‘joint ownership’ in which the State owned them at first but over a decade the ownership transferred to the Church, so that in 10 years the Church fully owned them.  From Day 1 the Church managed them. How were the tenants selected?  Anyone who was on the Housing waiting list could apply.  We visited one of the houses, a 3 bedroom one with a retired couple in it.  ‘Please notice the garden, they are very proud of it ‘, we were told. The lady of the house was also very proud of her Royal Doulton tea set from which we drank.  We asked how she got the house. She said, ‘We heard the Church was going to build some houses so we started going to Church and we were on the list so we got one’.  The children and grandchildren come and stay occasionally.

I asked the Church facility manager if he ever had tenant problems.  ‘Not often’ he said, ‘As we usually choose the tenants’.   ‘But we had one tenant, a blind lady with a little girl, who had a boyfriend and they used to have huge fights and disturb the neighbours’.  ‘She had to go’.  He showed us a round hole in the plaster where the boyfriend had opened a door roughly and the door handle had punched through.  The house was vacant.  Blind single Mums with boyfriend troubles get the boot. 

This level of detail is not in the final report.  No doubt the Church managed properties have fewer tenant problems than the government managed ones, as this why the Housing Dept with limited stock ends up with ghettos of social problems.

The assumptions are that the Church is basically a charity, which does work that no one else would do, and that its right to prosthetise is tolerated as the majority agree with its teachings.  We have not reached the stage of the USA where school boards try to stop science teachers teaching evolution, but the religious influence is strong in education.  I recall happily singing, ‘All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all’ and several similar verses to follow. It was many years later before I wondered if it was good that this was how it was.

The Church has tried actively in Australia to get people to fill in the census form by how they were brought up, which naturally creates a massive lag in the statistics.  I find the church attendance figures above hard to believe and wonder if new migrants of non-Christian faith have swelled the number of church goers.  In our area the Presbyterian Church, with a congregation of 2 or 3 closed and was sold a couple of decades ago.

The Christian Churches’ prestige has declined massively all over the developed world, with the paedophile scandals, and now most recently with the scandals  at the Vatican Bank, which were alluded to in David Yallop’s 1983 book ‘In God’s Name’ which alleges that Pope John Paul 1 was murdered at least in part because he tried to reform the Vatican Bank.

So it is important that those who do not believe write ‘No Religion’ on the Census form, which is to be filled out for the night of Tuesday 10 August.  We need to demonstrate how many non-believers there are, and to work towards the secular state that is supposedly guaranteed in the Constitution.

www.smh.com.au/national/lapsed-catholics-need-to-reflect-their-beliefs-in-the-census-20210730-p58edo.html?fbclid=IwAR3i2ewer_sI58oFyfjHztjKIuNJOQmLFFjeufKFhJGEAWaoSJFn1MGQOf8

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71% of Australians say religion is not important to them.

11 June 2021

But it seems the religion lobby wants the ‘Religious Freedom’ bill.Atheists need to be active to stop this attack on equality, equal opportunity and often science. We need to stop the subsidies and tax exemption that keep religion having the excessive influence that they have had since the Middle Ages, which seems to be reviving because of the political activism of the religious minority.

www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jun/11/australians-are-very-skeptical-michael-kirby-warns-against-excessive-protection-of-religious-freedoms?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other&fbclid=IwAR0DTQlobEQrou8BBmfOjdjMBZyzw9qbjKWhpHstpNBo8QZ4uXSis1VmISw

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The Answer to our Problems is not More Religion

27 March 2021

Here is an article in the AIM, drawing attention to the political savvy and militancy of the Christian Right. They have been historically powerful with tax deductible status since the Middle Ages. In the 1960s they got State Aid (i.e.subsidies) to religious schools, and this has allowed them to take an ever greater percentage of the children, effectively entrenching an elite class.


The well-off have ‘choice’ and those who are residual do not, so rather than schools unifying a childhood experience they create two sets of parallel but different experiences in two different groups, and those in the privileged one will grow up with little concept of the other as they inherit the right to rule over it. The organised religions consciously going for temporal power will accentuate this, and the idea that you hide your religiosity until you have power is no less than deceitful.


Religious people behave no better than others. All this in Parliament House has been with a Christian cabinet in control of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy and the priggish piety that surrounds sex with guilt and makes adolescence that much more difficult has made no positive contribution. It is likely to obstruct the sex education that seems the best way to tackle the situation.


Edmund Burke said ‘The only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing’. And Richard Dawkins said more recently that atheists have to become more militant. Amen to that.

https://theaimn.com/mere-men-are-not-godly-beings/?fbclid=IwAR3uGlSDPeKaHwCLDlEk3m9GWiuzXByP6JPboue2I-ceQchwMl4kWUcBGlo

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Sex, God, Anger, Mental Health, Guns, and Racism

20 March 2021

In a recent article about a mass shooting in a number of brothels in Georgia, USA, the Police were criticised for saying that the alleged killer had ‘had a bad day’.  Obviously his day was not as bad as those who were shot.  The Police were in trouble for not being condemnatory enough in their statement.  There was a lot of discussion whether the shootings were racially motivated as they were in Asian massage parlours.  An alternative explanation was that he was getting rid of the outlet for his temptations.

The study of accidents or ‘adverse events’ is a somewhat neglected science.  The legal system has graduated from ‘guilty or not guilty’ to ‘at fault or not-at-fault’, as this makes it simple to dispense justice.  The more nuanced study of adverse events has been mainly done in the aviation and oil industries where a number of small errors or omissions may magnify each other.  The oil industry has tried to quantify the probabilities, which of course is much beloved by the insurance industry, which wants to set its premiums on some sort of rational basis. (How many valves are there in the plant? What percentage of valves leak? What percentage of the valves control volatile liquids?  How many areas can form explosive clouds? What sources of ignition are there? etc.)

A common analogy used for major accidents is that there are a series of discs with a hole in each of them all revolving at different rates, and if all the holes line up, something can get through.  So if each disc is something that can fail, the combination of failures leads to the disaster.

There is then discussion of the environment, the primary, secondary and tertiary causes and the immediate precipitant.

So the headline of this article was an attempt to put some discs in line to look at why the shooting happened.  It is obviously a tragedy and totally unethical, but it is still helpful to discuss its elements coldly and logically.

Sex is a primal drive. An explanation offered for many species is that the males try to reproduce as much as possible, with the females acting as ‘quality control’ selecting who they will mate with and when.  Male libido is rarely discussed except as an embarrassment to harmony or a non-justification for unwanted sexual advances.  The Christian churches have generally had a very negative attitude to sex.  It seems that sex is defined as only acceptable in a monogamous relationship, the alternatives being states of either abstinence or immorality.  The word ‘morals’ has come to mean sticking to a sexual code, rather than behaving ethically in business, commerce or anywhere else.

This attitude to sex has made it an exceptional act.  When a baby girl first rolls over, everyone claps. When she first sits, stand, walks, talks or rides a bicycle everyone is similarly delighted.  But when she first has sex, the world seems terrified.   With boys it is similar, but there is much less terror.  Christian-ethos-based  societies do not seem to have come to terms with our basic humanity and its natural functions.  In consequence prohibitions and guilts are major elements in our society.

In Shakespearean society the serfs had nothing to inherit, so were not really concerned who fathered the village children. The middle class had money to inherit, so were very fussy who slept with who, and the kings staffed the Court with eunuchs just to be on the safe side.  In some Asian societies the men visit the brothels on the way home so that they will leave their wives alone. This also occurs in Western societies, but with the sex industry more marginalised. 

So if a man is at the extreme end of the libido spectrum, but due to personality characteristics is continually denied sex, he may become angry and frustrated.  This is unsurprising.  If his libido is then defined as abnormal, he may be termed ‘sex-addicted’.  Is this then a psychiatric diagnosis?  Probably not.  There is no real connection between psychiatric diagnoses and physiological brain function, and mental illness is often a question of definitions, which change significantly with time.  The diagnosis ‘nymphomaniac’ has gone out of use.

In the US with guns readily available, killing people is much easier; uncontrolled anger is much more dangerous.  Obviously an angry man is far more likely to kill 8 people if he has a gun that if he does not.

In that brothels tend to be staffed by people who are marginalised either by race or income, it is observed that many are staffed by Asian women.

If one accepts that there were 6 discs that had holes in them, one could argue which causative factor was the most important.  The Police may have been keen to play down the racist element.  They may assume that the guns and the ‘moral framework’ are not able to be changed, hence not worthy of mention.

Australia has no gun problem like this, but sexual consent is certainly the topic of the moment. A more natural and secular approach to sex education would seem to be necessary, and an obvious approach is to put it into a civics and ethics class into schools.  The crunch question will be whether it displaces scripture, which increasingly seems an anachronism.

www.smh.com.au/world/north-america/alleged-killer-says-sex-addiction-not-racism-motivated-atlanta-shooting-spree-20210318-p57bqb.html

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