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 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.
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.
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.
22 December 2019 ‘The God Delusion’ had been on my ‘to read’ list for years. Having been through years of boarding school I had heard all the arguments about the existence of God debated ad nauseam I was a bit chastened that I had not written the book myself and I assumed that I knew […]
31 May 2019 Roosevelt in 1941 spoke of the 4 Freedoms, freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. This was before the UN Declaration of Human Rights. I spent 10 years in boarding schools from the age of 8 where religion was most definitely in charge. Many of the […]