Category Archives: Religion

Australia and secularism

When I read or hear something, particularly someone’s opinions about a subject, I try and apply it to my own experience and see if it fits. When something doesn’t fit in within my experience its harder to understand the concept… maybe I’m simplifying things here, but having experience of something, positive or negative, or even just because its nearby and not something I’ve directly experienced, makes it easier to identify, positively or negatively with an opinion or experience of someone else.

I used to interview people seeking asylum in Australia and am used to having to understand situations far beyond my experience and knowledge. I have had to consider trauma, torture, gross discrimination and abuse in relation to people sitting in front of me that I barely know and who have gone through situations I can barely imagine. So, I do get that I have not lived a life full of everyone’s experiences, and nor would I want to.

But when I see a nation, that for all intents and purposes appears to be like my own country (Australia), specifically the US, I think that perhaps things should be relatively similar. Because they purport to be on TV and other media. With one HUGE exception… religion.

I spend quite a lot of time reading atheist blogs all of which are based in the US. I read about their desire for community, discussions about who is representing atheism and how, what atheism is, and how to make a stand for their beliefs (or lack of them depending on how you look at it) without losing family, friends or their jobs.

Big parts of these blogs don’t resonate with me, and I’ve been trying to put my finger on it, and finally did when I stumbled across an article in the free newspaper that is available each weekday evening at train stations in Melbourne.

Before I announce my revelation (which is in the title anyway), I do want to state that I am by no means dismissing the experience of atheists in the US or any other devoutly religious country and the experiences they have to go through to hold their heartfelt beliefs. This post is about my experiences and how they differ from atheists in the US.

Anyway… back to my thoughts and revelation. Australia is an incredibly secular country. In fact we’ve voted in a Prime Minister who was atheist, as well as other politicans and we clearly didn’t mind. Sure we have religious whack jobs in Australia who attempt at various times to gain political power, but they tend not to gain an amount that threatens the secular nature of the country and often the next political party to gain power distances themselves from the religious whack jobs. I’m specifically thinking of the Exclusive Breathren an Pastor Danny Nalliah as the two biggest, and yet still very uninfluential, religious whack jobs that have attempted to gain some political leverage recently.

According to census data, thankfully provided in nice graphical form by Wikipedia (go on, click the link and read the article), Australia may be as much as 30% non-believers or atheists. In the 2006 census, 18.7% of people indicated that they had no religion and a further 11.9% of people did not answer the religious question (it was optional), which is where the 30% figure comes from. As “Australia the Confusing Country” written by Jeremy Lee attests, “Religion and politics are safe topics of conversation (Australians don’t care too much about either) but sport is a minefield.”

The Wikipedia article previously cited also states:

  • Although many Australians identify themselves as religious, the majority consider religion the least important aspect of their lives when compared with family, partners, work and career, leisure time and politics. This is reflected in Australia’s church attendance rates, which are among the lowest in the world and in continuing decline
  • In a 2008 global Gallup poll, nearly 70% of Australians stated religion as having no importance, much higher than their American counterparts, and on par with similarly secular countries such as Japan, the Netherlands, Finland, and France. Only a few Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark) and post-Soviet states (Estonia) are markedly less religious.
  • The Sydney Morning Herald, an Australian newspaper with a centrist viewpoint, asked its readers “Would the world be better off without religion?”. 81% responded in the affirmative (April 2009)
  • A 2006 study by Monash University, the Australian Catholic University and the Christian Research Association found that 52 per cent of Australians born between 1976 and 1990 have no belief in a God.
  • A 2008 Christian Science Monitor survey of 17 countries reported that youth from Australia and the United Kingdom were the least likely to observe religious practice or see any “spiritual dimension” to life.

So I get that Australia is far, far, far more secular than the United States. So much of the struggle that American atheists go through is not something that atheists in Australia even have to think about. There many be family issues for some atheists if they are coming from devoutly religious families, but generally the issues for American atheists are far different than those of Australian atheists. This is why I struggle to identify with issues raised by US atheists on blogs at times, because I’m living in a vastly more secular world.

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“The Ten Suggestions or A Royal Law of Love?”

Subject courtesy of the “United Church of God” and a pamphlet they sent me recently. I want to address the whole idea that the 10 Commandments apply to EVERYONE in the WHOLE world. I think it’s sheer arrogance… but here is what else the United Church of God has to say on the issue.

Do the Ten Commandments have relevance to our every day life in this hectic and confusing 21st century?

Some people consider them to be only good suggestions, while others may make an attempt to practice some of them. Very few view these commandments for what they really are: the best advice our loving Creator can give us. They are designed to protect us, our families and communities.

Properly understood, these principles not only apply to today’s world, but they can also transform the way we think and how we approach the problems and difficulties of life.

Ok, so apparently the 10 Commandments are just as valid now, as when Moses walked down Mt Sinai countless centuries ago… First lets go and find what the 10 Commandments actually are… as biblically stated versus the common understanding of what they are… because biblically there are actually two versions.

The first in the bible is actually from Exodus 20:2-17 (NIV) and the second version is from Deuteronomy 5:6-21 (NIV). There is also a set of 10 Commandments at Exodus 34:11-27, which are completely different to the first Exodus set and Deuteronomy. Wikipedia has usefully outlined the similarities and differences here so that I don’t have to. Actually go and read the whole article, I can wait… its interesting.

Ah, you’re back… so the 10 Commandments… are they actually still relevant in this day and age? All of these are taken from here which doesn’t necessarily tie in with the NIV bible I have in front of me. Where significantly different, I’ll comment…

ONE: ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’

Right… clearly this only applies to people who believe in the Christian-Judiac-Islamic God. There is no wiggle room here for Buddhists, Hindus, Confucians (??), Taoists, Atheists… or anyone who isn’t Christian, Jewish or Muslim (though the Qu’ran has its own Commandments).

Clearly this fails the modern day understanding of freedom of religion being a human right.

TWO: ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image–any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.’

I think many Christians fail this one… Muslims tend not to create sculpture or paintings of people for it is forbidden, and some Jews also don’t have statues or paintings of people for the same reasons.

The actual bible quote refers to creating and worshipping idols, somewhat different to creating images and likeness of stuff. Oh and the original bible verse has God being a vengeful God… hardly the type of image that we want to propagate these days.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.

So, yes this one fails as well. Again assumes a belief in a certain God, and then tells you not to worship other stuff. Something that many people tend to forget… Evangelical Christian right in the US? Hello, can you hear me? Worshipping money and power? Bad people, naughty… big smacks.

THREE: ‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.’

Oh Jesus Christ! Oops did I just blaspheme? I don’t typically say that phrase, but I think that most English speakers these days use, “Oh God” just as freely as they say, “and”, “if” and “oops”. Again this relies on a belief of a certain God, and for those who don’t, clearly doesn’t apply.

FOUR: ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.’

Which Sabbath day? Exodus goes on to suggest that no one, not the Jews, the slaves, their animals or foreigners are allowed to work on the Sabbath, hence the Orthodox Jews not working on Saturdays, looking for ways to avoid working accidentally… you know by using light switches… I think that its all a little over the top, but that’s their choice.

So, back to which Sabbath day… The Jews, the originators of the Old Testament of the Bible say that the Sabbath is Saturday, the last day of the week. Most Christians view Sunday as a holy day because that is when Jesus rose from the dead, and therefore is holy for that reason… the Sabbath moved thanks to Jesus. But Christians may attend a service or mass, but then continue on with the rest of their lives, working or whatever on Sunday… well these days anyway.

I think the Seventh Day Adventists returned the Sabbath to Saturday, but I don’t know a lot about them, and haven’t researched them, that’s a story for another day.

So, again, this requires a particular belief in a particular God, because you’re resting on “His” day of rest, so… it fails.

FIVE: ‘Honor your father and your mother.’

Not a lot of leeway here. So what about the parent which abuses the child, physically, sexually or emotionally? Should that child honour their parents? I certainly wouldn’t suggest so. That’s gross betrayal, and certainly not good parenting according to anyone’s idea of decent parents. We don’t live in the dark ages any more. It’d be nice if the 10 Commandments didn’t any more either. This one fails for not considering what happens to the children who are abused.

SIX: ‘You shall not murder.’

Yay! One that passes. Apparently Catholic catechism goes one further and states that “You shall not kill… except in cases of capital punishment (though they’d prefer incarceration and rehabilitation) or war (if necessary and for good reasons).

So, standard ethics here… don’t kill people because you don’t want to live in a society where people could kill you. Killing is bad… m’kay?

SEVEN: ‘You shall not commit adultery.’

According to the bible I commit adultery every second week night and every other weekend when I sleep with my other husband. Because men could have multiple wives back in biblical times, women however were the property of their husbands and didn’t have the right to have multiple husbands. I’m fighting back against this trend… lets not also mention the bisexuality… that might make the bible writers head explode.

So adultery you reckon… what exactly is adultery?

Thanks to wikepedia (again)

Adultery is the voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and another person who is not that person’s spouse. In most cases and especially in Western countries, only the married party is said to have committed adultery, and if both parties are married (but not to each other) then they both commit separate acts of adultery. In other countries, both parties to the adultery are considered guilty, while in others again only the woman is able to commit adultery and to be considered guilty. In some cases it is only considered adultery when a married woman has sexual relations with someone without the permission of her husband.

Right… actually on the basis that modern, so called Christian societies fail this one on a regular basis, I’m thinking of Governor Standford as a beautiful example here, and I’m sure you can think of other so-called Christian and perhaps even Jewish people who have had affairs and recognise that this standard is failed by society in general.

Given that I’m not a practiser of monogamy, can I actually be accused of adultery? If I cheated on my partners, then perhaps I could… I’ll let this one pass only if we can redefine adultery to mean “cheating and lying” and then tie it into number 9 below.

EIGHT: ‘You shall not steal.’

This one passes too. You don’t want to live in a society where people steal your stuff, so you shouldn’t steal their stuff. Nice simple ethics.

NINE: ‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.’

This one passes too. Don’t lie, be honest. Not that hard really… I don’t care how much you don’t like or even like your neighbour… being honest is the right thing to do.

TEN: ‘You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.’

To covet:
1 : to wish for earnestly
2 : to desire (what belongs to another) inordinately or culpably (Merriam Dictionary)

What exactly is wrong with wanting something? I’d love to be as rich as… urm… Bill Gates, minus the tosseriness (and yes that is a word). I’d really like to have so much money that I can sleep on it, rub it all over my body, burn it to keep warm… and not have a care in my life. I don’t… but what is wrong with wishing for that?

What is wrong for looking at a neighbour’s or relative’s house and thinking that I’d like something like that, or some item in that house? Provided I’m not stealing or lying about it, how is this wrong?

This one fails on being illogical. Its good to have dreams and its good to chase them… wishing or desiring an object, a status or lifestyle can provide the impetus to seek out those dreams. I’m all for coveting, so go right ahead.

So in summary, the 10 Commandments are not “A Royal Law of Love” and are not relevant to the 21st century. Lets find some other decent ethics and create a new and interesting moral society… I’m all for moral universalism myself.

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