Thankyou Dr Jensen, Mr Pell, Mr Fisher – Happy Easter!

As a part of Easter messages in Australia, atheists have copped an earful. My first thoughts, aside from a mild irritation brought on by the sheer silliness of the claims, were that this was a beautiful thing. Yes.

I still feel this way today.

Dr Jensen

It was reported that Sydney Anglican Archbishop Dr Jensen, as part of his Easter address started out with a critique of atheists, that included sentiments along the lines of…

“It represents the latest version of the human assault on God, born out of resentment that we do not in fact rule the world and that God calls on us to submit our lives to him.”

(Miles Godfrey, ABC, 2010)

Oh dear…

I’m not offended. How could I be? It’s like watching Emperor Palpatine lose the ‘Yo Momma!’ fight on Robot Chicken Star Wars. Ah… Ah… Ah… Well… Ah… Yo Momma hates God!

And it’s open to the most delicious reductio.

Dr Jensen’s Christianity represents the latest version of the human assault on The Flying Spaghetti Monster, born out of resentment that we do not in fact rule the world and that the FSM calls on us to submit our lives to him. Submission to the laws of the FSM which conveniently coincide with my own opinions.

Flattering? No. But it should give any Christians who share Dr Jenson’s sentiments towards atheists, an idea of how silly his remarks look to the godless.

The fact that these ludicrous ideas about atheists are held by one so respected and educated (even if a bit too conservative on industrial relations and the ethics of science), someone so mainstream, is telling. This is why I welcome Dr Jensen’s remarks.

Mr Pell

In addition to some pretty questionable historicism about Rome and Christianity, wherein it was reported that George Pell claimed that in relation to a host of Roman ills, “Christianity changed all this” (in relation to a host of then Christian norms, didn’t Rome change “all of this”?), George Pell reportedly belittled the role of the godless with a particularly silly statement.

“But we find no community services sponsored by the atheists.”

(AAP, 2010)

Mr Pell may be controversial, but he’s no pariah. At least in as far as public discussion goes – he’s taken seriously even if his own congregation aren’t particularly fond of him.

And even allowing scope for interpretation, in case he’s become victim to the ‘Pope… Nazi’ effect (even though his remarks weren’t off-the-cuff like Dawkins’), it’s hard to find an interpretation any less silly. At least I can’t find one.

On-off, over the last ten years, I’ve been a volunteer for the Salvation Army, and I’m an atheist. My mother, an atheist, works for Centrecare – the Australian Catholic welfare agency. I wonder if George Pell’s sermon will be cause for awkwardness when she returns to work next Tuesday.

Non-church-based community services like ITShare, that frankly do better work than the church alternative, community services that don’t turn away support from atheists (or anyone else), are well worth the attention of the George Pell’s of the world. They do their good work in spite of two major obstacles.

  1. Churches have an advantage – they have traditionally been seen as a source of welfare and have historically been a focal point for people’s good will, theist or not. This has resulted in a monolithic welfare infrastructure that newer providers have to compete with.
  2. The playing field is still rigged. It’s easier to become a community service provider if you’re church based. This historical advantage attracts more tender from government (atheists do pay taxes), and the automatic religious tax-exempt status makes it easier going than for secular charities who have to jump through all sorts of hoops to demonstrate not-for-profit status. Church based institutions simply aren’t held to the same standard of accountability, and are the beneficiaries of greater government largess.

If you keep this in mind, along with the fact that non-church based community services don’t usually advertise that they aren’t church-based, and that atheist sponsors and volunteers are largely happy to use the existing infrastructure and to work alongside religious people, you’ll understand why you don’t see “atheist charity” left, right and centre. Atheists have been quiet contributors to the welfare of a secular Australia.

But it’s not just George Pell that thinks this. And even if most Australians don’t think it, they don’t need to in order for the problem to have unacceptable consequences. All it takes is a minority with institutional power, and a public that doesn’t realise that there’s a problem.

I once dropped into SA Unions (then still the UTLC) for a chat with their then youth officer a few years ago. I told her of a workplace in Adelaide run by a powerful member of the Paradise Community Church congregation that at the time, filtered the non-Christians out of their workforce. In response to which she told me that resolving discrimination complaints against religious not-for-profits, were common business.

I can remember having my own naivety broken by this – I was talking about a private, for-profit enterprise. I hadn’t entertained the notion that discrimination was happening amongst the altruistic, supposedly moderate, end of Christian not-for-profits.

Eventually, seeing the relative difficulties non-church not-for-profits had in setting up shop, seeing a couple of non-Catholic teachers being fired from secular roles in federally funded Catholic schools, and later finding out from a appalled staff member, that I’d been denied a secular job position by a religious not-for profit on the grounds of my atheism, the truth hit home. There’s a problem.

Heck, it’s not just that people are being discriminated against that’s the problem. It’s not good for the provision of community service. Things turned out more or less okay for me; I wasn’t that set back by the job refusal. What was absurd was that it turned out that I wasn’t replaced by anyone; the needed, specialised skills that I could have provided were denied the service recipients. It hurt their operation more than it hurt me!

If you really care about the provision of quality community service, then this has to get to you. This, as opposed to just being discriminated against, is why it gets to me.

The support given to religious community services by taxpayers and voluntarily by atheist individuals, and the support of non-church-based community services by atheists, is taken far too much for granted. This occurs at an institutional level, and thanks to poor awareness I think it’s allowed to do harm where institutions are mandated to do good.

Reform to the apparatus of secular pluralism is needed in Australia – especially where taxation, government funding, the church, and not-for profit organisations are concerned.

I welcome George Pell’s comments, bringing attention to the matter. Even if he’s wrong. Especially because he’s wrong.

Mr Fisher

Then we have Anthony Fisher, who is apparently tipped as George Pell’s future replacement, reportedly saying…

“‘Last century we tried godlessness on a grand scale and the effects were devastating; Nazism, Stalinism, Pol-Pottery, mass murder and broken relationships: all promoted by state-imposed atheism or culture-insinuated secularism.'”

(Jacqueline Maley, 2010)

Oh dear. Stalinism and “Pol-Pottery” weren’t pushed by atheism; Stalinism and “Pol-Pottery” pushed atheism. It’s like saying that canned peas pushed Soviet communism; i.e. back-to-front.

You honestly and sincerely have the conviction that canned peas are a good thing? Oh no! We can’t have you going too far in our culture; you may turn our nation into a Soviet state!

And as for Nazi ideology being born of atheism, that’s just plain stupid.

For a start, Nazism, and European totalitarianism of the time in general, were born of a hodge-podge starting conditions – an array of causes. Singling any one cause out is inherently wrong-headed to begin with, but it gets worse.

Nazi ideology selectively borrowed from Christian culture and had plans for its own bizarre Aryan supernaturalism. Mein Kampf talked of the virtue of mandatory religious education in schools. And the anti-Semitism that was integral to the holocaust, where did that come from? Which particular institution had been pushing that particular non-virtue for over a thousand years prior to World War II? Where did the Nazis borrow the idea of the collective guilt of Jews for the death of Christ? Hmmm?

There is obviously a case to be made for the role of modernism in the rise of early 20th century totalitarian ideologies. There is obviously a case to be made that the works of individual philosophers who happened to be atheists were a part of the bigger mix – Marx more obviously for Sovietism, Nietzsche not so obviously for the totalitarian right.

But these instances of atheism are far from the only conditions the totalitarian ideologies were born from, and as far as I can see there’s little indication that it was the godless aspect of these philosophies that led to disaster. Marx, in commenting that religion was “The Opiate of The Masses”, was alluding to its pervasiveness as something that can’t be wiped out. Contrary to some readings.

People seem to forget that living conditions aren’t what they are today. The start of the 20th century was a period of deep unrest with a lot to contribute in the way of angry, authoritarian motivations.

As for Fisher’s implication that godless societies are doomed to selfishness and totalitarianism – this is just empirically false. Denmark and Sweden are largely without God, but their societies are particularly harmonious, and demonstrate a greater than normal level of cooperative norms (i.e. they value welfare more than most nations). Clearly Fisher is wrong.

If Mr Fisher is to become the head of Australia’s Catholics, even if he isn’t well liked by Australia’s Catholics, then he’s likely to be treated with a degree of deference and taken seriously. Yet he harbours absurd notions about a good portion of the Australian population and as he has shown, isn’t afraid to use his position to foment sectarianism. This deference is a problem.

Thankyou and Happy Easter!

Dr Jensen, Mr Pell, Mr Fisher – I thank you for these gifts. Quite sincerely.

For too long atheists in Australia, especially the noisy ones, have been asked why they’re complaining as if it were self-evident that we live in a society that at least if not made up of a majority of tolerant, secular people, was free of institutionalised sectarianism. At least to the extent of it not being a problem worth complaining about.

This, more than many things, has been an obstacle for Australian atheists trying to get a point across.

Easter of 2010 can now be celebrated when this point of public debate was decided. There is a problem and now it’s obvious.

The message, even if wrong, is welcome.

This isn’t cause for mere atheist triumphalism – a recognition that Australia’s religious leaders are rattled. This isn’t something for atheists to get angry about – it’s too pathetic for that – anyone not already sold on the message of the atheist bogeyman isn’t going to take this bile on board. Australian atheists don’t have to worry about being fired or lynched by Christians any more than they did last week.

This is a win for secularism. Thanks to the credibility of Dr Jensen, Mr Pell and Mr Fisher, the issue – sectarian privilege and contempt over and toward atheists – is now out there in the mainstream; open for discussion. It was never a fringe concern, and now for the first time, it really doesn’t look like one.

I really, quite sincerely, thank these men for sacrificing part of their holy weekend to make functional secularism (and the secular provision of welfare – thank you Mr Pell!) a hot topic. Couldn’t have done it without you, guys!

Dr Jensen, Mr Pell, Mr Fisher – Happy Easter!

~ Bruce

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31 thoughts on “Thankyou Dr Jensen, Mr Pell, Mr Fisher – Happy Easter!

  1. May be off on a tangent here, but here goes.
    Must declare I was raised a catholic, however am now most definitely an athiest.

    Never saw a reason to declare that fact but now interested in various responses.

    One response which I believe requires a response is this constant retort by so called believers, that of Nazism ( faschism) being a godless idology. From my reading on this subject, the Papacy was very much involved in the overthrow of the Spanish Rebublic along with the other fascist states of Germany and Italy. And Eugenio Pacelli (later Pius XII) was very much involved with Hitlar’s Reicht.

    It makes perfect sense that the Papacy saw faschism as the lesser of two evils because let’s face it, with commumist control of Europe the Papacy is out of business.

    Interested in other opinions??

  2. Christianity stands or falls on whether Jesus rose from the dead. All the rest is mere noise.

    If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, even the apostle Paul admitted that Christians might as well pack up and go home.

    If Jesus did rise from the dead, however, then the central claims of Christianity become impossible to ignore or dismiss.

    Neither side of this debate gains any credit by being shrill, dismissive or vindictive towards the other.

    Happy Easter everybody!

  3. I am a bedraggled refugee from the “Holy” Roman Catholic Church. I just want to say this to George Cardinal “Go to Hell” Pell:

    GO TO YOUR HELL if the Devil will have you. I believe he does not want competition. At least I am luckier that you, Pell. I don’t believe in a Hell, or any “God”.

  4. I bet you’re all middle aged, white, heterosexual males…who all lurve the caucasian/phallo-centric christianity.

  5. forgot to insert: /sarcasm in the above post.

    That would of been interpreted the wrong way.

    Major blunder by me, sorry.

  6. And the latest? The Irish Catholic Church is peeved at the Anglican leadership for being honest.

    Meanwhile, Pope Benedict’s personal preacher, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, is under fire for stupidly likening criticism of the Church’s mishandling of clerical sex abuse to the persecution of Jews. Another fine example of a “sophisticated theologian”?

    In the USA, Catholic League frontman Bill Donohue comes out firing, blaming homosexual priests for the Church’s endemic child abuse problem.

    What is the next piece of bumbling buffoonery to come from these Keystone Kops of Christendom?

    Dawkins nailed it (sic!) at Atheist Convention 2010. It’s ALL pure Monty Python. Rather, it would be funny if it weren’t so very very wrong.

  7. Great article.

    The only thing I would have mentioned is the fact I do not need to believe in miraculous healing, walking on water, living in “big fish” for 3 days to be kind to other people.

  8. Thanks for your considered thoughts, there are many NGOs that do much for our communities which are not established by a religious institution, who do not discriminate who they employ.

    I am an atheist and am a CEO of one such NGO providing employment for people with disabilities. I employ over 140 people from many diverse backgrounds.

    I also have a young family and often have to think carefully in response to the nonsense a teacher at their school has planted in my child’s head. I do this without casting prejudice or association to the many atrocities committed religious base societies throughout human history.

    Regardless of beliefs, with a basic understanding of ethics nobody in management would make such public claims yet these so-called religious leaders can and do.

  9. As a “non-god-botherer” I have no intention of wasting my life proving or disproving the existence of a invisible, all-powerful(?) celestial puppeteer, who exclusively represents the interests of one particular (chosen) group of people be it Jews, Christians, Muslims, Mormons or …Scientologists.

    The likes of Mr.Pell, Mr.Fisher or Mr.Jensen desperately peddling their infantile religious myths and superstitions lose the intellectual and MORAL battle with the 21 century reality…and they know it.

    Their recent public utterings are a pathetic attempt to save the sinking ship of the organised religion. The religious bosses clumsily try to divert out attention away from their real (self-made I must add) problems: their blatant hypocrisy, social and cultural inadequacy and moral bankruptcy of their “god-given” dogmas in this day and age, dwindling numbers of their “flocks” , desperate shortage of the priests, mass sell-out of church property to name a few.
    As virtually unemployable men elsewhere they desperately cling to their “jobs” in the religiou$ bu$ine$$. I am not overly surprised after all it is their livelihood, the only thing they have known throughout their adult lives. I can almost sympathise with them. I am more or less of their age and I certainly would not like to lose my job. I do not wish it to anybody.

    I respect Torah, the Bible and the Quaran as a part of the humanity’s literary tradition as much as we respect the Hindu, Aztec, Greek or Roman mythology.
    In my home library The Qur’an, The King James Bible, The Torah and even the Book of Mormon coexist peacefully, side by side with the works of Aesop, Andersen, Grimm Brothers, Perrault and La Fontaine.

    One more thing…please do not call people like myself “non-believers”. I do believe in the power of education and free enquiry, universal values, human solidarity…and The Golden Rule.

    P.S.
    Mr.Pell’s, Mr.Jensen’s and Mr.Fisher’s knowledge of modern history is embarrassing to say the least. I say it in the name of my godmother – KL Auschwitz prisoner number 25541 who from 1941 to 1945 witnessed and experienced first hand “Christian compassion” of god-fearing genocidal psychopaths German and Austrian camp-guards (mostly Catholics) who shamelessly brandished their belt buckles with the inscription Gott Mit Uns. Later on during the “evacuation”/death march in the Gross Rosen KL she was guarded by their brothers- in-Christ fiercely Catholic Croatian ustashas. Ironically and miraculously my godmother was eventually liberated by the “godless” Russian soldiers.
    Interestingly all mentioned religious leaders failed to mention a shameful role of Vatican in smuggling the nazi war criminals to South America. I do not expect the current pope to dig in The Vatican archives to investigate this matter.

    • Well written.

      Am amazed that there is so little writtten about the role of catholicism in the Nazi SS and that most recruits to the SS came from Catholic Bavaria.

      Religions keep peddeling this myth that Nazism was an athiest ideology???

    • Robert

      this link leads to discussion about a Canadian Minister of State idolising a Croatian Cardinal who assisted the nazi/ustasha regimes. The links and following discussions will provide more material for learning.

      Great post, by the way.

  10. Sorry, I have to disagree. Ben Stein said “science leads to killing people”. Andrew Fisher can see that this also applies to atheism and he is right – atheism leads to killing people.

    During the term of our own atheist Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, I was innocently stabbed to death no less than six times – in the local supermarket. It was hell. Thank God Jon Howard replaced him and Australia returned to the utopian paradise it was when first settled by Christians where no one does wrong by anyone, ever. It’s so nice to be able to shop knowing I’ll still be alive when I get home.

    Of course, for a real laugh check out the religiously charitable sharing and caring going on over at the BBC where Catholics and Anglicans are sharing their views on paedophile priests. Classic stuff.

  11. X wrote: “There is obviously a case to be made for the role of modernism in the rise of early 20th century totalitarian ideologies. There is obviously a case to be made that the works of individual philosophers who happened to be atheists were a part of the bigger mix – Marx more obviously for Sovietism, Nietzsche not so obviously for the totalitarian right.

    But these instances of atheism are far from the only conditions the totalitarian ideologies were born from, and as far as I can see there’s little indication that it was the godless aspect of these philosophies that led to disaster. Marx, in commenting that religion was “The Opiate of The Masses”, was alluding to its pervasiveness as something that can’t be wiped out. Contrary to some readings.

    People seem to forget that living conditions aren’t what they are today. The start of the 20th century was a period of deep unrest with a lot to contribute in the way of angry, authoritarian motivations.”

    = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

    As a former devoted Stalinist (now an active Anti-Stalinist) I agree with the above.

    Ludwik Kowalski
    whose new book–”Tyranny to Freedom: Diary of a Former Stalinist” is now available at

    www [dot] amazon [dot] com

    READER’S REVIEWS ARE ALSO AT THIS WEBSITE.

    Comments will be appreciated, either at the above website or in private. Thank you in advance.

    kowalskiL@mail.montclair.edu

    P.S.
    The first chapter is already online at

    http://csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/chapter1.html

  12. “It’s like saying that canned peas pushed Soviet communism” – I like that one a lot. I’ll probably be stealing it.

    And the ideas about religious non-profits hurting their own ability to provide services by discriminating against atheists – really well said and original.

  13. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Wonderful words. Thanks Bruce.

    It was an odd sensation reading this while I was waiting to see Clash of the Titans at the cinema, which (apparently parodically) was all about humans getting sick of the gods bossing them around and deciding to stand up to them (cf Jensen accusing atheists of attempting to put humans above God). It really was hard not to chuckle while watching.

    Glad there are atheists as erudite as you.

  14. On April 5, 2010 (see above) I was promoting my book by offering the first chapter.
    The book was not selling very well and I decided to make it available at no cost. The free on-line book was modified significantly in comparison with the printed book. Here is how I am promoting it now:

    Dear colleagues,

    1) As per our previous correspondence, I want you to know about my new book. Anyone can now read it ONLINE. And it is FREE.

    The URL is

    http://csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/life/intro.html

    2) Please share this URL with all who might be interested. Thank you in advance.

    The title is: “Diary of a Former Communist: Thoughts, Feelings, Reality.”

    This 2010 book is my autobiography. It is based on a diary I kept between 1946 and 2004 (in the USSR, Poland, France and the USA).

    3) Comments, as always, will be appreciated. I expect my book to be readable by all browsers and under all operating systems. (Please send me a private message immediately if the content is not clearly displayed on your computer screen.)

    Ludwik Kowalski
    Professor Emeritus
    Montclair State University (USA)
    kowalskiL@mail.montclair.edu

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