Book Review: Freedom of Religion & The Secular State

for-blackfordFreedom of Religion & The Secular State, by Russell Blackford.

Publisher: John Wiley and Sons.

Philosopher and self-styled whipping boy, Michael Ruse, once described Russell Blackford as a ‘Junior New Atheist from Australia’. Ruse fancies himself, amongst other things, as a veteran of secular court battles, and an opener of dialogue between believer and non. Good for him.

I’m not sure, however, that Ruse is being wise in dismissing Blackford.

***

Blackford starts from a tolerant Lockean basis for the separation of church and state, justifying this in a historical context, and comparing it to competing theories, before moving forward to argue how in essence, the Lockean treatment is still applicable to modern disputes.

Anyone familiar with Blackford’s small-l liberal leanings, will not be surprised by his arguing against burqa bans, while those looking for black-and-white posturing will be disappointed; Blackford doesn’t deny there are situations where secular contractual obligations may reasonably require, say an employee, not to wear the burqa in a certain space.

Similarly, against ‘New Atheist’ type, Blackford doesn’t treat the religious establishment’s arguments with categorical derision, notionally agreeing that defensible arguments can be made to indefinitely postpone various secular reforms. This especially where the social costs of reform could exceed the benefits of implementing them.

(This kind of utilitarianism may upset more radical secularists – but at least there’s room for difference in this debate.)

Of course, there are various religious privileges that don’t fall into this category, and it is here, after consideration, that Blackford takes a stronger stance. The idea that Catholics can’t become a head of state, in any modern democracy (or for that matter, any modern soft-theocracy), and ridiculous orthodox notions like these, are given the (admittedly polite) rebuke they rightly deserve. (Malcolm Turnbull, and an Australian Republic, appear in-mind whenever I encounter issues like these in Blackford’s work).

The book is incredibly concise. It doesn’t tarry, taking time to make quips – the necessary technical detail is raised, and in a manner amenable to us laypersons.

(Although I wouldn’t have minded a little needling of Alister McGrath, the respect he’s shown in the section on the history of religious persecution, is more in fitting with the rest of the text.)

Again, against ‘New Atheist’ type, Blackford’s effort isn’t remotely populist, at least in as far as populism is a negative – it’s intellectualism accessible to members of the lumpenproletariat such as yours truly (making it a valuable addition to any public library).

Only the most precious could find the tome objectionable. Blackford for example, doesn’t outright dismiss the possibility of justifiable persecution of religion X, by a hypothetical secular state. Those with persecution complexes will perhaps convince themselves, ‘he means me’, whereas more sensible readers will think more along the lines of ‘sarin-gas-death-cult’.

In being concise, the reader isn’t treated like a dolt – ridiculous interpretations aren’t endlessly qualified against, and this does at some points leave the text open to spurious readings. No doubt at some point, somewhere, a close-reading paranoid, working away in their bunker, will uncover in Blackford’s little tome, the kernel of a ‘New Atheist’ conspiracy to enslave the religious, and crush human flourishing.

Most of us however, should be able to sleep soundly, all the more for not having had our time wasted or our intelligence insulted.

***

I’m left wondering, because I’ve never seen anything like it, how Michael Ruse has made a contribution to the secular public debate at anything approaching this quality. Correct me if I’m ignorant.

More importantly, the Australian discourse on secularism seems wanting. The history of debate surrounding the issue of federally funded school chaplains, erecting their ministries (under a different name) in public schools, seems impoverished after reading Freedom of Religion & The Secular State.

I’m left wanting yet again better justifications from politicians, and much more challenging counter-arguments from the beneficiaries of the current arrangement. It’s not just that I think people have been wrong, I think the debate has suffered from low expectations – the media has been especially compliant in allowing tripe pass as informed comment.

Freedom of Religion & The Secular State will raise your expectations.

This shortfall in discussions of secularism is framed against a bleak political backdrop; Lindsay Tanner’s Sideshow, and George Megalogenis’ essay, Trivial Pursuit, can meaningfully lament the dumbing-down and privileged insularity of Australian politics of the age, without resorting to populism, all with the general approval of political wonks. For its part of the broader political debate, Blackford’s treatment of the secular state is met with a needing polity.

I doubt that this is significantly less true in most other modern democracies.

I want for people to read this important book.

I want the Greens to read it. I want the major parties to read it. I want Bob Carr to read it it to see if he thinks it could be a worthwhile subject of discussion in the training of Young Labor members. I want to see the moderates in the Young Liberals to read it to see how it could inform their politics.

I want unionists to read it to see how their views on workplace discrimination are influenced.

I want secular Jains, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Anglicans, Unitarians, Buddhists, and all the other colours of the theist rainbow, to read it.

I want you to read it.

Rating: 5/5

~ Bruce

Note: For those free in Melbourne, this Thursday night, the 12th of April at 6:30pm, Russell Blackford will be appearing at Embiggen Books with Meredith Doig and Graham Oppy to discuss how Australia can move forward as a secular nation. Secularists of all stripes are welcome – theist or non – and I’m planning to be in attendance myself, which means I’d better get back to packing!

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

Rob Smith: A Hymn For All Your Neglected Greyhounds

I’m currently plodding around the back-end of my Internet communications, consolidating accounts, redirecting subscriptions and so on in preparation for a better blogging experience. All the while, light shows are popping up in people’s yards around my neighbourhood and I’m too busy to blog about it at the moment. So in the Christmas spirit, Rob Smith makes his fourth guest appearance here at Thinkers’ Podium.

Rob here again folks. Look, I know I run a charity that sings hymns for neglected greyhounds, but this hymn is for the readers. Let’s not take the piss too far, eh?

It’s not like I sing to the greyhounds. I sing for them!

A Hymn For All Your Neglected Greyhoundsrob_smith

By

Rob Smith
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Is this mainstream enough for you II?

Last week I blogged about how it’s the common conception that (with the exception of the US) bigotry against atheists is something that exists at the margins of religion in the developed west, and asked if a few examples of mainstream bigotry were mainstream enough.

Some of you may already be familiar with the story, but now ex-British PM and political father of the Faith School, Tony Blair, in much the same style as the Pope did with environmental issues, is blaming godlessness for what our PM, Kevin Rudd, calls “free market fundamentalism”, and for the subsequent World Financial Crisis.

Talking about materialistic individualism under the title ‘Without God’s Truth at its centre, no community can fulfil its potential‘, Blair tells us that…

“The danger is clear: that pursuit of pleasure becomes an end in itself. It is here that faith can step in, can show us a proper sense of duty to others, responsibility for the world around us, and can lead us to, as the Holy Father calls it, caritas in veritate.”

(Tony Blair, 2009)

For a start, he’s got his logic wrong. Blair starts out arguing for the logical necessity of his favoured cause, so asserting instances of how it can be the case isn’t enough. One needs to establish that alternatives are impossible (i.e. in “no community” is it possible without “God’s Truth“).

And it would help if exceptions to the alleged faculty of his favoured cause weren’t undermined by well established history. If only Tony Blair had used his relationship with George Bush Jr, so as to get him to more involve his religion in politics, Wall Street would be a-okay right now! Oh, wait!

theatheist

I is in your industries, winding back your economy.

Blair’s ill-thought-out polemic is nothing more than dog whistling to anti-atheist prejudice, with a halo.

And it’s directed largely towards mainstream religion, not the fringes. Nor is it delivered in such a denominationally specific manner as the Pope’s blaming atheists for environmental woes – it’s interfaith. By the terms of Blair’s argumentation, any God will do.

If you are of the interfaith persuasion and you buy Blair’s line, please spare me the pretense of tolerance. This rubbish has far too great a similarity to tales of greedy Jewish bankers ruining European economies.

But it’s not just economic woes as a result of atheistic, secular materialism (which for reasons of obvious convenience, always seem to get surreptitiously treated as synonymous with practical and/or philosophical naturalism). Blair brings out the old chestnut of Fascism/Sovietism/Maoism.

“After the experience of fascism, Soviet Communism or viewing life in North Korea or the cultural revolution in China, it is easier for us to grasp the dangers of a too-powerful state.”

(Tony Blair, 2009)

What has this to do with secular societies? Specifically, how is the totalitarian state a logically necessary outcome of secularism?

Hello! Denmark! While a secular nation like Denmark is capable of not being totalitarian, totalitarianism can not be a logically necessary outcome of secularism. Unless Blair is going to equivocate with a new definition of what a community/nation’s “full potential” is (which could have other, possibly more disturbing consequences than just poor logic) Denmark breaks Blair’s entire case! (While there is a national church, the populace – the community – is very godless as is the governance).

And just how is the theocracy in Iran treating its own religious communities? And how’s the supposedly reformed, and deeply religious Afghanistan going? Men can still legally beat their wives and misogyny is rife. Apostates can still be executed and the constitution prohibits the passing of any law contrary to the word of The Prophet. Which word of The Prophet of course depends entirely on which sect is in power at any given time.

Of course, only to a man like Blair with the blood of thousands on his hands, a public funded faith school legacy that discriminates on the basis of a student’s religion, and an uncanny ability for mental gymnastics, can examples of religious persecution like this not contradict his claims of categorical religious moral monopoly. Naturally he won’t see exceptions to his thesis – he won’t let himself.

Blair finishes of by praising the latest Papal encyclical, one that condemned atheism – painting atheists as necessarily environmentally irresponsible, and claiming that relativism and self-serving individualism were the only alternatives to God. Of course as has been typical with these childish Papal outbursts, Godless ethical systems such as preference utilitarianism, which are neither self-serving, nor relativistic, aren’t mentioned. Why mention the existence of something if it prohibits your claim of logical necessity, right?

The standard line is that it’s either God or self-interested nihilism. This is absurd. The mere existence of ethical philosophies such as that of John Stuart Mill (again, neither self-serving nor relativistic) show this standard line to be a false dichotomy. The fact that these secular ethical systems have been popular in philosophical thought since the 19th century, shows how mind-bendingly ignorant the standard line is. If you consider a godless categorical imperative (also not self-serving, nor relativistic), you can extend this willful ignorance back to the 18th century.

And what I’ve mentioned doesn’t exhaust the list of non-self-serving, non-relativistic Godless ethical systems anyway. (You only need one example of an exception to break alleged logical necessity, so I won’t expand the list further.)

Nobody is necessarily bound to ethical relativistic nihilism in the absence of God. This is basic philosophical history and the fact that Tony Blair and The Pope flunk it in order to prosecute a grudge against atheism is rather telling.

How telling is it then, when religious moderates take this tripe seriously? And how many moderates do you think are likely to take it seriously.

~ Bruce

Is this mainstream enough for you?

We’re often told that’s it’s only those whacky-at-the-fringes types that have the chip on their shoulder, and that any comparison between them and the mainstream is a straw man. It’s misrepresentation instrumental to intolerance.

Or at least, when the numbers of aggressive, bigoted, fundamentalist types are pointed out to be quite large, we are often told “but we aren’t like them!” It’s usually true. The bigots amongst the fundies tend not to have had the same education or (unless they are televangelist) economic opportunities as the more moderate theist.

This raises a question. Are the intolerant persuasions less persistent in the ranks of the moderately religious, or are they just more gentrified? Does this gentrification help us to underestimate the size of the underlying problem and is it only when the facade crumbles away that we get a look at what’s really going on?

A few mainstream examples of tolerance in action come to mind. Some more respected than others.

“Without God, everything is permitted.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

I know I can’t start my day properly without burning a baby over an open fire. Mmmm. Crunchy, fatty baby crackling. There are people who would seriously give pause at me making this joke. They would seriously ask, failing to appreciate my humanity (and telling us something disturbing about their’s), “what if not God stops you from doing such things?”

Maybe Dostoyevsky is a bit old to be drawn against the modern mainstream.

“Though atheism, historically considered, has meant no more in the past than a critical or sceptical denial of the theology of those who have employed the term as one of reproach, and has consequently no one strict philosophical meaning; and though there is no one consistent system in the exposition of which it has a definite place; yet, if we consider it in its broad meaning as merely the opposite of theism, we will be able to frame such divisions as will make possible a grouping of definite systems under this head.”

(Francis Aveling, The Catholic Encycolpedia, Appleton, New York, 1907.)

Or in other words, “atheism isn’t what I’d like to represent it as, but if I characterise it as what I want to, I’m able to associate it with a heap of definite systems that otherwise I couldn’t.” What profound intellectual dishonesty!

Francis continues!

“One system of positive moral atheism, in which human actions would neither be right nor wrong, good nor evil, with reference to God, would naturally follow from the profession of positive theoretic atheism; and it is significant of those to whom such a form of theoretic atheism is sometimes attributed, that for the sanctions of moral actions they introduce such abstract ideas as those of duty, the social instinct, or humanity. There seems to be no particular reason why they should have recourse to such sanctions, since the morality of an action can hardly be derived from its performance as a duty, which in turn can be called and known as a “duty” only because it refers to an action that is morally good. Indeed an analysis of the idea of duty leads to a refutation of the principle in whose support it is invoked, and points to the necessity of a theistic interpretation of nature for its own justification.”

(Francis Aveling, The Catholic Encycolpedia, Appleton, New York, 1907.)

Or in other words, “Without God, everything is permitted.” Never mind that there’s no demonstration of how it is logically impossible to arive at ethical decision making without invoking theology – you would think that with so damning a judgement, the prosecutor would take his evidence a bit more seriously. But no. It’s just assumed. Pre-judged.

This is mainstream stuff. Or at least it was in its time.

Moving on…

Skipping past the practical and pseudo-atheist (an exercise in manipulating terms to yield palatable conclusions), Jacques Maritain wrote.

“Finally there are absolute atheists, who really do deny the existence of the very God in Whom the believers believe — God the Creator, Savior and Father, Whose name is infinitely over and above any name we can utter. Those absolute atheists stand committed to change their entire system of values and to destroy in themselves everything that could possibly suggest the name they have rejected; they have chosen to stake their all against divine Transcendence and any vestige of Transcendence whatsoever.”

(Jacques Maritain, 1953)

Charming stuff. And this from a chap who helped draft the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I guess seeing an outgroup as set out to destroy in themselves, things that you value, or perhaps misinterpret, needn’t be reconciled with the purpose of the UDHR. That humans can hold irreconcilable ideas to be true at the same time is uncontroversial.

If Maritain sparks your interest, go check out his version of “critical” versus the likes of Kant or Hume (the phrase “prejudice” comes to mind). He’s well published and liked by Catholic philosophers so you should be able to find something around the libraries. At the very least you can see his prejudice if you follow the link in the above citation, where he alleges a “dual inconsistency” in atheism that is entirely a product of the rigged terms he’s himself decided to use.

Perhaps something a little more contemporary?

What about Francis Collins’ assertion that a capacity for ethical reasoning (not an evolved “do or don’t list” for those contemplating using the popular straw man that “evolution determines what is moral”) is not possible as a product of the combination of evolved altruism and evolved reasoning. That God had to do it.

Aside from the very real problem this scientific prejudice (and it is a prejudice – there is no evidence to support Collins’ position) presents, can you not see how it feeds into the “atheists are denying their God given morality” dogma? Atheists need God to be good. Atheists don’t have God, or are going to lose his blessing. Collins may not believe that atheists are incapable of being moral (or he may – really, I don’t know), but he’s clearly an enabler.

One has to wonder how much people have invested in this trope. Ken Miller, famous opponent and critic of Intelligent Design, and star witness, saw fit to flatly lie about the content of Sam Harris’ criticism of Collins’ prejudice when the latter was appointed as director of the NIH (under which research said prejudice is particularly relevant to, i.e. mental health.) That’s a big about face in terms of positions on religious interference in science – one is left wondering if there was any other motivation other than Collins’ views being less repugnant to Miller than the theology of Intelligent Design.

What’s Miller’s interest in the ideology of God being necessary for ethics, and why’s he willing to look the other way for Collins but not others? And why so dishonestly? Could the slings and arrows hint at some kind of projection going on?

Let’s move on shall we?

Is it not true that inconsiderate use of creation begins where God is marginalized or also where his existence is denied? If the human creature’s relationship with the Creator weakens, matter is reduced to egoistic possession, man becomes the “final authority,” and the objective of existence is reduced to a feverish race to possess the most possible.”

(Pope Benedict, 2009)

Yep. Without God, a feverish race to possess the most possible is permitted. Which if Ratzinger’s shoes and accommodation is anything to go by, is also permitted by God. I’m not seeing much in the way of a moral monopoly going on here. “Go forth and multiply”, anyone?

Perhaps Ratzinger thinks his urges for the splurges would be worse without God, but he doesn’t need to project his flaws onto the rest of us. I’m an atheist and I’m happy living in my low-cost, ex-public housing home in a working class suburb, thank you very much. Oh, and my shoes are cheap as well.

One could make the case that the current Pope is hopelessly out of touch with his flock and completely upstaged by his predecessor. Fair enough. One could infer that he’s not necessarily the best indicator of the mainstream, or at least the mainstream for Catholics in the developed west. That would be a bit more of a stretch.

Still, there’s plenty more atheist hate floating around the mainstream. Take Steve Harvey. Successful comedian. Star of his own Warner Bros. sitcom. He has a nationally syndicated radio show that’s kicking out radio staples from their time slots. He’s the 2007 syndicated personality of the year, beating out has-beens like John Tesh.

He’s in touch with the people. He’s also a bit of a dickhead.

Here he is chanelling Dostoyevsky, albeit without the gentrification.

Spot the self-contradiction. (1:12)

He starts out saying that he doesn’t believe that atheists can’t be moral, like he knows it’s wrong, then once he gets going… It’s like his cognitive biases are playing ping-pong with the peanut in his skull.

But maybe I’ve strayed to far. Maybe unlike all the other alleged moderates (I guess there’s always going to be disagreement as to what constitutes one), Steve Harvey is probably a bit too born-again.

Still, you have to wonder. What would the moderates look like with the gentrification stripped away?

~ Bruce

How to talk to an arrogant New Atheist – Rob’s First Post!

Ever wondered just how to deal with that arrogant, intolerant New Atheist that heckles you so? Maybe you have one for a neighbour, or sadly, one of your family. Maybe you chat around the blogs and forums and keep running into them.

They can be very frustrating, these New Atheists. What with their mocking and what not.

Hi. I’m Rob. I’ve been allowed to use Bruce’s WordPress account to write this post.

I’m not a theologian, but I do like to read a bit of liberal theology from time to time. I love Jim Wallis and I think Obama marks a defining moment in the history of religion. I’ve been an on-and-off again elder at youth group and in my spare time I organise the unregistered charity, Hymns for Neglected Greyhounds.

I’m not a blogger, otherwise I’d have written this somewhere else. (Gee am I glad that Bruce is just an ordinary atheist and not a New Atheist, otherwise I’d never have gotten around to posting this. Perhaps I can coax his defection to liberal theism at a later point. Kidding!)

On with my first post!

How to talk to an arrogant New Atheistrob_smith

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Rob Smith Continue reading