The letter below was in The Age newspaper on 7 November 2007 in response to Barney Zwartz's article the previous day implying that it was necessary for politicians to use their religious convictions in deciding on policies.
Australia is still a secular state and there is no place for religion in the political processes in the federal parliament. It was bad enough that the Alternative Liberal Party (ALP) used its preferences for senate outcomes in the 2004 elections which gave a Victorian senate seat to the religious right's Family First. This should never be allowed to happen again!
BARNEY Zwartz (Opinion, 6/11) uses polemic gymnastics to dodge around secular concerns about religious interference in Australia's democracy. The simple equation is: religion wishes to impose dogma-based restrictions on many aspects of legislation. The opposite and secular camp requires reasoned evaluation in making decisions that will affect us all.
The confirmed worry is that many politicians assess legislation on the basis of personal religious beliefs instead of making the best choices available. When coupled with preference deals allowing religious zealots to hold the balance of power, the distortion of democracy is inevitable. Many in these two groups keep their private agendas hidden from public scrutiny.
RELIGIONS ARE RIDICULOUS ANYHOW! ALL THEY DO IS PREACH HATE AND PRACTISE MURDER!! (red-jos comment)
Article from the Sunday Age:
The swelling of atheist literature is a reaction to a worldwide rise in fundamentalist religion.
ON PALM SUNDAY, Dr John Perkins drove out to the Careforce Church in Mount Evelyn to tell its congregation that everything it believed and held dear about God was, sad to say, mistaken and even dangerous. It wouldn't be everyone's idea of a fun night out. Finding himself in similar circumstances, Australian arch-atheist Philip Adams once described himself as "a lion thrown into a den of Daniels".
And the scene did appear set for a mauling: the modern community hall-style building can hold 1000 and the debate had sold out within 20 minutes of tickets going on sale.
But there was no blood spilt. The Careforce house band belted out a few numbers, including John Lennon's Imagine ("Imagine there's no heaven, and no religion too …"), and then for nearly 90 minutes a mostly Christian audience listened intently while Christianity and atheism went 10 heartfelt rounds on stage. There was gracious applause at the end.
This slightly odd event is part of much wider phenomenon: the emergence of newly energised atheism centred around Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion. An unapologetic and even contemptuous attack on faith, the book has caused a storm in the US where it has been camped on the The New York Times bestseller list for five months.
Dawkins' is just one of at least half a dozen popular books preaching an anti-religious message that have appeared in the past year or so. There are more to come, too. Connoisseurs of the heretical will be salivating at the prospect of Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, which is due in May.
This swelling of atheist literature is a reaction to a worldwide rise in fundamentalist religion. But in kicking back at extremism, the bestselling atheists don't discriminate between mainstream faith and the loony fringe. It's religion itself they object to.
Dawkins hopes to eradicate faith entirely. This immodest project has put the high-profile English biologist at the vanguard of what's being called — inevitably — "evangelistic atheism".
Dawkins has been on the cover of Time magazine. He even appeared on TV show South Park, where he was, as he himself grumblingly described it, "portrayed as a cartoon character buggering a bald transvestite".
Popular atheism is not new — Bertrand Russell's classic Why I Am An Atheist was written half a century ago — but the emphasis on mass conversion to common sense might be.
The "Beyond Belief" forum, at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California late last year resembled, The New York Times reported, "the founding convention for a political party built on a single plank: in a world dangerously charged with ideology, science needs to take on an evangelical role, vying with religion as teller of the greatest story ever told."
It's also unrepentantly trenchant, eschewing the delicacy conventionally observed in religious discussion. "I'm utterly fed up with the respect that we — all of us, including the secular among us — are brainwashed into bestowing on religion," Dawkins has said. And so say an increasing number of thinkers for whom the fundamental absurdity of all religious belief has become non-negotiable. In a swingeing philippic against Islamic fundamentalism published in the Observer last year, Martin Amis wrote: "Today, in the West, there are no good excuses for religious belief — unless we think that ignorance, reaction and sentimentality are good excuses."
If this seems unnecessarily trenchant, says English philosopher A. C. Grayling, who has contributed his own irreligious tract, Against All Gods (2007), to the book shops, remember that religion started it. "Politeness and restraint have been banished by the confrontational face that faith now turns to the modern world," Grayling writes. "In the face of the growing volume and assertiveness of different religious bodies asking for preferential treatment, secular opinion has hardened."
There were no traces of this rancorous mood at the debate in Mount Evelyn. Careforce senior pastor Dr Allan Meyer warmly congratulated Dr Perkins on having the courage to bring his bad news to the largest Church of Christ congregation in the country. In turn, Dr Perkins apologised in advance for any offence his views might cause. Proceeds from ticket sales went to the Royal Children's Hospital Good Friday appeal.
The debate was an away fixture for the atheists. But then, it's hard to imagine what an atheist home game would look like, since a gathering of Australian atheists wouldn't fill the MCG's southern stand. In the 2001 census, barely one Australian in 2000 identified as atheist, though nearly 15 per cent claimed to have "no religion".
ATHEISM seems to suffer from an odd Australian ambivalence about religion. In her book God Under Howard: The Rise of the Religious Right in Australian Politics, Marion Maddox argues that in Australia's "exceptionally secular culture" religion is still welcome, "but mainly as something we approve of for others, rather than participate in ourselves".
It may be true that fewer Australians attend church than ever, says Dr Carole Cusack, chairwoman of the department of studies in religion at the University of Sydney, but Australians still view being religious positively. "If somebody says they're religious, it means they have principles and morals."
The reverse seems to apply to atheists. "I think if you just say 'I'm an atheist'," says Dr Cusack, "people assume that you despise religion. People somehow think atheism is linked to being derisory."
Or perhaps to being humourless. Some people with no time for God seem to prefer more mischievous alternatives than plain old atheism can offer. In the last census, the number of professed atheists was dwarfed by the more than 70,000 Australians who described their religion as "Jedi", a la Star Wars. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a parody religion created by American Bobby Henderson, has become a huge hit on the web in just a couple of years, and now offers its own gospel, nifty T-shirts and mock-commandments, the eight "I'd Really Rather You Didn'ts".
Nearly 60,000 copies of Dawkins' book have sold in Australia, but it's hard to say whether it's producing a generation of atheist converts. It does seem to have galvanised existing atheists somewhat. Dawkins can take some credit for the Melbourne Atheist Meet-up Group, which was set up in June last year and now has some 60 members. One of its founders, Andrew Rawlings, an atheist activist, says The God Delusion was "very influential" in the formation of the group.
On Australia Day this year, 10 members of the group established an "atheist presence" outside a Catch the Fire Ministries prayer rally at Festival Hall.
There was a small scuffle when one rally participant tried to knock a copy of The God Delusion out of an atheist's hands, but no one was hurt. Probably no one was converted, either. Most of the Christians, says Rawlings, seemed not so much angered by the atheists as concerned for their souls.
Spreading the word against God has never been a priority for Australia's more established atheist groups. The Atheist Foundation of Australia, which provided Dr John Perkins for the Careforce Church debate, has been in existence for 37 years. Its most important functions, says its president, David Nicholls, are to promote secularism, and to argue that the indoctrination of children with irrational religious ideas is dangerous, and that indoctrinating children into a belief in eternal damnation is actually a form of abuse.
Still, Nicholls has high hopes for the new atheism. "Anyone who reads Sam Harris' The End of Faith and doesn't start questioning their faith really has not got a hold on reality," he says.
Melbourne philosopher Tamas Pataki is soon to add another book to the growing pile of popular atheistic literature. His Against Religion is due out next month, but he has no interest, he says, in being part of "some movement to defeat or repel religion". He too sees the boom in atheist thought as a reaction to the rise of fundamentalism. "But I think what intellectuals find more offensive than Islamic fundamentalism is probably what's happening in George Bush's America, and the influence of the Christian right."
The particular stridency of the new atheism in America probably reflects a stronger sense of embattlement among scientists there — Dawkins' book speaks directly to controversies over stem cell research and teaching creationism in schools — and also to the greater role religion plays in public life.
David Nicholls admits that religion doesn't have nearly the cultural power here as it does in the US. "But, having said that, we now have many parliamentarians expressing religious views in an attempt to be either truthful to themselves or to catch the religious vote which they think is out there. I think it's a very dangerous path that we're treading. A democratic society shouldn't take the risk."
IN AUSTRALIA, the differences between the faithful and non-believers has mostly taken the form of this proxy war over secularism — though, of course, it's not only atheists who consider the intrusion of religion into politics a public nuisance. The main reason atheists turned out at Festival Hall on Australia Day was the fact that the Prime Minister had sent a formal message to the prayer rally, something they strongly objected to.
But the new atheism is about more than defending secular political arrangements: it's about sweeping away all religion with the firm broom of reason, and doing it fast. "Global religions are global tribes," argues John Perkins. "People pretend that there's not religious conflict … There's too many people out there who have access to very powerful weapons whose beliefs are inconsistent with the beliefs of other people with equally powerful weapons."
What atheism believes it offers is the only universal alternative to dangerous unreason. "There seems to be a kind of darkening of the world in many ways," Pataki says. "We're becoming more politically conservative and morally regressive, and at periods like that in the history of civilisation, religion and superstition always come to the fore."
Atheists who see scientific standards of evidence as utterly incompatible with religion look with dismay at the rise not just of fundamentalism, but religion generally: to them, it's as if a long-eradicated disease had returned to afflict the human mind anew. When hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans last year, Sam Harris says, a survey found that 80 per cent of survivors said the events had only strengthened their faith in God.
Harris is astonished by this. Yet maybe what this shows is that a hurricane, like everything else in creation, is a religious Rorschach ink blot: whether or not we divine the hand of God in what we see says more about us than what we're looking at.
Atheists can't leave it at that relativist impasse, though. "The question of truth is important here," Pataki argues. "Is religion true? I think it's not. I think religion is in discord with common sense. Not so much with science but with common sense."
But perhaps a confident, evangelising atheism based on reason just doesn't seem reasonable to many people now. "The naive atheist seems to believe that a sophisticated seminar in godlessness is all that is required to eliminate religion, showing a grateful people that they can be liberated from an oppressive and debilitating illusion," writes Alister McGrath in his book, The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World. "What atheists don't get is that people actually like their faith, and find it helpful in structuring their lives, and actually believe it's true." Western culture, he says, has "long since recognised the limitations of reason".
The stats suggest he might be on to something. The Australian 2001 census showed that mainstream Christian denominations were shrinking; but so was the "no religion" category. Both sides represented at Careforce, atheists and church-goers, are shrinking categories, both losing support to what scholars of religion see as a shift towards a vague, non-committal openness to spirituality.
In this context, atheism's insistence on judging religion by scientific truth alone can seem like an arbitrary definition of terms. From there it's only a short step to indicting atheism for intolerance. Dawkins' "scientistic materialism", concluded this newspaper's review of The God Delusion, is just a "dogmatic form of fundamentalist faith".
It's an old charge, and one that atheists refute outright. But even some secularists wonder what's wrong with the old live and let live idea: lock up the dangerous loony fringe and let everyone else just rub along together.
In The God Delusion, Dawkins argues that heinous acts of religious terrorism should be blamed on "religion itself, not religious extremism — as though that were some kind of terrible perversion of real, decent religion".
Dawkins "can scarcely bring himself to concede that a single human benefit has flowed from religious faith," wrote Marxist critic Terry Eagleton in The London Review of Books. "The countless millions who have devoted their lives selflessly to the service of others in the name of Christ or Buddha or Allah are wiped from human history — and this by a self-appointed crusader against bigotry."
For Sam Harris, the challenge to religion depends on what he calls intellectual honesty. "Either the Bible is just an ordinary book, written by mortals, or it isn't," Harris writes in A Letter to a Christian Nation. "Either Christ was divine, or he was not … If the basic tenets of Christianity are true, then there are some very grim surprises in store for non-believers like myself."
Grim indeed. The Pope recently reminded Catholics that unrepentant sinners can still expect eternal damnation. Hell "really exists and is eternal", he told parishioners in Rome, "even if nobody much talks about it any more".
Many of the people who contact the Atheist Foundation are struggling with the psychological residue of religious upbringings, Nicholls says. Especially in the winter months, "we get many people who can't get over the fear of hell, can't escape it. Even though they're atheists."
And that's the main problem for atheist evangelisers: just because something isn't true doesn't mean it's not real.
This letter was in The Age:
In this day and age, why is religion being given tax exemption? Charities I agree with, but why religion? Obviously I should establish the church of atheism and claim tax exemption for the spreading of atheism.
A definition of religion is something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience or a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects.
Please explain why my taxes allow religions to receive an advantage over other businesses? Isn't it time to remove this archaic benefit to religion? Which century are we living in?
This letter was in The Age:
JOHN Howard's idea of a "God Squad" infiltrating schools with his particular ideology has come unstuck before it has even started (The Age, 21/2). Its introduction was an ideologically driven mistake and a wise Kevin Rudd would end it as soon as is possible. Impressionable young minds are not in need of subtle indoctrination with a particular narrow belief system.
Education that goes beyond factual knowledge is a matter for priests and shamans, not secular governments.David Nicholls, president,
This letter was in the Sunday Age newspaper on 23 March 2008 – thank goodness!
Dr Andrew Singleton states that atheism is not capable of offering an alternative to religion.
In one sense, he is correct. Atheism is not another religion and therefore cannot offer a similar make-believe world. However, it does lead to a reality where individuals make their own unprejudiced choices and where pluralism is cherished. It produces people unafraid of supernatural repercussions and not dependent on false and unattainable hopes. Further, atheism provides for society none of the myriad conflicting ideas and irrational beliefs. Some of these skew the education system, disenfranchise women, lesbians, gays and those in need of voluntary euthanasia.
It is not atheism that entertains creationism in the classroom, blocks stem cell research, prevents comprehensive sex education or threatens abortion rights. Religion promotes the wish for more than is available. Atheism pursues the path that what is obtainable is far greater than any religion can offer.DAVID NICHOLLS, president,
This article was published in The Age newspaper:
THE Atheist Foundation of Australia has lodged complaints of religious discrimination in Melbourne and Hobart after being refused permission to put atheist advertising on buses.- Discrimination claim
The AFA raised $16,000 from donations to put signs on buses around the country saying "Atheism — celebrate reason". This followed a London campaign, backed by anti-religion campaigner Richard Dawkins, with signs on buses reading, "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life".
But APN Outdoor, which handles bus advertising in all metropolitan cities except Hobart and Darwin, declined the advertising and refused to give any reason, AFA president David Nicholls said yesterday. Nor would Metro Tasmania in Hobart accept the ads, he said. A complaint was lodged with the Anti-Discrimination Commission of Tasmania late last year. In Melbourne, AFA member John Perkins emailed a complaint to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission on Tuesday.
"Legally atheism counts as a religion, though we say we're not one," Dr Perkins said.
Mr Nicholls said it was an issue of freedom of expression.
APN's general manager of marketing, Paul McBeth, said public buses were owned by state governments, who stipulated in agreements with APN that any advertisement that might offend the community was not permitted on public buses.BARNEY ZWARTZ
For too long lesbian, gay, transgender and HIV/AIDS members of our communities have been oppressed by governments of all persuasions because of their religious affiliations and because of the influence and finances the religious right bring to bear on them.
Many years ago, members of such groups in the USA formed organisations to counter the homophobia from the religious right (or wrong!!) and the earliest one we have encountered to date appears to be about 1978. They produced a journal called GALA Review which seems to have appeared from 1978 to 1988 or thereabouts.We reproduce here a leaflet we found from that organisation:
Separation of church and state becomes endangered wh tax-exempt churches circulate initiatives and referendum petitions to congregations or endorse candidates, when politicians or lobby groups use churches and their congregations to pressure public officials for or against various measures. Churches represent large, organized bodies of people, easy contact, and quite tempting to politicians.
We cannot ignore the fact that the evangelical religionists are attempting to transform gay men and women into "born-again EX-homosexuals". We do not believe a religious experience can change a person's sexual orientation. It CAN destroy a person by confusing him or her about his or her sexual orientation. We must go on the offensive against persons and outfits which claim to "save" homosexuals. GALA is using this means to reach brothers and sisters who are victims of organized religion.
A good, solid look at the history of Christianity and its Hebrew origins should remove any illusions from the mind of any gay person about the friendliness of either Christianity or Judaism to homosexuality. The unfortunate aspect is that many gay men and women find it very difficult, indeed, painful, to take this honest look. For the most part, they have been immersed in the dogma and teachings of some organized religion from earliest childhood. To question these dogmas, much less renounce them, seems tantamount to renouncing parents, society, even truth itself. But let us look at the record:
History attests that the Church has been the foremost persecutor of homosexuals for the past two thousand years. There is hardly a force on earth which has committed more injustice and violence to homosexuals than the ranks of organized religion frequently hand and hand with the State, but quite capable of acting independently. During the dark ages, homosexual offenders were punished by excommunication, denial of last rites, torture, mutilation, death by burning, and burial in unsanctified ground. The very term "faggot" refers to the bundles of sticks over which known and suspected homosexuals were burned alive by Church authorities.
Why should any intelligent and decent person choose to be identified with such abominations? And how is it possible that homosexuals who have been the object of persecution under Christianity for 2,000 years now seek accomodation with that institution? It's nice to speak of Christian tolerance except that it is practically non-existent. And can we realistically expect the Churches to announce they have been wrong all along7 For the Church to error would be to undermine the syndrome of authority by which it holds millions of followers. Why must human beings, and particularly gay people continue to rely for spiritual guidance and philosophy of life upon religious ideas and institutions which have so thoroughly demonstrated their bankruptcy?
Homosexuals were not persecuted over the centuries because of the revulsion good, decent, healthy people felt for loathsome and unnatural deeds. We were persecuted because of arbitrary theological conceptions of morality peculiar to Judeo-Christianity.Gay Atheists believe that each individual must discover for himself or herself a moral for their own life. Formal religions grew up as a result of fear of the unknown and a natural inclination to leave those hard, unanswered questions of life to the experts, the authorities. What we overlook is the fact that the only thing that makes them authorities is their assertion that they are such: most of the rest of us arc honest enough to admit our ignorance about the unknown.
GALA Review is the monthly publication of the Gay Atheist League of America and is mailed free to all members. It features articles and news items relating to religion and homosexuality, interviews, book and film reviews, discussions, fiction and letters to the editor It is the only regularly published periodical of its kind in the literary field
I came across this 1994 press release while researching further atheist sites relating to gay, lesbian, transgender and HIV/AIDS communities (GLTH), and as I am trying to list as many atheist organisations as possible, this is next on the list!:
P O Box 66711
PRESS RELEASE PRESS RELEASE
AMERICAN GAY AND LESBIAN ATHEISTS, INC.
Houston, TX -- As the political season reaches "high gear," the national office of American Gay and Lesbian Atheist is busily watching the degree to which churches and religious organizations in the Houston area are involving themselves in partisan politics. American Gay Atheists, Inc. is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) educational foundation which does not violate the tenets of the IRS codes which prohibit direct involvement in partisan politics by non-profit groups.
American Gay and Lesbian Atheists has been instrumental in having the Dallas office of the Internal Revenue Service maintain an open file (File 4940 Dal) on Houston area churches and religious groups which involve themselves in the political process, such as endorsing candidates for public office. During the 1993 elections, AGLA documented numerous cases of direct political involvement by Houston churches, particularly in the races of Sheila Jackson Lee, who was backed heavily by numerous Black ministerial alliances. In some cases, the political involvement of churches was so blatant that some churches placed campaign signs on their properties.
"Such political involvement by churches is harmful to basic freedoms and civil rights of many, particularly gays and lesbians," says Don Sanders, national director. "The strongest opposition to equality of rights for gays and lesbians comes from the churches and the Christian scriptures. Many ministers bastardize the non-profit status accorded them under the rules of the Internal Revenue Service by directly instructing their congregations for whom to vote and how to vote on key issues, such as abortion rights, women's rights, and rights for gays and lesbians." Sanders points out that efforts to stop churches from influencing politics have proven ineffective. "However," Sanders says, "if the politically-meddling churches suddenly were threatened with loss of their privileged tax status accorded them under the directives of the Internal Revenue Service, much direct partisan political involvement on the part of churches would cease."
During this political season, AGLA is carefully monitoring the antics of the so-called Religious Right and the support of their candidates by churches. "If the churches will not abide by the law which prohibits them from endorsing candidates, instructing their congregants for whom to vote, or funding political campaigns, we hope that our efforts to encourage the IRS to look into these matters by giving them documentation on this obvious abuse and illegal activity will help prove to the churches, once and for all, they should get out of the political game, or lose their tax exemption," says Sanders.
For further comments or questions, contact Don Sanders. American Gay and Lesbian Atheists promotes Thomas Jefferson's constitutional premise of separation between state and church, and works to protect and promote the civil and human rights of persons who are Atheists and gay.*********************************************************************** * * *
American Atheists website: http://www.atheists.org * * PO Box 140195 FTP: ftp://ftp.atheists.org * * Austin, TX 78714-0195 * * Voice: (512) 458-1244 Dial-THE-ATHEIST: * * FAX: (512) 467-9525 (512) 458-5731 * * * * Atheist Viewpoint TV: email@example.com * * Info on American Atheists: firstname.lastname@example.org, * * & American Atheist Press include your name and mailing address * * AANEWS -Free subscription: email@example.com * * and put "info aanews" in message body ** * *
This text may be freely downloaded, reprinted, and/other * * otherwise redistributed, provided appropriate point of * * origin credit is given to American Atheists.* * * ***********************************************************************E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank
This article was found in the Utah Humanists web pages and dated June 2006.
It was a privilege to hear Ellen Johnson, president of the American Atheists for the last ten years. Working tirelessly, she is furthering two goals of the American Atheists: 1] Keeping state and church separate; 2] Protecting the civil rights of atheists and other "freethinking" groups. With visiting freethinkers attending Johnson's presentation, it was a good time for humanists to mingle and build solidarity for common objectives and issues.
Because Johnson speaks to many different groups and organizations, she has noticed that there are misperceptions and misinformation about the founder of American Atheists, Madalyn Murray O'Hair. In Johnson's observation, the older population has negative thoughts about O'Hair, many from the media, while younger people know little or nothing about her.
Born in 1919, O'Hair came from a poor union family in Pennsylvania, where her father owned a glass manufacturing company that hired only union workers. Baptized into the Presbyterian Church and raised by church-going parents, O'Hair claimed that she became an atheist after reading the complete Bible in her early teen years.
Earning a law degree in 1952, O'Hair, among other activities, served both in World War II and for the Foreign Service.
Many people are aware that O'Hair in 1963 won in the Supreme Court decision of Murray vs. Curlett where school prayers across the U.S. were ended in the public education system. Describing herself in 1963 as "the most hated woman in America," it was also later in 1963 that she founded American Atheists, working steadfastly and courageously as its leader for 32 years from 1964 to 1995 when Johnson then took over.
Undeterred by the backlash that she received for Murray vs. Curlett, like death threats and the victim of vandalism long after the 1963 decision, O'Hair continued to work toward the separation of church and state legal battles as the country's atheist-in-chief.
Too numerous to detail completely, Johnson shared a list of some of O'Hair's accomplishments.
O'Hair founded the first American Atheist Library & Archives to collect and preserve Atheist history and publications.
She founded the "American Atheist Radio Series" in 1980 as the first and only regularly scheduled Atheist broadcasts ever to be made in the United States and broadcast in 123 stations for a dozen years.
She founded the "American Atheist Forum" in 1980, also the first and only regularly scheduled television broadcast ever to be produced and directed by Atheists. It was on the air for about sixteen years and aired on 130 major cities reaching an estimated 9.3 million homes.
She founded the first local-level network of Atheist chapters.
She worked with an early chapter director, prominent businessman Lloyd Thoren, now deceased, so that he could found the first American Atheist Museum in the United States, located in Indiana. Later, O'Hair worked with him to establish the first Dial-An-Atheist service.
She founded the United World Atheists, which brought together Atheist groups throughout the world.
She founded the American Atheist Press, which publishes Atheist books. In 1987 it obtained press credentials for covering both the Democratic and the Republican National Conventions.
She founded the American Atheist magazine, the first open Atheist journal.
She founded the "American Atheist International Radio Forum" which was heard on 2,000 radio stations worldwide.
She originated the American Atheists annual convention.
She was the first person to propose that the United States and all the governments of the world recognize as celebration days the four days of natural events which affect all the world: the Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes and the Winter and Summer Solstices
O'Hair and Jon Murray worked with Arnold Via of Virginia, to create the first Atheist cemetery in the United States.
They worked with a number of leaders in the Gay movement to assist them to set up the first Gay Atheist League of America, and later, a separate national American Gay Atheists organization.
O'Hair was able to obtain a ruling from the Veterans' Administration to add to the grave markers in veteran's cemeteries the symbol of American Atheism.
The Murray-O'Hairs and American Atheists organized and carried out the first Atheist picketing of any pope in the western hemisphere, in Chicago, Illinois, in 1979.
O'Hair was arrested and jailed in November 1977 for objecting to prayers at a city council meeting, and Robin Murray-O'Hair was jailed in December 1988, rather than take an oath "so help me God" in order to serve as a Juror.
Another notable case in 1969, O'Hair vs. Pain, because of the publicity it aroused, caused the United States government to abandon plans to carry religious programming into space in U.S. NASA operations.
In 1977 the nation-rocking case to remove "In God We Trust" from our currency and coins was filed by American Atheists titled O'Hair vs. Blumenthal. In ruling against the case, U.S. District Judge Jack Roberts agreed with a federal appeals court, which said that the use of the motto on coins "has nothing to do with the establishment of religion." The United States Supreme Court refused to review the case on appeal.
In another case, O'Hair vs. Wojtila, O'Hair, Jon and American Atheists challenged the right of Pope John Paul II to give a full Roman Catholic mass on the Washington Mall in the District of Columbia in 1979.
Murray vs. Goldstein attempted to stop the tax exemptions of church businesses.
O'Hair vs. Briscoe attempted to remove a crèche from the rotunda of the Texas capitol building.
O'Hair vs. Hill fought the exclusion of Atheists from public office.
Collins vs. Chandler attempted to stop prayers at high school commencement exercises.
Reed vs. Ingham County was fought over the firing of a policeman in Michigan because he was an Atheist.
O'Hair vs. Nixon (1970) attempted to stop full-scale church services in the White House. Murray vs. 27 radio stations and Society of Separationists, Inc. vs. FCC both concerned the demand for equal time for Atheists under the "Fairness Doctrine."
O'Hair v. Cooke in 1977 challenged the opening prayer at city council meetings in Austin, Texas.
Such objectives like eliminating prayers in public schools and public government meetings, stopping tax exemptions by church businesses, ensuring that public office is open for everyone no matter their beliefs, and promoting equal job security for everyone regardless of their beliefs should interest us all. Johnson concluded by saying that there is no question that Madalyn O'Hair's lifetime of work has laid the foundation for successes today in keeping state and church separate and protecting the civil rights of all freethinkers.--Sarah Smith
It is long past time that GLTH communities in Australia who are atheists started organising to oppose the homophobia of religious right organisations.
So, I am proposing a group called:
Any atheists interested?
This article is from The Age newspaper:
WEEK one, Planetshakers. Week two, the Quakers. Week three, and in the final instalment of my interrogating-reality triptych, I sat through Sunday Mass on the same pew I grew up on at my childhood parish. But this time with my atheist sons. How did they become atheists? That's the way they were born.
Entering the cathedral of misogyny, deception, manipulation, chauvinism, hypocrisy and bigotry, all wrapped up in "If you don't swallow this hook, line and sinker you're going to hell", felt like coming home. I'm not bitter, just being descriptive and honest. Going back was fabulous because it reminded me I'd escaped.
Under the same roof where I'd been baptised, confirmed and brainwashed, my six-year-old asked: "Where's the Pope?" I laughed. Until the 11-year-old said: "Here he comes."
The priest, obviously drawn by the unusual sight of new people, approached us to welcome us to his flock. I shot out my hand. "Hi, I'm Catherine."
All the blood drained from his face. "You're that writer?" "Yes," I replied. I happily introduced my sons, who, in an uncharacteristic display of manners, shook the priest's hand and said, "Nice to meet you." The priest wandered off in a daze. Or was it a trance? Maybe it was religious melancholy.
After surveying the ''good news'' of carnage and damnation on the wall, the 11-year-old asked what a virgin was. I explained. Then he said, "Is there something wrong with sex?" When I was four, one of the girls from a ''good'' family who sat two pews in front of us got pregnant. She was 15. She married on a Saturday afternoon wearing an orange kaftan. She wasn't allowed to wear white because she wasn't ''a bride''. The poor girl was being shamed and made an example for the rest of us.
On the way home from the wedding I remember Dad saying to Mum: "I feel for her father." I remember wanting to jump over the front seat and ram my father's head into the windscreen. In the '70s this building - so groovy it could have been designed by the dad from The Brady Bunch - was Rock Mass Central. The breeding baby boomers had the place packed with little Gerards, Damians and Bernadettes singing along to Sister Janet Mead. The sad little crowd last Sunday was mostly made up of defeated-looking nannas who could whip up a pav at the drop of a crochet hook, plus a handful of Asians.
Mass had the feeling of a miserable couple married for 40 years just going through the motions; passionless, soulless and loveless. Too late to back out now.
The priest said there would be no "sign of peace" because of swine flu and instead of shaking hands we should just nod to each other. I couldn't help drawing a comparison with the Vatican's refusal to endorse the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS in Africa. Who cares if we lose a couple of golliwogs, but we can't have white people getting the sniffles.
Time for Communion, when bread and wine is turned into the actual flesh and blood of Christ by the priest. Because he's special. They call it transubstantiation; I call it bullshit. The congregation lines up and shares in this ''celebration'', as long as you've officially been given the nod via a bizarre bridal ceremony around the age of 10 known as ''first Communion''. As we lined up, I thought about priests refusing gay people Communion, which is hilariously hypocritical when you consider the amount of hanky-panky some priests get up to. And that's just the stuff we know about. There's a list of things that exclude people from receiving Communion, including "not believing in transubstantiation, participating in an abortion, homosexual acts, sexual intercourse outside marriage and deliberately engaging in impure thoughts".
When it was my turn the priest picked up a wafer and said: "The body of Christ." The expected response is "Amen". Instead, I said: "I have three children and have never been married. I've used contraception, had an abortion, use the Lord's name in vain, think transubstantiation is a crock and I'm an atheist. And I'm not sorry."
Actually, I didn't say that. I wanted to, but I felt sorry for the priest. He looked tired and worn out. I thought of Dan Barker, the former evangelical preacher who is now one of America's leading atheists and who is gathering the names of atheist clergymen and women who only stay in their jobs because they don't know how to do anything else. Hell is truth seen too late.>b>Catherine Deveny and Daniel Burt appear in An Evening of Insight and Filth at the Butterfly Club, South Melbourne, until Sunday.
This article is from The Age newspaper:
HERE'S my theory. God has narcissistic personality disorder. Stay with me as I indulge in two of my favourite pastimes: illuminating monotheistic religion's exploitation of the human desire to feel safe, loved and special; and my constant need to question and expose maladaptive behaviour. Let's pathologise!
Here's the deal: tick five in the diagnostic criteria and we have an NPD winner!¦ Feelings of grandiosity and self-importance (I am God); exaggerating accomplishments (I made you and the world) to the point of lying (I exist and there is a heaven); demands to be recognised as superior without commensurate achievements (Worship me and only me because I am great and almighty and I know everything).
Atheist pin-up boy Richard Dawkins describes God as "the most unpleasant character in all fiction. Jealous and proud of it. Petty, vindictive, unforgiving and racist. An ethnic cleanser urging his people on to acts of genocide." Mm, smell that NPD!
It has been suggested that Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Jong-il, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama suffer NPD.
NPDs are often extremely successful in business, politics, entertainment, sport and the clergy. It's believed a highly emotional, chaotic childhood results in a sense of inferiority, which hobbles NPDs' ability to be true to themselves; instead creating a false reality. Which becomes their reality.
They are charismatic, persuasive and intelligent and become skilled actors who can fake any emotion and have the ability to make you glow with their favour. But they are deceitful, ruthless, manipulative users who are unpredictable and emotionally erratic. The emotional transaction is wildly out of whack. They expect the best but give very little. They cannot love and have no empathy. But they are emotionally needy and crave attention so hone their skills to attract love, admiration and attention to fill a hole inside them that will never be filled.
NPDs don't feel they exist without an adoring fan club, so they create their own fantasy world in which they are king. With their manufactured charisma and genuine hauteur, they make others feel special by granting small mercies and bestowing their favour.
Which is how people get sucked into the transaction of worshipping a God despite no rational evidence. Babies die in ditches every day, yet God helps Hollywood stars win trophies. "Ah yes, the Lord works in mysterious ways. He helps me find my car keys occasionally. And because he's so famous, and he noticed me, that makes me special. So I keep believing. Because if I don't, I won't be special.''
My 11-year-old atheist gave me the revelation that God had NPD when he said, "I think we invented God and then God invented us."
It was Galileo who said, ''I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.''
The following article was in the Sunday Age, 11 October 2009:
Tarot cards, aura-cleansing, little green men: it's not only the easily duped and poorly educated who believe in things wild and wacky.
GOD is dead. Or is she? While church attendance is steadily declining and the number of confessed heathens steadily increasing, we're not quite ready to give up the ghost. Instead, for every person abandoning Mass, it seems two more are having their horoscope cast, their aura cleansed or their past lives aligned.
In Australia, the ranks of the non-religious have doubled in the past 25 years, while in the US a recent Gallup Poll found more people than ever believe in ghosts, witches, communicating with the dead, psychic or spiritual healing, and clairvoyance. We may no longer be believers, but boy do we want to believe.
"I think holding a belief can be a state of tension," says Melbourne-based healer Tania Goldsmith. "It does create separation within the mind and within the community - you know, my religion's better than yours, my god's the only god - and that may be one reason why formal religion has less application."
But Goldsmith believes our spiritual needs are greater than ever. "In this culture, we often don't have a connection with the soul and the body and the feelings. So some of that dimension is lost and we suffer in that."
Certainly, while we may have ditched the dogma, the big questions that religion has traditionally answered - Who am I? Why am I here? What does it all mean? - continue to trouble us. And plenty of people these days embark on a sort of spirituality smorgasbord: trying everything, pushing some things to the side of the plate, sometimes going back for seconds, until they find what nourishes them.
Goldsmith's own journey has included a degree in the philosophy of religion, a period of Jungian analysis, training in reiki and five years in the Byron Bay hinterland, where the itinerant population brought her into contact with a range of teachers and gurus. Her practice includes a variety of disciplines but she is reluctant to put a firm label on her current belief system. "My passion is to be able to hold a space of loving presence for people, for my clients, so they can meet that place within themselves and be free within themselves. It can sound really esoteric or hippie to say it's just love and its presence, but the actual realisation of that is the most profound gift of my life."
Goldsmith is convinced our interest in the spiritual is so strong precisely because the world around us is increasingly rational and material.
"That soul essence part of people is integral. It's always reborn with us," she says. "When someone has any sort of life crisis, that becomes incredibly apparent. We can cover it up with our programming, and with material things, but we are paying a price for that in terms of our health and wellbeing."
It is fair to say not many of us feel comfortable talking about our soul essence or putting our faith in mystical healing. But few of us are entirely material and rational. And most of us feel there is something more to us than flesh, bone and organised electrical activity. Professor John Bigelow of Monash University's philosophy department thinks that's only human. "No one has found a way of explaining the scientific story in a way that taps into our emotions," he says. "It has an intellectual thrill, but it doesn't hit you in the heart or the gut. Science is silent on moral and emotional issues. Whereas the religious and spiritual stories have an emotional truth to them."
And as religion proper falls from grace, we naturally seek out something to replace it. "There was some need being filled by religion, and something has to fill the vacuum," Bigelow says. "Eddie McGuire said something on this - that now people aren't going to church, football has filled the gap. That's why footballers have to be role models."
If instead of asking, "What would Jesus do?" we started asking ourselves, "What would Fev do?" we might find ourselves deep in the seventh circle. But there's no doubt people are looking for guidance, often in some pretty peculiar places.
At one extreme is a book such as The Secret, which declares we can control absolutely everything using only the power of our minds.
Other quasi-mystical disciplines can be more benign. "There are lots of nice people, intelligent people, who believe in astrology, for instance," Bigelow says. "And one of the things I think astrology, tarot readings and so on provide is a network of symbols that have deep associations in the mind. They're something to think with. If someone does a tarot reading, you end up having a conversation you would never have had if you were having a conversation about science."
Even the great philosopher of science Karl Popper believed that in order to have hypotheses to test, you have to generate conjecture from the imagination. "The ideas don't have to be rational, as long as you're rational in the way you test them," Bigelow says.
Then there are the practices that oblige us to believe in something preposterous, whether that's the Rosicrucians (alchemy, clairvoyance) or the Scientologists (aliens). But even there, powerful sociological and anthropological forces are at play.
"Historically, tribes scarify their members so they can't leave and join another group," Bigelow says. "One thing cults and religions can do is provide rituals that mark you out as a member of one group, and excluded from another group. If those rituals consisted solely of rational conclusions drawn from the evidence available, where's the exclusivity in that? Then all the religions would be the same.
''The whole point is to pick some irrational idea. At random. And declare: 'We are the people who believe this!' The irrationality of it is functionally important. The whole point is to make it hard to believe."
We all want to be special and part of something and god knows there are plenty of opportunities for people to put their faith in the ludicrous, whether that's Holocaust deniers, UFOlogists, or past-lifers. Nor is believing in the unbelievable just something indulged by horoscope-addicted teenage girls. Attend any event by psychics such as John Edward and you'll see a hall full of women. But ask about UFOs, or Big Foot, or historical revisionism, or conspiracy theories, and men are much more likely to believe.
And while we may like to smugly hold to the notion that only the ill-educated and gullible fall for magic and hocus-pocus, there's much evidence that the reverse is true. No one could accuse the followers of Scientology of being deficient in IQ, for instance, whatever else you might think of their beliefs. US studies show that New Age concepts, especially, are dearly held by those with higher intelligence, higher socioeconomic status and higher educational levels; while psychologist David Wulff found that certain high-achieving personality types are more inclined to believe in mystical experiences (typically those who score high on personality variables such as complexity, openness to new experience, breadth of interests, innovation, tolerance of ambiguity, and creativity).
US science historian and professional sceptic Michael Shermer is particularly interested in why smart people believe the unbelievable (he has written a book on the subject, Why People Believe Weird Things). In a comprehensive review of the literature, he collated a fascinating precis of the psychology of belief, and came to one basic conclusion: "Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons. Where evidence is lacking, the mind fills in the gaps, and smart minds are better at gap-filling."
But perhaps the most interesting - and pertinent - study Shermer quotes is by anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski. Studying island tribes off the coast of New Guinea, Malinowski discovered that the further out to sea they went to fish, the more they developed superstitious rituals. The safer their environment, the less they relied on magic. The more dangerous, chaotic and unpredictable the environment, the more the tribesmen invoked complicated rituals to keep bad luck at bay.
In short: "We find magic where the element of danger is conspicuous."
And that, as much as anything, explains why so many otherwise intelligent, rational people choose to get their horoscopes cast, or consult regularly with their clairvoyants. In a chaotic world, we feel we need all the help we can get.
But the other intriguing trend, especially among the educated middle class, is the tendency to put our faith in things we don't actually believe in. We have our lucky footy scarves and pre-match rituals, even though we know, rationally, it has absolutely no impact on the outcome of the game. We compulsively read our horoscopes in cheap magazines and then describe ourselves accordingly ("I'm a typical Sag"), while simultaneously accepting that the relation of the planets to the sun on the day we were born can have no actual bearing on our personality. And we assess potential new homes or design our renovations around feng shui principles we not only don't believe in, we don't really understand - much to the ire of the people whose business it is to actually design houses and renovations.
"If you actually believe in feng shui, then by all means go to a feng shui master and have your house designed that way," says architect Polly Bastow. "But personally I think you're better off trusting a strong sense of design and years of experience to give you a great house that responds to your brief, rather than some vague concepts that may or may not have relevance. If a client wants feng shui feedback, they've come to the wrong person."
Maddeningly, that's precisely what they regularly come to Bastow for anyway. And clients' feng shui concerns invariably focus on just the one thing: that your front door shouldn't face your back door. "It gets a little bit more abstract when they talk about the money running out the door. When it comes to renovations, the money is always going to run out the door. But if you keep the feng shui out of it, it's going to leave you with some wonderful pieces of design." When she's taking it personally, Bastow sees the feng shui fixation as evidence of a lack of faith in her skills and expertise. The cynical part of her sees it as a fad clients like to trot out at dinner parties. More generously, she understands undertaking a major building project is daunting, and people are looking for all the reassurance they can get. "It's just an easy thing to say, an easy concept to understand," she says. "When a project seems too big, too hard to comprehend, it's one of those things they can grasp."
Terry Kelly, president of the Victorian Skeptics Association, says "it seems to be part of the human condition that if it suits us to believe something that doesn't make sense, we will''. Kelly stresses that the association is not anti-religion (indeed, several of its members are religious, including an Anglican minister). But various members have given a lot of thought to why so many people believe so much that is either patently nonsensical or impossible to prove.
"Astrology's the classic example of what we think is nonsense. But a lot of really intelligent people I know believe it," Kelly says. "That's partly because it's often portrayed in a really generalist way, so it can mean all kinds of things. People put their own meaning on to it. And I think this is also part of the human condition. We are pattern-makers. We try and establish generalised rules and patterns from observable evidence to help us make sense of the world, but we also tend to make patterns even when they're not there."
Kelly also thinks sometimes the smartest people are the most gullible, because they figure if they can't understand something rationally, then it must be magic. "You get this cognitive dissonance, where people can be rational in one sense, and irrational in another," he says. People like Vasilyki Eliades, perhaps, who for 22 years worked as a corporate lawyer while maintaining a not-so-secret double life as a serial attendee of what she calls "woo-woo workshops".
"And for most of my life I've been worried that my friends, who are mostly professional, rational people, would think I was a flake. Until one of them said to me, 'You know what, Vas? Everyone knows. We all know you're a complete flake.' That was such a bloody relief." Eventually, Eliades ended up doing tarot readings for her managing director and other senior executives. Then a redundancy gave her the chance to pursue the woo-woo full time. For the past two years she has combined pro bono and voluntary work with a fully fledged spiritual journey, something she regards with a combination of self-deprecation and seriousness.
"Let's see. I've done dream groups. My hairy women's workshops. Yoga and meditation, which are pretty much standard now days. All sorts of primal therapy. Gestalt. Endless psychologists. Counsellors - they're part of my pit stop. You get a wax, you go to your counsellor, you get your eyebrows done.
"I've done therapy with drawing and crayons. Voice dialogue. Have you done voice dialogue? Marvellous. Totally kooky. But marvellous. I studied reiki and became a reiki master. Which was a much prouder moment than becoming a lawyer. Crystals. Past life integration. Entity clearings. You name it. And my own jury is still out on some of that stuff. But all of these things always only ever lead to greater self-awareness. To my mind, that is the spiritual Holy Grail."
The other important thing Eliades' woo-woo workshops grant her is a sense of belonging. "Organised religions are based on separateness. And a lot of these newer things are inclusive. Which gives me a spiritual home, I guess, a feeling like I'm not alone on the planet. ''It also gives me a place, particularly the women's workshops that I've done, to just sit with women and really feel connected to the feminine, which in a corporate environment you rarely do."
But it's not just about bonding with the girls. Eliades really does believe in some kind of spiritual dimension. "My belief in an Other doesn't guarantee me any kind of redemption," she stresses. "And I do believe this life is all there is. And the way one evolves in this space is what one takes with one - energetically - when one goes. But I do believe the essence of people remains."
So we do have souls? "Oh yes. We each have an essence that is our greater connectedness." In that, Eliades is typical of many 21st-century "believers", combining an unshakeable belief in something more than this mortal coil with what she describes as "a very healthy inner cynic". "In the moment, while I am in it, I feel quite connected to whatever's transpiring." Afterwards, she's not always so sure. "A lot of it doesn't fit comfortably into my belief system," she says. "But I also think this planet and this universe are way weirder than any of us are actually willing to admit."
Sending a strong message that atheism is gaining momentum as a political issue in Australia, thousands of non-believers will gather in Melbourne next March for a major international convention: The Rise of Atheism. The Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre has been booked for the event which is set to become the largest gathering of non-theists in Australia’s history.
President of the Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA), David Nicholls, says that inquiries about the convention have exceeded all expectations and interest continues to grow as organisers confirm some of the leading names of the ‘New Atheism’ movement as speakers.
Leading the lineup is author of The God Delusion, British evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, along with American biologist, Professor P. Z. Myers, host of the world’s top-ranked science blog, Pharyngula. Also confirmed is Dan Barker, a former evangelical pastor. Barker, author of Losing Faith in Faith, now heads America’s Freedom from Religion Foundation and hosts America’s first atheist radio program, Freethought Radio on Air America.
Australian speakers include; philosopher and professor of bioethics, Peter Singer, broadcaster Phillip Adams, and Age columnist, Catherine Deveny. More information on the convention is available at: http://www.atheistconvention.org.au
The enormous contemporary interest in atheism as a social and political movement has been fueled by global religious conflicts and the increasing politicisation and influence of the ‘religious right’. A number of best-selling books on the subject, including Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Sam Harris’ The End of Faith, and Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, have inspired thousands to join non-theist organisations and online atheist communities.
AFA president, David Nicholls says, “Non-religious Australians are fed-up with an unrepresentative Christian minority influencing important civil rights issues like abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research and gay marriage – all issues which the majority of Australians support. They’re also concerned about the amount of tax-payers’ money being pumped into religious schools at the expense of the public education system.”
“People contact us at the Atheist Foundation every day, saying, “What can we do to stop this?” says Nicholls.
Surveys show that only 7.5% of Australians attend church regularly. While the official Census figures show Australia’s ‘non-religious’ make up 20% of the population, several major international studies reveal that this figure is vastly underestimated. Nicholls estimates that non-believers in Australia are probably closer to 50%.
The Rise of Atheism Convention will bring together atheists from around the country, and across the world. “Make no mistake,” says Nicholls, “this is not just going to be a talk-fest. The incredible level of interest should be a huge wake-up call to politicians and Christian lobbyists, alike, that non-religious Australians are preparing to stand-up and be counted. Atheism is on the rise, and the non-religious will no longer sit quietly on the sidelines while good policies are derailed by religious dogma and prejudice.”
Nationally, only 7.5% of Australians attend a place of worship weekly. Source: Zuckerman, Phil (2005), Atheism: Contemporary Rates and Patterns, Cambridge University Press
A survey by Germany’s Religion Monitor (2008) found that 31% of Australians do not believe in God, a divine power or life after death, while a further 26% were uncertain to varying degrees. Source: Religion Monitor (2008), ‘Australia: High level of religious identity paired with low level of Belief’, Bertelsmann Stiftung Foundation, Sydney/Gütersloh (Germany)Contact:
Article in The Age:
An Irish atheist group has begun a campaign to have a controversial new blasphemy law repealed by publishing 25 quotations it claims are blasphemous on its website.
The new law that came into force on New Year's Day, making blasphemy a crime that can result in a fine of up to 25,000 euros ($A40,128), is "both silly and dangerous", according to Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland.
The group, which promotes a "rational, ethical, secular Ireland", has published quotations from the words of Jesus, Mohammed, Pope Benedict XVI, US guitarist Frank Zappa, Indian-British novelist Salman Rushdie, British comedy troupe Monty Python, former Northern Ireland first minister Ian Paisley and Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern.
Ahern, who introduced the amending law earlier this year to reform a 1961 defamation law, said he would have preferred to have abolished it but he could not do so for constitutional reasons.
Ireland's 1937 constitution says the "publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law".
The provision cannot be changed without a referendum.
Nugent said the law was silly "because medieval religious laws have no place in a modern secular republic, where the criminal law should protect people and not ideas.
"We believe in the golden rule: that we have a right to be treated justly, and that we have a responsibility to treat other people justly. Blasphemy laws are unjust: they silence people in order to protect ideas."
Nugent said that in a civilised society, people have a right to express and hear ideas about religion even if other people find those ideas to be outrageous.
The group wants legislators to remove references to God from the constitution, including the clauses that prevent atheists from being appointed as president or as a judge without swearing a religious oath asking God to direct them in their work.
Ahern told parliament in May that he hoped his explanation that he was bound by the constitution "will help to put at rest the minds of all those fantasy conspiracy theorists that have detected dark machinations and bogey men behind this proposal and have attributed to myself the most debased motives".
Article in The Age:
The Global Atheist Convention will feature the world's best-known atheist, Richard Dawkins. Photo: Nick Moir
AN ATHEIST convention in Melbourne has sold out six weeks before it opens despite no aid from any level of government, organisers said yesterday.
Convention organiser and Atheist Foundation of Australia president David Nicholls said the state government had ''stabbed the people of Victoria in the back'' by not helping, forcing organisers to hire smaller venues.
The Global Atheist Convention, at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre on March 12-14, features a stellar line-up of presenters, including the world's best-known atheist, Richard Dawkins.
''We think this is a turning point for secularism in Australia, and it will be looked at by the rest of the world,'' Mr Nicholls said. ''We will see it happening more through the free planet, and our aim is to make the whole planet free.''
He said more than 2500 tickets had been sold, about half to Victorians and the rest to interstate and international visitors.
But he said that only the last day, with Richard Dawkins, would be in the 2500-seat auditorium. Because organisers ''could not afford to gamble'', they had hired smaller auditoriums for the first two days.
''We were very annoyed that all three tiers of government refused to assist us,'' Mr Nicholls said.
He said Canberra bureaucrats said such funding was not part of the portfolio responsibility of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd or his deputy, Julia Gillard, and provided no other advice.
The Victorian Government raised hopes, then suddenly told him ''the event has been secured, so you're not getting the money'', he said.
The Parliament of the World's Religions, held in Melbourne in December, received $2 million from the federal government and the state government.
Mr Nicholls said if the organisers had been able to afford a bigger venue and advertising, many more people might have been able to attend.
Other speakers include philosophers Peter Singer and A.C. Grayling, American commentator P.Z. Myers, former evangelist Dan Barker and broadcasters Phillip Adams and Robyn Williams.
Letter in The Age:
I'M SLIGHTLY discomforted by the fact that our Prime Minister, alternative prime minister and the governor of the Reserve Bank believe in supernatural beings that exert control over their lives (and hence, to some extent, ours). Wouldn't it be better if our top public servants were people with a stronger grip on reality?Campbell Aitken, Brunswick
Letter in the Sunday Age 11 April 2010
TO THE Catholic League of Australia, I am atheist and proud of it. I don't judge or condemn people for their beliefs, I don't tamper with the minds of children, I don't start wars, so what part of me is evil because I don't believe?STEVE WINCHESTER, Braybrook
Article in TheAge newspaper:
Just nine days ago, the prime minister of the time, Kevin Rudd, drew on the words of the 18th-century Christian theologian John Wesley to explain his international view. ''The world is my parish,'' Wesley is said to have proclaimed.
Rudd - whose parish was about to shrink to less than the size of a country churchyard - was explaining his personal and political values to Christians across Australia.
Both he and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott had answered the bidding of the Australian Christian Lobby to address church leaders. Their views on everything from gay marriage to school chaplains, asylum seekers, climate change and whether the Lord's Prayer would continue to open parliamentary proceedings were relayed via the internet to hundreds of churches across the nation.
The Christian lobby lays claim to a large constituency, from excited happy clappers to more sombre traditionalists, and makes no bones about requiring political leaders to take heed. The title of the program made it plain: ''2010, Make It Count''.
''It'', of course, was the Christian vote at the coming election.
Rudd and Abbott took such care with their answers you would have been hard pressed to jam a page from a prayer book between their pro-Christian views.
It seems unlikely the Christian lobby will lay out the red carpet and the internet link for the latest Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. If believers were in the dark about Gillard's religious convictions, they needed only to tune in to the ABC's Jon Faine program yesterday.FAINE: Do you believe in God?
Amazingly, the radio station was not struck by lightning.
Gillard hastened to add she was brought up a Baptist, attending the Mitcham Baptist Church. Why, she even won catechism prizes for remembering verses from the Bible.
''But during my adult life I've, you know, found a different path,'' she declared. ''I'm, of course, a great respecter of religious beliefs but they're not my beliefs.''
Quite. But was she worried about the Christian vote, Faine inquired? ''Look I'm, you know, worried about the national interest, about doing the right thing by Australians and I'll allow, you know, people to form their own views on whatever is going to drive their views,'' Gillard replied.
It seemed likely to have some of the devout falling to their knees to pray for the salvation of Gillard's soul. The more hardline may have been struck with a vision of hellfire. An unmarried woman . . . and an atheist to boot?
The last Australian PM who dared to express doubts about an Almighty was Bob Hawke, son of a Congregationalist preacher. But even he couldn't bring himself to declare himself an atheist. Hawke was agnostic. It sometimes seemed possible that the booze-challenged, womanising hell-raiser figured no deity could compete.
He became, however, Labor's longest-serving PM.
The Labor faithful will be praying for a repeat.
Letter in The Age newspaper 5 November 2010
ATHEISTS are astonished by the latest attempt from Cardinal George Pell, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, to demonise the growing number of Australians who live without religion. Speaking at a Mass celebrating the appointment of General Peter Cosgrove as chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, Pell preached that atheists "are frightened by the future''.
He went on to say: ''It's almost as though they've … nothing but fear to distract themselves from the fact that without God the universe has no objective purpose or meaning. Nothing beyond the constructs they confect to cover the abyss.''
In truth, atheists live their lives with an integrity and intellectual rigour that Pell and his church can only dream of. Far from seeking to cover the abyss, the atheist looks a hostile universe full in its face without recourse to the emotional security blanket of the supernatural. Unlike Pell's church, the atheist sees the world on its own terms, without the rose-tinted glasses of the promise of an afterlife.
Not content with labelling atheism as weak and fearful, Pell went on to put the extraordinary proposition that ''Australian society will become increasingly coarse and uncaring … if Christian principles are excluded from public discussion''.
This is insulting. Millions of atheists and agnostics around the world live their lives ethically and with integrity.
Perhaps what Pell finds so threatening is that they do so according to principles drawn from their own reason and experience, not from slavish obedience to the adulterated writings of ancient and ignorant tent-living goatherds.
Moreover, given the damage that ''Christian principles'' have inflicted (Northern Ireland and the former Yugoslavia to name two recent examples), surely the days of Catholics claiming moral superiority should be over.DAVID NICHOLLS, president,
Letters from The Age newspaper:
HOW any academic in the modern world can offer endorsement or apology on behalf of Islamic states is beyond me (Opinion, 10/01).
What Pankaj Mishra has given us is a convenient summary of the glossier side of decree by religion, while failing to acknowledge its larger, uglier underbelly of violence, persecution and gross gender inequality.
Fundamental to any free society is the ability to examine the tenets on which it bases itself and, by extension, the freedom to disagree with or disbelieve the ideology of the governing body or the greater population. Mr Mishra, show me an Islamic state that allows its people to publicly decry Islam, and live a life of non-belief without facing retribution, and explain how you can assemble even a mildly non-secular government without attracting religious extremists and thought police.Lisa Aspland, Fitzroy North
ON READING Pankaj Mishra's enlightening article on Islamic states, I was conscious once again of a trend to using ''secular'' as a synonym for ''atheist''. It is not. Although the meaning of words changes over time, the meaning of this word is too important to be discarded. It arose because for centuries European countries had official state religions. In the name of Jesus Christ, people were killed in brutal wars and massacres. Individuals were persecuted for their beliefs. Slowly, people turned against this horror and the idea of the secular state was adopted. Its basis is simply the acceptance that people should be equal before the law and that good government should be blind to religious differences. Except of course for atheists, who have been discriminated against until modern times.John Ray, Box Hill
Item from The Age newspaper:
EDUCATION Minister Peter Garrett is considering funding non-religious ''pastoral care workers'' under the controversial school chaplains program, but the religious lobby is warning him not to muddy the waters.
Mr Garrett's review of the $437 million federally funded National School Chaplaincy Program confirms that the vast majority of chaplains - 98.52 per cent - are Christian even though only 64 per cent of Australians identify as Christian.
People with no religion make up 19 per cent of the population and only 0.01 per cent of chaplains.
Schools must exhaust all possibilities of finding a suitable religious chaplain before they are able to apply for a secular person.
A discussion paper, released on Friday, confirms that a ''large number of stakeholders'' wanted non-faith-based chaplains because they could help non-religious children and enlarge the available talent pool.
But the Australian Christian Lobby's Victorian chief Rob Ward said: ''I don't know what Peter [Garrett] is up to … he's muddying the waters.''
The woman in charge of the Victorian chaplaincy program, Evonne Paddison from Access Ministries, said spirituality was a ''very significant part of being''.
''The majority of the world is religious and the majority of Australians are faith-based and we … want to talk about the meaning of life and those issues,'' she said.
The paper also suggests a minimum qualification of a certificate IV in youth work be required before people be allowed into schools as chaplains.
Article in The Age newspaper:
AUTHOR and campaigner Leslie Cannold has called on atheists, humanists and religious people who believe in the secular state to unite and kick religious education volunteers and chaplains out of public schools.
The campaign should be modelled on the push to decriminalise abortion in Victoria, she said, which involved a coalition of dozens of different groups working together.
Accepting the Australian Humanist of the Year award last night, Dr Cannold urged her audience to organise and fight back against religious fundamentalists who take advantage of Australia's acceptance of religious freedom to push their ''violently intolerant ideologies''.
In Australia the risks from this ''emanate primarily from evangelical Christian fundamentalists, not jihadist Muslims''. She said that Australia had a similar constitutional provision as the United States guaranteeing a non-religious state, but we had tried to be more inclusive and allow religions into, for example, public schools.
The Australian experiment, she argued, had been a ''miserable failure''.
Article in The Age newspaper:
ONE of Premier Ted Baillieu's newly elected MPs, Geoff Shaw, has deeply offended a young gay man by suggesting that his desire to love who he wanted was as illegitimate as a dangerous driver wanting to speed or a child molester wanting to molest.
Mr Shaw, the member for Frankston, is active in his pentecostal church, Peninsula City. In his maiden speech to Parliament, Mr Shaw acknowledged ''the original owner of the land on which we stand - God, the Creator, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Bible''.
In early April, tertiary student Jakob Quilligan emailed Mr Shaw, his local member, to object to the government's new anti-discrimination legislation.
The legislation, tabled last week, will renew the exemption that religious organisations have to discriminate on grounds of religion, sexuality, marital status and gender, even in their commercial businesses, hospitals and schools.
In his letter, Mr Quilligan told Mr Shaw that churches should not be allowed to ''impose their beliefs on others … in non-religious/mainstream or secular settings''.
''I'm 20 in a week. I'm able to vote. I want to work, live and love freely during the course of my life, and I want to do that without thinking that I can't,'' he wrote.
Mr Shaw replied the same day, quoting Mr Quilligan's line back at him and adding: ''What if I loved driving 150kms per hour in residential areas?
''What if there was a convicted sex offender who stated that, or a child molester? Can they still do what they want? Under your statement the answer is yes. What if one wanted to get drunk, take drugs, steal and murder? What if one loved this? Can they also do what they want without thinking that they can't?''
He reminded Mr Quilligan that welfare organisations like the Salvation Army, Red Cross and Brotherhood of St Laurence all had Christian backgrounds, as did many hospitals, and that ''nearly all'' private schools were ''either Christian or Catholic''.
''Are you wanting to put your values on these establishments just as you argue that you don't want there [sic] values?''
Mr Quilligan told The Sunday Age that he '' went cold'' when he saw Mr Shaw's email.
''His response took what I said completely out of context, and I felt a bit dirty being compared to what he mentioned … I kind of didn't expect a response like that from a local member. Regardless of what party you come from it's just astounding,'' he said.
Mr Quilligan, a health sciences student, said he was concerned that when he graduated, he might have problems getting a job as a nurse or a paramedic if the organisation had a religious background, because of the Coalition's laws.
Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Dr Helen Szoke described the comparisons in Mr Shaw's email as ''wrong and potentially dangerous''.
She said: ''In Victoria, homosexuality is legal, and those other things are not.''
Dr Szoke urged Mr Shaw and others with his beliefs to be careful about what they said because same-sex-attracted young people fared worse on almost every indicator of health and well-being than their peers.
''According to several Australian studies, same-sex-attracted young people are three times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual young people, and rural same-sex-attracted young people are six times more likely to attempt suicide than the population as a whole,'' Dr Szoke said.
Sue Hackney, the co-ordinator of Way Out, a support group for same-sex-attracted young people in rural areas, said Mr Quilligan had been a member for about three years.
She said language like Mr Shaw's was part of the ''oppression'' that young gay and lesbian people faced.
Mr Shaw did not respond to calls or an email on Friday. There is no mention of his religious beliefs in his biography on the Liberal Party website. Shortly after the election, Mr Shaw was asked by The Australian newspaper if he harboured ministerial ambitions. He replied: ''Absolutely. I'm not doing it to sit on the backbenches, let me tell you.''
A spokeswoman for Mr Baillieu yesterday refused to comment when asked if Mr Shaw's remarks were appropriate. ''The Coalition government shares the same concerns as Jakob Quilligan regarding higher rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide attempts amongst young, same-sex-attracted people,'' she said.
''That is why the Coalition provided $4 million over four years in this week's budget to deliver preventative support and early intervention services targeted at same-sex-attracted and gender-questioning people aged 10 to 25 years who are at risk.''
GEOFF Shaw lives in a fantasy world of gods and demons to which only a select few have access. That is fine, it is his life to waste.
What is not fine is carrying this private agenda into the public sphere. The harm he supports and creates with his crass, ignorant proclamations should see him removed from politics.DAVID NICHOLLS, president, Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc
MP GEOFF Shaw's analogies are infantile and offensive. Wasn't I naive to think that in our modern liberal society we should tolerate diversity. It's a pity that political parties don't give basic intelligence/empathy tests to those that want to represent them.NAME SUPPLIED, Pascoe Vale South
MR SHAW's shameful remarks are a blight on his parliamentary position. It is upsetting that such divisive false judgment is in the mind of our local member.SIMON TILLER, Greens candidate for Frankston 2010
IN THE same way as the Muslim faith has the right to demand that everybody MUST take off their shoes before entering a mosque (the Equal Opportunity Commissioner included!), so should the Catholic Church be allowed to forbid the performance of abortions in health facilities that it owns. Similarly, the institutions of the Catholic faith (or any other faiths that consider homosexuality as a sin) should not be expected to bless a homosexual union.
That gay man is completely free to have a homosexual relationship if this is what he wants, but why should he expect Geoff Shaw to agree with him that such a relationship is perfectly OK? Doesn't Geoff Shaw have the right to believe that a gay relationship is not quite compatible with the tenets of his faith?MARIO MOLDOVEANU, Frankston
JAKOB Quilligan had a point: no organisation, be it religious or otherwise, should be granted legislative powers to discriminate, especially when a lot of those organisations benefit from the public purse, ergo, have a duty to all citizens of Victoria. For Geoff Shaw to dismiss Quilligan's points of debate and then liken his sexuality to child molesters is deplorable and unbecoming of a member of parliament.
Furthermore, I find his supposed Christian values the antithesis of the teachings of Jesus Christ. He befriended people from all walks of life. He urged his followers to ''love one another as I have done''. You, sir, clearly have not done so. The last I checked, homophobia is not a true Christian value.NATALIE PESTANA, Richmond
THE homophobic email sent by MP Geoff Shaw to one of his constituents should, at the very least, be cause for a public reprimand from Ted Baillieu.
Coming as it did, in the same fortnight that Baillieu's pro-discrimination laws are due to be tabled in parliament, I would say the chances of this happening are remote indeed.BENJAMIN DOHERTY, North Caulfield
ACCORDING to the logic of Liberal MP Geoff Shaw, it would be perfectly reasonable for a gay employer to sack a conservative Christian like himself. In fact, it should be fine for any employer to dismiss a member of any minority if it contradicts their beliefs.
What Mr Shaw fails to mention is that regular church-going Christians such as himself are a minority group. In fact, less than 10 per cent of people attend church regularly.
What is frequently over-looked in the anti-gay rhetoric of conservative Christians is their seemingly pathological historical hatred of homosexuality. As laws became more secular, the churches incited the state to do their persecution for them. People were being hanged in Australia for ''sodomy'' until the 1860s.
Geoff Shaw and Attorney-General Robert Clark are continuing this tradition of vilification by conservative Christians. The onus is on the Premier to step up and reign in these cold-hearted men. If Ted Baillieu really intends to govern for all Victorians, he must withdraw this anti-gay bill from parliament.
STEPHEN KRESS, East Melbourne
The following two articles were in the Sunday Age:
VICTORIA'S teachers' union is calling for an end to religious education in state schools, increasing pressure on the Baillieu government over the controversial program.
The Victorian branch, representing 46,000 state school teachers, passed a resolution at its Friday council meeting calling for Special Religious Instruction during school hours to be scrapped.
Its resolution stated that public education must remain ''free and secular''.
The union's push was supported by three Victorian state school principals contacted by The Sunday Age, who said religious education - predominantly Christian in its focus - was often badly taught, sent the wrong message to students and was a waste of valuable classroom time.
The developments follow mounting criticism by parents, teachers and principals of the program, and damaging revelations about how it is administered and what is being taught . The union's resolution will increase pressure on the state government to shift religion classes to outside school hours and to make it an ''opt in'' choice for parents instead of the existing ''opt out'' process.
The union's resolution said public education ''should never be open to sectarian interests of any sort, religious or otherwise''.
''In light of this, the AEU [Australian Education Union] does not support the inclusion of Special Religious Instruction (SRI) in school time.''
It is the first time the union has adopted this as a formal policy. Union Victorian president Mary Bluett said the public controversy about the program, driven by reports in The Sunday Age and The Age, had made it timely to ''clarify our position''.
On Friday, The Age revealed that Access Ministries - which provides teachers in 96 per cent of the 70 per cent of schools that offer SRI - regarded the program as ''an open door to children'' for Christians to ''go and make disciples''.
Members of the union will meet Education Minister Martin Dixon on Tuesday to discuss the resolution and push for change.
Epping Primary School assistant principal Ed Heskett said even though he did not want the Christian volunteers from Access Ministries in his school, he had ''no control, none whatsoever''.
Epping primary has been offering the Christian course for 20 years.
But Mr Heskett said the ''narrow focus'' on Christianity was wrong, flying in the face of ''our multicultural, multi-belief society'', and that ''we occasionally have Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus sitting in RE classes''.
One religious instruction teacher he was supervising in the classroom had told the seven-year-old students ''Christians are the chosen people''.
''I was furious. I took the lady aside. She was very devout in her faith - which was an issue; as a teacher you have to be open-minded not closed-minded.
''And that same group is still teaching here because we don't have a leg to stand on.''
Don Howden, principal at Willowmavin Primary School north of Kilmore, said there was a ''real problem with the quality of the teachers''. ''We get misinformed people and the information they give kids varies so greatly from what we want,'' he said.
''They're very well meaning … but they don't have a knowledge of what they're dealing with and how to go about doing it … kids get very confused about it.''
Peter Martin, the principal of an inner-city school, said that, when surveyed, only about 10 per cent of parents at his school wanted religious instruction.
''The majority view amongst my [principal] colleagues … would be that the way it operates is an imposition on teachers, as it takes time away from an already crowded curriculum,'' he said.
THE ''four horsemen of the anti-apocalypse'', the world's most prominent atheists, will share a public platform for the first time in Melbourne next year in an event partly funded by the state government.
The Global Atheist Convention, ''A Celebration of Reason'', will host authors Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris, the four champions of the so-called ''new atheism''.
The Melbourne Convention and Visitors Bureau has confirmed that state government funding will be provided to the convention, which they expect to attract 2500 people.
Tourism Minister Louise Asher said this was the result of a decision of the Brumby government in June last year. She told The Sunday Age that the topics of conventions was not relevant to the decision about whether to fund them: ''It's how many delegates are coming and will it have an economic impact.''
The Atheist Foundation of Australia complained in 2010 because their first convention, held that year, received no funding, while the Parliament of the World's Religions, held the same year, received $2 million.
Atheist foundation president David Nicholls said the ''four horsemen'' would ''attract people from everywhere on the planet'' to the April 2012 convention. ''It will be the biggest global event for atheism ever, and it probably won't be repeated,'' he said.
One of the four, American author and academic Daniel Dennett, told The Sunday Age that the horsemen theme was ''amusing'' and confirmed that, apart from one videotaped meeting in Christopher Hitchens's apartment about five years ago, they had ''never shared a podium before''.
Mr Dennett said that their collective message was getting through because ''no-religion'' is the fastest growing category worldwide.
''What is particularly important is that the number of public, unapologetic, atheists is growing. The visibility of today's atheists is a new feature, and we urge everybody who agrees to 'come out','' he said.
The Australian Christian Lobby's Victorian director, Rob Ward, said that ''people are free to gather if they wish,'' but that the debate should be civil.
He would ''love to see a cost-benefit analysis'' of the funding, asking whether the convention would bring in any tourists ''apart from the 'four horsemen' ''.
Melbourne Convention and Visitors Bureau chief executive Sue Chipchase said the convention would deliver an economic boost to the state of $7.6 million.
Latter in The Age - 22 February 2012
OFTEN, the first criticism of atheism from the religious is that atheism itself is a religion. This myth has now been perpetuated by Alain de Botton (''Why atheists still need churches and consolation'', The Age, 21/2).
Atheists seek the truth. Nothing more, nothing less. Mr de Botton's fear that ''if we don't teach religion, how are we going to teach kids to be good people?'' is an insult to our humanity. Our morality comes not from religion, belief or faith. Morality in our society has evolved over the centuries, based on secular debate, discussion, reason, reflection and enlightenment. If anything, religion has obfuscated the progression of the advancement our collective morality. As an atheist, Mr de Botton should be cognisant of this.
We teach our kids to be kind to others because this is the right thing to do, not because they might one day be rewarded in a mythical afterlife; to teach otherwise is in itself immoral.Louise Phillips, Wantirna
Atheist Alliance International
Atheist Foundation of AustraliaFreedom From Religion Foundation
The Brights - An Atheist Organisation
Against Religion by Tamas Pataki published by Scribe 2007
Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism and Islam by Michel Onfray published byArcade Publishing 2007
God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens published by Allen and Unwin 2007
Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins published by Bantam Press 2006
The Purple Economy by Max Wallace published by Australian National Secular Association (ANSA) 2007
Why I am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell published by Unwin Books 1967FURTHER RECOMMENDED READINGS
Mannie and Kendall Present: LESBIAN AND GAY SOLIDARITY ACTIVISMS
Mannie's blogs may be accessed by clicking on to the following links:
MannieBlog (from 1 August 2003 to 31 December 2005)
Activist Kicks Backs - Blognow archive re-housed - 2005-2009
RED JOS BLOGSPOT (from January 2009 onwards)
This page was updated 5 MAY 2014 and again on 11 OCTOBER 2016