tip off

I know why you bother, I just don’t see why the rest of us must live under religious laws

Pure Poison IconA nice little case study in intellectual dishonesty in an article on The Punch this week, Why God botherers bother:

You hear many complaints nowadays about pesky, outspoken Christians. Across the West, a fashionable attitude has emerged: Beyond the doing of charitable works, and perhaps the soothing of the bereaved at funerals, “religion” should be an entirely private affair.

The so-called New Atheists are vocal advocates of this position. One of them, Michel Onfray, has admitted that his atheism “leaps to life when private belief becomes a public matter”. Onfray hates it “when in the name of a personal mental pathology we organise the world for others”.

Indeed, many people even of faith object to people particularly of other faiths demanding that their religious beliefs be enshrined in the law that governs all of us.

Does Roy Williams have an argument as to why they should?

Nope.

He does have a complaint that “New Atheists” dare to criticise Christian belief:

The talented journalist-author Peter FitzSimons is fond of ridiculing sportsmen, like golfer Aaron Baddeley, who publicly give thanks to God. FitzSimons rarely misses a chance to snipe at all “delusional” believers, and, in a recent spray in the Sydney Morning Herald, asserted ludicrously that belief in God “is entirely inimical to educational principles”.

We must silence these blasphemers!

And Roy does has a defence of evangelism (although with no consideration of just what limits should apply in a civil society):

Even today, in affluent and secular Australia, there are many Christians who evangelise in exemplary fashion. These are people who, without monetary reward or popular fanfare, do vital work: feeding and clothing the poor, visiting prisoners, teaching Sunday school, and so on. Some go the extra mile. Recently I met a young Adelaide man who had returned from missionary work in, of all places, Mongolia.

To return, then, to my original question. Why do Christians evangelise? The answer: because they need to and want to. It’s a manifestation of their faith.

Moreover, when Christians evangelise well – graciously yet animatedly, in speech “seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6) – remarkable results can be achieved. There are now around 100 million Christians in China, up from barely one-tenth that number a generation ago.

But nothing on the subject of religion in law – in the words of the person at the opening of his post, “when in the name of a personal mental pathology we organise the world for others”.

See what he’s done there? He’s addressed the objection to the religious views of one person being imposed on another through the law into a defence of people simply advocating for their beliefs and trying to win converts.

The diabolical “atheists” he quoted in the first paragraph were addressing the former. His response tries to pretend we’re debating the latter.

To illustrate the point, here’s my perspective, not unlike the person in the beginning of Roy’s piece – one Roy has pretended means something else entirely.

Roy, I don’t care what someone believes as long as they don’t IMPOSE it on someone else. You can try to argue your case with me up to the level where you’re invading my privacy or harassing me – in a way that would be against the law no matter what you’re saying: no special exemptions because you’re convinced by the fire of religious fervour that you have THE ANSWER and you’re going to SAVE MY IMMORTAL SOUL – as you always have been able to. Evangelism is fine, up to the point where you infringe my own freedoms.

The point at which I object is when you try to have your religious beliefs enshrined into law. When you successfully use the numbers of people who declare that they share your religion to lobby cowardly politicians to make the law discriminate against other people on the grounds of their gender or sexuality. (Although the fault here isn’t with you advocating your belief – it’s with a two-party system that gives people little choice in voting against those politicians.) That’s going too far – imagine how keen you’d be if it happened to be a slightly different sect getting ITS arbitrary religious beliefs passed into law.

I also have an issue when you use your authority over your own kids to indoctrinate them into your religion, even at school, denying them the information necessary to make their own choice about what to believe. But again, that’s because you’re not exercising your own religious freedom there – you’re imposing your religion on another person.

You’re not a persecuted group, as Roy imagines, being silenced from telling people about your “good news”. You are in fact a privileged group, whose organisations get massive tax benefits and whose self-appointed leaders get their way in public legislation to the cost of the rest of us. That’s what we’re fighting. Not your freedom of speech or freedom of religion.

Roy Williams’ piece at The Punch makes it seem like he does not understand what non-religious critics of the system are saying at all. But I find it difficult to believe he could really be so unaware.

Which makes his effort to encourage that unawareness in fellow believers all the worse.

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  • 1
    Indiana Jones
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Usually I don’t post comments that run along the lines of ‘I agree’.

    But in this case?

    HEAR FRIGGEDY HEAR!!!

  • 2
    Lifesajoke
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Jeremy, up there with IJ on this – nice piece. Got a question/comment slightly off topic though, with regards to your comment;

    “Although the fault here isn’t with you advocating your belief – it’s with a two-party system that gives people little choice in voting against those politicians”

    Often there is criticism about the folly/issues with the two party system such as your comment above. However, nowhere (as far as i know) is the two party system enshirined in any law or parliamentry rule. By my understanding should the greens become big enough to have enough elected represenattives then they can, quite happily form government (ie theres nothing that says only Labor or Liberal can be government).

    So, while the current two party arrangment is the staus quo, it doesn’t have to be – its just a “fact of life”. Surely if the greens put up enough candidates, and were able to win enough seats then they could form government? Isn’t the reason they don’t simply a matter of “getting enough votes” (or have “enough money”)?.. discuss…

  • 3
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Isn’t the reason they don’t simply a matter of “getting enough votes” (or have “enough money”)?.. discuss…

    Nope, they got 12% of the vote in the House of Representatives, which should equal 17 seats out of 150. Instead they received 1 seat out of 150, or less than 1%.

    The single-member electorate system makes it nearly impossible for any third party – particularly one with a broad base of support – to challenge the big two. You have to have your support concentrated in a small number of electorates, or your votes simply get allocated to the big parties through preferences instead.

    The system is certainly better than, say, the US or the UK, where you actually have to guess which party is likely to defeat the big party you dislike the most – because there are no preferences in the US, if you voted for the Green candidate instead of the Democrat, you’d end up helping the Republican – but it’s not a real multi-party democracy (yet).

    The fact that only Labor or Liberal MPs are likely to be elected in any particular electorate discourages people from voting Green. I suspect their vote would be somewhat higher if there were a realistic prospect of their winning seats matching their support.

    In terms of religious issues, therefore, you have two big parties practically guaranteed 90%+ seats in the House of Representatives, both of whom pander to the religious right. Unless someone is sufficiently progressive on other issues to vote for the Greens, their vote is therefore used to support religious right policies – even though many, many big party voters don’t agree with the religious right, as represented by outfits like Jim Wallace’s “Australian Christian Lobby”. Hell, many Christians don’t agree with that lot.

  • 4
    Fran Barlow
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Having read the article you linked to Jeremy, this side of a pretext to restate his catechism. it’s hard to know what Roy’s project actually was. I didn’t see him arguing for a theocracy. Essentially, he was arguing that ‘god-botherers’ (his term) ought to be given a pass by atheists because they often helped out disadvantaged people.

    One can agree or disagree with this — I would disagree, as nonsense, even in a good cause is open to critique.

    One thing I did notice (which is by no means confined to Roy Williams) was the tendency to blur the lines between criticism and ‘silencing’ (others). Margaret Court managed this recently. This is stock-in-trade for the Blot/Akerman crowd. I first began notincing this victim-playing in the late 1990s — that somehow being attacked for what one said was an attack on one’s right to speak — some sort of censorship or ‘other people trying to tell me how to live’.

    They fail to see the irony of course, because such claims tend to be uttered most loudly (and circulated most widely) when the moral and ethical claims please the right. Christianity remains the dominant western religion — and indeed, lip service to Christ is almost part of the definition of being western. Being a Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu all but excludes you. Yet the demand to ‘bring back Christian values; Christmas’ is a staple of the right.

    One has to laugh.

    But I digress. Free speech does not entail freedom from criticism — otherwise it would be freedom from speech. Free speech entails the right to say things that will offend others, and the probability that you will be offended by others. With freedom to speak comes the notion of taking responsibility for your utterances, and being willing to pay whatever just price attaches to you exercising your right to speak.

  • 5
    Fran Barlow
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    One modest electoral reform Jeremy would be a single member electorate PR system. I’ve outlined such a system in the past, so it is practicable. Not really on topic here though.

    The broader point though is that while The Greens remain such a marginal group in the parliament, we are seen as “fringe” even though nearly 12% give us a first preference. That discounts our ideas in the minds of many and reinforces the hold of the majors.

  • 6
    Matthew of Canberra
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Yep. Agree with all of that.

    One solution is that people learn what the word “secularism” means.

    “imagine how keen you’d be if it happened to be a slightly different sect getting ITS arbitrary religious beliefs passed into law.”

    Like … sharia?

  • 7
    Lifesajoke
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Thanks jeremy, but isnt that a kind of circular argument, Labor or Liberal MPs are the only ones likely to be elected in any one electortae because they get the majority of the votes in any one electorate.

    I can’t see why the likliehood that a candidate won’t win, would discourage someone for voting for them (certainly doesn’t for me – in the safe Labor heartland of the ACT), since if that candiate doesn’t win then whomever they put as their second preference etc gets the benefit of their vote

    To change the system so that its proportional would mean you’d end up with a senate system wouldn’t it? You’d also never get an absolute majority in the house of reps, making it very difficult for any party to form government.

  • 8
    SHV
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    I strongly commend a book about this very thing (especially organised evangelical christian influence in US politics):

    “The Family” By Jeff Sharlet

  • 9
    peter de mambla
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    In the interests of not going “off-topic”, I won’t say anything on the matter.

  • 10
    SteveP
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    “The fact that only Labor or Liberal MPs are likely to be elected in any particular electorate discourages people from voting Green. I suspect their vote would be somewhat higher if there were a realistic prospect of their winning seats matching their support.”

    I don’t think this is necessarily true, although it does make sense. It’s just that there are probably also plenty of protest voters who happily vote green, knowing they can direct their preferences, because they want to send a message to their preferred main party. But if they were in an electorate where the Greens might actually win, maybe they would be less likely to protest vote in this way.

  • 11
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Fran Barlow:

    One thing I did notice (which is by no means confined to Roy Williams) was the tendency to blur the lines between criticism and ‘silencing’ (others). Margaret Court managed this recently.

    Yes, apparently nasty SSM activists will be ‘silencing’ Mrs Court by holding up a rainbow flag at the Australian Open. The poor dear. In response to this planned protest she’s said:

    “It is hard that they can voice their opinions but I am not allowed to voice my opinion. There is something wrong somewhere.”

    You are allowed to voice your opinion Margaret – it’s been given a run in all of Australia’s major media outlets. It’s nothing more than the classic religious right martyrdom routine:

    1) Make highly contentious comments in the media about a segment of the community

    2) Read/hear critical responses in the media to your highly contentious comments

    3) Complain about being ‘silenced’ and ‘attacked’. Nail self to nearest cross.

  • 12
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    While we’re on the subject of Mrs Court, check out how The Herald Sun has headlined this story:

    Homosexuals won’t keep Margaret Court from Australian Open
    ———————————————-
    FOUR-time grand slam doubles champion Rennae Stubbs says she fully backs activists showing their support for gay rights at the Australian Open starting next week.

    Stubbs, who has been open about her homosexuality for six years, said it was only fair that people had the same voice as former Australian great Margaret Court who prompted a recent backlash because of her anti-gay views.

    “Margaret has said her feelings and it’s public and it has leverage so I think this is the only way the people feel that they can be heard – through a sign of solidarity,” Stubbs told AAP.

    “Through getting together and letting people know how they feel.

    “As long as it (a protest) is done tastefully, that’s the most important thing for me.”

    Court said earlier today she would not be diverted from the Australian Open despite the planned protests…

    (My emphasis)

    No, it’s not a broad section of the community planning to respond to Mrs Court. It’s TEH HOMOSEXUALS!

  • 13
    peter de mambla
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Okay, I’ll take a chance and hope the following won’t be deemed “off-topic” (fingers crossed!) …

    Roy, I don’t care what someone believes as long as they don’t IMPOSE it on someone else.

    But law by definition is the imposition of a society’s beliefs about right and wrong and good and bad — it seeks to punish “bad” behavior and reward good behavior.

    If the application of law didn’t involve the imposition of a point of view on someone who didn’t accept or believe in that point of view, then our jails would be empty. I actually saw bits of a documentary where pedophiles in jail stated they didn’t think there was anything wrong with what they did (I think by the same English journo who did the doco about that controversial “God hates fag” church in the US). But our views regarding sex with minors is imposed on them regardless of their own personal convictions on the matter.

    ...no special exemptions because you’re convinced by the fire of religious fervour that you have THE ANSWER...

    Are you convinced that you have the answer, Jeremy — the answer to the most fundamental philosophical question of how men ought to live (of which politics is the application of a society’s answer to the basic philosophical questions)?

    See, implicit in your critique is that men ought NOT to act in the way you say this Roy fella is said to be acting. You’re entering the territory of moral imperative — what one ought or ought not to do. Ethics. And by doing so, you’re stating that you have the answer (or THE ANSWER) and that those with opposing views do not have the answer.

    So unless society consists of a unanimity of beliefs on the basic philosophical questions, some people will have to suffer having the views of others shoved down their throats — such as the rather contrarian pedophiles (just to pick an emotive, confronting example).

  • 14
    Fran Barlow
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    LifesaJoke

    I can’t see why the likelihood that a candidate won’t win, would discourage someone for voting for them

    Two words — compulsory preferential. Under this system, unless you think your candidate has an excellent chance of winning, you know your vote will go to either ALP or Liberal or the candidate with a lock on the seat — so effectively, it’s compulsory to vote ALP or Liberal or strong independent if you want to vote formally.

    I would have voted for Adam Bandt in Melbourne (since he had a good chance, IMO), but I voted informal in Bennelong, rather than preference the ALP.

  • 15
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    “I voted informal in Bennelong, rather than preference the ALP.”

    Really? So as far as the electoral system is concerned, you didn’t even put in a vote for progressive views?

    I’d certainly encourage Greens voters (well, anyone for that matter) to vote properly. Voting informal just encourages those who are in power to ignore you.

  • 16
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Thanks jeremy, but isnt that a kind of circular argument, Labor or Liberal MPs are the only ones likely to be elected in any one electortae because they get the majority of the votes in any one electorate.

    Single member electorates are a way of making it much harder for a party to grow to the size necessary to defeat the original big two parties. It takes a major upheaval to destroy and replace one of the big parties – and you just end up with two big parties again, hardly a representation of a diverse electorate.

    To change the system so that its proportional would mean you’d end up with a senate system wouldn’t it? You’d also never get an absolute majority in the house of reps, making it very difficult for any party to form government.

    Yeah, they’d have to join together with different parties depending on the issue. So a majority view on an economic issue wouldn’t end up overriding the majority view on a social issue. Different combinations would occur depending on the subject matter being discussed.

    ie, democracy.

    So the libertarians and the greens might vote together on marriage equality, but the libertarians and the right-wing of the liberal party might vote together on cutting taxes. The religious lobby might vote with the lefties on issues of social welfare. The combinations would match their actual support in the community, because you’d have a meaningful choice at election time.

    If parties are stopped from even entering parliament, even with well over 1/150th of the national vote, then it stops them being in a position to really challenge the established big parties. The established big parties get extra funding from the taxpayer based on their electoral success last time with which to destroy competition. They also get a much bigger hearing in the media. Attention + money = votes.

    It may be true that the Greens get some protest votes from ppl who’d never want them in parliament. But I’d posit there are fewer of those than of lefties who simply vote Labor on the grounds that “the Greens will never form government”.

    I still maintain that only a vote for the Greens tells the parties that you want progressive policies in parliament, but I know there are lots of people wedded to the idea of the inevitability of two big parties, who think the only way to change things is “from inside the system”.

    Although you’d think the lesson of Peter Garrett would highlight how unlikely they are to succeed.

  • 17
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    But law by definition is the imposition of a society’s beliefs about right and wrong and good and bad — it seeks to punish “bad” behavior and reward good behavior.

    Sure. And the calculus should be based on what protects people from harm – people should have complete freedom up until it impacts on someone else’s freedom.

    I actually saw bits of a documentary where pedophiles in jail stated they didn’t think there was anything wrong with what they did

    The case of child molesters is one where the rights of the children not to be molested trump those of the molesters to do what they like.

    Are you convinced that you have the answer, Jeremy — the answer to the most fundamental philosophical question of how men ought to live (of which politics is the application of a society’s answer to the basic philosophical questions)?

    No. And I don’t seek to impose my view on theology on others.

    This isn’t going towards that little bit of sophistry where the state refusing to advocate a religious belief system is portrayed as its own belief system, is it?

    I’m advocating the neutral position. I’m not advocating a state that prevents people from holding whatever beliefs they like – only one preventing people from imposing them on others.

    See, implicit in your critique is that men ought NOT to act in the way you say this Roy fella is said to be acting.

    What, being intellectually dishonest?

  • 18
    Matthew of Canberra
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    At risk of being asked to define how we know the world exists, I respond …

    See, implicit in your critique is that men ought NOT to act in the way you say this Roy fella is said to be acting. You’re entering the territory of moral imperative — what one ought or ought not to do. Ethics. And by doing so, you’re stating that you have the answer (or THE ANSWER) and that those with opposing views do not have the answer.

    I think you’re stretching things a bit. Jeremy’s saying that he doesn’t want those actions to be imposed on him. He’s not claiming to have the foundation for the golden rule, or the truth about an afterlife or the beginning of the universe. I can say “I don’t want that man over there to stab me with that knife”, and I don’t think I’m being all that unfair. I don’t see why I need to construct a theological argument for why I don’t want to be stabbed. I’d mostly be concerned that it’s going to hurt, but it doesn’t mean I have THE ANSWER or that I’m trying to dictate how others should behave in any broader sense.

  • 19
    calyptorhynchus
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Here is a model of a PR system that does away with the two party system and ‘party lists’:

    http://www.calyptorhynchus.blogspot.com/2011/04/government-2-proportional.html

  • 20
    peter de mambla
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    But in your answer, MoC, there’s an “ought”. And in the world of competing “oughts”, some “oughts” will inevitably prevail over other “oughts”. The Roy fella will advocate over his “ought” prevailing over Jeromy’s, and Jeromy’s will advocate for his “ought” being the normative “ought” (while all the time insisting he’s doing no such thing and that he’s in fact totally neutral and altogether right simply by virtue of being normal and sensible and sane and having a holy conviction of this). Either way it’s a zero-sum game. Most people are happy for the pedophiles to lose out on this — to have OUR “ought” prevail over their despicable “ought” — while some wish to retain the status quo “ought” regarding other matters against the zealous campaigns to have a new “ought” enjoy the sanction of the state at its expense.

  • 21
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Peter, the absence of an imposition is not an imposition.

    The neutral position is for each person to make up their own mind and have nothing imposed on them at all.

    And to have laws that protect people from others who seek to take away their freedoms by imposing their personal preferences on them.

    (It is entirely consistent with that to prohibit paedophilia, because that is protecting children from abuse.)

  • 22
    Matt Hardin
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    The main complaint of “New Atheists” is that atheists do not advocate that religion and religious beliefs and behaviours be outlawed but religious people fail to extend that same courtesy to atheists. Religious adherents instead demand that their interpretations of their God’s(‘) word should trump the expressed will of society or merely the feelings of non-adherents to their religion (e.g in relation to homosexuals, demand for indoctrination of children through religious education in state schools, use of ministers of religion for pastoral care in schools, prayer in parliament, exemptions from food precessing regulations etc.) Religious adherents feel that their holy book, received wisdom or whatever is absolutely correct and moreover these rules need to be applied to everyone else. What Jeremy and others here are saying is that in a secular democracy, the law is derived from the people and that only the people can decide how laws can limit their absolute freedom (as all laws do in one form or another). Moreover that law should extend only as far as necessary to maintain a safe and civil society i.e. things done in private between consenting adults that do not harm others are no business of the law.

    So to look at peter de mambla’s ought argument, law “ought” to come from the consensus of society (as passed by parliamanet and I am aware of the limitations there) rather than from any other source and what people “ought” to do is goverened then by that law. BTW if we are to take the “ought” from religion, please tell me which religion and which sect of that religion ought to dictate what goes on.

  • 23
    Matthew of Canberra
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Nup. Not getting dragged into this nihilistic nonsense again. Sorry.

  • 24
    peter de mambla
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    Nup. Not getting dragged into this nihilistic nonsense again. Sorry.

    I agree that nihilism is self-refuting.

  • 25
    SHV
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Coincidentally, Mandy Nolan in the Tweed Echo writes on the topic this week:

    http://www.tweedecho.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3188&Itemid=543

  • 26
    peter de mambla
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    The main complaint of “New Atheists” is that atheists do not advocate that religion and religious beliefs and behaviours be outlawed but religious people fail to extend that same courtesy to atheists.

    They “ought” to extend that courtesy?

    Religious adherents instead demand that their interpretations of their God’s(‘) word should trump the expressed will of society

    I think that’s right. They hold the authority of divine will to be absolute and supreme, thereby trumping the will of the people. I think Hizb ut-Tahrir, for example, advocates this view — that God’s will supercedes man’s will, and that this is the way it “ought” to be.

    Religious adherents feel that their holy book, received wisdom or whatever is absolutely correct and moreover these rules need to be applied to everyone else.

    I think that’s right. They believe that the revealed will of God (revelation of which is to be found in their holy books) is absolutely authoritative and therefore universally binding.

    What Jeremy and others here are saying is that in a secular democracy, the law is derived from the people and that only the people can decide how laws can limit their absolute freedom (as all laws do in one form or another).

    Correct. Democracy (especially secular) means rule by the people. Therefore a democratic government theoretically expresses the will of the people, the principle vox populi vox dei.

    But what if, as an aside, the majority will it for all Jews to be gassed? Is it still vox populi vox dei? Is it ipso facto what society “ought” to do? If not, then it is not the case that vox populi vox dei.

    Moreover that law should extend only as far as necessary to maintain a safe and civil society i.e. things done in private between consenting adults that do not harm others are no business of the law.

    One man’s “ought/should” is another man’s blasphemy. In a roomful of … no I won’t go there.

  • 27
    Matt Hardin
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 1:24 am | Permalink

    @peter

    First point. If religious people want to coerce others into modes of behavior to suit their beliefs they can expect resistance. They can please themselves as to their actions but they should be aware that other people are free agents and will act accordingly. There is no “ought”, there are only actions and consequences.

    Second point. You agree that religious people believe that they have access to a complete and universal truth. Yet, each major religion contradicts some or all of others in fundamental areas. They cannot all be true. At most one is true but there is no way to determine which one. Furthermore there is no evidence aside from the claims of the adherents themselves of the truth of any religion. What are we to make of this? I am interested in your answer. For me, it suggests that none of them are true and that the only laws are the ones we devise for the functioning of a safe and civil society.

    Third. The voice of the people is the voice of god. Laws and authority should derive from a mandate of the governed otherwise they are tyranny. That is not to say that bad decisions are not made or that the people are infallible. Decisions to persecute minorities could still be made. Unjust laws could still be enacted. The poor could still be oppressed. Racism could still be institutionalised. Genocides could still occur. However, building up a body of law and a culture of tolerance for others beliefs should prevent these things happening. Accepting that all members of a society are due respect as free agents and should be allowed to actas long as they do not harm others goes a long way to preventing these bad outcomes. Religion has a pretty poor record for tolerance given how they treat heretics and apostates let alone people who don’t follow their god in he first place. (Before Stalin or Hitler is invoked as an example of a genocidal atheist, please note that totalitarianism is just another sort of religion based on worship of a leader. It lacks critical thought, examination of its philosophies for error, relies on revealed wisdom and punishes dissent in an almost identical fashion. Totalitarianism does not resemble a secular democracy.)

    Final point. Yes one person’s ought is another’s blasphemy. But if I do not believe as you how can I blaspheme? In any event surely if there is a divine power who will punish blasphemy then that is between me and the relevant god(s). Why would you presume to know better than the divine? Why should you (or anyone else) administer temporal punishment if further punishment awaits in the afterlife? I really don’t understand.

  • 28
    Coldsnacks
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 1:38 am | Permalink

    Single member electorates are a way of making it much harder for a party to grow to the size necessary to defeat the original big two parties.

    We’ve had single member electorates a lot longer than we’ve had political parties though….

    It takes a major upheaval to destroy and replace one of the big parties – and you just end up with two big parties again, hardly a representation of a diverse electorate.

    Tell that to the Canadians =P

    Two words — compulsory preferential. Under this system, unless you think your candidate has an excellent chance of winning, you know your vote will go to either ALP or Liberal or the candidate with a lock on the seat — so effectively, it’s compulsory to vote ALP or Liberal or strong independent if you want to vote formally.

    So, get rid of the compulsory preferences?

    Voluntary preferences seem to work ok in NSW…

  • 29
    Fran Barlow
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 1:50 am | Permalink

    Jeremy said:

    Really? So as far as the electoral system is concerned, you didn’t even put in a vote for progressive views?

    I used the “Langer method”, so I assume it was informal. I still gave my primary to The Greens.

    I object to being coerced into voting for the ALP when the ALP is a right-of-centre party. I was also confident that the LNP was going to win so my vote would have been moot anyway.

  • 30
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    I still gave my primary to The Greens.

    Makes no difference. If your vote is informal it isn’t counted at all. Nobody checks whether your informal vote put the Greens first or not.

    And, more importantly, the Greens don’t get the funding for that vote. So your informal vote makes it harder for them to grow and challenge the big two parties.

    I agree with you that the ALP is a right-of-centre party. But if you vote Green and preference properly (which means putting one of the major parties slightly behind the other one) you’re not really voting for them, you’re just choosing which you despise the most. And surely you can put the CEC or Fundies First behind them. You might not like any of them, but surely there are other parties you despise more than others. Don’t think of it as a fight for your vote – think of it as a fight to avoid last place.

  • 31
    Fran Barlow
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    IMO, putting the ALP ahead of the LNP is still implying that in some way, I support dumping of asylum seekers and other vulnerable people in Malaysia and administrative detention here. It is a vote for occupying Afghanistan and for the war machine, pandering to Big Dirt and the Murdochracy. It’s a vote for going slow on climate action and for blocking gay marriage and for live animal exports. It’s also a vote for agreeing that I should be denied a choice over whom I support.

    I can understand that others may see this differently, and see the ALP as a less nasty lot than the LNP, but IMO this simply reinforces the boss class party system.

    As the the money for the vote, I donate a lot more than $2.40 (or whatever it is per election) to The Greens both in work and in cash.

    As to the CEC and other parties of the bigoted right, they get the same number on my preference count as the ALP/LNP.

  • 32
    Fran Barlow
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    I’d just add that if everyone who supported The Greens (with the exception of Melbourne and other places where they had good chances) did as I did, the big news item would have been the voting system. The ALP would have lost due to massive informal voting. It may well have split them and caused a large chunk to come over to us.

  • 33
    RobJ
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    but surely there are other parties you despise more than others.

    Heh, that’s how it is for me, though I quite like the Greens (I don’t agree with their stance that nuclear power shouldn’t be used anywhere).

  • 34
    Captain Col
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Typical of the Marxist, Green voters represented here by Fran, they can’t compromise for their own good. They will sit outside the tent slinging mud and criticism but never dirty their hands by having to engage and compromise with the view of the MAJORITY, never concede to the MAJORITY who don’t want their lives ruined by radical policies inflicted by trendy zealots with no common sense. They want to be policy-pure. Never having to own up to an actual policy becoming law with the consequent possibility they might be responsible for the results.

    As for the ALP being “a right-of-centre party”, I suppose it depends on where you think the centre is. If the centre is the collective opinions of your Greens friends, and fellow travellers at the latest protest/occupation/civil disobedience or university/school/social inclusion committee, then you might be justified. But if that’s where the centre is, why don’t the politicians go there? Well, you know the answer; the two main parties are in the centre – that’s where the centre is and that’s where the majority are … and the ALP is slightly to the left of the Liberals.

    I guess our engagement is not going to happen, Fran, dearest?

  • 35
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    IMO, putting the ALP ahead of the LNP is still implying that in some way, I support dumping of asylum seekers and other vulnerable people in Malaysia and administrative detention here.

    No, it implies that you think that of the two, overall, the LNP is even worse. A vote for the Greens is a vote for the Greens. A lower preference than the LNP for the ALP is simply an indication that you like the Liberals less.

    It’s also a vote for agreeing that I should be denied a choice over whom I support.

    No, that’s an informal vote.

    As the the money for the vote, I donate a lot more than $2.40 (or whatever it is per election) to The Greens both in work and in cash.

    But then you deny them a vote, and funding. And encourage others to do likewise.

    If others did as you did, then the Greens wouldn’t be able to point to 12% of the vote in the House of Representatives, and make the point that the system is broken where 12% of the vote leads to less than 1% of the seats.

    As to the CEC and other parties of the bigoted right, they get the same number on my preference count as the ALP/LNP.

    That’s good news for them – I suspect there’s even fewer of their positions you agree with than those of the ALP/LNP.

  • 36
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    As for the ALP being “a right-of-centre party”, I suppose it depends on where you think the centre is.

    I’d look at it in terms of the status quo. Are the changes proposed by the ALP bringing us more to the right or more to the left? Fair Work was a mild change to the left from WorkChoices, but still well, well to the right of the situation before WorkChoices. Marriage Equality would be a move to the left of the status quo, but that’s about the only move in a lefty direction I can think of from the ALP. Was the stimulus package “left”? It’s kind of basic economics, isn’t it? The carbon price? Maybe, but it’s a market solution to the problem of carbon emissions – the “tax” is only the very short-term stepping stone to the market price.

    Does the ALP believe in better funding the public health or education systems, closing the gaps, improving equity of access, basically making them good enough that no-one would bother with the private ones? No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t really even believe in the right of workers to engage in genuine industrial action, any more. (If you think it does, read the Fair Work Act.)

    Judge ‘em by their actions. There’s very little the ALP does that moves us to the left, but quite a lot that moves us to the right.

  • 37
    Williams Roy
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    G’day, I’m Roy Williams (the author of the piece in the The Punch which prompted Jeremy’s initial post).

    I’m entering this discussion because I’m a fan of Crikey and would like nothing better than to stimulate further debate about Christianity and/or the proper limits of freedom of religion in Australia. I also want to defend myself against the charge of “intellectual dishonesty”.

    First, may I say to Jeremy: I understand where you are coming from. I’m a lawyer too. I vote Green/ALP, support gay marriage, hate the Malaysia Solution, and feel increasingly fed up with the two-party system as it operates under Australia’s current electoral laws. I also agree with you that voting informal is a cop out.

    And I disagree passionately with much of the agenda of the so-called “Religious Right”. Believe me, I’ve copped lots of criticism from them. Indeed, as a “left-wing Christian”, it frustrates me no end that I fail so often to get through to people like you, who share many of the same (non-theological) opinions as I do.

    Jeremy, you and I differ on the most fundamental question of them all: what is the ultimate source of ethics, i.e., of right and wrong? Is it purely a man-made construct, or is it the creation of something far, far greater than ourselves?

    I was a near-atheist until my mid-thirties. I held views about “religion” which were, I expect, very similar to yours now. Then – much to my own surprise, after several intensive years of study and reflection – I came to the firm belief that Christianity is true. Amazingly, I found that I had faith. (And I wrote a book to try to explain myself to gob-smacked friends and relatives.).

    With respect, Jeremy, you have misunderstood the thrust of my piece. The fault is no doubt mine for not having been clear enough.

    I welcome vigorous debate about Christianity and atheism. I have no desire whatever to “silence” anybody. I wish there was a lot more discussion of this sort (minus the nasty invective).

    Peter de Mambla is right. Everyone has a personal view as to what OUGHT to be the law of the land. But we live in a democracy. It is the elected legislature which makes law, not the unelected churches. That is as it should be. But the various churches are surely entitled to try to persuade politicians to their point of view – just like trade unions, say, or business/employer groups, registered charities, sporting associations, arts bodies, gays, journalists, environmentalists, Crikey bloggers etc. It is all part of a pluralist society.

    Christian groups themselves do not speak with one voice. Far from it. Nor should they if conscientious believers disagree.

    Do you advocate the LEGAL curtailment of a religious believer’s right to speak in the public square about a political issue? In other words: censorship? That is a very different thing to saying that you disagree strongly with the “Christian” position on a particular issue.

    For the record: Michel Onfray’s complaint is not MERELY that Christians should cease to lobby politicians to enact laws reflecting a Christian worldview (though that complaint is objectionable enough). He is on record as advocating a “post-Christian secularism”, i.e., a public square in which, ideally, atheism is positively enshrined and religious discourse is eliminated.

    Onfray writes in his book ‘The Atheist Manifesto’:

    “[B]y decreeing the equality of all religions and of those who reject them, as today’s regnant brand of secularism recommends, we condone relativism: equality of magical thinking and rational thought, of fable, myth and reasoned argument… We can no more tolerate neutrality and benevolence toward every conceivable form of discourse … than we can lump together executioner and victim, good and evil. Must we remain neutral? Can we still afford to? I do not think so.”

    Onfray’s premise is that ALL religious belief is self-evidently irrational (“nonsense”, to use Fran’s word). Unsurprisingly, billions of conscientious believers worldwide resent that kind of attitude.

    Finally, to Matt: your point about the variety of religious belief is a valid one. Countless books have been written on the subject. My own view is this. Not all religions can be 100 per cent true. But that is a long way from saying that all religions are 100 per cent false – which is atheism. The variety and ubiquity of religious experience, throughout the history of mankind, convinces me that all religions are at least partly right.

    In deciding which religion comes closest to the whole truth, it is necessary to spend time reading, thinking and praying – with an open mind.

  • 38
    peter de mambla
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    First point. If religious people want to coerce others into modes of behavior to suit their beliefs they can expect resistance.

    And usually such resistance incurs an additional charge: resistance to arrest.

    Of course this is assuming that the belief system the tenets of which the authorities are putting into practice is held by the majority. Otherwise how could we ever get to a situation where the belief system of a minority is imposed on the majority against its will?

    They can please themselves as to their actions but they should be aware that other people are free agents and will act accordingly.

    I don’t know about this “free agent” talk. Try disobeying the traffic laws, for example, and see how long you’ll last. People break the law at their own risk, and claiming as a defence that they’re a “free agent” just won’t impress the judge.

    There is no “ought”, there are only actions and consequences.

    “Ought” such actions be carried out? “Out” there to be such consequences? Or is there no “ought”?

    Second point. You agree that religious people believe that they have access to a complete and universal truth. Yet, each major religion contradicts some or all of others in fundamental areas. They cannot all be true. At most one is true but there is no way to determine which one.

    The absence of unanimity does not necessarily mean the absence of truth.

    But if you think about it, everyone, in some respect or other, claims to be in possession of the truth regarding the fundamental questions of life. By saying someone is not in possession of the truth, you are implying that you are in possession of the truth, at least to the extent that you are sufficiently knowledgeable of the truth to be able to distinguish between truth and untruth.

    But then how did you come to have such an acquaintance with the truth? Was it by revelation? by reason? by common sense? by intuition? Different people will have different answers to this question.

    So of course there are competing truth claims in the marketplace of ideas (whether you call them religious, secular-humanist, scientific, reason, etc.)

    I suppose yours is the “true” one.

    Furthermore there is no evidence aside from the claims of the adherents themselves of the truth of any religion. What are we to make of this?

    The electrochemical reactions that occur in your brain and result in your thoughts — who controls them? If they’re random and chance, then your thoughts would be unintelligible. If it is you who controls them, then that’s putting the horse before the cart, having the effect precede the cause.

    So as to what evidence you’ll find persuasive regarding such ultimate matters, I guess that depends on …

    For me, it suggests that none of them are true and that the only laws are the ones we devise for the functioning of a safe and civil society.

    The Nazis never did anything “illegal”, living according to the laws they devised for the proper functioning of their society. And yet they were punished according to law.

    Third. The voice of the people is the voice of god. Laws and authority should derive from a mandate of the governed otherwise they are tyranny.

    “Should”, eh? And is this opinion of “ought/should” based on arbitrary, subjective opinion; or is it an expression of objective truth?

    Final point. Yes one person’s ought is another’s blasphemy. But if I do not believe as you how can I blaspheme? In any event surely if there is a divine power who will punish blasphemy then that is between me and the relevant god(s). Why would you presume to know better than the divine? Why should you (or anyone else) administer temporal punishment if further punishment awaits in the afterlife? I really don’t understand.

    Politics (of which this site concerns itself) is the application of a society’s philosophy of life, its answer to the fundamental question of how we ought to live. In societies such as ours, we believe that the majority’s philosophical viewpoint ought to prevail, while opening it up to constant challenge and debate in the interest of democratic discourse. However, when the society decides to administer negative sanctions on those whose views it considers beyond the pale (such as pedophiles, bigamists, and still to some extent, homosexuals, etc.), then those with the minority view point will suffer the consequences, perhaps being put in jail or even facing capital punishment depending on the jurisdiction.

    Since how a society orders its life will be governed by its prevailing philosophy/religion/worldview, temporal punishment is an inevitable aspect of any government, whether it is at the family level, municipal level, or state level.

    Now, which philosophy/religion/worldview ought to prevail will unlikely be unanimous; and those on the losing end of the debate, those whose philosophy loses the sanction of the state, will be on the receiving end of the temporal punishment administered against those who attempt to resist the will of the majority as expressed by the state. This is an inevitable aspect of any society, whether the punishment is considered temporal or whether to call it temporal is considered tautologous.

  • 39
    zoot
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    I’m staying out of this (tl;dr) but my attention was caught by:

    … what is the ultimate source of ethics, i.e., of right and wrong? Is it purely a man-made construct, or is it the creation of something far, far greater than ourselves?

    Since every god is a man-made construct (how does your god differ from Mithra, Krishna, Zeus, Apollo, Zoroaster etc etc), the answer must be the ultimate source of ethics is human.
    I’ll now return you to the topic.

  • 40
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    The problem comes when those who believe don’t just say their piece, as it is their right to do, but go further and make laws based not on what is ethical qua ethics, but on what they understand the Big Beard In The Sky to want.

    A meaningful study of ethics involves study of things like the Greater Good and personal freedoms and the Prisoner’s Dilemma and Game Theory and the fine balance between conflicting pressures and deep philosophy, when investigated to hyperfine detail, just as mathematics, when studied to a deep enough level, starts to find that questions like “what is ‘three’” and “what does ‘bigger’ mean” are actually really hard to definitively answer.

    But at a higher level, we know that 2+2=4, and 3000>3.14159. Just as we know that murder is not something we want to encourage, and neither is theft.

    The thing is, we don’t need God, under whatever name, to provide a reason why murder is wrong. It’s wrong because it takes sentient life, because it harms those around, because it can so easily start eternal cycles of revenge, for all sorts of reasons.

    “Because this three thousand year old text says so” is not a useful answer. “Because God says so” is even less so. At least the existence of the text can be independently confirmed. And that’s the thing: basing ethics, much less laws, upon a foundation which ultimately rests upon “because the voices in my head say so” is about as appropriate as to define pi as equal to three because the Bible says so (which it does: 1Kings 7:23). And besides, those texts say all sorts of stuff when you actually go and read them. Oh, wait, this two thousand year old book says that all of that four thousand year old book is obsolete, except for the stuff which confirms our prejudices. It’s amazing how the people who get most upset about the existence of gay people as an abomination against God don’t get similarly upset about Oysters Kilpatrick and poly-cotton shirts (which appear right next to the section about gay people, and with similar force and consequences). It’s amazing how selective Jesus was in which Laws He rescinded, and how he managed to do so without ever actually mentioning it in the Book you guys keep thumping at the rest of us.

    There is no problem with allowing religious folk to say their piece, but that makes no obligation on me to take seriously a statement that I must be forbidden from doing something because someone’s Invisible Friend said I must.

    There is the trick: you have the right to say that Russell’s Invisible Teapot speaks to you and therefore I must have laws restricting what I may do, and I have the right to point out that you are speaking pure rubbish, and that “Because (Your) God Says So” is not a meaningful, useful, or indeed rational answer to any question that pertains to me.

    And when you talk about the plurality and incompossibility of religions, then you really do miss the point. Indeed, many books have been written on the subject. And the answer is either (very rarely) that there is no answer as to which is the one True true religion, or (vastly more commonly), that the One True true religion just happens to be the one which the author subscribes to. Because God says so. Honest. What an amazing coincidence. God told me to tell you. (Which, only slightly paraphrased, is the conclusion you seem to have come to: Jesus is God, because, when the Jesuitic Scholasticism and circular sophistry cancels itself out, turns out to be because Jesus said so. And that’s meant to be an answer.)

    Besides, you’re all wrong. God is a Girl and Her name is Eris, and she’s been playing all the other religions for chumps for millennia. Go ahead, prove me wrong.

  • 41
    stephdoubleu
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    what’s the principle that as soon as the Nazi’s are brought up in an online conversation, it will end soon after?

  • 42
    Matt Hardin
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    (sorry accidentally posted before spell check etc.)

    You just don’t get it Peter. On your first objection (and this goes for Roy as well) when people give contradictory information purporting to be truth at least on of them is wrong. This is not a matter of belief, I do not have to know the actual truth, one of them is wrong (at least) as both cannot be right. Without more evidence I cannot know the truth. Sadly religious apologists never provide more evidence than their own assertions and their holy writings.

    Second, you and Roy seem to agree that the people are the source of the law and not religion (religious people’s opinion is shaped by their own revealed wisdom). That is fine. I take you then feel that they should not have a privileged position in the debate i.e. no tax exempt schools, no automatic right of reply on moral questions (e.g. Archbishops etc.). We are in agreement.

    You seem to have some belief that God is good. There is little evidence for this (see the Old testament), however the question arises; are divine laws good because they are divine or are they good because there is an absolute standard of good? If they are good because they are divine then anything at all can be sanctioned by religion, if not then there must be a different way to approach good that can be found without religion and indeed can be used to judge divine laws. Of course humans being able to judge the divine is against the tenets of almost every religion…

    Until you can engage in such questions without sophistry, you are adding nothing to the debate.

  • 43
    Indiana Jones
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Steph @41: The principle you are looking for is Godwin’s Law I think.

  • 44
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Onfray’s premise is that ALL religious belief is self-evidently irrational (“nonsense”, to use Fran’s word). Unsurprisingly, billions of conscientious believers worldwide resent that kind of attitude.

    And billions of conscientious believers worldwide hold the premise that not being religious makes you a lesser person, sinful, even evil – someone with no morality, someone who deserves eternal torment.

    Both sides have issues respecting each other.

    But Roy, the point you’ve missed is that the real debate in this country is to what extent we should all be governed by the religious rules of one particular sect.

    From your comment it appears that you don’t believe that if a group – even if it were the majority, although nowadays it clearly isn’t – believed that gays should be discriminated against because Paul and the writer of Leviticus didn’t think much of them, that the law should do that.

    The problem is that many of your fellow Christians (and adherents of other religions), do. They have a real problem separating out their religious views, which they’d like to evangelise, and which they’d hope other people would choose to follow – from what they’d like the law to impose on others. And it’s both inconsistent (don’t they believe that God gave us free will to come to Him of our own free choice; how is that a free choice if it’s imposed by the state?) and dangerous (as they’d realise if another sect had more votes to impose its will on them than they do to impose their will on it).

    Here’s another question: do you think that religious groups should, simply by virtue of being religious, get massive tax advantages? I certainly agree that charities should, both secular and religious, but why should an organisation, simply for being religious, get to sit on enormous land-holdings tax-free?

    The rest of us are, in effect, paying for the system that gives them these huge tax advantages. We are paying for the school chaplains that have no counselling training. We are paying for schools to indoctrinate children with one religion over others. People are discriminated against by the law because certain religions think their behaviour is forbidden by God.

    That’s what the main debate is about. By pretending it’s about somehow silencing Christians (which only a very few fringe people would advocate – about the same as the number who’d advocate silencing atheists) you’re doing your readers a disservice.

  • 45
    Angra
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Tax breaks for religious groups have had some interesting consequences. Scientology for one. But my favourite example is King O’Malley’s church. While in Texas O’Malley founded a church called “Waterlily Rock Bound Church, the Red Skin Temple of the Cayuse Nation” in order to take advantage of a government land grant then being offered to churches. He proclaimed himself First Bishop.

    He had a rather enthusiastic assistant who was experienced in theatrical effects. So he arranged for fire to shoot out of mountains at O’Malleys command, miraculously conjured some stone tablets with God’s revelations on them (which no one could read except O’Malley), made ‘lame’ people to start walking, electricity appearing to come from O’Malley’s body while in the spirit etc.

    Unfortunately the assistant was also a drunk, and one night in a bar he spilled the beans on the whole business. The local people were out to lynch O’Malley, so eventually he had to escape to Australia, and became one of the first Federal minisiters.

    Amongst other things he founded Canberra as the capital (and rigged the design competition so his compatriot Burley-Griffin won), set the ball rolling for the India-Pacific railway, and founded the Commonwealth Bank.

  • 46
    jules
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    “I also have an issue when you use your authority over your own kids to indoctrinate them into your religion, even at school, denying them the information necessary to make their own choice about what to believe.” – jeremy

    Yeah, but come on… would you rather fundies had someone else indoctrinate their kids?

    Being a kid, well being born means you have a nervous system thats specifically designed to be indoctrinated. That is what happens to it as it develops into adulthood. You are effectively saying religious people shouldn’t indoctrinate their kids the way non religious people do. That they have no right to brainwash their kids into whatever random irrational belief system they happen to follow (fundieism), yet another random irrational belief system is OK (atheism)?

    What harm does raising your kids with religious beliefs actually do?

    From my POV/experience most religious nuts were not raised as fundamentalists, they are born agains, be it Christian, Muslim or whatever, if anything being raised in a religion is a bit like a vaccination against taking religion too seriously. According to a strict fundy interpretation of the bibble we are all descended from inbreeding freaks (who did cain or abel breed with given their parents were the first people?) Everyone works this out by the time they are 12 unless they weren’t exposed to the idea in the first place. So banning religious instruction of kids is at best counterproductive (as well as fascist and authoritarian in itself).

    As for new atheism .. well i guess anyone who thinks BF Skinner’s Pigeon story tells us anything is as unthinking as any religious nut, and they should all be locked in a padded room together with nerf baseball bats till they grow up and discover better uses for their time and energy.

  • 47
    peter de mambla
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Catsidhe, as Australian society progressively moves away from the tenets of the philosophy on which many or most of its societal norms are based, then those norms that have hitherto enjoyed normative status will increasingly face challenge, since their continued status will make less and less sense to many people.

    But as long as there is a significant enough population that still supports the governing societal norms, those advocating change will continue to experience some resistance, which may indeed grow more vigorous the more it is confronted and challenged by those advocating change.

    Politicians, when push comes to shove, will look at the numbers. We do live in a democracy, no?

    This is not a matter of belief, I do not have to know the actual truth, one of them is wrong (at least) as both cannot be right.

    True, two diametrically opposed propositions cannot both be true. The basic law of logic is the law of non-contradiction. Christianity and Buddhism, for example, can’t both be true.

    Without more evidence I cannot know the truth.

    How will you know it when you see it? Will the electrochemical reactions that occur in your brain and result in your thoughts tell you so? But religious people have these same electrochemical reactions. How do these electrochemical reactions know to distinguish between right and wrong? (By the way, I meant to say “the cart before the horse” before, in case anyone noticed.)

    Second, you and Roy seem to agree that the people are the source of the law and not religion (religious people’s opinion is shaped by their own revealed wisdom).

    I can’t speak for Roy, but in a democracy, people are the source of law. In a theocracy, God is the source of law. In an autocracy, The Great Leader is the source of law. In a plutocracy, Wall Street and the City of London are the source of law.

    Actually, I guess when you stop and really think about it, we live in a mixture of all. We’re a democracy, we’re a theocracy, we’re a plutocracy … though I don’t really think we can say we are an autocracy. Or rather, I guess it’s best to say we are a democracy informed by theocratic principles (the coronation of the Queen is a religious ceremony very much suggestive of theocracy) with a powerful, though hidden, plutocratic element. (The Remembrancer, representing the interests of the City of London in the UK parliament, enjoys the privilege of sitting opposite the Speaker in the House of Commons.) And Sir John Kerr’s actions suggest an element of autocracy (on behalf of the unelected sovereign), though that’s perhaps stretching things a bit.

    You seem to have some belief that God is good.

    It depends on how you define good. Then after you do so (if we are to be rational about it), we’ll have to determine whether this definition is based on arbitrary, subjective opinion, or whether it is objectively true. If the former, then in a roomful of … you know the rest. If the latter, then what makes it objective?

    I take you then feel that they should not have a privileged position in the debate i.e. no tax exempt schools, no automatic right of reply on moral questions (e.g. Archbishops etc.). We are in agreement.

    The status such philosophies hold vis-a-vis the state depends on how much they prevail in society. When Greek ministers of government are sworn in, it’s a religious ceremony carried out by priests. Clearly the philosophy the Greek Orthodox Church propounds prevails to such an extent in Greek society that such is possible. So to what extent the (revealed) philosophy you’re so inimical to enjoys preferential treatment by the state will depend on how much weight that philosophy carries in society. In the end, living in a democracy, it depends on how many votes they can bring to the table to determine whether they’ll be able to continue to enjoy such preferential treatment.

    Until you can engage in such questions without sophistry, you are adding nothing to the debate.

    Sophistry? To analyse the coherence of an argument is sophistry? God (!) help us!

  • 48
    SHV
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Peter, just on this point:

    In a theocracy, God is the source of law.

    How does that work? Doesn’t some person or body have to tell everyone else what god has ‘said’? Even some old guy who wanders down a hill with some slabs of stone with a few rules written on them? “God” told me you all have to….

  • 49
    jules
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    “Christianity and Buddhism, for example, can’t both be true.”

    Yes they can peter. Theoretically anyway. Cos many aspects or interpretations of Buddhism and Christianity are not mutually exclusive, but are complimentary. In fact saying “Christianity (or its interpretations) can’t both be true” is more accurate than saying “Christianity and Buddhism can’t both be true.” Cos there are Christians who believe jesus will come back packing a fistful of Glocks and a fleet of nukular subs, and others who believe that prosperity theology.

    BTW In a theocracy, or a democracy people are the source of the law. If you can show how “God” created the law in Tibet before the Chinese invaded then that’d be cool, but I’m guessing you can’t. (Cos a bunch of Tibetan people did, not god.)

  • 50
    Matt Hardin
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Rereading your posts Peter, I see no evidence for analysis of my arguments. I see vague philosophical meanderings when faced with direct questions and avoidance of defining terms. If you think that religious people should be able to force, using the power of the state, behaviour that is peculiar to their religion, come out and say so. I do not think that they should. This is an “ought” in your sense. Laws “ought not” infringe on private behaviour that does not harm others. (please note that your arguments on paedophiles and nazis are covered here – both harm others). We are talking about blasphemy laws, apostasy laws, laws against sexual behaviors between consenting adults and things of that nature. In addition I would add that religious people do not have a monopoly on morals and ethics and that treating them as if they do is offensive to atheists, agnostics and adherents of different religions.

    You ask how do I, personally, know truth if I see it. My answer is based on the evidence. Things are true if and only if they consistently correspond with reality. Laws and behaviour are right (or good) if they maximize well being while minimizing interference with enjoyment of life. There is a tension there but that tension is resolved by society and not by revealed wisdom.

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