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A.C. Grayling in Australia and the way forward

March 8, 2010

A.C. Grayling is currently in Australia for the 2010 Global Atheist Convention and yesterday he spoke at the Sydney Opera House on the topic of The Anatomy of a Quarrel: Religion and Anti-Religion From the Latter Point of View. It was a wonderful talk to a receptive audience of people who are sometimes, I think, a little cut off from the rest of the world for intellectual discussions of this magnitude. I have never seen him talk live before and it was quite good to see a very large crowd attend.

Grayling made a number of key points, the main one being that organised religion has an influence on society that far outweighs its following and a disproportionate influence on education, government and society. Given that in the UK less than 3% of the population are active, once a week, church goers and I believe that the numbers are similar here in Australia, whereas they manage to have 4 weekly programs on the government funded BBC and an almost instant right to comment on any social or moral question. This is a problem in a world where at least 20% and possibly more of the global population is agnostic/atheist, as it means religious views are disproportionally large compared to their following. In Australia last year, the government forked out millions of dollars to support the Pope’s visit to Sydney. Could you imagine governments doing the same for an Atheist convention?

So, how can the influence of religion be reduced? Atheists need to become better organised and give themselves a clearer voice in the world. Evangelical Christians are extremely well organised and very aggressive in getting their point of view across. If a media outlet says something they don’t like, or a politician has a slip of the tongue, they pounce on them with a well organised information (or depending on your point of view, a disinformation campaign) to ‘correct’ what they believe is an incorrect view of the world. This has two effects; firstly it gives news outlets something easy to publish and being slightly controversial, it sells. It also has the effect of scaring politicians into always seeking the views of religious leaders, to save themselves embarrassing press later on. There are two keys that will help change this attitude, better communication and more aggression.


It is the mass media that is the key to giving atheism a voice and dampening those of religion. Without a better organised voice, atheism will never become a ‘mainstream’ voice, despite having more adherents that most religions. This does not need to be a top-down, hierarchical approach like the Catholic Church and views among our members can be many and varied, just like Evangelical Christians or Muslims. What is needed though is more effective co-operation and co-ordination, better fund raising efforts (anyone ever registered an atheist charity in Australia with a website that can easily collect small sums of cash?). Every topic needs to be pounced on, every religious view needs to be countered with a secular one and it needs to not only happen quickly, but also from many different sources. Finally, it must be made easy for the media. Journalists like it when their stories are spoon fed to them; therefore any response needs to be written in such a way as to be instantly publishable by the press.


Why is it that Christians can publish up to 3,000 books per year in the US while Atheists only manage about 6 in almost 10 years? Why are we not beating on the door of the publisher DEMANDING equal access of our views? Because we are generally too nice; too willing to hear what other people have to say, too humanist in our views. Atheism seems at times to be amateur discussion hour by a bunch of leftwing academics than an effective media campaign. Tolerance and free exchange of ideas is all very nice, except when the other side don’t. We need to take a leaf out of the religious rights book and be much more aggressive. We need people to rant, so that the way is easier for the rest of us.


Realistic Religion

March 5, 2010

I like to consider myself conservative (economically) and a social liberal. I also believe that we need to think realistically about the world and that sometimes our idealism about how the world should be, must be tempered with how the world actually is.

Many, particularly European countries, have been debating recently whether to allow Muslim students to wear headscarves to  government run schools. This has been particularly topical in France and the Netherlands. Because of fears of Muslim domination of society, these states have moved to ban the wearing of religious symbols in public schools and in the government bureaucracy. A noble gesture striking a blow not only for women’s rights (women of course being subjected to the shackles that are the barque), but also for the separation of church and state. Except that the consequences of such actions are far worse than the relatively minor debate about what people do and do not wear.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m all for freedom of expression and freedom of speech. I also passionately believe that the church should have no part in the running of the state. I’m even dubious on the tax breaks the church gets for its religious activities. However, we need to be realistic about the alternative and what could happen if we force muslims out of mainstream schooling.

One of the best ways of ensuring the young muslims become a part of mainstream society is to ensure that they feel part of society and adopt the norms and other cultural cues that the rest of us hold dear. School is a very important part of this and a very important part of shaping their view of the world. If we force these students out, because of religious ideas that they hold, they will find education in muslim run schools, outside of mainstream education. This will lead to them feeling marginalised by society and they will not necessarily learn societal norms and cultures. This then leads, in some instances, to radicalization and (potentially in the very extreme cases) terrorism.

So, lets not alienate one sector of our community over what are relatively unimportant dress code matters. Let’s embrace all those who live in our society and accept all for who they are. The marginalisation of one sector of society can only lead to isolation and radicalization.

Art and Religion

January 11, 2010

I recently listened to a podcast by Camille Paglia, an American author, teacher and Professor of the Arts in Philadelphia. What I found very interesting about this talk was her argument that religion should be taught. Which is surprising, coming from someone who is an avowed atheist and feminist. I started listening with some skepticism, but you know what? By the end I could see her point and I actually think I agreed with some of what she had to say.

Essentially, she argues that an understanding of religion and their symbols is essential to understanding art and culture, in particular our cultural legacy and history. For example, you cannot understand much of the last two thousand years of art, up until the mid 19th century, without understanding the context of that art; and that context was for the most part religious. How can you understand the work of De Vinci or Botticelli without understanding the religious stories behind the work.

Now, personally I love much of the religious art work for its aesthetic beauty, despite its religious connotations and after listening to her arguments agree that you actually cannot understand a lot of what these painting, sculptures and drawings are doing unless you understand the stories behind them.

Overall, an interesting podcast none the less and certainly one that we should give thought to. With the ending of religious education in many schools, quite rightly done under the seperation of Church and State, much of this historical background is being lost. Maybe we should teach religion in a historical sense in schools? Not as part of ‘religious’ classes per say, but as part of an understanding of where our European heritage comes from (assuming of course that is your background). For a white European, understanding the background to Christianity is important (whether you a religious or an atheist) as it drove much of our history and politics. For example the 30 year war and the reformation, the flight of the English to the New World or the Spanish inquisition’s effect on scientific and artistic thought.

Maybe it should be taught as part of an art appreciated class?

Airport baggage

January 7, 2010

I was reading this article this morning on a bungled terrorism training exercise in Europe. Essentially police in Slovakia placed explosives in the luggage of a number of airline passengers then proceeded to go find them (the explosives that is). Unfortunately, explosives placed on one unsuspecting passenger, who was travelling to Ireland, was missed and the passenger boarded the flight to Dublin. Then, the Irish police failed to detect the explosives coming into the country. The news article makes a big deal about security forces missing the explosives and how embarrassing it is for them that this could happen.

However, what the article fails to do question is why on earth policy were using an innocent victim’s luggage to test their security screening processes. Using a random passenger’s luggage for an exercise like this is simply trouble waiting to happen.

The article then goes on to state that the man was arrested but later released and will not face any charges.

Arrested? Later released without charge?!? Thank goodness for that! What sort of world are we coming to where an innocent man is arrested for a police bungle? Imagine that he had travelled to the US (or Australia for that matter). Would we find him placed on some terrorism watch list, forever stigmatized with the ‘terrorist’ tag? Would the AFP be trailing him for months, spending millions of dollars tracking down every school classmate he ever had to interview him, in order to ‘complete their investigations’? It beggars belief as to the sort of world we are coming to.

Humanist Day

January 1, 2010

Why not make new years eve a global day of celebration? Religious faiths have their own day of glory. It would be good if there could be a day where the whole world comes together to celebrate life. The foundations are already there and it has many advantageouses over christmas.

Firstly there is not the massive social pressure to consume. Modern Christmas has, to a large extent, been hijacked by commercial interests so that we are ‘forced’ to buy stuff far inexcess of our actual wants and often of our desires as well. We buy too many presents for our kids, drink more than is good for us and purchase food (a lot of which is wasted) that could feed a small African country. The mere fact that retailers years are made or broken on the back of this Xmas spending binge just shows how far wrong it has gone.

Likewise with family gatherings. The time around Xmas has the highest rate of domestic violence and other family breakdowns, driven mainly by the pressure to ‘be with the one’s you love’, which often ends up being an oxymoron. It is in a lot of families not a time of happiness but a time of massive stress.

So my suggestion is this. Let’s return Xmas to it’s rightful owners, the religious Christians, as a religious festival and forget about all it as a family celebration. Once we have done that we can have a truely global celebration of life and humanity on new years eve.

NYE has many in-built advantages for a day of celebration. Firstly it is global in nature, with all people around the world celebrating in their own ways. Secondly there is not the consumerist binge that christmas entails. True, there is often a lot of alcohol consumed, but this is comparable to Christmas celebrations. Finally, there is not the massive social pressure to spend time with family; you can in fact spend it how and with you wish. From a small intimate gathering of friends through to joining one of the huge street parties that occur all over the world. The good nature of these events, family friendly atmosphere and lack of violence despite the amount of alcohol consumed makes it a perfect event to celebrate humanity.

So it is time to make NYE a celebration of not just the beginning of a new year but of humanity as a whole.

I’m back

December 31, 2009

I’m back after a very long absence. A whole year has passed since I last wrote a blog; too long. It seems that whenever I get out of the work mindset for a while, the urge to write and think about the world rears it’s head again and so it is again this summer.

I’ve been reading a lot over the last week or so on a very wide range of topics. I’m currently reading Cambrai by Bryn Hammond. It’s a pretty good account of the first real combined arms attack of WW1. I’m getting more into the First World War recently, having just finished Frommells as well.

Happy new year to all.

Public Nudity, the beach and a bit of controversy

January 4, 2009

The beach. A place of sun, sand, waves and, if you live in Australia at any rate, bikini clad women and sometimes even topless women. However, there appears to be a small number of people who find the sight of so much flesh amoral and slightly disturbing.

Don’t you find it odd that some people find such nudity offensive? I’m not referring here to full frontal nudity, strip-club style or wandering around the suburbs completely naked, but about the attempt by Rev. Fred Nile to ban topless sunbathing on Sydney beaches. Other conservative MPs have also come out in support. This raises a question; is why do some people get offended by naked, particularly womens’, bodies?

Now there are some religions, Islam springs to mind, where their religious texts bad the womens’ body from sight. And in fact I believe that showing any skin is frowned upon [please enlighten me if I’m wrong on this, my knowledge of Islam isn’t huge]. However no such issue occurs in Christianity. Nowhere in the Bible, as far as I can remember, does it say that a man cannot look at another women. You cannot covet another man’s wife, but it doesn’t prevent you from coveting an unmarried women. In fact some of the characters in the old testament had more than one wife!

So, to be helpful for those non-Muslims, I’ve listed out a couple of points below.

Reasons not to get offended

The best reason I can think of NOT to get offended by the sight of women’s breasts is that about half the population have them, and pretty much everyone has sucked on them at some stage, usually as babies, sometimes as adults. Although, if you believe MLC David Clarke, our children should not be faced with such offensive sights. Personally, I can think of a lot more offensive sights, such as various forms of extremism, that children should not face rather than bare skin. In fact every child that I know are indifferent to the sight of naked flesh – its only the adults who get offended by it. Additionally, almost all children are breast fed, at least initially. Therefore, we’ve all seen them, its not like its anything new.

The female form should be loved, cherished and admired. I’m not sure how any heterosexaul man out there could not admire the beauty in a women’s body.

However too Much of a Good Thing

I can, however, think of one very good reason to ban topless sunbathing and that is to reduce the instances of skin cancer. We spend lots of money educating people about the dangers of too much sun, from the old “slip, slop, slap” campaigns to newer, more graphic advertising. Therefore, we should discourage public nudity for the sake of skin cancer and saving a few lives [and skin from the leathery effect it gets with too much sun]. Maybe if Fred based his arguments on concern for the young womens’ health he might get further.

Our politicians have sensibly refused to endorse this issue. Lets hope it all dies off when we return to work in January.

Einstein’s blackboard

January 1, 2009

Why do we educate? Governments spend large portions of thier budgets educating the population in standardized mass education programs, but to what end?

There are many discussions on how we educate our children, lots of choice of the type of school, ciriculum to be taught and techniques used to teach it. However, before these questions can be answered we need to understand why we are educating our young. Whats the purpose of it?

Mass Education

Mass education began in the 19th century as a response to industrialisation. The factories needed workers educated to a certain level and the government provided that through mass, standardised education. In the 20th century this was expanded to seconday education and, finally, by the end of the century to mass university education and the mega campuses we have today. While I would argue that education has followed the needs of industry and society for an educated workforce, I believe that it is time to ask ourselves what use education is for the coming centruy.

We live in a world today where not only careers change often, but for many people the career that they end up with may not have even existed a decade ago. A perfect example of this is anyone who is involved in web design – anm industry that now fuses technology and marketing.

Mass Education is no longer relevant. In fact I am starting to think that mass production it is becoming more and more out of date.

The first thing I would argue is that mass education, particularly high school educaiton, is no longer appropriate for the needs of our workforce. The system of grammer schools and trade schools was dismantled in the late 1970s and early 1980s as part of an ideological driven campaign for ‘equality’ in education. This misguided attempt at creating a level playing field has failed miserably and it is now time to go the other direction, customised education.

By customised education I don’t mean that each student chooses their career path at the age of 12 and are thereafter stuck with their choice, but rather a more tailored approach for each child. For example children not only need to learn how to learn but also need to learn how to love learning. I’ve seen too many of my friends go through the education system and end up being stifled by it, rather than motivated.

Education also needs to be more broad based. Students need to learn philosophy, science and the history of our world. ‘Learning’ compters to me seems all a bit silly if a student can’t string a sentence together correctly or judge for themselves whether global warming is happening (it is) and what’s the best way of dealing with it.

Einstein’s blackboard
Originally uploaded by Garrettc

The Existance of God?

January 1, 2009

What would happen if the question of God’s existence was proven one way or the other?

Does the existence of god (God) matter? If He exists would that be the end of the earth for atheists (literally) and if he doesn’t exist, what then for organized religion?

The debate on the existence of god is an extremely passionate one; a debate that I don’t necessarily think I can add a lot to. However, I think we need to question the debate itself, by speculating what would happen if either side was right. Below, I have  listed possible ramifications of solving the debate either way. Its in no way a complete list, just a few ideas I’ve jotted down.


CominGloryJustJesus by mareeshastar

God exists

It is proven that a god does exist, outside the various religious texts, then what would happen to the world?

What then for the atheists? Probably the first thing would be for them to eat humble pie and admit they are wrong, be confirmed by the church ( after all the christian god is a merciful for giving god), and hurriedly start attending Sunday mass to make up for lost time.

The established Church may also begin to have a much greater say in government and society; after all if they are the messengers of the divine, then they probably should have some say in policy making. This may even turn hundreds of years of work towards democracy on its head – theocracy here we come. In addition priests may gain a more dominant position in society, regaining status lost well over 100 years ago.

Finally, it is quite possible that the world would become a lot more conservative. The Church has never been known for liberal attitudes; from homosexuality to women to in earlier times minority groups and it is likely that has the Church integrates itself more fully into government, that a more conservative attitude would take hold. This would also make social change a lot harder, be it issues such as women priests or economic liberalisation, slowing the rate of change in society right down.

God does not exist

I think the ramifications of proving that god does not exist are going to be far greater to society as a whole than the proving of his existence. Off the top of my head, I can think of a number of major issues:

  1. Social disruption – billions of people place a lot of faith in the existence of God, a lot more than place their faith in His non-existence. The social dislocation caused by these people suddenly losing their faith would be enormous. Riots and revolution may be the tip of the iceberg.
  2. Church – the Church is highly intertwined with daily life, from small local community organistations to entire states (think the Vatican and possibly Iran and Israel). Maybe the very basis for the existence of these states would cease to exist? The structure and reason for being of these states would vanish.
  3. Extremist and hate groups. If they couldn’t hate on religious grounds, be it Jewish or Muslim, then this would put a large number of these group out of action, at least until they found something else to hate about people.
  4. Church – What would happen to the wealth the Church had accumulated over thousands of years? Would they be sued for fraud? Governments claiming back years of taxes from these not-for-profit entities?


Now in this post I’m not speculating either way on whether a God exists or not, simply postulating potential ramifications should the question ever be answered. In reality I doubt that the question is ever going to be settled, at least in my life time. We should consider the possible ramifications of an answer to the question and indeed whether we want to answer it at all. The social and political upheaval would be immense.

Human responsibilities

December 29, 2008

A declaration of human responsibilities.

We write a lot about human rights, where they come from, what they are and how to enforce them. What we hear very little of are a declaration of human responsibilities.

The first question to ask ourselves is why do we need such a declaration? Well I believe that we do, as it will codify a moral obligation on people, not just prevent them from doing something, as in the case of negative right.

Below are the beginnings of a list of responsibilities that I believe would form the core of any declaration. These responsibilities will be expanded in later sections.

1) you have a responsibility to treat others with dignity and respect

2) you have a responsibility to use less resources from the earth than you put back in.

3) to ensure that future generations survive and flourish

4) to ensure that those members of society weaker than yourself are able to live their lives to the fullest

This, obviously, is just a start to a declaration of human responsibility and a lot more work needs to be done to complete it. Overall I think the idea should be that we need to leave the world a better place than we found it.