Summer 2010 - NZ Association of Rationalists and Humanists

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					Editorial Team
                       The Open Society,
                       Summer 2010, Volume 83, Number 4
Peter Harrison
Des Vize
David Stott

Cornelius Stone
Robert Harrison
                       Editorial - The Passionate Rationalist      1
                       by Peter Harrison
Rationalist House
64 Symonds Street      Denis Dutton - Another Candle Goes Out      2
Auckland 1001          by Vicki Hyde
New Zealand
(09) 373 5131          Dare to Think for Yourself                  3    by Denis Dutton

Published Quarterly
                       Afterword on Letter to a Christian Nation   6
NZ Association of
                       by Sam Harris
Rationalists and
Humanists (Inc).
Printed by Super       Two Myths about Secularism                  11
Print Ltd.             by Meg Wallace
                       Government and Religion in New Zealand      13
ISSN 1175-8619         by Max Wallace

The opinions
                       Catholic Priorities                         14
expressed by
                       by PZ Myers
contributors are not
nessasary shared
by the NZARH, the      Into The Unknown Country                    16
editors, or the        by Peter Harrison
                       It is Elegant, but is it Feasible?          18
Other publications     by Sharon Astyk
are welcome to
reprint from this
                       Book Review: From Faith to Reason           20
Journal, provided
acknowledgement        Letters to the Editor                       20
is made and a copy
of the publication
containing the
reprinted item is
sent to NZARH at
the address above.

The Passionate Rationalist
In life if you only aim for what is        To me it was about helping people        communication strategy, and would
easily achieved you will only ever         in my own way, promoting rational        like to see its appeal made broader
achieve the mediocre. It is better to      and humane policies, and in              so we might attract a wider
challenge yourself and fail than to        embracing freedom.                       demographic. My vision for the
sit on the sidelines and watch others                                               future is to see the NZARH develop
                                           In 2002 I was instrumental in the
take up the challenge. The fact is                                                  its younger membership and
                                           formation of the New Zealand Open
that we have only one life, and the                                                 leverage the new media and
                                           Source Society. There were many
only measure of that life is how we                                                 technologies that are available.
                                           who said that it was a waste of time,
choose to use it. Do we choose to          and that it had been tried before.       We will not be all we can be if we
use it in a meaningless                    After almost ten years we have           fail to challenge ourselves. This is
accumulation of wealth? Do we              proved the skeptics wrong, creating      true both for individuals and
choose the vanity of fame or power?        a strong and important society.          associations such as ours. We only
As a young man I had a                     During much of that time I was           need look at the Atheist Bus
philosophical crisis. I believed that it   President. Open Source Software is       campaign to see there is an
was possible to live rationally,           primarily about freedom; about           undercurrent of support for
justifying everything one did through      ensuring your own self                   rationalist and humanist issues. It is
rational thought. Naturally this made      determination. It is interesting that    not sufficient to simply survive. The
me a bore, and my friends objected         the values of Open Source are very       fact is that our membership has
to my insistence that what we did be       similar to scientific values. In         been static.
logically considered. The protests of      science we value sharing our
my friends got me thinking about the       discoveries and results. In Open
consistency of rationalism, and I          Source we value sharing. In science
came to a dreadful conclusion.             we value peer review. In Open
                                           Source we value collaboration.
Ultimately living requires that you
take active measures to stay alive,        Last year one of the key targets of
whether it is eating, working or any       the society was achieved in
other act. Therefore to justify these      successfully lobbying Government
acts we need to justify life itself;       to disallow software patents in New
objectively. Well, it's easy to justify    Zealand. I took a large role in that
life subjectively, but not so easy to      campaign, making submissions to
come up with a rational reason. My         and appearing before Parliamentary
realisation at this point was that I       Select Committees. It was said that
didn't need a rational reason.             we had no chance of turning around
                                           the legislation on software patents,
The only thing a rationalist needs to
                                           but through consistent use of
decide is that they like being alive;
                                           rational arguments we were able to
that it is a fortunate happenstance,
                                           make a compelling case, and were
and that they would like to make the
most out of the experience. It gave
me a wonderful sense of freedom;           In 2009 I joined the NZARH partly
that even while one can be rational        because of a realisation I had about
about many things one is not               myself; that being involved with the
obligated philosophically to be            same group for too long creates          My role as I see it is to turn the slow
rational all the time. In fact this        confirmation bias. I wanted to talk to   decline into strong growth and to
approach to life; that it is literally a   people outside my normal group of        promote the values we represent. It
once in a lifetime opportunity, gave       friends and discuss a broader range      is also to meet head on those who
me clarity about how to make life          of topics. A life-long committed         seek to undermine rationalism. But I
decisions.                                 rationalist, I wanted to get involved    do not define myself as being in
                                           and perhaps bring the energy I had       opposition to them. Rationalism and
And so we come full circle. I
                                           to a different area.                     Humanism are positive value
concluded that one of the limits we
place on ourselves is the fear of          Where to from here? Over the last        statements, not just an absence of
failure. I don't fear failure any more     year I have been involved with The       theism.
because the surest path to failure is      Open Society Journal. I believe the      Together we can meet the
not to try. So what was important?         Journal is a critical part of our        challenge of the future.

                                                                                             Summer 2010 - Page 1
Denis Dutton - Another Candle Goes Out
by Vicki Hyde, Media Spokesperson, former Chair-entity, NZ Skeptics

We´ve lost another light against the    is lacking, to have the strength to      But Denis was so much more than
darkness, with the death of Denis       acknowledge when we´d got things         that. He was an inspirational and
Dutton.                                 wrong, and to change our ideas in        thought-provoking speaker whose
                                        the face of a better explanation of      reach extended way past his
Denis was a founder member of
                                        how the world works.                     University of Canterbury classes to
New Zealand Skeptics, back in
                                                                                 a global audience through his
1984 when it was known as the NZ        Denis had a deeply moral sense in
                                                                                 widely acclaimed Arts & Letters
Committee for Scientific                that he abhorred the exploitation we
                                                                                 Daily website. He was a man of
Investigation of the Paranormal. For    so often see underpinning skeptical
                                                                                 intense enthusiasms and a
many years he was the face of           issues. He reserved his scorn for the
                                                                                 willingness to get involved, whether
organised scepticism in New             shysters willing to exploit vulnerable
                                                                                 campaigning to keep National
Zealand, fronting up to the media       people for their own gain - psychics
                                                                                 Radio uncommercialised to his
with many a pithy comment and a         claiming to be in touch with the dead,
                                                                                 championing of a Bad Writing
wry sense of humour.                    counsellors convincing their clients
                                                                                 Contest to highlight academic
                                        that their problems stemmed from
I´ll always associate Denis with                                                 obfuscation.
                                        suppressed memories of infant ritual
laughter - not scornful, nor
                                        sexual abuse. He spent year after        The world is a darker place without
dismissive, but rather his genuine
                                        year fielding calls about everything     him. But I also know that Denis
delight in the wonder and absurdity
                                        from alien abductions to moa             would be the first to remind me of a
of the human condition, and his joy
                                        sightings, and managed to retain a       quote from Carl Sagan, another
in discovery and debate. He
                                        sense of humour throughout.              skeptic lost far too early:
challenged me, and so many others,
to think, to critically evaluate what   What more could you wish from            "It´s better to light a candle than to
we think we know, to be prepared to     someone once referred to as New          curse the darkness."
suspend judgement when evidence         Zealand´s Arch-Skeptic?

Summer 2010 - Page 2
Dare to think for yourself
by Denis Dutton
With Toni Morrison, I acknowledge         his kindness and friendliness, his          preoccupations to a larger world of
that what I think and do is already       willingness to take time to help            fact and opinion. (We should remind
inscribed on my teaching, and all         them with their play. He's not              ourselves here that Kant himself
my work. Indeed, we do "teach             sermonizing from a pulpit, sacred or        had a capacious and hungry
values by having them," or at least       secular, he's just mowing the lawn,         intellect. Beyond his famous
cannot but reveal our values in the       and setting a decent adult example.         metaphysics, ethics, and
classroom in one manner or                                                            epistemology, he studied and wrote
                                          Ask me for an account of the
another. This is not a voluntary                                                      extensively on topics from
                                          principles which ought to underpin
option for those of us who teach in                                                   astronomy to the characters of
                                          higher education today and I'd turn
higher education or anywhere else:                                                    foreign cultures. He authored
                                          back to East Prussia in the
it is a permanent feature of the                                                      substantial physical geographies of
                                          eighteenth century, specifically to
human condition. I sit at my                                                          North and South America, and in his
                                          Kant's answer to the question,
computer overlooking a grass                                                          great theory of art, the Critique of
                                          What Is Enlightenment?, and to his
commons between suburban                                                              Judgment, repeatedly refers to the
                                          even more developed thought
houses. As it's a warm New                                                            arts of tribal peoples, as though to
                                          reproduced as the digressive
Zealand summer, neighborhood                                                          shake his readers out of their
                                          section 40 of his Critique of
children below are playing an                                                         Eurocentric prejudices and broaden
                                          Judgment (1790). Kant saw three
improvised game of cricket. Mr.                                                       their conception of what art might
                                          principles he believed ought to
Gagliardi from the house opposite                                                     be. New Zealand philosophers
                                          characterize the mind of the
mine appears with his lawnmower                                                       know that he actually mentions the
                                          modern, enlightened individual.
and asks the kids to give way so he                                                   elegant facial tattoos of the Maori at
                                          First, we must think for ourselves
can mow the lawn. Today he's                                                          one point in the Critique of
                                          as individuals and never allow
doing my side as well, because my                                                     Judgment, which is remarkable for a
                                          others to think for us, to prejudge
old mower is still in the repair shop.                                                German text dating from the
                                          for us. To let others do our thinking
They patiently wait by the side of                                                    eighteenth century.)
                                          for us is the essence of prejudice,
the commons for him to finish,
                                          he says, the passive abandonment            Finally, Kant advises that our
though it takes some more time
                                          of active, independent thinking.            thinking must be consistent. He
when he shuts down the mower to
                                                                                      means by this that we should apply
chat a bit with Mr. McConchie next        The second principle is "to think
                                                                                      the same rational and moral
door. When the children later             from the standpoint of everyone
                                                                                      principles to all domains of thought.
resume their play, Mr. Gagliardi          else." In moral evaluation, or
                                                                                      We must not set one standard of
helps out with some batting               scientific hypothesizing, or ordinary
                                                                                      behavior for ourselves and a
instruction, guiding them with his        discourse, Kant believed we should
                                                                                      different one for other people, one
usual care and patience.                  struggle always to set aside our
                                                                                      set of causal principles to explain
                                          egocentric vantage-point on the
When I think of "teaching values," I                                                  natural events and another to
                                          world in order to see it in the eyes
find it hard to keep my mind                                                          account for miracles of our religion.
                                          of others. This is part of his
focused on university classrooms.                                                     Nor can we use keen logic to refute
                                          conception of disinterestedness; it's
The promulgation of moral                                                             our opponents in argument and
                                          not cold objectivity, it's just trying to
principles in the classroom or                                                        allow ourselves comfortable
                                          overcome one's own personal
lecture theater plays a real but                                                      fallacies as it pleases us. Reason
                                          preoccupations and desire for
overestimated role in the moral                                                       itself demands this, and ignoring
                                          personal advantage. It means that
enculturation of young people; more                                                   that demand leads only to self-
                                          the scientist must ignore the desire
important in my opinion is the                                                        serving incoherence.
                                          to be proved personally right and
human example set by teachers
                                          judge a theory or hypothesis                Kant's credo for the Enlightenment
and other adults in the ordinary
                                          through the eyes of science as a            was Sapere Aude—"Dare to think
conduct of life. If morality could be
                                          discipline; the hypothesis must be a        for yourself"—and the key to this
instilled by teaching principles in the
                                          path to truth and not merely an             goal is an unprejudiced, broad-
same way that mathematics can be
                                          asset to further a scientific career. It    minded, consistent approach to
taught through principles, then
                                          means that in making moral                  thinking. It's not a bad way to
Moral Principles 101 would long
                                          judgments about others we try to            express the goal of university
since be required in every
                                          understand how they see their               education as many academics
university. As things are, the moral
                                          world and themselves in it. Kant            would like to think of it, even today.
education most people receive at
                                          also speaks of his second principle         For instance, in a speech given in
the university is continuous with the
                                          as a call for "enlarged" or                 1997 at the University of Chicago
moral example being set by Mr.
                                          "broadened" thinking. To be broad-          for the benefit of incoming
Gagliardi for the children down on
                                          minded in Kant's terms is to think          freshmen, John J. Mearsheimer
the commons: his demonstrated
                                          beyond petty, personal                      argued in a Kantian spirit that the
sense of communal responsibility,

                                                                                               Summer 2010 - Page 3
university's job was to promote the        favor of or against political systems    argument, but it's also curiously self-
ability of students to think critically    that they may only understand            refuting: if all scholars do is
about any topic, to broaden their          through vague reputation, or via         brainwash their charges with
intellectual horizons, and to thereby      shallow media exposure. In this          unexamined ideology, why have
give them greater self-awareness           respect, Cohen's book fights             universities in the first place?
(this last goal sounds to me more          prejudice, and forces students to        In fact, the most mandarin and
like California than East Prussia).        think through political issues for       exclusionary departments in the
Mearsheimer added, to the horror of        themselves. What if communism            modern university are not the
some, that he regards the university       really were the best system, and         sciences or disciplines that
as essentially an amoral institution;      had never been given a real chance       traditionally claim some measure of
that is, he believes the university        to work? Four Systems invites            objectivity. They are rather the very
ought not to be set up to promote          honest meditation on that question.      departments where denunciations
any particular moral view of the           In this way it encourages students       of "objectivity" and
world, except in its internal              to be more broad-minded, to see          disinterestedness are most
governance (morally condemning             the political world from the             frequently voiced: humanities
cheating, for example). "Amoral" is        standpoint of others. It gives them      departments that traffic in literary
sometimes misused to mean                  facts about political forms they will    theory and Marxified cultural
"morally insensible" to the point of       not have ever considered. Finally, it    studies. Here obfuscation and
being "very immoral." Mearsheimer          also cannot but enforce Kant's           jargon reign, normally used to give
meant it in the proper sense that we       demand for consistency, especially       the dazzle of science to political
might argue that the university            in classroom discussion, because         agendas: theorists mimic rigor and
should be asexual or apolitical.           inconsistent standards or criteria for   profundity, often to enshroud in
Mearsheimer lays his greatest              analysis become obvious when the         verbal fog the banality of what is
emphasis on the potential of a             systems in question are presented        actually being said. Consider a
university education to teach critical     in Cohen's open-minded and even-         recent winning sentence from the
thinking. As a brief example of how        handed manner.                           Philosophy and Literature Bad
this activity can be accomplished in       What Carl Cohen's Four Systems           Writing Contest: "The move from a
a classroom, I take some pleasure          does in its execution is to express
in recalling the most successful           the highest moral ideal for a
undergraduate course I ever taught         modern university. Cohen does not
in the field of political philosophy. It   recommend or exhort a morality
involved a close reading of a superb       from a secular pulpit; rather, as
book by the University of Michigan         Toni Morrison puts it, his work
philosopher Carl Cohen. The idea of        stands as a paradigm of his own
Cohen's Four Systems is delightfully       lived values as a teacher and
plain. It is divided into four sections    scholar, both exemplifying and
of roughly equal length. Each              requiring the values of critical
section presents the most forceful         thinking, open-mindedness, and
and vivid argument Cohen can build         consistency.
in favor of each of four political
                                           In this respect, I must admit to
systems: (1) Socialist Democracy (a
                                           surprise mixed with impatience
left-wing, communitarian democracy
                                           when I hear Toni Morrison's rhetoric
such as you might find in a Nordic
                                           about "mandarin, exclusionary
state), (2) Individualist Democracy
                                           domination" in the university, the
(roughly, American democracy with
                                           "mask of disinterest" (presumably a
a strong libertarian bias), (3)
                                           mandarin subterfuge), or that
Fascism (such as Italian fascism of
                                           "scholarship is often, even
the 1930s), and (4) Communism
                                           habitually, entangled in or regulated
(presented as a plausibly practical
                                           by ideology." Complaints that
ideal, without the fatal defects of the
                                           disinterestedness is a myth, along
old Soviet system). Cohen's prose
                                           with "objectivity" (presented within
is lucid and the book has no
                                           vaguely ironizing quotation marks),
concluding chapter to indicate which
                                           usually comes from academics
system is "right" or best. It is a
                                           seeking to justify their own
brilliant invitation for students to try
                                           ideological biases. The implicit
imaginatively to discover the
                                           argument is that since objectivity
attractions and advantages of
                                           and disinterested inquiry are
political systems that will be foreign
                                           nonexistent, then we needn't even
to them.
                                           try to achieve them: go ahead and
The energetic defense of                   choose (and teach) your narrow-
contradictory ideas requires               minded prejudice, since everybody
students to challenge their biases in      does it anyway. It's a self-serving

Summer 2010 - Page 4
structuralist account in which capital    before it, as though in the presence    George Eliot's desiccated, myopic
is understood to structure social         of a profound bearer of truth which     Casaubon, fictional scholars are
relations in relatively homologous        we, simple souls, are not meant to      portrayed as everything from
ways to a view of hegemony in             understand.                             bumbling and ineffectual to
which power relations are subject to                                              downright evil. The most recent
                                          I've expressed doubts that morality
repetition, convergence, and                                                      fiction, Elaine Showalter remarks,
                                          is ever adequately taught by the
rearticulation brought the question                                               has tended to satirize them as
                                          promulgation and enforcement of
of temporality into the thinking of                                               "predators and poseurs." Of course,
                                          rules and principles. Carl Cohen's
structure, and marked a shift from a                                              it's unfair (though novelists have
                                          book sets a "value" example in the
form of Althusserian theory that                                                  never been "fair" to businessmen or
                                          way it conducts argument and
takes structural totalities as                                                    politicians, either). But misfits and
                                          analysis that is vastly more
theoretical objects to one in which                                               creeps show up so often in campus
                                          impressive than if he sermonized
the insights into the contingent                                                  novels because they do represent
                                          about the importance of open-
possibility of structure inaugurate a                                             types of people who do show up on
                                          mindedness, critical argument,
renewed conception of hegemony                                                    campus.
                                          consistent standards, and so forth.
as bound up with the contingent
                                          And in general, if moral values are     As Toni Morrison points out, the
sites and strategies of the
                                          best instilled by the examples of       university started to give up the
rearticulation of power."
                                          individuals, what kind of exemplars     religious mission of instilling moral
A better instance of the typically        or "role-models" do academics           values in the flowering of the
exclusionary strategy of self-            make? Consider two garden-variety       Enlightenment. What she describes
aggrandizing scholarship would be         virtues: kindness and courage. In       as the present "state of arrest over
hard to find. Whatever the sentence       personal impressions I have gained      questions of values and ethics" in
(by literary theorist Judith Butler)      over the years, and in spite of the     the university strikes me as entirely
means, it certainly is not intended       complaints we hear about the            appropriate, and far more desirable
clearly to communicate anything at        nastiness of university politics, I     than a situation where moralizing
all. Personally, I get the feeling that   would say that academics in general     faculties set themselves up as
we are supposed to lie prostrate          rate very highly in their kindness      beacons of moral virtue, quick to
                                          toward colleagues and especially        shove "values" down the throats of
                                          toward students. With courage, I'd      students. We can't have it both
                                          take a dimmer view. For instance, in    ways: a university that instructs in
                                          today's university it takes no          ideology as revealed doctrine while
                                          courage whatsoever to oppose            at the same time professing to teach
                                          sexism and racism. But how about        the kind of intellectual independence
                                          someone who opposes campus              that questions all doctrines (yes,
                                          speech codes which are ostensibly       including the value of intellectual
                                          imposed to combat sexism and            independence itself). Open,
                                          racism? Such codes, with their          uncommitted inquiry and intellectual
                                          chilling and stifling effect on open,   independence is simply not
                                          robust debate among faculty and         compatible with unquestioning
                                          students, have often gone               obedience to officially sanctioned
                                          unopposed by faculty who deplore        and sponsored moral values in the
                                          them in private. Despite the            university. You can have the
                                          extraordinary privilege of tenure,      University of Michigan as we
                                          many have preferred not to speak        understand it, or you can have
                                          out against codes—not wanting to        Taliban U. You cannot have both.
                                          rock the boat or make enemies: to
                                                                                  Leave ethics, therefore, where it
                                          get along you've got to go along.
                                                                                  belongs, as an object of study in
                                          Academics are certainly no more
                                                                                  philosophy, history, and psychology
                                          brave than other citizens;
                                                                                  departments. There's enormous
                                          considering tenure protections they
                                                                                  benefit, intellectual and more
                                          enjoy, many strike me even as
                                                                                  broadly human, derived from
                                                                                  examining the history of moral
                                          That academics are not moral            thinking and analyzing the theory
                                          paragons to set before students, but    beneath it. I note, however, that
                                          fallible and sometimes eccentric        despite their hold on the subject and
                                          people, subject to the same virtues     belief in its benefits, no philosopher
                                          and vices we see everywhere, is not     I've ever known claimed that
                                          a point lost on novelists: from David   studying ethics is likely to make
                                          Lodge's careerist Morris Zapp to Mr.    students better in the character and
                                          Ramsey, the self-absorbed               conduct of their lives. For that, I'd
                                          philosophy professor in To the          defer to Mr. Gagliardi.
                                          Lighthouse, all the way back to

                                                                                           Summer 2010 - Page 5
AFTERWORD on Letter to a Christian Nation
by Sam Harris

Humanity has had a long fascination       living infants were ritually fed to       among the tribe for many years, and
with blood sacrifice. In fact, it has     sharks at the mouth of the Ganges         even to marry, all the while being
been by no means uncommon for a           for the same purpose. Indians also        doomed to be flayed alive as an
child to be born into this world only     burned widows alive so that they          oblation to the God of War;
to be patiently and lovingly reared       could follow their husbands into the      whatever children they produced
by religious maniacs, who believe         next world. Leaving nothing to            while in captivity were disposed of in
that the best way to keep the sun on      chance, Indians also sowed their          the same ritual. Certain African
its course or to ensure a rich            fields with the flesh of a certain        tribes have a long history of
harvest is to lead him by a tender        caste of men, raised especially for       murdering people to send as
hand into a field or to a mountaintop     this purpose and dismembered              couriers in a one-way dialogue with
and bury, butcher, or burn him alive      while alive, to ensure that every         their ancestors or to convert their
as an offering to an invisible God.       crop of tumeric would be                  body parts into magical charms.
Countless children have been              appropriately crimson. The British        Ritual murders of this sort continue
unlucky enough to be born in so           were actually hard pressed to put an      in many African societies to this day.
dark an age, when ignorance and           end to these pious atrocities.            [1]
fantasy were indistinguishable from
knowledge and where the drumbeat
of religious fanaticism kept perfect
time with every human heart. In fact,
almost no culture has been exempt
from this evil: the Sumerians,
Phoenicians, Egyptians, Hebrews,
Canaanites, Maya, Inca, Aztecs,
Olmecs, Greeks, Romans,
Carthaginians, Teutons, Celts,
Druids, Vikings, Gauls, Hindus,
Thais, Chinese, Japanese,
Scandinavians, Maoris, Melanesias,
Tahitians, Hawaiians, Balinese,
Australian aborigines, Iroquois,
Huron, Cherokee, and innumerable
other societies ritually murdered
their fellow human beings because
they believed that invisible gods and
goddesses, having an appetite for
human flesh, could be so
propitiated. Many of their victims
were of the same opinion, in fact,
and went willingly to slaughter, fully
convinced that their deaths would
transform the weather, or cure the        Sam Harris
king of his venereal disease, or in
some other way spare their fellows        In some cultures whenever a               It is essential to realize that such
the wrath of the Unseen.                  nobleman died, other men and              obscene misuses of human life
In many societies, whenever a new         women allowed themselves to be            have always been explicitly
building was constructed, it was          buried alive so as to serve as his        religious. They are the product of
thought only prudent to pacify the        retainers in the next world. In           what people think they know about
local deities by burying children         ancient Rome, children were               invisible gods and goddesses, and
alive beneath its foundations (this is    occasionally slaughtered so that the      of what they manifestly do not know
how faith sometimes operates in a         future could be read in their entrails.   about biology, meteorology,
world without structural engineers).      Some Fijian prodigy devised a             medicine, physics, and a dozen
Many societies regularly sacrificed       powerful sacrament called                 other specific sciences that have
virgins to ward off floods. Others        “Vakatoga” which required that a          more than a little to say about the
killed their first-born children, and     victim’s limbs be cut off and eaten       events in the world that concern
even ate them, as a way of ensuring       while he watched. Among the               them. And it is astride this
a mother’s ongoing fertility. In India,   Iroquois, prisoners taken captive in      contemptible history of religious
                                          war were often permitted to live          atrocity and scientific ignorance that

Summer 2010 - Page 6
Christianity now stands as an            all others.                              I likewise profess that in the Mass
absurdly unselfconscious
                                         Let the good news go forth: we live      a true, proper and propitiatory
apotheosis. The notion that Jesus                                                 sacrifice is offered to God on
                                         in a cosmos, the vastness of which
Christ died for our sins and that his                                             behalf of the living and the dead,
                                         we can scarcely even indicate in our
death constitutes a successful                                                    and that the body and blood
                                         thoughts, on a planet teeming with
propitiation of a “loving” God is a                                               together with the soul and
                                         creatures we have only begun to
direct and undisguised inheritance                                                divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ
                                         understand, but the whole project
of the superstitious bloodletting that                                            is truly, really, and substantially
                                         was actually brought to a glorious
has plagued bewildered people                                                     present in the most holy
                                         fulfillment over twenty centuries ago,
throughout history.                                                               sacrament of the Eucharist, and
                                         after one species of primate (our
Of course, the God of Abraham was                                                 that there is a change of the
                                         own) climbed down out of the trees,
no stranger to ritual murder.                                                     whole substance of the bread into
                                         invented agriculture and iron tools,
Occasionally, He condemns the                                                     the body, and of the whole
                                         glimpsed (as through a glass,
practice (Deuteronomy 12:31;                                                      substance of the wine into blood;
                                         darkly) the possibility of keeping its
Jeremiah 19:4-5; Ezekial 16:20-21);                                               and this change the Catholic
                                         excrement out of its food, and then
at other points, He requires or                                                   Church calls transubstantiation. I
                                         singled out one among its number to
rewards it (Exodus 22:29-30;                                                      also profess that the whole and
                                         be viciously flogged and nailed to a
Judges 11:29-40; 1 Kings 13:1-2; 2                                                entire Christ and a true
Kings 3:27; 2 Kings 23:20-25;                                                     sacrament is received under each
                                         Add to this abject mythology             separate species.
Numbers 31:40, Deuteronomy
                                         surrounding one man’s death by
13:13-19). In the case of Abraham,                                                Of course, Catholics have done
                                         torture — Christ’s passion — the
God demands that he sacrifice his                                                 some very strenuous and
                                         symbolic cannibalism of the
son Isaac but then stays his hand at                                              unconvincing theology in this area,
                                         Eucharist. Did I say “symbolic”?
the last moment (Genesis 22:1-18),                                                in an effort to make sense of how
                                         Sorry, according to the Vatican it is
without ever suggesting that the act                                              they can really eat the body of
                                         most assuredly not symbolic. In fact,
of slaughtering one’s own child is                                                Jesus, not mere crackers enrobed in
                                         the judgment of the Council of Trent
immoral. Elsewhere, God confesses                                                 metaphor, and really drink his blood
                                         remains in effect:
to inspiring human sacrifice so as to
defile its practitioners (Ezekiel
20:26), while getting into the act
Himself by slaying the firstborn of
Egypt (Exodus 11:5). The right of
circumcision emerges as a
surrogate for child sacrifice (Exodus
4:24-26), and God seems to
generally encourage the substitution
of animals for people. Indeed, His
thirst for the blood of animals, as
well as His attentiveness to the
niceties of their slaughter and
holocaust, is almost impossible to
Upon seeing Jesus for the first time,
John the Baptist is rumored to have
said, “Behold the Lamb of God,
which taketh away the sin of the
world” (John 1:29). For most
Christians, this bizarre opinion still
stands, and it remains the core of
their faith. Christianity is more or
less synonymous with the
proposition that the crucifixion of
Jesus represents a final, sufficient
offering of blood to a God who
absolutely requires it (Hebrews 9:22-
28). Christianity amounts to the
claim that we must love and be
loved by a God who approves of the
scapegoating, torture, and murder
of one man — his son, incidentally
— in compensation for the
misbehavior and thought-crimes of
                                         Mother Teresa
                                                                                          Summer 2010 - Page 7
without, in fact, being a cult of crazy   commentators have begun to                reason, and that our attacks upon
cannibals. Suffice it to say,             politely dress this fact in the colors    religion are, therefore, “simplistic,”
however, that a world view in which       of the saints and martyrs. Mother         “dogmatic,” or even “fundamentalist.”
“propitiatory sacrifices on behalf of     Teresa’s response to her own
                                                                                    But there are several problems with
the living and the dead” figure           bewilderment and hypocrisy (her
                                                                                    such a defense of religion. First,
prominently is rather difficult to        term) reveals just how like
                                                                                    many moderates (and even some
defend in the year 2007. But this         quicksand religious faith can be. Her
                                                                                    secularists) assume that religious
has not stopped otherwise                 doubts about God’s existence were
                                                                                    “extremism” is rare and therefore
intelligent and well-intentioned          interpreted by her confessor as a
                                                                                    not all that consequential. But
people from defending it.                 sign that she was now sharing
                                                                                    religious extremism is not rare, and
And now we learn that even Mother         Christ’s torment upon the cross; this
                                                                                    it is hugely consequential. America
Teresa, the most celebrated               exaltation of her wavering faith
                                                                                    is now a nation of 300 million souls,
exponent of this dogmatism in a           allowed her “to love the darkness”
                                                                                    wielding more influence than any
century, had her doubts all the while     she experienced in God’s apparent
                                                                                    people in human history, and yet
— about the presence of Christ in         absence. Such is the genius of the
                                                                                    240 million of these souls
the Eucharist, about heaven, and          unfalsifiable. We can see the same
                                                                                    apparently believe that Jesus will
even about the existence of God:          principle at work among her fellow
                                                                                    return someday and orchestrate the
                                          Catholics: Mother Teresa’s doubts
Lord, my God, who am I that You                                                     end of the world with his magic
                                          have only enhanced her stature in
should forsake me? The Child of                                                     powers. This hankering for a
                                          the eyes of the Church, being
your Love — and now become as                                                       denominational, spiritual oblivion is
                                          interpreted as a further confirmation
the most hated one — the one —                                                      extreme in almost every sense — it
                                          of God’s grace. Ask yourself, when
You have thrown away as                                                             is extremely silly, extremely
                                          even the doubts of experts are taken
unwanted — unloved. I call, I                                                       dangerous, extremely worthy of
                                          to confirm a doctrine, what could
cling, I want — and there is no                                                     denigration — but it is not extreme
                                          possibly disconfirm it?
One to answer — no One on                                                           in the sense of being rare. Of
Whom I can cling — no, No One.            It has been more than a year since        course, moderates may wonder
— Alone ... Where is my Faith —           Letter to a Christian Nation was          whether as many people believe
even deep down right in there is          published, and the book has               such things as say they do. In fact,
nothing, but emptiness &                  continued to draw steady fire. Much       many atheists are confident that our
darkness — My God — how                   of the criticism leveled at it has been   opinion polls are out of register with
painful is this unknown pain — I          bundled with attacks upon my first        what people actually think in the
have no Faith — I dare not utter          book, The End of Faith, and upon          privacy of their own minds. But
the words & thoughts that crowd           other atheist bestsellers: especially     there is no question that most
in my heart — & make me suffer            Dan Dennett’s Breaking the Spell,         Americans reliably claim to believe
untold agony.                             Richard Dawkins’ The God                  the preposterous, and these claims
                                          Delusion, and Christopher Hitchens’       themselves have done genuine
So many unanswered questions              God Is Not Great. In fact, Dennett,       harm to our political discourse, to
live within me afraid to uncover          Dawkins, Hitchens, and I have been        our public policy, and to our
them — because of the                     regularly assailed as though we           reputation in the world.
blasphemy — If there be God —             were a single person with four
please forgive me — When I try to                                                   Religious moderates also tend to
                                          heads. The accusations and
raise my thoughts to Heaven —                                                       imagine that there is some bright
                                          arguments against us are always the
there is such convicting                                                            line of separation between extremist
                                          same, and they always miss the
emptiness that those very                                                           and moderate religion. But there
                                          point. Indeed, what is most
thoughts return like sharp knives                                                   isn’t. Scripture itself remains a
                                          surprising about debating the faithful
& hurt my very soul. — I am told                                                    perpetual engine of extremism:
                                          is how few surprises there are.
God loves me — and yet the                                                          because, while He may be many
reality of darkness & coldness &          The Problem with Moderate                 things, the God of the Bible and the
emptiness is so great that                Religion                                  Qur’an is not a moderate. Reading
nothing touches my soul. Did I                                                      scripture more closely, one does not
                                          Whenever nonbelievers like myself         find reasons to be a religious
make a mistake in surrendering            criticize Christians for believing in
blindly to the Call of the Sacred                                                   moderate; one finds reasons to be a
                                          the imminent return of Christ, or         proper religious lunatic — to fear the
Heart?                                    Muslims for believing in martyrdom,       fires of hell, to despise
   — addressed to Jesus, at the           religious moderates declare that we       nonbelievers, to persecute
suggestion of a confessor,                have caricatured Christianity and         homosexuals, etc. Of course,
undated                                   Islam, taken “extremists” to be           anyone can cherry-pick scripture
                                          representative of these “great”           and find reasons to love his
Mother Teresa’s recently published
                                          religions, or otherwise overlooked a      neighbor and to turn the other
letters reveal a mind riven by doubt
                                          shimmering ocean of nuance. We            cheek. But the more fully a person
(and well it should have been). They
                                          are invariably told that a mature         grants credence to these books, the
also reveal a woman who was
                                          understanding of scripture renders        more he will be convinced that
surely suffering from run-of-the-mill
                                          faith perfectly compatible with           infidels, heretics, and apostates
depression, though even secular

Summer 2010 - Page 8
deserve to be smashed to atoms in          Intellectual Honesty                     war? The truth is that a person’s
God’s loving machinery of justice.                                                  knowledge of a scriptural tradition is
                                           Religion once offered answers to
Religious moderates invariably             many questions that have now been        no more relevant to ethics than it is
claim to be more “sophisticated”           ceded to the care of science. This       to astronomy. Representatives of
than religious fundamentalists (and        process of scientific conquest and       the world’s religions can tell us what
atheists). But how does one                religious forfeiture has been            their congregations believe on wide
become a sophisticated believer?           relentless, one-directional, and         variety of issues (and believe,
By acknowledging just how dubious          utterly predictable. As it turns out,    generally, on bad evidence); they
many of the claims of scripture are,       real knowledge, being both valid         can tell us what their holy books say
and thereafter reading it selectively,     and verifiable across cultures, is the   one ought to believe to escape the
bowdlerizing it if need be, and            only remedy for religious discord.       fires of hell; but what they cannot do
allowing its assertions about reality      Muslims and Christians cannot            — or cannot do better than
to be continually trumped by fresh         disagree about the causes of             butchers, bakers, and candle-stick
insights — scientific (“You mean the       cholera, for instance, because           makers — is offer an account of
world isn’t 6000 years old? Okay.”),       whatever their traditions might say      why these orthodox positions are
medical (“I should take my daughter        about infectious disease, a genuine      ethical. Is it ethical to kill a person
to a neurologist and not to an             understanding of cholera has             for changing his religion? I’d stake
exorcist? Seems reasonable…”),             arrived from another quarter.            my life that the answer is “no.” But,
and moral (“I can’t beat my slaves? I      Epidemiology trumps religious            according to a recent poll, thirty-six
can’t even keep slaves? Hmm…”).            superstition (eventually), especially    percent of British Muslims (ages 16-
There is a pattern here, and it is         when people are watching their           24) disagree with me. [2] As it turns
undeniable. Religious moderation is        children die. This is where our hope     out, they are on firm ground
the direct result of taking scripture      for a truly nonsectarian future lies:    theologically: for while the Qur’an
less and less seriously. So why not        when things matter, people tend to       does not explicitly demand the
take it less seriously still? Why not      want to understand what is actually      murder of apostates, the sacred
admit that the Bible is merely a           going on in the world. Science           literature of the hadith does,
collection of imperfect books written      delivers this understanding in           repeatedly and without
by highly fallible human beings?           torrents; it also offers an honest       equivocation. Is this edict ethical? Is
                                           appraisal of its current limitations.    it compatible with civil society? Is
Another problem with religious                                                      the reliance upon authority that has
moderation is that it represents           Religion fails on both counts.
                                                                                    delivered this barbarism down
precisely the sort of thinking that will   Hoping to reconcile their faith with     through the generations even
prevent a rational and non-                our growing scientific understanding     remotely compatible with science?
denominational spirituality from ever      of the world, many believers have
emerging in our world. Whatever is         taken refuge in Stephen J. Gould’s       It is, of course, trivially true to say
true about us, spiritually and             quisling formulation of “non-            that religion and science are
ethically, must be discoverable now.       overlapping magisteria” — the idea       compatible because some scientists
Consequently, it makes no sense at         that science and religion, properly      are (or claim to be) religious. But
all to have one’s spiritual life pegged    construed, cannot be in conflict,        this is like saying that science and
to rumors of ancient miracles. What        because they represent different         ignorance are compatible because
we need is a discourse about ethics        domains of expertise. Let’s see how      many scientists freely admit their
and spiritual experience that is as        this works: while science is the best    ignorance on a wide range of topics.
unconstrained by ancient ignorance         authority on the workings of the         To clarify these issues, it is helpful
as the discourse of science already        physical universe, religion is the       to remind ourselves that both
is. Science really does transcend          best authority on… what exactly?         religion and science are constituted
the vagaries of culture: there is no       The non-physical universe?               by beliefs and their justification, or
such thing as “Japanese” as                Probably not. What about meaning,        lack thereof. Is there a conflict
opposed to “French” science; we            values, ethics, and the good life?       between justified and unjustified
don’t speak of “Hindu biology” and         Unfortunately, most people — even        belief? Of course, and it is zero-
“Jewish chemistry.” Imagine a world        most scientists and secularists —        sum. Given that faith is generally
in which we could have a truly             have ceded these essential               nothing more than the permission
honest and open-ended                      components of human happiness to         religious people give one another to
conversation about our place in the        the care of theologians and religious    believe things strongly without
universe and about the possibilities       apologists without argument. This        evidence, a conflict between
of deepening our self-                     has kept religion in good standing       science and religion is unavoidable.
understanding, ethical wisdom, and         even while its authority has been        Religion and science are also in
compassion. By living as if some           battered and nullified on every other    conflict because there is no way of
measure of sectarian superstition          front.                                   disentangling religious and scientific
were essential for human                                                            truth-claims: the belief that Jesus
                                           But what special competence does
happiness, religious moderates                                                      was born of a virgin may be central
                                           a priest, rabbi, or imam have to
prevent such a conversation from                                                    to the doctrine of Christianity, but it
                                           judge the ethical implications of
ever taking shape.                                                                  is also an explicit claim about
                                           embryonic stem-cell research,
                                           family planning, or preventative         biology; the belief that Jesus will

                                                                                             Summer 2010 - Page 9
physically return to earth in the         is the very picture of reckless            that the Bible is not the perfect word
future entails a variety of claims        stupidity.                                 of an omniscient deity; everyone
about history, the human survival of                                                 can see that there is no evidence for
                                          While Pascal deserves his
death, and, apparently, the                                                          a God who answers prayers and
                                          reputation as a brilliant
mechanics of human flight without                                                    that any God who would grant
                                          mathematician, his wager was
the aid of technology. It is time that                                               prayers for football championships,
                                          never more than a cute (and false)
all rational people acknowledged                                                     while doling out cancer and car
                                          analogy. Like many cute ideas in
that where claims about the nature                                                   accidents to little boys and girls, is
                                          philosophy, it is easily remembered
of reality are concerned, there is                                                   unworthy of our devotion. Everyone
                                          and often repeated, and this has
only one magisterium.                                                                who has eyes to see can see that if
                                          lent it an undeserved air of
                                                                                     the God of Abraham exists, He is an
The Empty Wager                           profundity. A moment’s thought
                                                                                     utter psychopath — and the God of
                                          reveals that if the wager were valid,
The fundamental problem with                                                         Nature is too. If you can’t see these
                                          it could justify almost any belief
religion is that it is built, to a                                                   things just by looking, you have
                                          system, no matter how ludicrous or
remarkable degree, upon lies. I                                                      simply closed your eyes to the
                                          antithetical to Christianity. Another
refer not merely to twenty-megaton                                                   realities of our world.
                                          problem with the wager — and it is
displays of hypocrisy, as when                                                       I have no doubt that many
                                          a problem that infects religious
Evangelical preachers get caught                                                     Christians find great consolation in
                                          thinking generally — is its
with male prostitutes or                                                             their faith. But faith is not the best
                                          suggestion that a rational person
methamphetamine (or both). Rather,                                                   source of consolation. Faith is like a
                                          can knowingly will himself to believe
I refer to the daily and ubiquitous                                                  pickpocket who loans a person his
                                          a proposition for which he has no
failure of most religious people to                                                  own money on generous terms. The
                                          evidence. A person can profess any
admit that the basic claims of the                                                   victim’s gratitude is perfectly
                                          creed he likes, of course, but to
their faith are profoundly suspect.                                                  understandable, but absolutely
                                          really believe it, he must believe that
Mommy claims to know that Granny                                                     misplaced. We are the source of the
                                          it is true. To believe that there is a
went straight to heaven after she                                                    love that our priests and pastors
                                          God, for instance, is to believe that
died. But Mommy doesn’t actually                                                     attribute to God (how else can we
                                          you are not just fooling yourself; it is
know this. The truth is that Mommy                                                   feel it?). Your own consciousness is
                                          to believe that you stand in some
is lying — either to herself or to her                                               the cause and substance of any
                                          relation to God’s existence such
children — and most of us have                                                       experience you might want to deem
                                          that, if He didn’t exist, you wouldn’t
agreed to view this behavior as                                                      “spiritual” or “mystical.” Realizing
                                          believe in him. How does Pascal’s
perfectly normal. Rather than teach                                                  this, what possible need is there to
                                          wager fit into this scheme? It
our children to grieve, and to be                                                    pretend to be certain about ancient
happy despite the reality of death,                                                  miracles?
we nourish their powers of self-          The reasons to doubt the existence
deception.                                of God are in plain view for
                                          everyone to see: everyone can see
How likely is it that Jesus was really
born of a virgin, rose from the dead,
and will bodily return to earth at
some future date? How reasonable
is it to believe in such a
concatenation of miracles on the
basis of the Gospel account? How
much support do these doctrines
receive from the average Christian’s
experience in church? Honest
answers to these questions should
raise a tsunami of doubt. I’m not
sure what will be “Christian” about
any Christians left standing.
Many readers of Letter to a Christian
Nation have taken inspiration from
Blaise Pascal and argued that
evidence is beside the point and that
religious believers have simply taken
the wiser of two bets: if a believer is
wrong about God, there is not much
harm to him or to anyone else, and if
he is right, he wins eternal
happiness; if an atheist is wrong,
however, he is destined to spend
eternity in hell. On this view, atheism
Summer 2010 - Page 10
Two myths about secularism
by Meg Wallace
Myth No. 1: Secularism is               beliefs or no belief as equally able     government should recognise that
anti-religious.                         to live as they will. The state is not   as a fact, or (b) government should
                                        concerned with what you believe.         continue to endorse or privilege
Secularism is a term first coined by    The only exception to this rule is       religion on the grounds that religion
George Holyoake in 1846. For him        that your actions must not endanger      is the defining characteristic of being
it meant a life-stance without          the personal security, well-being or     human. In reality, this is special
religion, a philosophy. He was          human rights of others. The benefits     pleading from one section of society,
adamant that secularism was not         of living in a liberal democracy,        prepared to say anything to keep
anti-religious. Today, the word         then, require reciprocity - a            their historical privileges.
commonly refers to political            consensus about the rights of
secularism. Political secularism                                                 But I consider political secularism,
                                        everyone based on the fundamental        as defined above, should be
means government independent of,        tenets of liberalism, such as
and thus separated from, matters                                                 enshrined in the Constitution. It is a
                                        individual autonomy, rationality and     foundational pillar of democracy.
pertaining to personal moral life-      universality. Our government
stances, religious or otherwise;                                                 Political secularism is the only form
                                        already represents these values,         of government through which all
neither favouring nor disfavouring      albeit imperfectly, as we live in a
any of them; hearing all but                                                     citizens can equally enjoy the
                                        supposed democracy, not a                freedom to adopt and practice the
preferring none.                        theocracy or an atheist state.           belief of their choosing, as, in
Political secularism allows you to      Many religionists do not understand      principle, it treats all beliefs the
pray where and when you want, to        this. Ignoring the fact that their       same.
wear what you will, to eat what food    government is already much more
you are prescribed by your religion,                                             The fuzziness of secularism
                                        secular than religious in its actions,   surrounding the meaning of how it
and to follow the practices of your     they argue, as did their nineteenth
faith. It also treats those without a                                            works can be seen in the many
                                        century predecessors either that (a)     concessions to religion that occur in
recognised religion but with other      religion is above government and         supposedly secular countries. In
                                                                                 Australia, we have prayers in
                                                                                 parliaments; Christian crosses in our
                                                                                 flags; we have tax exemptions for
                                                                                 simply being a religion; Queensland
                                                                                 has integrated bible studies in the
                                                                                 public school curriculum; it and other
                                                                                 states permit religious studies
                                                                                 sessions in public schools as if that
                                                                                 was a function of government; the
                                                                                 federal government pays for the
                                                                                 hiring of chaplains in public schools
                                                                                 to provide children with ‘religious
                                                                                 The fact is that even where
                                                                                 governments are nominally secular
                                                                                 (as are most of the 191 member
                                                                                 states of the UN), political
                                                                                 secularism has been weakened by
                                                                                 concessions to religious demands,
                                                                                 avoiding a clear and consistent
                                                                                 approach to the state-religion
                                                                                 relationship. Concessions to religion
                                                                                 are seen as desirable or even
                                                                                 necessary, without consideration of
                                                                                 the possibility of religion's creeping
                                                                                 penetration of government, to
                                                                                 become, effectively, a state within a
                                                                                 state, as if that was not a
                                                                                 fundamental contradiction of
George Holyoake
                                                                                          Summer 2010 - Page 11
Myth No. 2: Secularism                     To test this claim, let us look at what   decline if those privileges were
prevents discussion of                     secularists and religionists want         withdrawn, surely that would be
                                           governments to do.                        more a function of their failed
religion in the public                                                               attempts to hold their members and
sphere.                                    Both want policies and legislation.
                                                                                     convert others during the course of
                                           They are asking for legislative
In a religion the individual gains his                                               the last century or so, despite all the
                                           change on controversial issues such
or her identity through the group,                                                   government-funded advantages
                                           as abortion and voluntary
whose authority is derived from                                                      they have had.
                                           euthanasia. The legislation many
revelation and/or doctrine derived         religionists advocate would prohibit      Government privileges for particular
from specified sources. It provides a      these with sanctions, some criminal,      religious groups results in
personal comprehensive moral               imposing their religious views on         institutionalised discrimination,
code for everyday living.                  others. This is theocratic.               between the favoured religions and
Religious beliefs can be argued for                                                  others, as well as religion and other
                                           On the other hand, secularists are
and even pressed in parliament.                                                      beliefs. This is creeping "soft
                                           hardly demanding that abortion or
This is free speech. But when it                                                     theocracy".
                                           voluntary euthanasia be made
comes to advocating government             compulsory: people would retain the       Intimidating politicians with the
policies and legislation that coerce       right to act according to their ethical   threat of a loss of votes and making
or unduly influence others, we must        dictates. Any controlling measures        secularism a scapegoat is really a
justify our views with reasons that        should be based on considerations         failure of religionists to accept
are acceptable to everyone: that is,       such as public health, welfare and        responsibility for their own
respectful of the rights of all. That is   security, as well as human rights,        shortcomings. Political secularism is
not a denial of free speech.               not religious dogma. This is              not their problem. It guarantees
However, those who criticise               democratic.                               them freedom of speech and
religious beliefs or activity are                                                    association. Failure to connect with
                                           Non-religious citizens have a right to
attacked as being militant and                                                       hearts and minds is what is proving
                                           question religion's long-standing
intolerant. But there is a critical                                                  to be their intractable problem as
                                           privileges and ask that government
distinction between citizens                                                         the steady decline of religious belief
                                           re-examine them. It is passing
criticising each others' beliefs and                                                 in the census demonstrates.
                                           strange that religionists believe they
government siding with one side or         need taxpayers' money and                 Meg Wallace is a PhD student
the other in these philosophical           government endorsement to uphold          researching the right to freedom
slanging matches.                          their faiths. Were religion to further    of belief at Macquarie University.
Views presented in the public
sphere may be anti-religious, or
favour religion. But the expression
of views critical of religion or
otherwise, is not what political
secularism is about. It is about
allowing any beliefs or none the
right to have them, no matter how
much we may criticise them or
consider them wrong. The Dawkins
and Hitchins of the world are
exercising their right to free speech,
as are those who criticise them.
Opinions may be anti or pro-
religion, but they are a function of
political secularism insofar as they
recognise freedom of speech,
freedom of association and
separation of church and state as
irreducible principles of
government. If you believe
everyone is free to act according to
their belief, it is logical to support a
secular government.
But some religionists, innocently or
deliberately, often equate
secularists' criticism of religion as
an attempt to impose an anti-
religious agenda on them through
government policy.

Summer 2010 - Page 12
Government and religion in New Zealand
by Max Wallace
Passing controversies in New             echoed by Joris De Bres, is also          I suggest this is the situation; the
Zealand have highlighted                 partly misleading. New Zealand,           Queen, who is the Supreme
religionists’ misunderstanding of the    like Australia, is a constitutional       Governor of the Church of England,
idea that religion in a secular          monarchy, not a republic.                 is New Zealand’s head of state;
society is a “private matter”, and       The occasionally heard assertion          there is no clause separating church
New Zealand’s future republicanism.      that because New Zealand does             and state in the Constitution Act
In July 2010 Race Relations              not have an “established church”,         1986. Indeed, how could there be,
Commissioner, Joris De Bres, said        an official, national religion, that it   while New Zealand retains the
New Zealand was a secular state          follows there is separation of            Supreme Governor of a major
and that religion was only for the       church and state, is simply wrong.        religious tradition as head of state
“private sphere”. The statement was                                                and remains a constitutional
                                         In Australia, this assertion              monarchy, not a republic?
contained in a draft update of the       originates from an 1897 comment
Commission’s 2004 review report                                                    Reflecting this state of affairs, the
                                         by Australia’s first prime minister,      national anthem is God Defend New
Human Rights in New Zealand              Edmund Barton (see my article
Today.                                                                             Zealand and until recently New
                                         “The whale in the bay of Australian       Zealand had a second national
What Joris De Bres was getting at,       politics”, On Line Opinion, October       anthem, God Save the Queen; the
but which he did not articulate, is      4, 2010), and in New Zealand from         flag contains Christian crosses and
that in a notionally secular state,      a 1911 Supreme Court case,                Christian prayers open every
government cannot be seen to be          Carrigan v Redwood. In this case,         session of parliament; and
identifying with religion. To do so,     concerning the ultimate destination       knighthoods, recently reinstated by
introduces theocracy into                of an inheritance, the Court found        the National government, according
democracy. It follows, as Joris De       that all churches were equal before       to the Queen’s website, have their
Bres says, that “belief is a personal    the law. It said nothing about            recent origins in Christian ritual, and
matter”.                                 separation of church and state.           are awarded by her to citizens who
Totally misunderstanding this,                                                     don’t rock the monarchist boat.
Catholic Bishop Peter Cullinane
said the Commission’s reference to
New Zealand as a “secular state”
should be dropped as the majority
of New Zealanders characterise
themselves as religious. This
statement is highly selective on two
counts: religious participation is
very low and nearly a third of New
Zealanders state they have “no
religion” in the census. At next
year’s census, it is very likely
Christians will drop below 50 per
cent of the population.
In a letter to the New Zealand
Herald on July 15, 2010, Joris De
Bres elaborated on what he meant.
He denied that the Human Rights
Commission had “bowed to Catholic
Church objections that New
Zealand was a secular state and
that religion was only for the private
sphere”. He concluded, the review
report “will make it clear there is a
strong separation of church and
state, and people have the freedom
to believe, individually or with
others, without interference from the
But, to complicate matters, that
minimalist definition of separation,
                                         Max Wallace
                                                                                            Summer 2010 - Page 13
Given all of this, it is therefore       political decision making”.This is        The question that follows is: when
mistaken to argue that there is a        feigned injury. In our democracies,       are New Zealand and Australia
separation of church and state in        everyone is free to voice their           going to grow up and fully cast off
New Zealand. Like Australia, New         opinions within the restraint of          their irrelevant monarchist ties
Zealand is constitutionally a soft       defamation. In the secular state, as      thereby realising themselves as
theocracy with strong democratic         Joris De Bres correctly inferred, no      republics which recognise the
traditions. This religious-secular       private belief, religious or otherwise,   contemporary diversity of their
duality is reflected in our currencies   should be identified with the state. It   citizens? Republics celebrating
that have democratic images on one       is for that reason New Zealand is not     diversity is the image we should be
side and the Anglican Queen’s            Iran, nor is it an atheist state.         presenting to our increasingly
image on the other. We carry our         Secular means government                  powerful, regional Asian trading
nations’ constitutional position with    disassociation from belief, but not       partners, but instead, we continue
us in our pockets and exchange it        government disrespect of, belief.         to present as outposts of white
regularly - but we never think about                                               European, mainly Christian,
                                         The other controversy was when a          privilege.
the meaning of its symbolism as we
                                         TV presenter questioned the
exchange it.                                                                       Max Wallace is the Director of the
                                         citizenship status of the Governor-
Paradoxically then, and for reasons      General, Sir Anand Satyanand, in an       Australia New Zealand National
the Catholic bishops probably don’t      interview with the Prime Minister,        Secular Association. His book,
understand, they were right to argue     John Key. The comment was very            The Purple Economy:
that New Zealand is not a secular        offensive but indirectly raised the       supernatural charities, tax and
state, at least in the most important    question of who can be New                the state, was published
legal, constitutional sense.             Zealand’s head of state. The              December 2007. ANZSA’s new
                                         Republican movement’s Lewis               book, Realising Secularism:
But, the Catholic bishops also                                                     Australia and New Zealand, was
objected strongly that “to suggest       Holden soon pointed out that New
                                         Zealand’s head of state, under the        launched at Parliament House,
that matters of religion and belief                                                Wellington, NZ, by Greens MP
belong only in the private sphere        present constitutional arrangements,
                                         “must be an English-born UK citizen”.     Keith Locke on May 6, 2010.
undermines the right of churches to
seek to influence public opinion and

Catholic Priorities
by PZ Myers
John C. Nienstedt is the Archbishop      marriage to think that two men or
of the Diocese of Saint Paul and         two women might be having fun out
Minneapolis, which makes him the         there, together. And now it's
ranking Catholic god-botherer in the     wrecking the church, too!
region, I guess. We're supposed to       Actually, Nienstedt just makes the
call him "Most Reverend" — priests       same boring and false arguments
are really good at attaching             against gay marriage that they
laudatory titles to themselves — but     always do. This is probably more a
I won't be doing that, ever. "Most       matter of distraction.
Intolerant," maybe, or "Most
Boneheaded".                             Citizen: "Hey, there's a priest raping
                                         a child, stop him!"
Anyway, he has an op-ed in the Star
Tribune. The Catholic Church is          Priest: "No, look over there: there
facing some rough times right now,       are two adults trying to engage in
with declining attendance, a dearth      consensual sexual activities in the
of priests, and a scary percentage of    context of shared legal and social
the people willing to become priests     obligations! Stop them, quick, before
being clearly socially and sexually      they get insurance! It's an
dysfunctional, so you'd expect him to    EMERGENCY!!!"
write something about the real           And really, Nienstedt makes some
problems the Catholics are grappling     pathetic arguments. He's promoting
with right now, doing something to       a Minnesota marriage amendment
bolster the flagging reputation of the   that would dictate that the only true
priesthood. And I guess he thought       and valid long-term relationships to
he did: he wrote about gay marriage.     be recognized by the state involve
Those gays, getting married—it just      strictly one (1) man and one (1)
wrecks my thrillingly heterosexual       woman. Look at what he claims:
                                                                                   John C Nienstedt
Summer 2010 - Page 14
   We might learn caution from          that allows fathers to escape with        seen it as the responsibility of a
experience. Back in the early           diminished responsibility.                whole tribe to help raise children,
1970s, the experts told us that no-                                               not just two people. This convention
                                        Divorce is a good and reasonable
fault divorce would liberate                                                      of assigning all responsibility to just
                                        solution to marital unhappiness,
women from bad marriages                                                          two and only two, who are
                                        unless, of course, you're part of a
without affecting anyone else. We                                                 necessarily in a heterosexual
                                        culture that wants to keep women
now know that as many as one-                                                     relationship, is new and weird.
                                        dependent on a mate.
third of women fall into poverty                                                  I think also that if you actually look
with their children as a result of      Hey, maybe one tack we should
                                                                                  at civil law, most of the reasons for
divorce. Social science caught up       take in promoting gay marriage is to
                                                                                  getting married are economic.
late with the common-sense              instead play up gay divorce: we
                                                                                  Children are just one aspect of that
wisdom that children need a mom         have to give gay men and lesbians
                                                                                  law. If marriage just exists in the law
and a dad working together to           the ability to break their bonds with
                                                                                  to promote children, then what about
protect them.                           their partners. Oh, and by the way,
                                                                                  all those marriages that are
                                        we'll have to let them get married
…says Father Nienstedt, high-                                                     childless? Are they invalid? Maybe
                                        first before they can divorce.
ranking member of a blatantly                                                     it's not obvious to a priest, but
patriarchal hierarchy. Why do             Throughout history, human               people do like to be together for
women fall into poverty after a         beings in virtually every society         reasons other than procreation. I'm
divorce? Because they are               have recognized that, to make a           done with having children, my
discriminated against in the            marriage, one needs a man and a           youngest daughter graduates from
workplace, because they get the         woman. What is more, it has long          college in two weeks, and no, my
bulk of the financial obligation in     been acknowledged that                    marriage will not be dissolving at
caring for any children, and because    marriage is not just about the            that moment. Or ten years from that
many men (and, I suspect,               happiness of adults but                   moment. It won't be over until I drop
especially the men women want to        concerns the well-being of                dead. And you know what? I like it!
divorce) fail to meet their             society -- that is, the common
                                                                                  As for the claim that "same-sex
responsibilities in contributing to     good. Marriage exists in civil law
                                                                                  unions cannot serve this public
child care. The problem isn't           primarily in order to provide
                                                                                  purpose": why not? Lesbians have it
divorce, the problem is a patriarchal   communal support for bringing
                                                                                  easy, artificial insemination can get
culture, which the church does          mothers and fathers together to
                                                                                  them pregnant; gay men don't have
nothing to reverse and actually         care for their children. Same-sex
                                                                                  that option yet (give the biologists a
promotes, and the male privilege        unions cannot serve this public
                                                                                  few more years, though…), but even
                                                                                  so, adoption is possible, and
                                        Forget the ignorant ahistorical           sometimes, gay men even have
                                        argument in the first part — gay          children by previous relationships.
                                        marriage hasn't been that unusual,        Two men, two women, a man and a
                                        and it's particularly surprising that a   woman, a cooperative commune of
                                        Christian priest would fail to have       many men and women…they can all
                                        noticed the frequency of polygamy         serve that public purpose. Oh, and
                                        in the Old Testament — and let's          in all those cases, who is having sex
                                        consider his "common good"                with whom is pretty much irrelevant
                                        argument. I would actually concede        to the children, since these typically
                                        that one essential function of a          are not Catholic Sunday schools, so
                                        stable human society is that it           the children won't be participating in
                                        provide a mechanism to care for           the sex. This argument is a
                                        our offspring, with their ridiculously    complete non-starter.
                                        long period of dependency.
                                                                                  Would you believe Nienstedt's
                                        Marriage is one method for
                                                                                  argument gets even worse?
                                        accomplishing that, by pairing two
                                        people together to share the burden          What will happen to children
                                        of child-rearing. One method…so           growing up in a world where the
                                        does this priest support the idea of      law teaches them that moms and
                                        communes? That's even more                dads are interchangeable and
                                        efficient, and I can tell you that just   therefore unnecessary, and that
                                        two people, separated from other          marriage has nothing intrinsically
                                        family support by the demands of          to do with the bearing and raising
                                        their jobs, really have to struggle to    of children? Do we really want
                                        keep their sanity. This is hard work,     first-graders to be taught that gay
                                        not that a celibate bureaucrat would      marriage is OK, or that the
                                        know.                                     influence of a mother and a father
                                                                                  on the development of a child
                                        And I think that if you look back
                                                                                  somehow doesn't matter?
                                        over history, most cultures have

                                                                                           Summer 2010 - Page 15
Into The Unknown Country
by Peter Harrison
A few months ago you may have              in on the Internet and those mailed       There were many suggestions,
helped the NZARH by completing a           in. Internet results were mostly          including improvements to
survey about what you want in terms        Somewhat Satisfied to Acceptable.         illustrations, and enhancing the
of communication. This effort is part      The mailed in surveys were                appearance of the Journal.
of a larger analysis of how the            predominantly either Very Satisfied       Respondents also suggested
NZARH will achieve it's aims.              of Somewhat Satisfied. Answering          improving the content of the Journal
                                           why this is the case may be the           by including more stories about
It is important to differentiate
                                           subject of future surveys. However,       current events, science and the
between various forms of
                                           the average satisfaction is at about      natural world. An important
communication because each can
                                           expected levels.                          message was that there is a good
have a different audience. Those
                                                                                     appetite for a broader range of
visiting the web site will not be the
same audience as participating in
the mailing list. Those without
Internet access will depend primarily
on information made available
through the post.
The NZARH communication strategy
must therefore identify different
audiences and ensure that we focus
our limited resources in addressing
them. It is also important that our
communication strategy support our
larger strategic goals.
Our goals are to promote rationalism
into the wider community, to
broaden the appeal of the
association, and to increase it's
membership. The survey identified
that The Open Society Journal and
the Association Newsletter are
currently our most critical methods
of communication with the                  continued from Catholic Priorities
membership. About 50% of
                                           I think a world where moms and            And dear sweet jebus yes, I want
respondents prefer to use the Open
                                           dads are interchangeable in their         first-graders to be taught that gay
Society Journal or the NZARH
                                           roles and responsibilities in child-      marriage is OK! Teach them that
Newsletter. Approximately 25% use
                                           raising would be a fine place to live.    gay people are fine and normal and
either the mailing list or the web site.
                                           Aside from nursing (and again,            ordinary, that old limiting
The survey clearly shows that the          biologists will fix that someday, too),   stereotypes are hateful and foolish,
Open Society Journal and                   men and women can change                  and that only beastly decrepit
Newsletter are our most popular            diapers, attend PTA meetings, play        bigots sit around whining that
forms of communication, even               ball, give hugs, cook, and read           someone else might be finding
among respondents that filled in an        bedtime stories equally well, with        happiness in life. Let's steer young
online survey. The Web Site and            individual variation.                     kids away from the hypocritical
Yahoo mailing list are not nearly as       Interchangeability does not imply         joylessness so well represented in
popular, although many members             that they are unnecessary. I grew up      Catholicism at an early age!
may not be aware of recent                 with a mom and dad who could both
                                                                                     And finally, that last line…it's a lie.
changes. This question is also a           read to me; that did not imply to my
                                                                                     No one is planning to teach that
reflection of the fact that the            mind that they were therefore both
                                                                                     parents don't matter, since they do
membership is roughly equally split        superfluous.
                                                                                     — parents matter profoundly. I do
between a preference for electronic
                                           We already know that marriage is          think, though, that we can't let
delivery and paper delivery.
                                           not intrinsically about having kids.      repressed celibate jerks dictate who
Given the importance of the Journal        People have them without getting          can be parents, and deprive people
it is necessary to understand the          married, married people stay              who might want to be parents of the
satisfaction level. The survey             married without having them.              privilege simply because a priest
showed that there was a                    Children grow up just fine with that      does not approve of their love.
discrepancy between surveys filled         simple fact; I know I did.

Summer 2010 - Page 16
content in the journal. Respondents
also expressed concern about the
Since the survey was completed we
have implemented improvements in
many of these areas, including more
current events, improved
illustrations and photos and a
schedule to deliver on time. These
improvements are only the first
steps towards further changes that
will seek to attract a broader
The survey went beyond the               Campaign was a success on many           be positively influenced by exposure
traditional media and asked about        levels. The media attention was far      to rationalism.
                                         more effective in spreading the
                                                                                  The Council will be developing new
                                         message than the final billboards
                                                                                  strategies to promote our message
                                         were. Perhaps there is an
                                                                                  into the wider community and
                                         opportunity to examine what effect
                                                                                  execute the objectives which we as
                                         this campaign had in order to
                                                                                  a society are tasked with. We are
                                         determine whether a similar
                                                                                  stepping boldly into the unknown
                                         campaign in future would be
                                                                                  country of the future.
                                         effective use of resources.
                                         Can we leverage our publications?
                                         By broadening the range of content
                                         in the Journal we might be able to
                                         make it a publication that is more
                                         attractive to a wider audience. We
                                         could establish a separate
                                         subscription system so that people
                                         didn't need to become members in
                                         order to receive the Journal. The
                                         objective is to get the Journal a
                                         wider distribution so that it may be
                                         able to influence those sitting on the
                                         fence. In a sense it is a sales tool
new media and technology. We
                                         for the association.
asked about members' use of online
forums, YouTube, facebook and            How do we engage via the Web? In
Twitter. A forum on the web site was     addition to the membership liking
the most popular idea, with almost       the idea of an open forum it would
half of respondents thinking this was    give us the ability to engage with
a good idea. However, this result        people outside the organisation.
was largely the result of the            This will of course attract religious
demographic involved.                    people, and no doubt there will be
                                         robust discussion. However, there
A similar survey conducted in
                                         is good evidence that religious
another society showed that a more
                                         people sitting on the fence can be
diversely aged group uses these
new media. In fact if we are to reach
the younger generations it is critical
that we learn how to engage and
promote ourselves on the net.
Although the survey did not
examine the question of how we
deal with communicating with
people outside the association the
recent raising of over $20,000 in
support of the Atheist Bus Adverts
indicates there is the opportunity to
communicate to a wider audience.
Should we support an ongoing
Media Campaign? The Atheist Bus

                                                                                          Summer 2010 - Page 17
It is Elegant, but is It Feasible?
by Sharon Astyk
I don't think I'm even overstating         before you act? Where will the           establish community gardens and
when I say that every time I go            money come from right now? And if        urban farms, and local season
somewhere and talk about food,             we don't have the money right now,       extension. They've already paid for
someone asks me what I think of            why do you think we can do it            the buses, so taking the elderly to
the idea of Vertical Farming. It is the    further down the depletion curve, or     the grocery stores on the weekends
cool, trendy idea about feeding            after climate change starts taking a     so that they can stay in their homes
cities that gets tons of attention -       larger and larger percentage of our      and encouraging carpooling is
woohoo, let's build heated food            GDP?                                     cheap and simple. Solar panels
towers in Manhattan. I can                                                          aren't cheap - but get enough
                                           These are often elegant solutions,
understand the appeal in many                                                       people organized together and you
                                           and that's how they get so much
ways.                                                                               can put them on some of the critical
                                           airplay - I don't deny that, and like
                                                                                    infrastructure - maybe not on every
Now this idea has been subject to          everyone, I have a taste for the
                                                                                    house, but you can have a solar
some take downs, but to me, the            elegant. It would be fun for you to
                                                                                    water pump in each neighborhood
problem with vertical farming is the       be able to go to your vertical farm
                                                                                    in case the water goes out, you can
same problem that I have to                and buy out of season tomatoes -
                                                                                    power the local community center
whatever the latest super-hot              but it would be smarter if you could
                                                                                    so people can take a shower there
renewable technology that's going to       just get tomatoes in season that
                                                                                    and stay warm when the power is
save us as soon as it comes out of         were grown in your neighborhood,
                                                                                    out everywhere else. Getting over
development and becomes                    without the million dollar
                                                                                    our presumptions about how the
affordable, or even for fancy light rail   investment. Moreover, given the
                                                                                    world ought to work - ie, that it
systems in smaller cities (note, I'm       energy required to make it happen,
                                                                                    ought to be costly, consumptive
not opposed to all light rail). The        it almost certainly would require
                                                                                    and complex - is easier,
problem is not that the ideas are          less energy to fly tomatoes in from
                                                                                    realistically, than most of the
bad or wrong per se - the problem is       Florida. If you could do it at all, do
                                                                                    elegant solutions.
that they are complex and                  we really think that the ordinary
expensive, and we are putting the          middle class and poor will be eating     These solutions are particularly
cart before the horse when we leap         those vertical farm tomatoes? If not,    important in cities, where you can
to complex and expensive before            why do we care? Making sure the          often substitute human cooperation
we go for cheap and simple.                rich get tomatoes in February is         for fossil energies fairly easily - but
                                           simply not a priority for me, and I      first you have to think in terms of
We have a strong taste for complex
                                           suspect, shouldn't be for a society      human cooperation, to make a
and expensive, especially when it
                                           at large, if the larger question is      place for putting that first, to change
looks cool - generally speaking, and
                                           "feeding the city" not "feeding the      our 60 years of assuming that we
in an era of cheap energy and
                                           affluent" (generally speaking the        can always go immediately to
economic stability, there's at least
                                           affluent do a decent job of taking       expensive and complex. We know
an argument for doing the
                                           care of that for themselves, I've        that this is no longer true - there are
complicated fancy thing - first, you
                                           heard).                                  a host of studies, most notably the
can, second, the results are more
                                                                                    Hirsch report, that demonstrate
elegant than what you can generally        The problem is, using the solar
                                                                                    clearly that our options today are
get without complexity. But in a           panels we already know how to
                                                                                    not the same ones we had in 1970 -
society with major economic                build, and turning off the lights,
                                                                                    and as long as we persist in
constraints and facing the reality of      using the seed varieties we already
                                                                                    assuming that we can start our
less, rather than more, available          have but that the poor can't get,
                                                                                    projects any time we get around to
energy for consumption, complex            using the school buses during the
                                                                                    them with the exact same results,
and expensive becomes not only a           weekends and after school to
                                                                                    that we don't have to give up the
bad idea, but infeasible.                  provide local public transportation
                                                                                    taste for elegant complexity, we're
This isn't something we have to            and putting up ride sharing boards,
                                                                                    in big trouble.
hypothesize about - ask yourself           using the inexpensive technologies
                                           we already have to extend seasons        Reprinted here with permission.
whether the State government or
                                           and getting over the idea you            Originally posted on Causabon’s
city of New York can afford to build
                                           should always have tomatoes isn't        Book on ScienceBlogs
multi-million dollar high rise, heated
                                           sexy. It isn't elegant - in fact, it's   ( 8
semi-solar food growing towers in
                                           complicated and ambiguous - but it       December 2010.
mid-town Manhattan? Ask whether
your small city, already laying off        is cheap and simple. Everyone can
cops and firefighters can afford a         do them.
huge new transportation system?            Municipalities already struggling
Ask whether you can wait for X             with budget cuts can take the
miracle technology to come online          municipal compost and help people

Summer 2010 - Page 18
Spare me born-again, childish atheists
by David Penberthy
MY faith in atheism is being tested         For Anderson, what started as the        be no God, but soon descends into
by born-agains. Not of the Christian        highly specific ridicule of teaching     schoolyard teasing of the flying
variety, but the obnoxious, pushy,          theological nonsense as science          spaghetti monster variety.
ram-it-down-your-throat, born-again         has now ballooned into a more            The irony here is that the thing
atheist variety.                            generalised form of juvenile abuse       which has always fired up atheists,
This new breed of Godless souls             towards anyone who believes in           such as me, is a dislike of the
has adopted one of the most                 God.                                     righteousness which many religious
irritating features of religion. They       His website devoted to The Church        people display. There is an
have become belligerent                     of the Flying Spaghetti Monster          impertinence at the centre of
evangelists for their non-cause.            encourages readers to send in            religion, namely the conviction that
The once gentle conviction that             Virgin Mary-style sightings of their     your God is the one and only and
there is no God, and that in an ideal       chosen deity, and includes images        that everyone else is deluded in
world, everyone would stop fighting         desecrating religious art.               following a rival God or no God at
over the supremacy of their                                                          all.
                                            It's really sad that his message of
imagined deity, is increasingly             'don't teach Intelligent Design in our   This impertinence can be found in
becoming the preserve of                    schools' turned into 'religion is        equal measure among many
aggressive loudmouths.                      pointless', which then turned into       atheists, with the latest entrant to
The latest example of this                  'everyone who believes in a religion     their number being Australia's own
belligerence came from                      is below me, and that gives me the       book-burning atheist Alex Stewart.
Queensland this week, where                 right to completely disrespect           "It's just a book, who cares,"
Brisbane legal academic Alex                everything they stand for'.              Stewart said as he choofed away
Stewart managed to be both                  Anderson is a paragon of civility        on make-believe joints rolled inside
remarkably offensive and deeply             compared to the brilliant English        pages torn from the Bible and the
naive at the same time by                   scientist Richard Dawkins, author of     Koran.
shredding the Bible and the Koran,          The Selfish Gene and other books         Stewart's little stunt did nothing to
smoking them in a YouTube clip,             on human evolution and natural           advance the noble cause of
and then expressing his fear that he        selection. A few years ago Dawkins       atheism. If anything, it made non-
might lose his job as a result of his       fired off a particularly narky text,     believers appear intellectually
actions.                                    The God Delusion, which became a         flippant and superficial.
Stewart is part of this modern breed        best-seller and spawned an
                                            explosion in the Up Yours, God           If this is the best atheists can do it's
of evangelical atheists, a movement
                                            genre which also included                no wonder some of us are thinking
which has a number of heroes.
                                            Christopher Hitchens' God is Not         about taking our non-faith and
One is the young American                   Great.                                   quietly returning to the closet.
physicist Bobby Anderson, who five
                                            The God Delusion starts off              Reprinted courtesy of
years ago as a 25-year-old
                                            promising a reasoned and scientific
university student wrote a letter to
the Kansas Board of Education               examination of why there is and can
saying he believed that the earth
had been created by a flying
spaghetti monster.
It was a clever satirical point which
poked fun at the craziness of
intelligent design, a re-branded form
of creationism which refutes Darwin
and claims that it is a matter of
scientific fact that all life on earth is
the work of God.
The Kansas Board of Education
had agreed that intelligent design
should be taught alongside
evolution in schools. Anderson
argued that it was only fair that his
spaghetti monster religion, which he
calls Pastafarianism, should also be
included on the curriculum.

                                                                                              Summer 2010 - Page 19
Book Review:
Brian Baker's From Reason to Faith
Brian Baker is a former Christian         clearly indicated by a consistent         glimpse into how Christianity
Pastor of a successful Church in          style, which can sometimes make           wasted a good portion of his life. It
Perth. He resigned from the Church        reading this book a little confusing.     is responsible for causing issues
in 1989, and is now an atheist. He                                                  with his family and children who are
                                          The author knows the mind of the
has written "From Reason to Faith"                                                  still members of the Church.
                                          believer and the internal thoughts
as a critique of Christianity and the
                                          and arguments they use to maintain        The target audience of this book
Church to which he once belonged.
                                          their faith. It is through raising        are those who are considering and
The Title of this book made me            questions about the Bible that he         questioning their faith. It is a case
think that this book would be a           forces the Christian reader into a        for rejecting the Bible and
personal account of a man's               face to face confrontation with the       Christianity and embracing reason
journey from faith to reason. While       actual words of the Bible. He             and evidence as the measure of
there are sections of the book which      discusses the perceived benefits of       reality. As with many books written
recount his personal experiences          faith, and the downsides of fear,         by former Christians the focus is on
with religion, it is mostly an            hatred, and the embrace of fantasy        the Bible itself rather than a
examination and critique of the           over reality. He addresses the            detailed examination of the natural
Bible and Christianity itself. The        nature of God, discussing whether         world. While it may mention science
primary focus of this book is the         he is an intelligent designer or a        in passing Baker does not delve
Bible and the central part it plays in    sadist. He pulls Genesis apart,           into the detailed science as this is
the Christian religion. Baker             pointing out the internal                 not his area of expertise.
describes how the rise of                 inconsistencies and deviation from        The subtext of the book is a long
fundamentalist religion and it's          known facts such as the                   and loud cry; a release of
impact in the political sphere has        impossibility of Noah's Ark. He           frustration and pain, a rally call
motivated him to write the book.          points out the immorality and crimes      against Biblical teaching. It has the
The first chapter deals with Genesis      committed by God in the early Old         feel of a release; where Baker can
and the story of Moses. One of the        Testament books of the Bible.             finally express how he feels about
unfortunate styles Baker uses is to       Baker tries to maintain a detached        his former faith and the peace and
quote large amounts of text from          point of view, dealing with the text of   purpose he has found since leaving
the Bible itself or other sources         the Bible and scientific facts.           the Church.
before providing commentary.              However, there is a palpable
Throughout the book quoted text           undercurrent of frustration. In the
and his own commentary are not            last pages of the book we see a

Letters to the Editor:
As much as I enjoyed your editorial       of the key documents related to the       money spent on paperwork instead
A New Kind of Politics in volume          recent Tobacco legislation were           of services and policy development.
83’s winter issue, there are a few        made available online through the         Recently in Australia, big business
points that need to be raised in          Ministry of Health website very           has actually been flooding
response.                                 shortly after the legislation was         departments with requests (to the
The opposition political party always     passed. This is good for the              point where additional staff have
pushes for transparency – it’s part       department (it can simply refer           been needed) to try and stop
and parcel of being in opposition.        those asking for the documents to         progress on bills they disagree with.
The Labour Government had three           their website) and it’s good for          And, of course, the nuts never stop
terms in which they could have            everyone else (they can jump              asking for official information.
made substantial changes to the           online and get the information
                                                                                    Simply demanding more
way official information is dealt with,   immediately).
                                                                                    transparency is expensive. People
if they wanted to. I don’t see a great    Transparency is good, but there is        already complain about how slow
deal of evidence that this happened.      a cost. Private businesses don’t          the wheels of government turn,
They were no-more keen to reveal          document everything for a reason –        gumming them up further will do
their cards than the current              it costs many hours of work and           little to help.
government or any previous                that costs lots of dollars.
                                                                                    Phil Berghan-Whyman
government.                               Government departments already
Departments are already becoming          spend hours responding to
more transparent. For example, all        requests for official information;

Summer 2010 - Page 20
                  "Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men;
                       men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. Any why
                          subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion
                  desirable? No more than of face or stature. What has been the effect of coercion?
                                 To make one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites."
                                                                       Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Fifty Years Ago
A few of us saw the building before it was reconditioned. Now it is fitted with fire escapes and quite a number of
wire glass doors. Several coats of paint have been added, the roof has been repaired, new toilets installed and a
whole office room added to the building. As I said, only a few knew, and now hardly remember, the grim condition
the building was in when we decided to purchase it. But what a change! Clean, simple, colourful and very
comfortable club and supper rooms greet our members and friends. No more are the Rationalists found in a poky
little room. Here are amenities second to none.
NZ Rationalist, Nov-Dec 1960.

Freethought Directory
  Justices of the Peace                 NZ Association of Rationalists          Christchurch Humanist
                                        and Humanists                           Fellowship
 Barbara Carr, Auckland
                                        64 Symonds Street, Auckland             c/o 158 Panorama Road
                                        Phone (09) 373-5131, Fax (09)           Christchurch
 Wayne Facer, Auckland
                                                                                Taranaki Humanists
 Dame Barbra Goodman,
                                        Celebrant Services
 Auckland,                                                                      Anne Ferguson
                                        Phone (09) 622-1400
 09-520-1233                                                                    (06) 753-9277
 Ngaire McCarthy, Auckland,                                           
                                                                                Canterbury Atheists Blog
 Humanist and Secular                   NZ Skeptics
 Celebrants                             c/o The Secretary
 Peter Hansen, Manukau,                 PO Box 29 492
                                                                                North Shore
 09-622-1400                            Christchurch
                                                                                Christine - (09) 478 7054
 Barbra Shaw, Auckland,       
 Rinny Westra, North Shore              New Zealand Humanist Society
                                                                                Hawke's Bay
 09-480-5679                            PO Box 3372
                                                                                John Timpson of Havelock North
 Charles Manhire, Christchurch,         Wellington
                                                                                (06) 877 6678
 Julie Lassen, Christchurch,                                                    Gisborne Lunar Society
 03-337-8108                            New Zealand Humanist
                                                                                Dr. John Marks - (06) 867 9768
                                        Charitable Trust
 Lynda Hannah, Motueka,                                                         K. S. W. Hyde - (06) 868 5253
                                        Public Trust PO Box 5024
                                                                                Les - (03) 455 2915
                                        Hawke's Bay Freethinkers
                                                                                Lynn - (03) 453 0315
                                        c/o Robyn Church
                                        2 Millar Street, Napier

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