2018-10-31

Changes

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by Neil Godfrey

I’ve been bringing myself up to date with the way the world has been changing these past few and more decades, beginning with the 1960s. I am constantly reminded of two quotes, one I heard by Sting quite a few years ago, and another more recently from my mother.

Sting was talking about his boyhood and how everyone listened to the same radio programs, the range of entertainment and recreation and things were more limited but that meant you shared a lot more with everyone in society. He said he thought it was better then. I asked myself if that was just a typical opinion of anyone looking back and thinking things were better in the old days, but I did have to wonder if he was also right.

My aged mother was reflecting on the years of the Second World War and those following, and saying how she remembered society as being less divided than it is today. Obviously, I thought, during total war a nation is going to pull together. And certainly there were serious conflicts afterwards as different sections found their new places with respect to each other afterwards. But I also remember learning at school or soon afterwards how Australia was one of the most egalitarian countries in the world with one of the narrowest gaps between rich and poor. And in the late 60s and 70s there was certainly more hope despite our youthful naivety about what it would take to bring about real change. Perhaps since then we have lost that naivety and come to understand how power works and cannot be so easily changed.

But surely it is true that there is less optimism and less social cohesion today in Australia, and I can only imagine as an outsider from what I hear in the news about America what the divisions are like in the U.S.

One of the truisms Karl Marx pointed out (oh how I must be showing my ancient past to be citing Marx today!) was how the capitalist system produced workers who were alienated from their jobs. Today I notice that businesses and institutions seem to try to make up for that loss by artificially creating communities and personal meaning through human relations programs to offer workers some sort of personal group identity and meaning in their work places. But the alienation, I think, has meanwhile been extended beyond the workplace to the consumer society as a whole. Targeted products, especially via the new technologies, have enabled services and products tailored for ever more fragmented groups.

We’ve come a long way from the days when I could go to school and talk about the latest black and white Batman short that was showing at the local cinema and expect others to know what I was talking about.

I don’t think such changes are the imagined product of wishful nostalgia, either.

 


2018-10-22

Australians on the looney NRA fringe

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by Neil Godfrey

Last night I was mystified listening to Bob Katter, a prominent political figure (of a “minor” party) in my state of Queensland, saying the following on a respectable documentary program:

The program is Four Corners; Katter’s comments come in the introductory minute and again from the ten minute mark.

I want more firearms sold because I want more firearms. I want more people involved in protecting our country.

What? How can giving citizens guns help protect our country? Don’t we have armed forces for that? How can my neighbours and I having guns be an assistance to national defence? Unless we are occupied by enemy troops. But it’s going to be a bit late by then.

So I kept listening for his explanation and it soon followed:

I want my nation to be able to protect itself. We’re a tiny little country, 25 million people. And a lot of those people would owe allegiance to other countries that may well be our enemies in any future confrontation. So, I mean, not only have you got the threat from outside, but increasingly, you’ve got a threat from inside. And it may not just be a threat. They might have a majority in this country in within the next 25 years – if you want to extrapolate the number of people coming in. So you’ve got a threat from within as well as from without.

Could the link between wanting guns and racism be any clearer?

One detail that I found curious and troubling was that as soon as Bob Katter launched into the above words his voice suddenly changed. It moved from matter-of-fact normal into a kind of defensive, victimhood, high-pitched whining.

Guns, racism, victimhood.

Just to end on a totally irrelevant note, I suppose we should not be shocked by anything from the guy who pelted eggs at the Beatles when they arrived at Brisbane airport in 1964: I am the egg man: Katter

 

 


2018-08-28

Aboriginal Languages, a Repository of Aboriginal Knowledge

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by Neil Godfrey

When I come across an article like Aboriginal languages could reveal scientific clues to Australia’s unique past I generally find myself ignoring references to ancient astronauts but clicking down a host of other warrens helping me catch up on tidbits of fascinating insights into aboriginal culture and beliefs that I have missed in the past ten or so years. This one was no different. It led to myths about meteorites and variable stars and another look at the following map of indigenous languages

And that map reminds me of a project I was closely involved with as a metadata and open access repository librarian not very long ago and that I helped get kick started, the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages. Some years back a certain federal government decided that bilingual education in remote aboriginal communities was not a good idea so many text resources in schools that had been painstakingly produced in local indigenous languages were stacked away to gather dust and creepy crawlies or even dumped in bins. In some cases these books were the only written records of the languages in existence. After an academic from Charles Darwin University (CDU) successfully sought funding to rescue as many of these print resources as possible, an irreplaceable resource for both scholarly linguists internationally and local aboriginal communities themselves, the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages (LAAL) was set up and, since I happened to be working at CDU at the time, I found myself with another very worthy task to assist with.

It was a fascinating project. As a metadata librarian one of my main challenges was investigating ways to facilitate open access to languages and even ideational concepts that had no simple point by point correlation with English; yet more … to find optimal ways to facilitate open access to both linguist scholars and local aboriginal communities.

 

 


2018-06-17

Trump and Another (Australian) Baby Boomer Drop Kick

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by Neil Godfrey

When I read . . . .

The thing about Donald Trump is that he was never one of the Cool Guys. He was the schmuck over there across the room who was feeling up women and picking our pockets while we looked the other way. He ran a campaign that said, you know the club they would never invite you into? I’ve been there, and it’s all bullshit, and I’m going to tear it down, the whole stinking meaningless system run by these people who have looked down on you from their suites in Davos and the Renaissance Weekends, the places they kept you out of while they were making decisions about your lives and not listening to anything you had to say.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, Don’t blame yourselves millennials (like you would), boomers created Donald Trump at Salon.

What is it about the hair with these guys?

. . . . I was reminded of Bob Katter, the leader of Australia’s Katter Party — (pro-guns, anti-gay, pro-racist/corrupt/dictatorial state premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen supporter . . . . you get the picture). . . .

He was one of those who threw eggs at the Beatles when they arrived at Brisbane airport in 1964.


2018-05-11

Turning Defeats Into Great Mythologies

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by Neil Godfrey

Recall a few posts ago that I quoted some lines from a BBC/SBS episode The Celts

Professor Alice Roberts: The defeat was total. Boudicca’s entire army was wiped out. According to Tacitus only 400 Romans were killed that day compared with 80,000 Celts. The last great Celtic rebellion was over.

Neil Oliver: We’re told Boudicca survived the battle but poisoned herself shortly after, and with her died any hope of another Celtic uprising and an end to Roman rule in Britannia.

Alice Roberts: Boudicca disappeared from history and entered into national mythology, a martyr to the idea of a free Britain. 

This time I have highlighted a different section.

I was reminded of Australia’s annual observation of Anzac Day that emerged as something of a repeated national funerary ritual for the defeat at Gallipoli. It became a time, however, when Australians would remind themselves how unique they were in that they celebrated a defeat as the beginning of their “nationhood”. A glance at the Wikipedia article falls on a cluster of quotes:

 it has been seen as a key event in forging a sense of national identity.[20]

The Gallipoli campaign was the beginning of true Australian nationhood. . . . the Gallipoli campaign was a defining moment for Australia as a new nation.[21]

This Short History of Australia begins with a blank space on the map and ends with the record of a new name on the map, that of Anzac.[15]

Anzac Day now belongs to the past and during the war all energy was concentrated on the future but the influence of the Gallipoli Campaign upon the national life of Australia and New Zealand has been far too deep to fade… it was on the 25th of April 1915 that the consciousness of nationhood was born.[17]

The popular belief that the Anzacs, through their spirit, forged Australia’s national character, is still today frequently expressed.[18] For example, in 2006 the Governor-General of Australia, Michael Jeffery gave an address in which he said that although the Anzacs lost the campaign they created a lasting identity for Australia:

We are summoned to recall the battle sacrifices of Australian farmers and tally clerks, teachers and labourers and to commemorate outstanding courage and strength of character in the face of sustained adversity… [The campaign] won for us an enduring sense of national identity based on those iconic traits of mateship, courage, compassion and nous.[18]

The Spirit of the ANZAC continues today in times of hardship such as cyclones, floods and bush fires. At those times Australians come together to rescue one another, to ease suffering, to provide food and shelter, to look after one another, and to let the victims of these disasters know they are not alone.[2]

And the worship of a man who dies but whose death is vindicated by an exaltation to heaven and the salvation of those who identified themselves with him.

In other words, it is not so strange to imagine people latching onto a defeat, a death, to create a myth of martyrdom, of a higher victory or salvation as is sometimes suggested. (I’m thinking, of course, of the claim that the crucifixion of Jesus had to be historical because no-one would make up such a “myth”.)

The Greeks developed the genre of tragedy to dramatize that very characteristic of humanity: an exploration of how the death of a hero can be cathartic, a victory of spirit, and not the nihilistic end it might logically seem to be.

Is there is any national or religious history that lacks a glorious martyr? I just looked up the story of the invented national hero William Tell and see that even his death was tied with efforts to save the life of a child. Is it possible to imagine such a hero dying pointlessly in a mundane accident or comfortably of natural causes? We even see the same mythologizing at the personal level. The unbearable pain of the loss of a child often finds relief in taking up a cause to somehow give meaning or purpose to the child’s death.

 

 


2017-05-02

Realities behind Australia’s national myths

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by Neil Godfrey

The things they never taught us in school!

Two works I have read recently have been eye-openers for me.

When visiting Macquarie University (Sydney) a few years ago I was struck by a rather untypical statue on campus:

I could never figure out why or what it was about until I saw a photo of the same on the back cover of a book, Selling Sex: A Hidden History of Prostitution by Raelene Frances. Professor Frances’s opening paragraph explains:

In the pages of this book you will meet many women who have sold sex at some stage of their lives. The first is called simply ‘Joy’. For eighteen months in 1995-97 her larger-than-life figure leant against a red door-frame on the corner of Yurong and Stanley Streets in East Sydney. Being a statue, she is not really a sex worker. Or is she? The story of Joy became something of sensation in the mid-1990s, not just because she was said to be the only statue of a prostitute on display in public anywhere in the world, and not just because she personified the seedier side of Sydney. Surrounding the creation ofjoy was a quite extraordinary mystery. . . . 

The story of Joy, as well as the history of her statue, follows.

The above is just introduction to what particularly “struck” me, something that had never crossed my mind in my sheltered innocence and protective armour of national myths. Australian myth-peddlers and exploiters love to play on our belief in the “hard country” in which we have managed through toughness of character to survive. The “outback” is life-threatening and cannot be tamed, but it presence has been a major factor in the moulding of our “national character”. Tough, resourceful, loyal to mates — traits we associate with the pioneers who settled there to plant cattle stations and with those who worked for them. Writers like Henry Lawson helped to grow the myth.

So it comes something of a . . . surprise, let’s say, to read what apparently enticed men from the city to seek adventure and a financial start there and “build our nation”:

A woman like Japanese prostitute Matsuwe Otana would no doubt have had many European and Chinese customers who were engaged in the pastoral industry, as well as the mines and the ports. Drovers or pastoralists in town on business or for a rest welcomed the services provided by the karayuki-san. More commonly, Europeans took Lheir sexual pleasures closer to the stations on which they worked. Here they had access to a plentiful and cheap, if not always willing, supply of Aboriginal women.

The use of Aboriginal women as ‘stud gins’ is a recurring theme across the northern frontiers, from the late nineteenth century in Western Australia and Queensland, and until the 1920s and 1930s in the Northern Territory. . . . .

In the Northern Territory, too, young Aboriginal women were used as ‘bait’ to attract or hold European men to station jobs. Writer Xavier Herbert maintained that the women had to be there: without available women, men would refuse to work on remote stations.

Oh. Suddenly puts the myth in a different light. Best not tell the children.

Then there’s the Anzac myth. Continue reading “Realities behind Australia’s national myths”


2016-07-31

Pauline Hanson: Please Explain!

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by Neil Godfrey

hanson
Pauline Hanson

Australia’s Pauline Hanson is something like America’s Sarah Palin and Donald Trump. She brought Australia into notoriety among her Asian neighbours twenty years ago with her maiden speech in Parliament declaring that Australia was in danger of being “swamped” by Asians. She publicly claimed that aboriginal peoples were getting it way too easy (free this and that) while other Australians had to work hard and pay their way. Hanson deplored “political correctness” and accused her critics of trying shut down free speech.

In an early TV interview she looked blankly confused for a moment when asked, “Are you xenophobic?” Her response, “Please explain” made her a laughing stock among many Australians — but not among her enthusiastic supporters.

She has not had an advanced education. Her background was in running a fish-and-chip shop.

The point is that as the more educated and cosmopolitan-minded of the population expressed their disdain for her, and ridiculed her, the stronger her support base grew. Politicians attempted to dismiss her as an embarrassing irrelevance but they were pulled up fast when in Queensland’s state elections her party won a full eleven seats in Parliament the very first time they had competed in an election.

When she was jailed for electoral fraud it looked like the end and we could all move on again. But no. The establishment forces that had essentially “plotted” criminal charges against her were exposed for their dishonesty.

And now she’s back. She won a Senate seat in the recent election. A single seat doesn’t sound much, but the future direction of the present government depends heavily upon winning over “crossbenchers” — that is, independents.

This time she is attacking Islam more than Asians, to “get rid of all the terrorism in our streets”. She also continues to attack big business and multinational corporations and what they are doing to the “ordinary workers” in Australia. She is outraged every time another Chinese millionaire buys up another rural property in Australia.

Her supporters regularly congratulate her, saying “You are saying what we are all thinking!”

Ridicule and loathing is easy. It’s the natural reaction for many. But it doesn’t work. It backfires. Her popularity grows the more she is insulted by representatives and classes whom many Australians believe are out of touch with “reality” and how they really think.

Watching last night’s documentary, Pauline Hanson: Please Explain!, an uneasy awareness came over me that the ignorance and prejudices among many of us is not being seriously addressed. National leadership ought ideally to be engaging with Pauline Hanson’s supporters in community dialogue. I was once involved with one such community effort. We would advertise public meetings with persons able to discuss from the perspective of direct experience various topical or controversial subjects of community concern. I’d love to see such efforts start up everywhere.

I do hope that Donald Trump’s mouth alone will be enough to eventually disillusion and turn away his support base.

But then what’s left? What’s next for his disillusioned supporters?

But one thing I do fear: ridicule, insult, derision have the potential to only make the Hansons and Trumps ever more popular. People really do need to be listened to.

 


2014-04-27

Criteria of Authenticity Tested Against the Gallipoli Landing

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by Neil Godfrey

hp_image_1We’ve just had our Anzac Day ceremonies here. Attendance at the dawn services and veteran marches is growing by the year, they say. This year something new emerged on one of my favorite radio shows, Late Night Live with Phillip Adams — an interview with Hugh Dolan author of 36 Days: The Untold Story of the Anzac Assault, 25 April 1915. The program is headed Dispelling the Gallipoli ANZAC myths. I subsequently watched the related TV program, Gallipoli From Above: The Untold Story. And of course I’ve ordered the book! One more to read, damn it.

There are many facets of the Anzac myth that will continue to be discussed and one of them is the perennial question: Why do Australians celebrate a military defeat as “the moment” that supposedly defined us as “a nation” or cast in bronze what we call our “national identity”?

Commentators are forever discussing the irony of our nation apparently “taking pride” in a military defeat.

How does that jell with what New Testament historians use as criteria of historical authenticity? So we celebrate a defeat. Does this not conform well with the criterion of embarrassment? Nobody would choose to celebrate a defeat unless it really happened, would they? And the story has been sustained by multiple independently attested sources, hasn’t it, over the years. So here we surely see in this event at least two criterion of authenticity found to be entirely validated.

But the Anzac story gets into more detail. The landing itself was a bloodbath. At dawn, under heavy fire. The Australians were victims of British incompetence and were landed at the wrong beach for starters.

No-one would make up a story in which they were the victims of such incompetence and disaster, would they?
Well, 36 Days suggests that that’s exactly what “we” have done now for almost 100 years.

Continue reading “Criteria of Authenticity Tested Against the Gallipoli Landing”


2012-03-19

Atheist and ex-Muslim — an absolutely enjoyable interview with Alom Shaha

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by Neil Godfrey

From arthwollipot, flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/arthwollipot/6796189874/sizes/m/in/photostream/

If you are atheist, a bit worried about Muslims at the same time, like ideas like love and compassion as the glue that holds us together, might respect reading recommendations from A. C. Grayling, are curious about where and why Australians have a different take (at least from North Americans and the British) on atheism and religion in the world — how to be laid back about it all — and basically what atheism means to all of us of whatever religious background and in particular how ex-Muslims handle it all, then do yourself a well-deserved favour and listen to the interview with Alom Shaha on Australia’s national radio program  Big Ideas:

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/monday-19-march-2012/3894112

The ABC blurb is:

Atheist Alom Shaha: Imagine you live in a strict Muslim community. You’re taught not to question your religion. But you don’t actually believe any of it. Your interest lay in the world of science, ideas, and books. This is the world of atheist, Alom Shaha – a Bangladesh born science writer, film maker and teacher, who’s lived in London since he was young boy – who is in conversation with Paul Barclay.


2011-10-27

Back in ’68 . . . . reminder of my old university days

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by Neil Godfrey

I have just stumbled across a blog that brings my university student days back to me with vivid memories of personalities and events that were affected me deeply at the time — forcing me to face up to how the world really works. I have since lamented the fading of radical and direct action from university life but this blog brings back some disturbing memories that no-one would really want repeated.

Most of the names mentioned — especially on the second part of the blog — I knew personally, one even from school days. We were not close buddies but he did share with me his experience of being taken by Commonwealth police in a car down to an isolated wharf. My recollection is that the police were being publicly humiliated by their failure to locate the ones who were printing banned political tracts and to find one student in particular who had retaliated against police in a frightening mob situation with a series of vicious punches. He told me how the police pulled out a gun as he sat in the back seat of their car that night at that wharf and told him they could make it look like suicide.

I wonder if I ever crossed paths with the author of the blog while I was at the same university in the same years as he. I don’t recall his name and probably didn’t. But we could share memories if we did ever meet (it’s sad to see his health circumstances as explained in his blog):

Vietnam and Damascus via Coronation Drive

Vietnam and Damascus, via Coronation Drive part 2

In the first part he even has a photo of Diane Cilento. I recall being mesmerized by her stage performance in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew a few years afterwards.

In part 2 I see Bob Katter there. I never knew who he was on campus though I did know of one small firebrand who led a minority student reactionary (pro conservative) viewpoint. Now I see that it was the same Bob Katter who is something of a populist independent in politics today. The names more memorable to me are those of Dan O’Neill, Brian Laver, Jimmy Prentice and Dick Shearman.

Dick shocked the establishment of the day by visiting North Vietnam and returning in a black Viet Cong suit. When the Vice Chancellor met students at a courtyard rally (memorable for the constant blaring of the Beatles new and subversive White Album) he insisted that they could not, as they had been seeking to do, erect tents in the courtyard. Jimmy took the mike and calmly sought clarification from the VC: “So are you saying we are not allowed to have an erection in the courtyard?”

Ah, those were the days.

As for the politics and the way the media worked then, now that was a real education. I can’t surpass Dennis Wright’s portrayal of it in his blog.

One more detail. I stumbled upon this blog while looking to see what happened to a philosopher lecturer whose post-graduate classes I once enjoyed so much. Ted d’Urso. I liked Dennis Wright’s account of him, too, except that I found he had more humour than he appears to have displayed in Dennis’s class. Maybe he had learned to relax more by the time I met him. He was not wearing a white shirt and tie then, either.

Dennis recalls some words he spoke to his class then:

‘Some of you in this room are going to be sitting in a paddy field in Vietnam in two years, and when you come under fire for the first time, you’re going to say “What the hell am I doing here?” All I want to discuss with you are some facts you can check with any reliable source, Then you’ll know why someone in a black t-shirt and pants, someone you won’t even see, is going to try their best to kill you….’

In another online article (2007) Ted (now retired) cites a prophecy of Rosa Luxemburg:

As long ago as 1918 Rosa Luxemburg predicted that the alternatives to capitalism were socialism or barbarism, the latter now well under way. With the defeat of the hopes for humanistic socialism, the plans now in progress by the Pentagon for military supremacy in an increasingly resource-scarce future (the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq is a foretaste of future conflicts) . . . . 

How depressing. Especially since observing all that has happened since then and especially with the most recent media and political gloating over the barbarism we have all witnessed in the past few months in Libya and that looks like extending its bloody life into the weeks to come. It’s all tied up with Western resources and economics, of course. I can never forget another memorable phrase I picked up in one of his classes: the nazi years in central Europe described as “barbarism empowered by technology.”

God I hope something can come out of these new Occupy movements. We are seeing similar (not quite as bad?) sorts of violence now in Melbourne as we saw back in 1968 in Brisbane. But there has been real progress and that’s clear, too. Back in ’68 the mere act of walking down a street with a placard really was considered orc-centric as Dennis reminds us.

 


2011-01-16

Isn’t this wonderful

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by Neil Godfrey

As an atheist, naturalist, humanist or whatever, who deconverted from religion some years ago I still find myself observing humanity (and non-human fellow creatures) with new eyes. This disaster is only one of many around the world, of course, but in every one of them it is inspiring to see what we are: local Queenslanders are shown on TV announcing their group identity: “We are Queenslanders, we help each other . . .”, but then someone is traveling interstate to help and declares: “We are Australians, we give each other a helping hand . . . ” And when it’s international, we identify with each other at the broadest humanity level.

Brisbane flood volunteers turned away

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/01/16/3113939.htm?

Clean-up volunteers have been turned away in Brisbane after an overwhelming response to calls for help.

Today queues of willing hands stretched for more than a kilometre at assembly points across the city. . . . .

Volunteers clean-up a street at Fairfield after floodwaters subside

About 12,500 people joined the council-run clean-up operation yesterday. (ABC: Tim Leslie) Continue reading “Isn’t this wonderful”


2011-01-10

My home town hit by flash flood today

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by Neil Godfrey

I had thought my home town, on top of a mountain range, would be immune from the flooding that has hit so many other areas. Still trying to accept the following scenes. It’s not the steadily rising waters that have hit other places, but a flash flood that went as quickly as it came, even washing away cars in the main street, and it all happened so suddenly that some were unable to escape with their lives. I’m now living in Melbourne way down at southern end of Australia away from the flooding, but still own a house only only ten minutes walk from several scenes pictured in the linked news story. Naturally am concerned about  everyone there, especially people I know, but still mostly trying to take in scenes and tragedy the city has never seen before. Devastating.

Seven dead as raging torrent swamps Toowoomba (ABC news story)

and the Video of a rescue of one lucky fellow

 


2010-07-25

The right side of politics Down Under: Muslims good; atheists bad

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by Neil Godfrey

Black-eyed Sue and Sweet Poll of Plymouth taking leave of their lovers who are going to Botany BayNo sooner do we read of one Liberal Party’s candidate being dumped by his party leader for suggesting that there is no place for Muslims in the Australian parliament, than we read of another Liberal Party candidate attacking the “ungodly” Labor leader and PM for being an atheist — and getting away with it! (The Liberal Party in Australia, to oversimplify somewhat, correlates with the Conservatives in the UK and the Republicans in the US.)

So what’s the lesson here? It’s politically correct at election time to be seen as tolerant towards Muslims; but as for being an atheist. . . ? Who cares?

Actually I don’t mind this approach to criticism of atheists. Let it all hang out. Let everyone see where everyone stands. It’s no big deal. It’s kind of funny to have politicians get up and rave about Australia being built on Christian values and how they always expect a “godly” leader. Australia? Founded on convicts, lashings, prostitution, petty tyrants among the good ‘uns, rum rebellion, — oh, and an Anglican pastor to keep it all in check? What’s the ratio of churchgoers to non-practicing Christians and “others” in Australia?

I suspect the Liberal Party leader’s decision to ignore the atheist jibe was quite healthy and a “true blue” Aussie response. I’d hate to see political correctness go mad and send to the guillotine anyone who raves about not believing in god and decrying how a godless prime minister simply cannot be a “godly ruler” etc. All a bit of a laugh for most in the audience.

It is the season, however, to be prudent with respect to Muslims. Hate crimes and bigotry and all that are all too real — it goes without saying. (Whoever planted a bomb outside an atheist’s convention in Australia?)

It is still real enough for a Liberal candidate to be quoted as saying that just one Muslim in Parliament must be seen as a march towards the day when Parliament will be all-Muslim! But of course, the mere fact that the sight of one of them in the “wrong place” leaves him down the slippery slope into nightmares of a Taliban takeover of Australia, does not mean he has anything against Muslims personally.

Which leaves me in a delicate position at times. When I was once arranging for a leading State Muslim to conduct a public presentation to a general audience, I found myself being offered a copy of the Koran. As a gesture of good-will I accepted it, but later I had the misfortune to read it. It left the taste in my mouth of being just as mind-controlling and fear and authority obsessed as the Jewish and Christian books, only more blunt and obvious about it. So there I was, finding myself in a situation where I was seeking to foster community tolerance among two religious groups, Christians and Muslims, yet ironically having no personal sympathy or time for either of them!

As far as their beliefs were concerned, I saw (still do see) both as potentially harmful psychologically to individuals who took them too seriously. When I see some humanist scholars advocate a humanism that embraces the religiously minded as well, I do feel some revulsion. What has the anti-intellectualism at the heart of Christianity and Islam (and Judaism) to do with humanistic values? Why on earth does “spirituality” or the sense of the poetic and mystery and awe of life have to be tied exclusively to religion of any kind? But I also find myself recoiling from a few of the anti-Muslim statements of some such as Harris and Hitchens. Sure I have no time for the Muslim religion either, but these authors do seem to be unable to tease out the geopolitical issues from the more universal religious concepts.

So I decided to focus entirely on the project I had got myself mixed up with as an entirely “social enterprise”. Strictly a civil service.

We’ll probably be stuck with religion as long as we will be stuck with astrology, witchcraft and the occult. If one can’t beat them, the least one can do, I guess, is to support any endeavour that promotes mutual understanding and respect.


2010-06-30

At long last, another leader who won’t play with god

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by Neil Godfrey

Religion is too much with us
Middle America, Benedict
Blair, Rudd, Abbott
Zion, Mecca, Congress

Thank the Darwinian Fish for a fresh air Gillard

See Gillard won’t play the religion card

“I am not going to pretend a faith I don’t feel,” she said.

“I am what I am and people will judge that.

“For people of faith, I think the greatest compliment I could pay to them is to respect their genuinely held beliefs and not to engage in some pretence about mine.”