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This document draws together perspectives on the apparently desirable goal of keeping religion out of politics in Australia (even though it is impossible to keep religion out of the individual), and on means to achieve this.
The issue is by no means straight forward. For example, in January 2009, a political leader (Mr Peter Costello) expressed the view that Australia had benefited from its Christian heritage, and because of this was said to be:
In April 2009 it was suggested that efforts by three new political parties to separate church and state would result in a much greater focus on religion in a future federal election. However such efforts seemed likely to increase rather than reduce the role of religion in Australian politics (which is the reverse of their apparent goal), and to have serious adverse consequences. Strengthening the ability of (broadly-defined) 'churches' to address spiritual questions and to define and disseminate the nature of moral behaviour without need to get involved in politics would be a better solution. Though there does seem to be an ongoing need for a 'default' religion to avoid politicising moral and spiritual questions facing governments, this can not make 'church' leaders into experts on public policy questions (see below).
In July 2010, ethics classes in Australian schools were publicly advocated which would have the effect of establishing claims about moral authority that were not based on Christian scriptures. This constituted a (presumably unintended) effort to 'liberate' Australians from the Judeo-Christian heritage that has been the basis of their liberty, and of the notion of a 'secular' state. It would create room for claims to moral authority by political elites - a process that seems to be already underway and likely to have adverse social, political and economic consequences (see below).
|Is a Religious View of History Valid?||
Should A Religious View of History Disqualify Potential Political Leaders?
Important issues related to Australia's system of government were raised when it was suggested that Mr Peter Costello's 2009 Australia Day address to an evangelical Christian group proved that he was unable to separate church and state and was thus unsuitable for political leadership (Fitzgerald R., "Costello's hopes should have burned out after sermon", The Australian, 23/2/09).
Mr Costello's address had suggested that a biblical heritage was central to the development of Australia and the foundation of its society, and that the (Judeo-Christian) scriptures and Ten Commandments had been the basis of peaceful tolerance of each other and of order.
Ross Fitzgerald's criticism appeared suspect, as it surely is simply a fact that the Christ-ian approach to interpersonal morality (ie based in individual consciences responsible to God) provided the basis for tolerance and order for many hundreds of years in Australia and in British society whose traditions and institutions Australia inherited.
Moreover, it has been critical to getting religion out of politics (because, by contrast with many other traditions, this means that the state has not had to try to define the nature of, and enforce, morality in interpersonal relationships) - see Moral Foundations of Individual Liberty. The latter also noted that:
As an email reproduced below noted, while Mr Costello pointed out to a group of Christians that the Christian foundations of Australia's society are important, he has not (unlike a more prominent political leader) sought to claim religious moral authority for particular political policies or to advocate church involvement in politics.
Finally, it is worth considering whether Ross Fitzgerald's article (which suggested that an individual should be disqualified from political office because of their Christian faith) itself reflected an unfortunate intrusion of religion into Australia's politics.
The fact is that widespread acceptance of New Testament teachings within the community (which must be a church rather than a state responsibility for reasons outlined below) is the foundation of Australia's legal and government system (including the very notion of a 'secular' state, ie one concerned with everything but religion) - so it is inevitable that a substantial number of Christians will be involved in politics
Political Activism Separate Church and State? +
Can Political Activism Separate Church and State?
In April 2009 it was suggested that religion was likely to play an increasingly important role in the next federal election, because three new parties, who favour the separation of church and state, will challenge the political influence of what were seen as 'self opinionated bishops and crazy imams' (Fitzgerald R., 'Moves afoot to counter God's sway over the ballot box', The Australian, 20/4/09
However increasing the role of religion in a federal election is not a very efficient way of achieving the apparent goal of reducing the role of religion in Australian politics.
The new parties nominated as strongly favouring the separation of church and state were:
It is ironic that (by trying to reduce 'God's sway over the ballot box') these parties were expected to increase the role of religion in politics, and thus have an impact that was quite contrary to promoting the 'freedom' that was suggested to be their unifying goal.
The Origin of Freedom
Individual freedom in societies like Australia (which is quite rare in the world) has been the product of the long separation of religion and politics (see Moral Foundations of Individual Liberty). This has been possible because, given the past wide acceptance of Christ-ian teachings, the morality of individual behaviour could be assumed to reside in individual consciences responsible to God - rather than being defined and enforced at the whim of human authorities as is more commonly the case.
As Christian adherence has declined this assumption has become suspect in recent decades. Thus political leaders have sought, or been expected to, exert moral authority - thereby: putting moral values 'up for grabs'; bringing religion back into politics; and creating very profound new constraints on the freedom of individual behaviour (op cit).
Strengthening the Capacity of Apolitical 'Churches' to Operate Independently
A 'Secular Party' that wanted to keep religious questions out of political debates would be ill-advised to try to achieve this by disabling the non-political organisations that are able to address them - as this would just cause such questions to revert to the political domain.
Rather, increasing the separation of religion and state (which has had many practical advantages) would best be achieved by strengthening organisations that can credibly define and advocate moral behaviour based in individual consciences (responsible to God rather than to other people if liberty is to be preserved) and address spiritual questions while remaining independent of the state or of politics. There seems to be a solid basis for doing so (see Ethical Renewal in Competing Civilizations). However, in principle this could include not only organisations run by bishops and imams, but also organisations whose particular 'religion' was (say) atheism or humanism (both of which have their own current evangelists) - if they were able to present credible moral principles derived on that basis that would: (a) reliably locate responsibility for moral behaviour in individual consciences; and (b) not be able to be manipulated at the whim of powerful or influential people.
An Official 'Religion'?
This raises the obvious question about whether Australia should have an official (default) 'religion', and if so what should it be? This is clearly a matter of growing significance.
The answer to the first question (ie whether Australia should have an official religion) is obviously 'yes', because there would otherwise be no default basis for determining moral and spiritual questions - so that they would become political issues (ie the separation between church and state would disappear altogether).
The difficulties of seeking to operate without a default religion has been well illustrated by vain efforts that have been made to politically define values that should be sought in state schools, when any value system depends on a much broader world view (eg see The Importance of Values Taught in State Schools).
In relation to the second question, it is clear that Christianity has an established role (eg providing the framework within which legal and governance institutions have been developed, and being the basis of religious observances at official events). Moreover the individual liberty that Christianity enabled appears to be one of the sources of strength that have benefited Western societies in recent centuries, and not all alternative religions would be compatible with Australia's social and political institutions (see also Christian Foundations of Liberal Western Institutions).
None-the-less Christianity's founder, Jesus of Nazareth, did not use force to compel adherence with his teachings (eg consider Luke 18:18-23). Thus it would be reasonable for those proposing an alternative official 'religion' to make a case for submission to the electorate. Any analysis of the implications of such a shift would necessarily be much more profound and complex than for the average referendum.
Churches can't be Public Policy Experts
Anyone who believes that they have a better understanding of political questions than 'self opinionated bishops and crazy imams' should easily be able to make this clear to political leaders and the electorate. There is good reason to doubt that religious principles (which are timeless and applicable to individual behaviour) can ever in themselves provide a sound basis for deciding complex questions about ever-changing social and economic issues. Christianity's founder, Jesus of Nazareth, himself reportedly stated that he was not interested in establishing a 'kingdom of this world' (John 18:36).
Casting the First Stone
Anyone who really was serious about the problem of child sexual abuse, as the Australia Sex Party was said to be, would be insisting that governments establish a royal commission into the incidence of this in the general community - as homes (rather than church-run institutions) appear to be where the vast majority of such abuse arises according to those who have studied the subject (see About Child Sex Abuse) and there is nothing morally controversial about such behaviour.
|Addendum A: Encouraging Moral Authoritarianism?||
Re: Churches don't have monopoly on good life , 13/7/10
As I interpreted it, your article described efforts that are being made through ethics classes in schools to establish claims about moral authority that are not based on Christian scriptures.
I should like to suggest the need for a 'big picture' view of this issue, because Parents4Ethics is (presumably inadvertently) encouraging moral authoritarianism.
In the first place there is nothing new about human claims to being the source of moral authority. For example Genesis 3:1-6 described the temptation of ancient humans to 'eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil' - so as to be god-like. The rest of the Jewish Bible described the coming of the Mosaic Law, its elaboration by religious authorities and the chaos that periodically emerged as those principles were disregarded. And the Christian Bible dealt with Jesus' influence on the nature and significance of God's law at a time when political authorities traditionally claimed to be gods in order to encourage others' obedience.
There are practical advantages that accrue to a society where social and political elites are not able to claim to be the source of moral authority (see Cultural Foundations of Western Strengths). The latter refers (for example) to the way this enhances the ability of individuals to make rational decisions (because they do not have to try to second guess the reactions of their societies 'moral authorities'), and to the scope also created for legal and governance systems that are based on the presumption of individual liberty. It is also worth considering the pressure that Australia's political leaders are increasingly under to claim to be moral authorities as adherence to Christian principles has declined - and the resulting erosion of scope for individual liberty and of the political and economic advantages that liberty confers (see Moral Foundations of Individual Liberty).
It is not possible to shift any authority from where it has traditionally resided without someone else claiming it for their own benefit. Idealists seem to believe that elected Presidents in Australia would continue to carry out the purely 'ceremonial' functions of Governors and the Governor General. Realists recognised that such people would be much more likely to claim that their electoral mandates give them political authority which over-rides that of Parliaments, and that this would result in political instability (see Republican 'Realism': A Purely Ceremonial Head of State?)
Likewise human claims to determine the nature of ethical behaviour must inevitably to result in moral authoritarianism by social and political elites. This certainly seems to be the case in all non-Christian societies. There are very good reasons for ensuring a separation of church and state. However trying to separate moral authority from the churches' teachings (and thus enabling that authority to be claimed by politicians for their own benefit) is quite the reverse of what is required to achieve this outcome (eg see Keeping Religion out of Australian Politics).
Might I respectfully suggest that Parents4Ethics and associated entities need to give this matter deeper consideration.
Further thoughts added later:
In addition to political claimants to moral authority (if the freedom from these that the Judeo-Christian tradition allowed were widely rejected) alternative human claimants probably also include:
The liberating impact of the first two of the Ten Commandments (which refer to not having other gods or making idols) should not be neglected. Those who reject the (moral) Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed are likely to find themselves ruled by human moral authoritarians.
|Addendum B: Humanism classes in government schools||
Re: Humanism classes have some merit, 10/11/10
I should like to try to add value to some of the issues raised in your constructive article. Your efforts to clarify the nature of ‘religion’ and ‘secularism’ are most useful, yet I must suggest that the issue is even more complex than you indicated and has even more important consequences for society as a whole.
The question of what worldviews are taught in schools can not simply come down to respecting all such views simply because some people hold them. Culture (of which worldviews, including religions, are a major component) has practical consequences, because it affects the way people behave and how they solve problems and thus the way a society works (or doesn’t work). This point was considered very broadly in Competing Civilizations (from 2001).
It is thus not desirable to encourage the teaching of diverse world-views without also advocating understanding and consideration of the consequences of those world-views. For example:
A number of other points related to the matters raised in your article are that:
I would be interested in your response to the above speculations.
|Addendum C: Separating Church and State will Need More than a High Court Decision||
Separating Church and State will Need More than a High Court Decision (email sent 5/2/11)
Your articles’ sardonic observations on the debate about government funding of chaplains in state schools (and a forthcoming High Court challenge) don’t convey a strong enough argument about the importance or difficulty of keeping church and state separate.
My reasons for suggesting this are outlined below (together with an outline of your article). In brief my comments relate to:
I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
Outline of Article and Detailed Argument
As your article noted, the fact that government-endorsed values are being promulgated (eg by funding for a school-based chaplaincy program) demonstrates a breakdown in the separation of church and state. And there are other examples such as: public funding for church run social services; and political leaders proclaiming themselves moral authorities (or seeking to involve churches directly in politics, as noted in Restoring 'Faith in Politics') . This situation is highly undesirable, and is one indication of a crisis that Australia’s system of government is encountering (see Australia's Governance Crisis and the Need for Nation Building).
The separation of church and state has been an important component of the legal and government institutions that presume individual liberty that Australia inherited, and which provided very significant political and economic advantages to Western societies generally (see Cultural Foundations of Western Strength). For example:
The separation of church and state has also been vital to the effectiveness of churches. The involvement of government in funding social welfare services run by churches has arguably compromised the ability of churches to perform their core mission, because it distorts the goals and perceptions of those affected – a point that is explored in Is the Smart State a Just State: A Commentary (2003). The latter noted that studies of serious social problems in Queensland by a church group focused only on advocating new government programs to provide support to the disadvantaged, whereas a more effective and permanent solution would have involved re-emphasis on the church’s evangelical mission so as to motivate and empower disadvantaged individuals and groups to better support one another.
While close linkages between church and state are counterproductive, keeping them separate has been dependent on widespread adherence to Christianity in the community. This has been needed because the Judeo-Christian tradition locates responsibility for the morality of individual behaviour in individual consciences responsible to God, rather than in communal or state pressure on individuals, as is usual under other traditions (see Christian Foundations of Liberal Western Institutions). However in recent decades many individuals have drifted away from their ethical mooring (apparently because of churches’ inadequate responses to the intellectual challenges to the credibility of their teachings). Severe social symptoms have been emerging as a result of thus leaving many with little basis for moral interpersonal dealings, and political leaders have been under pressure to ‘do something about it’ (see Moral Foundations of Individual Liberty and 'The Times They are a-Changing' - but not always for the better). But the more the state (or others) try to promulgate their views of appropriate values, the more the advantages of legal and government systems build on liberty must be lost.
The problem cannot be resolved by High Court judgements about what governments can or cannot do. No matter what is decided in relation to (say) government funding of chaplains in state schools, the social dysfunctions that have caused political leaders to try to ‘do something’ are not going to go away. Likewise political activism to promote separation of the church and the state (as several groups are attempting) can’t provide a solution – as this merely increases the role of religion in politics by requiring political leaders to arbitrate on questions of religion (see Can Political Activism Separate Church and State?).
The key to restoring the separation of church and state must be to remind churches of the importance of their evangelical mission not only to individuals but to the effectiveness of Australia’s system of law and government (see Eliminating the Need for Chaplains in Australia's State Schools), and to support (ie encourage) them in undertaking that mission. Such a suggestion is outlined in A Nation Building Agenda - together with speculations about how to overcome intellectual obstacles to creating strong churches that do not depend on the state (eg to overcome intellectual obstacles that arise because Australians have had undue confidence in their ability to understand creation on the basis of science and reason).
|Addendum D: Political Commentary Based on Religious Criteria can be Misleading||
Political Commentary Based on Religious Criteria can be Misleading (email sent 4/4/11)
Re: Heatless pair use misery to showboat, Courier Mail, 18/2/11
Your article criticised two political leaders on the basis of religious criteria (ie it suggested that two Opposition MPs were not doing what God expects).
Unfortunately I must belatedly submit that your article mainly illustrated the desirability of keeping religion out of politics. My reason for suggesting this are outlined below. The moralities of the political actions you criticised and of the community you praised are not as clear cut as your article suggested, and there are good reasons to doubt the adequacy of religious criteria in assessing public policies (a point that that was argued earlier in Keeping Religion out of Australian Politics, 2009).
I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
Firstly, the moralities of the policy issues you mentioned are not as clear cut as your article implied. For example:
Secondly ascribing widespread moral virtue to Australia’s community generally (because many were good neighbours immediately after a natural disaster) is not the full story. The admonition to Jerusalem that your article quoted has local relevance. Serious social symptoms seem to be emerging as the consequence of the erosion of individual morality within the community – and this could have painful consequences (see Moral Foundations of Individual Liberty, from 2001).
Finally, as the latter document suggested Western societies gained huge advantages from general adherence to Christianity within the community, eg the ability to create liberal social environments in which rationality could be an effective means for problem solving (see also Christian Foundations of Liberal Western Institutions, 2010). None-the-less separating public policy from religion has also been beneficial (eg see Why separation of church and state allowed government to be effective).
And, though Christianity sets high moral standards for Christian leaders as individuals, it does not provide a comprehensive basis for assessing public policies. In very simple terms, Jesus of Nazareth (Christianity’s founder) requires his followers (whether or not they are political leaders) to accept the Holy Spirit and live in accordance with his teachings (my interpretation of which is outlined briefly on my web-site). However, it is inappropriate to see those teachings as a sufficient basis for public policies (eg because: Jesus: (a) did things for the poor and sick, rather than lobbying others to do so; (b) emphasised the importance of a kingdom that is not of this world; and (c) said nothing about his followers gaining the God-like wisdom needed to make superior judgments about complex problems - see Church’s Mission, 2009).
|Addendum E: Get God out of the Classroom: Good Luck with That!||
Get God out of the Classroom: Good Luck with That! (email sent 12/4/11)
Re: Let’s get God out of the classroom, Brisbane Times, 4/4/11
Based on its title your article (which is outlined below) seems to be an argument for getting God out of Victorian classrooms. From a Christian viewpoint, that goal (if taken literally) seems ambitious. If the Creator of the universe wants to be in classrooms, then that is presumably where He will be.
Closer examination suggested, however, that your goal was not to exclude God, but rather to exclude religious instruction – especially about Christianity.
Various observers with experience of religious instruction in schools have suggested to me in relation to your article (in brief) that:
Moreover even from a pragmatic (secular if you like) viewpoint, your ambition seems problematical. For example, in more detailed (‘secular’) comments below this email, it is suggested that:
Finally I wonder if you might consider another ‘flirtation’ with Christianity. A reading of the gospels with an open mind and an open heart might be a good place to start – as these present eye-witnesses accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings, rather than the interpretations of modern believers. Perhaps next time a marriage might result.
OUTLINE OF ARTICLE and DETAILED COMMENTS FROM A SECULAR VIEWPOINT
Some thoughts (in a fairly random order) are:
|Addendum F: Are Politicians Idiots?||
Are Politicians Idiots? (email sent 13/5/11)
Re: School religion classes probed, The Age, 13/5/11
Your article suggested that the federal and Victorian education ministers (Peter Garrett and Martin Dixon) would investigate whether teaching religion in schools might involve trying to make converts (‘proselytizing’) after Access Ministries CEO (Dr Evonne Paddison) had implied that this should be the goal in a 2008 speech to the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion national conference.
Surely politicians are not idiotic enough to believe that teaching Christianity through school religious programs will not tend to ‘make disciples’? This is the logical outcome of the process, and for reasons suggested in Get God out of the Classroom: Good Luck with That! this is not only of benefit to students (as Dr Paddison reportedly suggested) but also to the maintenance of Australia’s liberal legal / governance institutions (and thus to the notion of a secular state).
|Addendum G: A Confident Secularist Society?||
A Confident Secularist Society? (Email sent 6/8/11)
Re: A confident secularist society would tolerate school religion, The Age, 28/7/11
Your article concluded that secularists, who stridently call on governments to prevent church volunteers from providing religious education in public schools, are in effect admitting defeat in the battle of ideas. I should like to suggest for your consideration why such an admission of defeat may be necessary to defend the notion of a secular state (and the advantages that the separation of church and state has brought to Western societies).
In the first place, as I understand it, the original meaning of ‘secular’ in Western culture did not imply rejection of religion, but referred to those aspects of human affairs that were outside (and complementary to) the sphere of religion. Thus strictly ‘secularists’ would presumably be indifferent to church teaching in schools, not because they favour an alternative, but because religion is outside their sphere of knowledge and interest,.
None-the-less your article suggested that ‘secularists’ have a creed (ie a religion) of their own – ie one featuring a ‘grounded, rational, Enlightenment outlook’ and confidence in ‘rationalist public institutions’. However, while there can be benefits in a rational Enlightenment view, such a view also has significant limitations (see How solid are 'science, reason and critical thinking'?). The latter refers, amongst other things, to limits to rationality (both to those that are well known, and to some that are now emerging). It thus implies that winning over the next generation to the simplistic alternative ‘creed’ you have suggested would be a real struggle..
It is also constructive to consider the way in which the development of a ‘rational Enlightenment’ view (and many other features that contributed to the strength of of Western societies such as the separation of church and state) depended on widespread adherence to Christianity within the community (see Christian Foundations of Liberal Western Institutions) and the challenges to liberal institutions and ‘rationalism’ that are emerging as Christian adherence in the community declines, and human claims to moral authority re-emerge to potentially break down the notion of a secular state (see Moral Foundations of Individual Liberty).
Your article may very well be correct in asserting that religious education in schools is not a very effective way of convincing children about Christianity. The challenge, therefore, for those who value a secular state is arguably to find more effective ways to present Christianity to students (a point that was explored also in Get God out of the classroom: Good luck with that!).
I would be interested in your response to the above speculations.
|Addendum H: Could 'Regular Teachers' Reliably Teach Religion in State Schools?||
Could 'Regular Teachers' Reliably Teach Religion in State Schools? (email sent 5/3/12)
Professor Stan van Hooft,
Re: Religious classes in state schools must be about teaching, not preaching , Brisbane Times, 2/3/12
Your article (which also appeared in The Age) made a case for ‘general religious education’ in state schools (ie for regular teachers imparting knowledge and understanding of all of the world’s major faiths), rather than the ‘special religious education’ that has been provided by faith-based groups and emphasized Christianity. In particular it was suggested that:
There are advantages in the separation of religion and state that your article endorsed (eg see Keeping Religion out of Australian Politics, 2009+). However, as the latter indicated, this is anything but straightforward because even seeking state support for separation can lead to political decisions that disadvantage some religions (and this can produce outcomes that are the reverse of the desired separation).
Moreover I suspect that teaching about religion is more complex than your article indicated, and that the issues involved go well beyond the likely expertise of ‘regular teachers’.
To gain ‘a genuine choice as to what they themselves will believe’, children would not only need general information about all major traditional religions, but also about: (a) the practical consequences for societies whose cultures are built around traditional religions; and (b) emerging non-traditional belief systems that also compete for adherents. This would require resource material that would be very difficult and time consuming to produce.
My reasons for suggesting this are outlined in more detail on my web-site, and I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
What individual’s put their faith in is not only a ‘private matter’ that has consequences for themselves alone.
There is also an effect on the community as a whole because a society’s culture (which includes, or is heavily influenced by, the world view embodied in the dominant religion) appears to be a major determinant of a society’s ability to be materially successful and to live in relative peace and harmony. Culture affects: people's goals and aspirations; the way they understand reality (and thus how they go about solving problems, and whether they can develop technologies); their ability to learn, to cope with risk and to change; and the institutions their society maintains (see Competing Civilizations). For example:
Unfortunately the practical consequences of cultural differences have not received much attention in recent decades apparently because of disinterest by students of the humanities and social sciences, who would traditionally have studied such questions (see Competing Civilizations, 2001). The emergence and ultimate dominance of post-modern theory (ie that social knowledge tends to be just a ‘construct’ to benefit elites, and that such ideas are just a matter of opinion and likely to be equally valid and useful) appears to be the main reason that such study has been discouraged.
The difficulty facing ‘regular teachers’ in trying to impart understanding of diverse faiths is not only complicated by the fact that many traditional faiths encourage social, political and economic institutions that are incompatible with Australia‘s liberal inheritance, but also by the emergence of new competing faiths in Western societies. In particular:
For ‘general teachers’ to enable anyone to make an informed choice amongst major traditional faiths and their emerging competitors would require that they have access to resource material that provides a balanced account of issues such as those outlined above. Such resource material: (a) does not yet exist; (b) would take many years (perhaps decades) to assemble to the point that a consensus exists amongst experts; and (c) would involve complexities that are unlikely to be properly appreciated even by undergraduate students (and certainly not by young children).
By contrast it is possible to teach about Christianity simply as a belief that might be accepted by children on faith, or rejected. The New Testament not only provides evidence for faith in Jesus’ Gospel but also suggests that acceptance of that 'good news' should be voluntary and based on faith alone. And success by Christians in imparting such faith seems likely to be essential to countering threats to the foundations Australia’s liberal legal and governance institutions that: (a) have been emerging for decades (see Erosion of the Moral Foundations of Liberal Institutions); and (b) would be exacerbated by the widespread acceptance of faiths that do not endorse "freedom of religion and separation of church and state”.
|Addendum I: Teaching about religion in schools||
Teaching about religion in schools - email sent 26/3/12
Re: Why we should teach religion in schools, Online Opinion, 26/3/12
Your article suggested the need to teach about religion in schools because, even though religion is not rationally valid, it has consequences for societies.
While endorsing your view about the importance of understanding the consequences of religion, I would like to suggest that teaching about religion in terms of its consequences would be an incredibly difficult task – because the fundamental work on this has not yet really been done. My reasons for suggesting this are outlined in Could 'Regular Teachers' Reliably Teach Religion in State Schools?
Moreover I also submit that there is a need in debating such issues to recognise that there are very real limits to human rationality as a means for decision making (eg see How solid are 'science, reason and critical thinking'?). Those limits seem to be the basis of the radically different epistemologies and methods of problem solving that prevail in East Asian societies with an ancient Chinese cultural heritage (see East Asia in Competing Civilizations), while the creation of simplified social spaces (eg through a rule of law) seems to have been essential to the effectiveness that rationality has had in Western societies (see Cultural Foundations of Western Strength).
I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
|Addendum J: A Wise or a Foolish Nation?||
A Wise or a Foolish Nation? - email sent 21/4/12
Re: A Clever Country? Online Opinion, 20/4/12
I should like to suggest that your article somewhat oversimplifies quite complex issues.
There is little doubt (as your article suggests) that Australia currently has an excessively ‘controllable, unthinking and easily misled’ population. However this has causes, and potential solutions, which do not simply relate to the absence of ‘Philosophy for Children’ classes that would teach individuals to think. Some speculations about the nature of the problem and possible solutions are in Australia's Governance Crisis and the Need for Nation Building. The latter refers, for example, to: (a) the increased complexity of public policy issues which now often have no readily identifiable rational explanation or solution and thus encourage political leaders to advocate ‘populist’ initiatives (ie those that sound good, but would not work in practice); and to (b) new institutional support to the political system that is needed to overcome this problem.
More generally it is noted that there is a great deal of current attention to what has been described as the ‘Asian century’, and if this eventuates, its primary implication would that the thinking ability of individuals would have been shown to be an inadequate foundation for civilizational success. My reasons for suggesting this are outlined in Asian Millennium or Asian Decade?
It is also noted that:
I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
|Addendum K: Problems with Freedom of Religion||
Problems with Freedom of Religion - email sent 10/5/12
Re: When freedom of religion becomes bullying, Online Opinion, 3/5/12
I noted your concern with the current rights that Christian schools have to discriminate in favour of staff whose lifestyles are compatible with what those schools argue is Christian values. You suggested that: (a) discrimination leads to adverse consequences for gay and lesbian individuals; and (b) people should be able to worship as they like providing this does not adversely affect others.
I should like to suggest that the issue is more complex than your article indicated. There is not only a need to study to the stresses that sexual minority youth face (eg ‘suicidality and depressive symptoms’), but also to study the source of those stresses, because it seems likely that both the stresses they face and their homosexual behaviour itself may often have a common cause (ie abuse / neglect as children) – see Public Acceptance of Homosexual Behaviour. The latter also suggests that, because of this and another link with child abuse, the public acceptance of homosexual behaviour seems morally indefensible.
Moreover, in relation to exercising freedom (eg in matters of religion) where this does not adversely affect others, it is noted that:
I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
|Addendum L: Eclipsing Liberty?||
Eclipsing Liberty? - email sent 12/5/12
Re: ‘Eclipsing the religious right’, Online Opinion, 4/5/12
I should like to offer a couple of comments on your suggestions that the parliamentary inquiries into marriage equality are likely to permanently eclipse the religious right’s influence on Australian politics.
First it is unwise to try to make long term projections about Australia’s political system when that system is has clearly been struggling in trying to cope with its challenges (eg see Recognising the Need for Nation Building – in Australia's Governance Crisis and the Need for Nation Building). The latter presents suggestions about the nature of the problem and what might be required to repair Australia’s system of government. It includes, for example, reference to: (a) dubious responses to strategic issues because of superficial assessment they received; and (b) the trend towards political populism (ie the adoption of policies that sound trendy but don’t actually have good results in practice) because issues are extremely complex. And there seems to be little doubt that the issues involved in same-sex marriage have also received only superficial assessment (eg see Same-sex Civil Unions: Endorsing Child Abuse?).
It can also be noted that other observers are pointing to potential weaknesses in the democratic process related to a lack of collective fiscal discipline (eg see Monk P., How we can save democracy, The Age, 11/5/12).
Second it is highly desirable to keep religion out of politics (whether that of the ‘religious right’ or any other) for reasons suggested in Keeping Religion out of Australian Politics. Moreover religion has largely been able to be kept out of politics in the past because: (a) there was very widespread Christian adherence within the community; and (b) the Judeo-Christian tradition is apparently unique in enabling a high level of separation between religion and the state, because of the expectation that individuals are responsible to God for the morality of their actions (eg see Cultural Foundations of Western Strength). However the erosion of Christian adherence within the community now seems to be giving rise to serious social dysfunctions, and to claims to moral wisdom and authority by various social and political elites as they seek to find ways to reduce those dysfunctions (see Moral Foundations of Individual Liberty).
And, as the latter notes, those human claims to God’s moral wisdom and authority must undermine the Christian foundations of legal and governance institutions that presume individual liberty, and which have provided massive economic and political advantages in recent centuries (see also Christian Foundations of Liberal Western Institutions). There is a large range of alternative traditional and emerging religions that are seeking dominance (eg see Could 'Regular Teachers' Reliably Teach Religion in State Schools?). Each of these has claims and consequences, but none seem to provide a foundation for separating claims to moral wisdom and authority from the state, and thus to creating an environment in which individual liberty can be tolerated.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
|Addendum M: What does secular education mean?||
What does secular education mean? - email sent 21/6/12
Re: School chaplaincy case: a missed opportunity for secular education, The Conversation, 21/6/12
Your article suggested that:
But just what does ‘secular education’ mean? As I interpreted it, your article implied that this might mean compulsory study of religions and ethics
However there are some problems with such a proposal, because (as I understand it) ‘secular’ deals with all aspects of society apart from ‘religion’ – so a compulsory study of ‘religions and ethics’ can’t be considered to be ‘secular’ because it includes study of religions. Moreover, it has been realistically pointed out ethics / values can’t be realistically taught except in the context of some sort of broad world-view. So there is a need to determine what ‘broad world view’ should be presented, as the foundation for presenting particular views of ethics.
This is anything easy to do because, for example:
In light of these complexities, I would be interested in your view of what secular education should involve.
|N: Religion Should be Taught Better||
Religion Should be Taught Better - email sent 19/2/13
Re: Religion should be taught in the home, not at school, The Conversation, 18/2/13
Your article suggested that there are fundamental problems with the fact that religion (especially Christianity) is taught in Australian state schools.
I should like to suggest that the issues involved are more complex than your article indicated, because:
The above points are developed further on my web-site.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
A key factor to consider is that culture (including religion) has practical consequences. And one of the consequences of widespread Christian adherence in a community is that it is possible to have ‘liberal’ legal and governmental institutions – for reasons suggested Christian Foundations of Liberal Western Institutions (2010). And those institutions (which presume individual liberty and separate the church from a secular state) have been vital to the progress that Western societies have achieved in recent centuries, because they have enabled rationality, ie the manipulation of abstract concepts as a means for problem solving, to be: (a) a reasonably reliable basis for individual initiative; and (b) reasonably successful also in dealing with the simplified roles of a secular state (see Cultural Foundations of Western Strength in Competing Civilizations).
Liberal institutions (ie those built on a presumption of responsible individual behaviour without state / communal coercion) are not possible other than under Judeo-Christian traditions - as human authority always otherwise seems to be claimed for defining the nature of and / or enforcing ‘moral’ behaviour by individuals (eg by tribal elders, social elites, divine kings, communities).
There is, as your article suggested great value in promoting inclusiveness in Australian society. However this should focus on individuals and should not involve endorsing diverse cultures without considering (and ensuring that there is wide understanding of) the practical consequences of general adherence to particular cultures. Australia’s approach to multiculturalism needs reconsideration, because the consequences of an uncritical approach can be very serious – eg to perpetuate disadvantage and / or promote violence (see Moving Australia Beyond Traditional Multiculturalism). While I am not familiar with the UK practice that you mentioned, ie trying to teach ‘world religions’ in schools, I would suspect that doing so adequately would be almost super-humanly difficult because of the complexities involved (see Could 'Regular Teachers' Reliably Teach Religion in State Schools?).
There is, as your article also suggested, a great deal to be gained by separating church and state, but this outcome depends on churches ensuring widespread Christian adherence in the community. It is not valid to suggest that governments can ensure the separation of church and state by discouraging Christian proselytizing in schools or elsewhere. It may well be that Access Ministries (and similar groups) are not doing an effective job through religious education in schools, and / or that other methods would be more effective. However, if so, the challenge (for those who wish to promote a separation of church and state and maintain the advantages that flow from liberal institutions and a secular state) is to find more effective ways to promote widespread and genuine Christian adherence in the community (see also Get God out of the Classroom: Good Luck with That!).
Australia’s liberal institutions are currently at risk because declining Christian adherence has led to diverse and serious social pathologies for which a ‘solution’ is seen to require that others (eg political leaders, philosophers) claim that they, rather than God, are the source of moral authority (eg see Erosion of the Moral Foundations of Liberal Institutions). For example, suggestions were recently made that the prime minister should present herself as Australia’s moral authority without considering the implications of thereby breaking the separation of ‘church’ and state (see a Godless Morality Would Raise Devilish Difficulties). Likewise efforts to teach what some believe to be ‘primary ethics’ stripped of the broader Christian world-view from which they emerged are not providing a credible framework for acceptance, and also risk accidentally encouraging moral authoritarianism.
|O: Challenges Facing the Secular Party||
Challenges Facing the Secular Party - email sent 16/8/13
As I understand it, the Secular Party seeks to ‘question beliefs, in a reasoned manner, as part of political debate’ and has policies that focus on promoting ‘true separation of church from state, ensuring freedom of and from religion, and a liberal, secular democracy”.
I should like to submit for your consideration that:
My reasons for suggesting this are detailed further on my web-site. I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
The Secular Party’s views on religion on its web-site suggested that:
The Secular Party seems to be making a political issue of religion (eg by endorsing the Party’s right to question others’ beliefs in political debate and apparently seeking political action to prevent anyone imposing their beliefs on others if they are incompatible with the beliefs of those who founded the Secular Party). This is not likely to promote separation of church and state (see Can Political Activism Separate Church and State?). The latter suggested that building effective ‘religious’ institutions that are independent of / not reliant on the state is more likely than politicising religion to ensure that Australia retains / develops liberal governmental and legal institutions that are truly ‘secular’ (ie concerned with all aspects of society other than religion).
There is no doubt that the Secular Party’s core goal of questioning beliefs is desirable. Beliefs, cultural systems and world-views (including religions) do not usually simply affect individuals separately and in private. Rather they have a major effect on societies as a whole because they affect: people's goals and aspirations; the way they understand reality (and thus how they go about solving problems, and whether they can develop technologies); their ability to learn, to cope with risk and to change; the way people relate; the scope for initiative; and the institutions a society maintains (see Culture Matters in Competing Civilizations).
While ‘freedom of religion’ for individuals is desirable, the post-modern ignorance of the practical consequences of beliefs, cultural systems and world views (eg of religions) that has been maintained by most students of the humanities and social sciences (perhaps out of a desire to not offend believers) can be extremely damaging (eg see Moving Australia Beyond Traditional Multiculturalism which refers amongst other things to the effect of such ignorance on perpetuating disadvantage and encouraging conflicts).
However questioning beliefs is anything but simple.
For example, the Secular Party implies that the beliefs that should be questioned are ‘religions’. Yet it is hard to define the limit of ‘religions’ / faiths that should be questioned. The Wikipedia definition suggests that “religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to the supernatural and to spirituality”. However it seems unwise to regard ‘belief systems’ that have no supernatural or spiritual component as being outside the scope of ‘religions’ / faiths that a truly secular state would need to avoid endorsing. For example:
Thus the Secular Party arguably needs to take a very broad approach to identifying the religions / faiths / belief systems that need to be questioned. There are moreover beliefs reflected in the views on religion that the Secular Party has itself endorsed (above) that arguably need to be questioned. For example:
As the latter implies, if Australia is to gain the benefits of a truly secular state (ie one concerned with all aspects of society apart from religion), it requires strong and widespread adherence to Christianity within the community. Thus if the Secular Party is serious about ensuring the separation of church and state the most effective way to achieve this would involve:
|P: Religious Education: The Need for a Bigger Picture View||
Religious Education: The Need for a Bigger Picture View - email sent 14/11/13
Daryl Passmore and Anthony Gough,
Re: ‘No room in curriculum for religious study’, Sunday Mail, 10/11/13
Your article was very useful in highlighting a desire by some to remove ‘religious education’ from Queensland’s state school curriculum. However the informal ‘debate’ about this that your article recorded was superficial.
This ‘debate’ reflects serious failures in Queensland’s education system. None of the contributors seemed to be aware of the importance of widespread Christian adherence in the community in relation to the emergence and sustainability of Australia’s liberal legal and governmental systems – and to the current erosion of the social, political and economic advantages that have derived from these in the past.
It is submitted for your consideration that;
The latter points are developed further on my web-site.
Implications of Christianity
The most obvious and important implications of Christianity are for individuals (eg see Mark 8:35-38 and Matthew 6: 19-21) and for their relationships with God and within families / communities (eg see Matthew 22:36-40).
However Christianity also has secondary implications in terms of potentially creating an environment in which ‘liberal’ institutions can be sustained (see Christian Foundations of Liberal Western Institutions). The latter is based on an undoubtedly-improvable attempt (in Competing Civilizations) to consider the relationship between the progress (or lack of it) that various societies have achieved in recent centuries and prevailing cultural traditions.
The ‘responsibly liberty’ that the Judeo-Christian tradition sustains (because the morality of individual behaviour is presumed to be most-appropriately ensured by individual consciences responsible to God rather than through coercion by families / communities / human 'moral authorities’) does not seem to exist under other (eg tribal / Islamic / East Asian) religious traditions. And ‘responsible liberty’ has permitted the creation of social / economic / political environments in which rationality (ie the use of abstract concepts as models of reality) has been able to be used to significantly enhance the performance of individuals in all walks of life in ways that are not otherwise possible (because rationality tends to fail in dealing with complex systems).
Those environmental simplifications involve, for example an emphasis on: individual welfare / capabilities; a secular state (ie one concerned with everything but religion); a rule of law; market institutions; and profit-focused investment. Rationality's potential failure in complex situations can be illustrated by:
What Should Be the Core of the Curriculum?
There is a need for serious re-consideration of what needs to be the ‘core’ of children’s education, because no recognition is currently given to the importance of widespread Christian adherence as the foundation of Australia's institutions.
This is not just a Queensland problem. For example, the so-called National 'History' Curriculum provides students with no apparent insights into the connection between Australia’s institutions and its Christian heritage (see Proposed National History Curriculum: Information without Understanding? and Australia's National History Curriculum: Making Education Futile and Highlighting the Importance of Christianity?).
The latter points to the fact that what are conventionally regarded as the ‘core’ curriculum subjects in the education system (eg literacy, maths etc) involve the use of abstract concepts (ie of rationality) and that this doesn’t work effectively except in the simplified environments that liberal social / economic / political institutions (which in turn depend on widespread Christian adherence) allow. The fact that ‘liberal’ institutions (and a liberal / egalitarian society) tend to be associated with education systems that seek to encourage students to understand and be rational can be illustrated by considering East Asian societies which traditionally (and often currently) have neither of these characteristics (see Asian Education and Competing Thought Cultures).
Upgrading Queensland's Education System
There is a critical need for the school curriculum to provide children with an awareness of the practical consequences of different cultural traditions (see also Moving Australia Beyond Traditional Multiculturalism). This would have the effect of informing students (including those in state schools who currently 'fiddle about' instead of participating in formal religious education) about the practical implications of religion.
The religious education of children also require higher priority generally - ie not just in state schools.
For individuals the most important question is whether a religion (such as the Christian Gospel) proclaims truth. This is not something that can be proven on the basis of rationality or science (eg because the complexity of the issue defeats 'rationality' - see also How solid are 'science, reason and critical thinking'?).
However the viability of Queensland’s / Australia’s liberal institutions depends on the majority of the community concluding that the Christian Gospel is truth. Thus, while the state can’t coerce adherence without undermining ‘liberty’, individual liberty (and its political / economic advantages) can’t be maintained unless children have an opportunity to conclude that the Christian Gospel is truth. Whether this is best achieved through families, churches or religious education in private / state schools can be debated. The important point is that it happens.
While a secular state can not validly take any role in advancing the Christian gospel, it would have a vital role in not allowing its institutions to proclaim 'religions' which claim to be 'non-religions'. Particular attention needs to be paid to Atheism as its adherents frequently seek exemption by claiming that their religion is 'secular' (see Celebrating a New Evangelical Religion: Atheism). Proclaiming naturalistic explanations of everything (and thus denying God's role) is just as much a religion as faiths that ascribe a role to God (ie depend on assumptions that cannot be absolutely proven). It is thus important that (for example) school science curricula provide a serious and balanced account of both the strengths and limitations of naturalistic explanations of reality (eg see Problems in an Internally Deterministic Scientific Worldview).
The Need to Reduce Social Dysfunctions
Greater importance also needs to be attached to the religious education of children because declining adherence to Christianity in the community seems to be generating severe social dysfunctions (see Eroding the Moral Foundations of Liberal Institutions). The Narcissistic Personality Disorder (discussed in Pavey A., ‘The feuding parents divorced from reality’, Sunday Mail, 10/11/13), whereby parents pay no heed to their children’s’ welfare, is only the tip of the iceberg in relation to the breakdown of ‘responsible liberty’. And evidence that this is eroding the foundations of Australia’s legal and governance institutions is increasing.
Likewise the erosion of ‘responsible liberty’ is adversely affecting children’s education. The Gonski Review identified the existence of educational disadvantage affecting individuals / regions – and recommended substantial rises / changes in educational funding. This seemed poorly advised because many factors (including social dysfunctions that derive from a loss of ‘responsible liberty’) are likely to be involved in generating disadvantage (and must be remedied to correct it) – see (Gonski Review: An Example of the Limitations of Government Initiatives).
The need for a broadly based Christian foundation also follows from the increasing risk that governments will be unable to finance community expectations regarding public services and income transfer (see The Challenge and Potential Cost of Inequality and Insufficient Income). This implies a need to emphasis mutual and self-help within the community on the basis of philosophies that are compatible with Australia's liberal institutions (see The Probable Need for a Community-based Solution).
Humanism is Not a Viable Alternative
Consideration has been given for some years to teaching values in state schools that are based on human authority (see the Debate in The Importance of Values Taught in State Schools, 2004+). The latter points, amongst many other things, to the fact that 'values' can't be validated in isolation but only as part of a broad world view (ie of a religion).
Another constraint on 'humanistic' values involves its effect on eroding individual liberty when efforts have to be made to enforce those values (see Accidentally Encouraging Moral Authoritarianism) . It can be noted in passing that:
Practical problems with 'humanistic' values can also be illustrated by informal reports of the 'values' being developed at a state school in Brisbane. This involved a long list of detailed do's and don'ts. This was equivalent to the detailed prescriptive moral legalism that Jesus' simplification of the moral law down to the so-called Great Commandments had reformed. The school also felt obliged to call upon local churches to validate their 'humanistic' values and did not seem to respond to suggestions that they seemed too prescriptive. A long list of do's and don'ts constitutes an inflexible 'moral destination', whereas Jesus' Great Commandments constituted a 'moral compass' (ie a sense of direction - love God and love your neighbour as yourself) that both: (a) embodied the spirit of the earlier Law; and (b) could be used to guide decisions in new circumstances.
Heckling Christ: An Opportunity to Change Society for the Better! +
Heckling Christ: An Opportunity to Change Society for the Better! - email sent 2/2/14
My attention was drawn to the opportunity that you are offering people in Adelaide to Come Heckle Christ in your re-enactment of his crucifixion at an AdelaideFringe event. A chance to heckle ‘Jesus’ creates a massive opportunity to get large numbers of South Australians think seriously in ways they may not have done for decades.
There is nothing new about heckling Jesus. He was radical outsider who proclaimed the Kingdom of God (which eroded claims to unfettered power by the god-kings and imperial cults of his day). As well as creating a ‘lighter burden’ for people to bear (Matthew 11:30), Jesus also emphasised the value of, and empowered, those on the bottom of society. The powers of the day were not amused by this challenge from the ‘fringe’ and arranged his crucifixion in about 30 CE. In that process Jesus was reportedly heckled by mobs near Jerusalem (eg see Matthew, 27:39, Mark 15:32 and Luke 23:35-36).
Though the ancient hecklers had no way to know it, history shows that Jesus was right in what he claimed about the consequences those events (John 12: 32). The effect on the world was massive (eg consider impacts such as those explored in: Religious Education: The Need for a Bigger Picture View (an Australian perspective); and Mangalwadi V., The Book that Made Your World (an Indian perspective); and in many other sources). Jesus’ life, teachings, crucifixion and resurrection have been the foundation on which ordinary people ultimately gained freedom from elites’ claims of authority on the basis of their presumed-superior moral wisdom. And that freedom has translated into huge social, economic and political benefits (eg see Cultural Foundations of Western Strengths: The Realm of the Rational / Responsible Individual).
Might I suggest that after the audiences that your shows attract have finished heckling ‘Jesus’, it might be worth quietly reminding them that there are serious issues at stake – both for individuals and for societies as a whole. After Jesus had been crucified, the mobs of hecklers repented when the significance of what they had been doing was explained to them (see Acts 2: 22-41).
A similar explanation to would be relevant today. For example, as many Australians are ceasing to acknowledge even the light burdens they have to carry as subjects of the Kingdom of God, the resulting social dysfunctions are encouraging the emergence of elites who seek to gain power on the basis of their claims of superior moral wisdom. This trend must erode the benefits of freedom from such elite claims (eg see Erosion of the Moral Foundations of Liberal Institutions and Accidentally Encouraging Moral Authoritarianism?). And the resurgent ambitions of would-be moral-authoritarian elites in some other societies (eg in the Islamic world and in Asia where rulers long held both civil and religious power) are even stronger (eg consider China’s encouragement of The Dali Lama's Search for Moral Wisdom).
I am sure that organisers of the AdelaideFringe (and key supporters such as the Government of SA and the Bank of SA) would agree that Jesus’ example of ministry to, and empowerment of, those on the fringes of society in the face of the claims of would-be moral authoritarians and thoughtless hecklers deserves to be highlighted whenever possible.
Response from Josh Ladgrove - 2/2/14 - reproduced with permission
What a beautifully written and well thought out e-mail. I sincerely thank-you for it.
To be frank, I've never considered any of my comedy (I've been doing another character called Dr. Professor Neal Portenza for 4 years, and it's the silliest thing you could imagine) to be encouraging of social, political, philosophical or theological debate, and in spite of the title of this show, it was only ever meant to be a very light-hearted opportunity to reverse the dynamics of comedy performance allowing the audience to drive the evening’s events, rather than the performer.
My role will simply be to respond to the heckles, and ironically, I will likely end up defending Christ more often than not, and I'm also hopeful that many other non religious topics will be yelled and heckled. For example, in Melbourne Fringe, the most controversial heckle was someone who spoiled the ending of Breaking Bad. One can never dictate how the audience will respond.
Whilst I appreciate that the show might be an opportunity to remind the audience to consider with piety the social implications of their words and actions, I have always strongly believed that it's not my place to do so. Many comedians, performers, musicians and writers do a much better job than I could ever hope to. I am just a provider of stupidity. That's really all I consider myself. This show was (and I mean this very, very sincerely) not intended as a religious attack, not intended to get cheap publicity (remember it didn't receive 1 complaint in Melbourne) and is not for me an exercise in chastising Christ.
It would be remiss of me to underplay the importance that predominantly Judeo-Christian values have played (and indeed continue to play) in shaping modern Western liberal democracies. However, it would also be remiss of us not to consider the many failures of (particularly the Catholic) the Church in defending those most vulnerable at times. I am aware of some of the beautiful work Christian organisations undertake, particularly with providing support to asylum seekers, which is something I have an infinite amount of respect for, and so that's why this show isn't designed as an attack. None of us are perfect. Sometimes we need to laugh at ourselves to remember life is a strange journey and that we ought not always take ourselves so seriously.
Again, thank-you for the kind response, have a great day
|R: It's Time to Expel Religious Naivety from Universities +||
It's Time to Expel Religious Naivety from Universities - email sent 27/2/14
Re: It’s time to expel religious extremism from schools, The Conversation: 24/2/14
Your article raised questions about the adequacy of current approaches to religious education in Australia. However the issues are arguably even more complicated.
As your article suggests there is undoubtedly a need for greater understanding of ‘different religions, non-religious world views and ethical systems’. However such understanding needs to give particular emphasis to the practical consequences of those various world-views – for reasons suggested, for example, in Moving Australia Beyond Traditional Multiculturalism.
Unfortunately contributions to such practical understanding seem to have been suppressed in the humanities and social science faculties of Western universities in recent decades as the result of the widespread acceptance of ‘post-modern’ ideologies. The latter appear to be characterised by viewing supposed ‘knowledge’ about society as largely or simply social constructs (ie a reflection of elite opinion rather than having any real-world consequences). This post-modern world-view in turn excuses a lack of applied research / realism and has clearly had seriously adverse consequences. The controversy that erupted some years ago at QUT about what some saw as the collapse of concern for real-world knowledge as a result of the dominance of post-modern world-views illustrated the problem (see A Crisis in Education at QUT? 2007) though the adverse effects are far broader than mere matters of academic controversy (eg see Eroding the West's Cultural Foundations and Cultural Ignorance as a Source of Conflict). Uncritical acceptance of post-modern ideologies has also arguably resulted in very poor returns from the community’s investment in Australia’s universities – and this is one of the pressing justifications for reform of those institutions (eg see A Case for Restoring Universities).
Unfortunately also your article seems to reflect a post-modern assumption that all world-views are equally valid and valuable. Suggesting otherwise appears to be seen as a rejection of human equality. It was implied that it was wrong to suggest that there were material differences between religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism and Islam. There was no mention of the dramatic differences between the effects that different world-views have on societies. Economists realistically regard information / knowledge as the key factor in economic growth. However different world-views have quite different assumptions about the nature and use of information / knowledge – thus implying that culture will have a major effect of different societies’ economic potential and performance (eg see Culture Matters in Competing Civilizations). Christianity’s founder transformed the world (and this ultimately, amongst other things, created the social foundations for what became Western civilization) by valuing and empowering those on the bottom rungs of society as potential children of God (see Heckling Christ: An Opportunity to Change Society for the Better!). Confucianism requires the existence of a social hierarchy dominated by intellectual elites which: (a) is incompatible with Australia’s egalitarian traditions; and (b) has been / remains a source of tension (eg see Communism Versus Confucianism: The Continuing Contest in China). The way in which Islam is enforced seems to suppress the individual differences / initiative / innovation required for social, economic and political progress (see Saving Muslims from Themselves) and to be incompatible with Australia’s liberal traditions. It is simply naïve to imply that all world-views are equally valid and valuable.
If (as your article suggested) schools should teach about ‘different religions, non-religious world-views and ethical systems’ it would be irresponsible and misleading not to highlight their practical consequences. Doing this would be well beyond generalist teachers (see Could 'Regular Teachers' Reliably Teach Religion in State Schools?). Thus a cadre of specialists would presumably need to be created who would, in effect, be charged with promulgating what would become an official state world-view / religion. The notion of a secular state (ie one concerned with everything but religion) and the practical advantages of the separation of church and state would disappear.
There is none-the-less no doubt about your article’s conclusion (ie that there is a need for a serious review of Australia’s approach to religious education). However the nature and emphasis of such a review needs to be quite different to that suggested in your article (eg perhaps along the lines outlined in Religious Education: The Need for a Bigger Picture View , 2013). Even though the allegations of ‘religious extremism’ that you cited (such as ‘a Pentecostal quest to create a totalitarian fundamentalist Christian society’) may be a bit extreme, the necessary re-examination would, amongst other things, presumably reveal a need to improve religious instruction programs in schools. However reform would have to be a matter for religious groups. As implied above, government authorities (eg education agencies) could not present themselves as the experts on religious instruction without breaking the separation of church and a secular state that has been critical to the many benefits gained from Australia’s liberal institutions. Churches arguably need to get their acts together. But they, not Australia’s hopefully-secular state, have to be the ones to do this.
Universities have the potential to make a major contribution also – once the need to expel religious naivety is recognised.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
More on: It's Time to Expel Religious Naivety from Universities - email sent 2/3/14
Thanks for your comments. Unless you have an objection I would like to reproduce your email on my web-site (ie with It's Time to Expel Religious Naivety from Universities).
The issues involved here are very complex. They arguably ultimately come down to questions about the limitations of human understanding of the complexity of the universe – limitations (and alternatives) that were mentioned, for example, in Job 38 and 1 Corinthians 1:22-25. Those limitations were also a major feature of Buddhist ‘enlightenment’ (eg consider teachings on ‘dependent origination’ – related to the multiplicity of ‘causes’ of anything), though as noted below Buddhism provides no means to escape them.
I would like to offer a couple of comments on the particular points you have raised:
Sweden: An Example of ‘Secular’ Education
Sweden is one of the countries where government requires education about all major religions in public schools (see also Religion in Sweden). The latter also notes that: (a) Sweden has a long history of state involvement in religion – as Lutheranism was the state religion until 2000; (b) about 67% of Swedish citizens are Church of Sweden members - down from 83% in 2000; (c) active involvement in church activities is very low (eg 4%); (d) religion is generally treated with ‘benign indifference’; and (e) Sweden’s constitution provides for freedom of religion – and government protects this right and does not tolerate abuse or religious discrimination.
Sweden was seen by one observer as the 'ultimate nanny state’  – ie the state itself seeks to ensure right behaviour and that all citizens benefit from what society achieves. One critic suggested that the (welfare) state has morally corrupted Swedish youth – eliminating the sense of responsibility that their grandparents had had and replacing this with a sense of expectation that their rights would be ensured by the state .
However Sweden has also been seen as something of a social paradise. It ranks very high on criteria in the OECD’s Better Life Index (eg in terms of average incomes, paid employment, education, life expectancy, sense of community and positive perceptions of life). While more than 50% of children are born out of wedlock (which in the US would imply worse health, schooling and income in later life), in Sweden, it was believed that, this does not matter because everyone does well . By OECD standards also: (a) Marriage rates are low (and domestic partnership rates are high); and (b) income inequality and poverty are low.
However poverty and inequality have been rising rapidly in recent years (op cit). Youth (ie under 25’s) unemployment is 24%. This, while not as bad as Spain’s 40%, is the highest in Europe relative to overall unemployment (8%). This is seen (by employers and unions) as a structural problem reflecting the education system’s failure to adequately prepare students – and difficulties getting the experience that is needed to be valued in the job market 
An article in a Swedish newspaper reportedly claimed that Sweden has a serious problem with crime (eg higher crime rates than in New York city; rampant drug abuse; the world’s highest incidence of rape; police being overloaded by burglary cases; a possible need to close ATMs because of frequent attacks on money transports; routine violent outdoor muggings; police inability to curb Stockholm’s gangsters; and Swedish courts being plagued by police perjury) . Sweden has the world’s highest incidence of rape – a rate which is four times that of its neighbours and 20 times that in some southern and eastern European countries . A study of child sexual abuse across Europe showed both that: (a) obtaining reliable and consistent data is difficult; and (b) Sweden ranked highest in terms of some abuse indicators, and was no better than average in others .
Sweden’s perceptions of social equality was shattered in May 2013 by a week of violent riots in Stockholm – as a reflection of immigrant concerns about unjust treatment and the effect of Europe’s economic and financial crisis. Over 1/3 of youth in immigrant districts have no job. Government has been forced to implement austerity measures after 2008 (eg reducing unemployment benefits and health care subsidies). The problems are most apparent in affordable housing suburbs that were built in the 1960s and 1970s – that were initially occupied by poorer Swedes but now (because of Sweden’s liberal immigration policies) are mainly occupied by immigrants. The financially weaker segments of society have been badly hurt by necessary austerity measures .
A moral vacuum has been seen to have emerged in Sweden that will be hard to fill. The Social Democrats rejected God, while the neo-liberals rejected societal values. Political corruption has been exposed. Privatisation of old peoples’ homes has led to scandals (eg a refusal by one provider to replace incontinence pads until weighing showed them to be full). Conformism is rife in Sweden. Foreigners complain about this and assume that it comes from above – but it seems innate. Faith in God has been replaced by faith in the future. Social control worked because everyone was seen to be subject to the same authority (ie the law and the future). Sweden’s problem now is that it is easier to destroy structures of mutual obligation than it is to re-build them .
Friends of the present writer intend to bring their Swedish born children to Australia (the mother’s home) for schooling because Sweden’s system is seen to excessively promote rote learning, rather than teaching students to think independently [personal communication].
Sweden seems to be facing challenges similar in some ways to those in Australia (ie serious economic disruption and a community dependent to an increasingly unaffordable level of government welfare transfers). Arguably one of the keys to coping with these emerging challenges is a capable and responsible community (which was one of the points raised in Australia’s Competitiveness: Some Suggestions, 2013). The latter suggested why churches must play a major role in achieving this. Sweden’s problem is arguably more severe because of recent disregard of its Christian heritage. A good place to start would probably be with a review of whether public schools should teach about all major world religions without concern for their real-world impact.
Further Reply to Cathy Byrne - email sent 3/3/14
Thanks [for permission to add your comments to my website]. .... If at some stage you do have time to comment further, please do so.
Some feedback that I received from another source might be of interest.
Reply to Cathy Byrne - email sent 3/3/14
Thanks. Some suggestions about what could be done to prevent those who opt out from being barred from meaningful learning were in Religious Education: The Need for a Bigger Picture View. And while there are undoubtedly problems in current RI arrangements, finding a solution requires such a ‘bigger picture’ perspective.
|S: Stand Up, Reach Out||
Stand Up, Reach Out - email sent 8/3/14
Re: ‘Stand up, Speak out’, Journey, March 2014 (p3)
Your article drew attention to the Uniting Church’s reputation for social justice advocacy. It then mentioned various concerns about infringement of the rights of vulnerable people (ie those associated with: (a) the Intervention in the Northern Territory; (b) Queensland’s amendments to the Youth Justice Act; and (c) the death of an asylum seeker at the Manus island detention centre).
I would like to suggest that the answer to your final question (‘How do we as Christians, let these injustices continue?’) is contained in your opening observation about the Uniting Church’s ‘reputation for social justice advocacy’. The Church’s emphasis on political advocacy (which involves reliance on the ‘Kingdoms of this World’) is much less effective in achieving social justice (or anything else) than an emphasis on spreading the Kingdom of God would be.
This can be illustrated by considering the very real problems of educational inequality in Australia that were the focus of the 2011 Gonski Review. The latter recommended a large increase in / redistribution of funding for schools and a reorganisation of schooling. However the educational inequality that was being targeted largely reflected social / family dysfunctions that could be corrected by spreading the Kingdom of God but not successfully addressed by the ‘Kingdoms of this World’ (see Gonski Review: An Example of the Limitations of Government Initiatives).
The inability of the ‘Kingdoms of this World’ to achieve social justice can be further illustrated by the predicament of Australians with indigenous ancestry. The ‘Kingdoms of this World’ can provide welfare support and enact laws declaring such people’s ‘rights’. But welfare can create dependency and people’s ability to be materially successful depends less on their ‘rights’ than on their ability to use information and to change – neither of which are characteristic of traditional indigenous cultures. The need for internal cultural changes to overcome these constraints was considered in The Challenge of Aboriginal Advancement (2002) and UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Perpetuating Disadvantage? (2007). The cultural changes needed for real social justice are well beyond the capacity of the ‘Kingdoms of this World’.
Jesus of Nazareth was not into ‘social justice advocacy’ to get the Kingdoms of this World to help the disadvantaged (ie He was not into a ‘they orta do something’ style of thinking). Rather he helped people directly and also motivated and empowered the potentially disadvantaged to help themselves and one another by creating the Kingdom of God (ie by implanting the spirit of God / love in their hearts) – see Comments on Church’s Mission.
The implications of following Jesus’ example in relation to the problems currently facing the world’s umpteen million asylum seekers are suggested in Refugees: What did Jesus Do? The latter also pointed to:
This does not imply that Christians should not be interested in, and involved in, politics. Good government requires the sort of emphasis on the welfare of all that Christianity imparts. But political engagement with any particular topic requires specialized knowledge and experience which the church as a whole should not claim to have. Moreover there are options for leadership of constructive change within society which are illustrated (with reference to strengthening the real economy) in A Case for Innovative Economic Leadership (2009). Similar methods could also be used by welfare-of-all-minded Christians to achieve other constructive real-world changes – but only if politics (with its emphasis only on what the ‘Kingdoms of this World’ can do) is kept at arm’s length.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
|T: Religious Drivel||
Religious Drivel - email sent 4/5/14
Re: Unholy School Row, Sunday Mail, 4/5/14
Your article suggested that there are problems with religious instruction (RI) in state schools because (for example): (a) many children show no religious affiliation on their enrolments; and (b) civil libertarians and secular organisations maintain that state schools should not teach RI.
However the real problem is that media discussions of religious instruction typically report only the naïve views of those who seem ignorant of the fact that Australia’s institutions (including respect for individual liberty and the existence of a secular state) primarily depend on widespread Christian adherence in the general community. This point and others were explored in Religious Education: The Need for a Bigger Picture View (2013).
A balanced account of the issues involved in RI would be more constructive than the historically-ignorant drivel to which the public is now so often subjected.
|U: Supporting the Disadvantaged when Governments Can't Afford to Do So||
Supporting the Disadvantaged when Governments Can't Afford to Do So - email sent 1/6/14
Hon Peter Garrett
Re: Chaplaincy under fire, Courier Mail, 31/5/14
I should like to submit for your consideration that circumstances seem likely to emerge in which it would be wise to reconsider the point that this article suggests that you made (ie that there is a problem with the school chaplaincy program because the line between converting and supporting children is ‘too easily crossed’).
As you will be well aware there is now controversy about the ability of Australia’s federal government to support ‘entitlements’ and about state governments’ ability to finance major social services (ie health and education). The emerging difficulty in financing public services (and transfers to the disadvantaged) is unfortunately probably just the tip of an iceberg (see The Challenge and Potential Cost of Inequality and Insufficient Income). To oversimplify:
While school chaplaincy programs are not part of religious education, they are (as your comments indicate) not unrelated. And, because of the emerging need for community-based support for the relatively disadvantaged (and for other reasons suggested in Religious Education: The Need for a Bigger Picture View), there is now a pressing need for the community (but not for secular state institutions) to reconsider everything related to religious education.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
|V: Why Tolerate Tolerance?||
Why Tolerate Tolerance? - email sent 19/6/14
Re: Why tolerate religion, Online Opinion, 19/6/14
Your article raises questions about whether it is appropriate to tolerate religion – eg to allow believers in a particular faith to be subject to special requirements merely because of their faith.
However the issue is a lot more complex than this, because notions such as tolerance, universal human rights, freedom, a rule of law, etc are largely a product of the Christian world-view that prevailed in Europe as those notions emerged. They would not exist or be sustainable otherwise. A preliminary attempt to explore this point was in Christian Foundations of Liberal Western Institutions (2010). The real issue is not whether the state tolerates religion, but rather whether the community’s religion enables the state to be tolerant. And the world of intolerance seems to be on the march again (eg see Is the Barbarity of ISIS Another Attempt to Ensnare the US in the Middle East? ).
One can’t gain an understanding of all this by developing arguments in terms of tolerance / universal human rights (ie by looking ‘inside the box’) but only by looking ‘outside the box’ at the practical consequences of different world-views (ie religions) in terms of whether (say) ‘tolerance’ is likely to emerge. My attempt to look at the practical consequences of different world-views is in Competing Civilizations (2001). The latter was developed in the context of the clash that has been emerging between the liberal (tolerant) institutions that have emerged in Europe on the basis of its Judeo-Christian and classical Greek heritage and the illiberal (intolerant) traditions that have prevailed in other major civilizations (ie in East Asia and the Muslim world). And where major civilizations have not emerged (ie in tribal societies) strict individual conformity to the tribe is inevitably required.
Competing Civilizations notes that the Judeo-Christian expectation (ie that individuals are responsible to God for the morality of their actions) is both the basis for ‘tolerance’ and unique. Islam by contrast appears to reflect the Arabic tribal context in which it emerged in that appropriate individual behaviour is expected to be enforced by family / community / state pressure. This resulting lack of freedom for individuals is arguably the main reason for the backwardness of Muslim societies in recent centuries – because it translated into a lack of the initiative / innovation that is needed for social, economic and political progress (see Even Moderate Islam Seems Damagingly Rigid).
An attempt to look from an Indian perspective at the role that the Bible had in the emergence of modern liberal institutions, both in India and elsewhere, is in The Book that Made Your World by Vishal Mangalwadi. He pointed out, for example, that there is a major difference between the ‘rule of law’ in ancient Rome and that in a Christian context. In the former case a ‘rule of law’ is merely the ‘rule of the rulers’ – because there is no acknowledged authority beyond those rulers. Similarly in East Asia the ‘rule of law’ does not involve ‘law’ being a guide to rational decisions by independent individuals. Rather it is a means for disciplining those who don’t conform with the consensus about what an ethnic community should be doing that has been reached by its social elites. This is not about tolerance of anything.
Some general thoughts on the importance of separating church and state (and the critical dependence on widespread Christian adherence in the community for such separation to be feasible) are in Keeping Religion out of Australian Politics (2009+). The need for Atheists to progress from their naively simplistic understandings of the world was suggested in Celebrating a New Evangelical Religion: Atheism (2010).
I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
Seeking Enlightenment - A Note Added Later
In response to a copy of the above email, a leading light in the Australian Skeptics (XXX) suggested that the present author had overlooked "the fact that while the enlightenment broke out in Christian societies it did so because the Christian churches gradually lost their ability to inflict their will on clear thinkers among the population"
The present writer's response was along the following lines:
The reaction by XXX to suggestions to the need for a sceptical analysis of whether reason and science have all the answers was: (a) to outline XXX's Atheistic religious views; and (b) refuse to engage in further communication.
|Secular Religious Education: A Contradiction in Terms?||
Secular Religious Education: A Contradiction in Terms? - email sent 6/8/14
Anna Halafoff (Deakin University) and Cathy Byrne (Southern Cross University)
Re: Religion should be taught secularly in our schools, The Conversation, 6/8/14
Your article suggested that religion should be taught ‘secularly’ in Australia’s schools. This seems extremely challenging – as my understanding is that ‘secular’ refers to all aspects of society other than religion. Thus if the state takes it upon itself to teach about religion it would presumably no longer be ‘secular’. And religion has a massive effect on a community in many practical ways – so it seems irresponsible to suggest that it should be taught without encouraging acceptance of world views that have constructive rather than restrictive implications.
My Interpretation of your article: Religion in schools is again controversial in relation to Review of National Curriculum. Can it be taught in a secular context? Some groups have difficulty adapting to the fact that Australia is increasingly diverse religiously and non-religiously secular. Secular is usually taken to imply separation of church and state. This could mean either complete separation, or not giving preference to any particular faith. Secularists, rationalists and humanists favour teaching about diverse religious and non-religious cultures. Perhaps an inclusive and critical study of religion and ethics should be in the national curriculum. This is done elsewhere. Critical education about religion can be taught as long as no one view is presented as correct or better than any other. The aim should be understanding, not belief. A critical education about religion would study its role in conflict – and thereby promote social inclusion and intercultural awareness. The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians emphasizes this. The significant role that Christianity has played should be taught – but this should not be at the expense of Indigenous culture and spirituality.
The issue is far more complex than your article suggests because ‘religion’ incorporates broad world-views which affect societies’ overall culture in many practical ways. For example culture affects: people's goals and aspirations; the way they understand reality (and thus how they go about solving problems, and whether they can develop technologies); their ability to learn, to cope with risk and to change; the way people relate; the scope for initiative; and the institutions their society maintains (see Competing Civilizations, 2001+).
Cultures that do not provide a foundation for learning and change (for example) put affected societies on a path to relative disadvantage (eg consider The Challenge of Aboriginal Advancement, 2002 and Saving Muslims from Themselves, 2012). Moreover, where a societies’ ability to learn and change depends on the existence of an elite-dominated social hierarchy, the welfare and capabilities of individuals can be seen to be of little importance (eg see East Asia: The Realm of the Autocratic, Hierarchical and Intuitive Ethnic Group?, 2001 and The Resurgence of Ancient Authoritarianism in China, 2014).
The emergence of ‘liberal’ social environments in Western societies enabled the rationality that had been emphasised by classical Greek philosophers to become an effective means of practical social, economic and political problem solving at all levels in society - and thereby accelerate practical progress (see Cultural Foundations of Western Progress). Without such ‘liberal’ (ie focused-on-individuals) social environments rationality tends to fail (eg if there is no rule of law, individual rationality fails because it is both necessary and impossible to second-guess the reactions of social elites). Such ‘liberal’ social environments could emerge because of the uniquely Judeo-Christian expectation that individuals would act responsibly primarily on the basis of individual consciences responsible directly to God. Moreover reasonably successful if limited understanding of the natural world in terms of scientific laws could be possible first in Christian societies because of Christianity’s recognition that the universe would be lawful because of its creation by a lawful God. By contrast the 'enlightenment' of Siddhartha Gautama, who founded Buddhism, involved recognition of what can be called 'dependent causation' (ie recognition of the interconnection / complexity of things). The Buddha’s ‘enlightenment’ was valid in some ways (especially in societies that lack ‘liberal’ social environments that make rationality reasonably effective), but it was not a formula for scientific achievements by affected societies.
There is certainly a case for close study of different religions with particular emphasis on their practical consequences for affected societies – for the same reason that the practical consequences of different cultures as a whole need attention (rather than presuming that all are equally valid and useful) – see Moving Australia Beyond Traditional Multiculturalism, 2010). Ignorance of the practical consequences of religion and culture poses much more risk of generating violence that religious differences themselves do (see Cultural Ignorance as a Source of Conflict , 2001 and Do Religions Foster Violence?, 2009). For example, a major component of WWII (ie the War in the Pacific) was largely a by-product of cultural ignorance – and this arguably continues to pose a threat to the present day (see Broader resistance to Western Influence?).
There is a need for a much more serious approach to religious education (eg for reasons suggested It's Time to Expel Religious Naivety from Universities, 2014; in Religious Education: The Need for a Bigger Picture View, 2013; and Philosophy and Religion: The Case for a Bigger Picture View, 2010). There is also a need for a secular approach to religious education. But if the state takes a role in providing education about religion it would hardly remain ‘secular’ (see also Keeping Religion out of Australian Politics, 2009).
|A Risky View of Secularism?||
A Risky View of Secularism? - email sent 30/8/14
Re: ‘School chaplaincy debate ignores what ‘secular’ actually is”, The Conversation, 29/8/14
Your article implied that it is important to be clear about what ‘secular’ means in relation to government funding of school chaplaincy programs. Yet your apparently preferred view of what ‘secularism’ means (ie that religion should be included amongst governments’ ‘secular’ concerns) would break the separation of church and state which has been critical to the development of Australia’s institutions.
My Interpretation of your article: The Abbott Government will continue funding school chaplaincy by directing funding to states. However the debate about this suffers from a deficient understanding of what ‘secular’ is. In 2006 the chaplaincy program for ‘secular’ schools was established for only religious chaplains. This was expanded to include funding for non-religious social workers in 2011 – but then restricted again in 2014. In 2011 Labor’s expansion of the scheme had used ‘secular’ in the sense of non-religious – and non-religious counselors had been referred to as secular welfare officers. The common understanding of ‘secular’ involves separation of church and state. This view has been challenged in recent years to suggest that religious faith is merely on human possibility, so that both religious and non-religious world views co-exist within the secular. This is how secularism has always been interpreted in Australia. Australia’s secularism includes the freedom of citizens to be religious or non-religious. Neither those with religious faith or those who don’t should be excluded. A school chaplaincy program that doesn’t fund welfare officers because they are non-religious is not a ‘secular’ approach. A program that would fund both religious chaplains and non-religious counselors is needed.
Your conclusion about government funding of both religious chaplains and ‘non-religious counselors’ seems reasonable in a practical sense. While there is a superficial distinction between ‘religious’ and ‘non-religious’ world views, this distinction can disappear on closer examination. For example, contrary to the claims of believers, Atheism is a ‘religion’ in that it involves assumptions that cannot be objectively proven (see Celebrating a New Evangelical 'Religion': Atheism, 2010). And though many in Western societies would regard Christian-style theism as a core characteristic of a ‘religion’, in East Asia major recognised religions are non-theistic. It is artificial to insist on any absolute distinction between religious and ‘non-religious’ worldviews.
However there is a significant problem in that your apparently-preferred view that ‘secular’ should include both religious and ‘non-religious’ world views. This would be incompatible with maintaining a ‘secular’ state in the sense that this involves a state that deals with everything but ‘religion’. The separation of church and state is important because the success of Australia’s liberal social, economic and political institutions (and freedom of religion for citizens) depend critically on widespread Christian adherence in the community and on the fact that the church which maintains that adherence is separate from the state (see Christian Foundations of Liberal Western Institutions, 2010). Liberal institutions depend on a presumption of responsible behaviour by citizens primarily because of their responsibility to God - rather than as the result of communal or state pressure. And responsible individualism seems to be a unique feature of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Where the state (or families / community leaders) claim to be the source of moral authority (or to enhance their power over others through alignment with a religion), the practical advantages that derive from liberal institutions cannot be achieved. There have been many recent efforts to get governments into the business of ‘religion’ (eg see Erosion of the Moral Foundations of Liberal Institutions, 2003+ and Keeping Religion out of Australian Politics, 2009+), and as the latter suggested undesirable side-effects would arise from doing so.
Australia now suffers serious difficulties as a result of inadequate education about religion (eg because even those who do not subscribe to narrowly defined ‘religion’ need to know why ‘religion’ matters) and there has been a temptation for governments to try to ‘help’. However, unless the lead in overcoming those problems is successfully taken by Christian churches, Australia’s liberal institutions (and religious freedoms) are unlikely to be sustainable (see also Religion Should be Taught Better, 2013 and Religious Education: The Need for a Bigger Picture View, 2013).
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
|Truckers are not the Foundation of Australia's Liberal Institutions||
Truckers are not the Foundation of Australia's Liberal Institutions - email sent 17/9/14
Professor Gary Bouma
RE: Principles of accountability apply to churches and truckers alike, The Conversation, 17/9/14
I should like to suggest for your consideration that the question of who Churches are accountable to, and how they should be accountable, is a bit more complex than your article suggested. It is a bit naïve to equate Churches with truckers.
Australians have been able to enjoy liberty and ‘liberal’ institutions because of the dominant role that Christianity played in Western history. Whilst the ‘state’ in various forms has sought to base its power in whole or part on the Church (and Church leaders have at times been more than willing to accept the ‘benefits’ this provided them) if one looks at the New Testament (renewed interest in was the focus of the Reformation and much subsequent development in Western societies) one finds no basis for saying (as state leaders tend to do and your article implied churches do) “Trust me, I am a ……” or “Obey me, I am a ……”. The message was rather that ‘All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23) and ‘Judge not, and you will not be judged’ (Luke 6:37). The Church was certainly charged with spreading Jesus’ good news and teachings. But compliance with what God requires was left to individual consciences because of individuals’ ultimate accountability to God.
And this presumption of a reasonable degree of moral self-disciple has been vital to the creation (and now the ongoing viability) of the sorts of institutions from which Australians have gained many benefits (eg see Christian Foundations of Liberal Western Institutions and Cultural Foundations of Western Progress: The Realm of the Rational / Responsible Individual).
Moral self-disciple maybe be a unique consequence of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Its absence seems to have been a key factor in the difficulties that (say) Muslim dominated societies have experienced in recent centuries and the tensions that arise in their relations with others (eg see Politicians are Wrong: Terrorism by Islamist Extremists Does Involve Islam). In fact communal enforcement of expected behaviours by individuals (rather than self-discipline) is characteristic of tribal societies generally and also of East Asian traditions. The ‘individual self-discipline’ that is needed for the sorts of liberal social, economic and political institutions that Australians have been able to benefit from in many ways can’t exist in just any religious environment.
It is part of the state’s job to establish a framework through which (say) ‘truckers’ are held accountable. But, if the Christian Churches provide the social foundation needed for Australia’s liberal legal and state systems, it is a bit difficult to see how Churches could safely be accountable to those institutions. Certainly there is a need for probity in the way Church resources are used – and there may well have been problems in some cases. However if Australia’s secular institution (ie those that deal with everything but religion) try to make Churches accountable to them to sort out any difficulties then it is likely that the all-important separation of Church and state (and Churches’ ability to provide the social foundations for a liberal state) would be in deep trouble. Many Church institutions have become accountable to the state in many ways in recent decades (eg because they receive large amounts of public funding for the provision of various social services). The result has often been that affected components of Australia’s Churches have been diverted from their vital core mission by the need to appeal to state expectations in order to gain funding. This seems to be one, but not the only, reason that Christian adherence has been declining to the point that it is possible to see a future in which Australia’s liberal institutions will no longer be viable (see Erosion of the Moral Foundations of Liberal Institutions). This distortion of Churches’ mission needs to be reduced, not increased.
A former Treasurer argued today that Australians probably face widespread hardship because the ‘luck is running out’ (‘Luck running out: Peter Costello warns of hard days ahead’, Brisbane Times, 17/9/14). I suspect unfortunately that his grim prognosis is not grim enough, and that the contributions that Churches are making needs to be dramatically enhanced to cope with what is (probably) coming (see The Probable Need for a Community-Based Solution in Restoring the Viability of Democratic Capitalism).
Arguing that Churches should be treated like truckers is not really a constructive contribution in this context.
|Increasing Understanding of Secularism and Freedom||
Increasing Understanding of Secularism and Freedom - email sent 13/10/14
RE: Free and equal society founded on secularism, Courier Mail, 9/10/14
Your article warned that ‘religious’ rhetoric in relation to conflicts with the so-called ‘Islamic state’ risked creating a war between religions. You also re-emphasised the separation of church and state, and suggested increasing understanding of this through (say) state schools and in the broader community. I should like to try to add value to your basic suggestions, while also highlighting the complexities of the issues involved.
My Interpretation of your article: Now that Australia is in a so-called ‘just’ war against Islamic-linked murderers in Syria and Iraq, no politicians should engage in ‘gates of hell’ rhetoric like a US vice-president did. Doing so risks charges that the Christian west is engaging in a crusade against Islam by invoking ‘our’ vengeful God. This leaves people like me cold. As a non-believer I find it hard to lend moral / philosophical support to those who condemn ISIS (whose actions allegedly have a religious foundation) while brandishing their own ‘good’ religion. ISIS’s diaboloc activities are an opportunity to extol the virtues of the separation of church and state – and the virtues of a fully secular state rooted in the political philosophy of liberal democracy and the rule of law that takes its mandate from a secular civil society (which is the furthest thing from an ISIS-style caliphate) . Tony Abbott recently endorsed wider acceptance of the ‘golden rule’ (‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’) and separation of church and state (in the sense of rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s etc). He also warned that those with ISIS sympathies would be acting ‘against God’ (presumably his Western / Christian’ version). There is no shortage of Christian god-fearing politicians who want to stick their interpretations of the Bible into policy ponds – and thus create troubled waters. In Australia there is a large government funded school chaplaincy program whereby non-secular councilors are paid to work in supposedly secular state schools. Tony Abbott has a long way to go in his own ‘major cultural shift’ given that church tentacles reach into the supposedly secular state. As a non-secular state evolves before our eyes, everyone should keep their religious beliefs (in homes and places of worship) and out of broader society / government. The French concept of laicite (secularism) could perhaps be considered. French journalist, Agnes Poirer, argues that: (a) France does not recognise any religion, but protects them all; (b) only reason should prevail; (c) there should be a clear distinction between private and public spaces. President Sarkozy banned face coverings in 2010, and this was upheld by the European Court of Human rights. Prior to that France had banned the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in government-funded schools. It has now ordered a charter of secularism to be displayed in government funded schools. Should Australia consider this? And could this be taken further in government-funded schools (and in the wider society later) by putting citizenship first and personal religious beliefs second?
It is undoubtedly important, particularly at the moment, that the whole community is aware of the benefits that flow from a secular state (ie one that deals with everything but religion) - eg see Why the separation of Church and State Allowed Government to be More Effective). The basic point is that governments have to deal with issues that are vastly more complex than can be determined solely on the basis of the simpler rules that religions identify as appropriate for individuals.
And treating religious obligations as a private matter for individuals not only has benefits in terms of government effectiveness. This also enables non-governmental functions to be more effective (eg see The Emergence and Advantages of Responsible Liberty ). The basic point is that rationality tends to fail in dealing in complex situations. Societies can create institutions that allow ‘rational’ decisions to be relatively effective (eg when individuals are: guided by a rule of law; engage in democratic political debate; or undertake economic activities on the basis of ‘profit’ by independent enterprises). However such institutions can not work unless individuals are free from supervision by others on the basis of religious criteria.
The fact that a legalistic and coercive approach seems to have been taken to the enforcement of Islamic religious principles within Muslim communities seems to be a (the?) major factor in the difficulties those societies have suffered in recent centuries (see Even Moderate Islam Seems Damagingly Rigid, Politicians are Wrong: Terrorism by Islamist Extremists Does Involve Islam and Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems). Needless to say Muslims’ difficulties would be even worse if a legalistic and coercive approach to the enforcement of Islamic religious principles were extended by the creation of a caliphate (see Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State). These problems could probably be significantly reduced (while also depriving Islamist extremists of their Islamic ‘oxygen’) simply by a change in the way the religion of Islam is enforced (see Bringing Freedom to Muslims Would Bring Peace to the Middle East ).
Your article was useful in pointing to the the importance of avoiding any perception of a conflict between a Christian and an Islamic ‘God’ in discussing conflicts with the so-called ‘Islamic State’. However it is not only Christians and Islamists who have difficulties in keeping religion out of politics. Political activism against ‘religion’ also breaks down the secularism of the state (eg see Can Political Activism Separate Church and State?). It can be noted, for example, that the Atheistic perspectives that were the foundations of your article are anything but a ‘secular’ viewpoint (see Celebrating a New Evangelical 'Religion': Atheism). Moreover the ‘ideal’ your article endorsed was that a secular state should take its mandate from a ‘secular civil society’. However it is not all clear that there is such a thing as a civil society that is not affected by a religion of one sort or another.
The French notion of ‘secularism’ that your article mentioned is also not free of a religious dimension. Endorsing ‘rationality’ above ‘religion’ is debatable (eg see How solid are 'science, reason and critical thinking'?) and is not universally endorsed even by non-theistic religions (eg see East Asia: The Realm of the Autocratic, Hierarchical and Intuitive Ethnic Group?, 2001 and Competing Thought Cultures, 2012). Also if the French state protects all religions, it is hardly being truly ‘secular’ (ie dealing with everything but religion). Australia has had a similar approach in relation to multiculturalism. However, cultures (including religions) are arguably the main determinant of a societies’ ability to be materially successful and to live in relative peace and harmony. It has been unwise to allow the public to remain ignorant in the name of tolerance of the consequences that different cultures / religions have for affected communities (eg see Moving Australia Beyond Traditional Multiculturalism, 2010).
Other suggestions about the need for for more serious awareness of the practical consequences of religion were in Religious Education: The Need for a Bigger Picture View (2013). This argued that: (a) widespread Christian adherence is needed if liberal institutions and a secular state are to be viable in a society - because it makes individuals accountable to God (rather than to man) for the morality of their actions; and (b) students who don’t engage in religious education should be taught why religion matters (rather than just ‘fiddling about’ as they now seem to do during religious education classes).
The basic thrust of your article about maintaining and strengthening the separation of church and state was extremely valuable. But that the issues involved in doing this are complicated.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
|Muslims have Similar Moral Goals and Damagingly Different Methods of Achieving Them||
Muslims have Similar Moral Goals and Damagingly Different Methods of Achieving Them - email sent 14/10/14
Re: Are Muslims Our Natural Allies? Crisis Magazine, Feb 20, 2014
My attention was drawn to your observations about some Catholics, concerned about faring badly in the fight against ‘militant secularism’, have come to see Muslims as natural allies because they share similar values.
I should like to reinforce your criticism of the latter viewpoint, and also suggest options to start putting ‘militant secularism’ into its proper place.
There is a critical difference between the approach taken to the achievement of the fairly similar moral goals of Christianity and Islam. Your article referred to this in relations to the wearing of the hijab.
Islam seems often to involve the coercive enforcement of religious laws – whereas Jesus freed Christians from religious legalism.
And the coercive enforcement of religious law (which is by no means limited to clothing) has devastating consequences for affected communities. It arguable accounts for centuries of backwardness by Muslim societies in the Middle East that have led the region to turmoil and violence in recent decades (see Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems). Coercive enforcement of religious law by families communities creates an environment in which the initiative and innovation required for economic prosperity and even for keeping up with a constantly changing world can’t emerge (see also Even Moderate Islam Seems Damagingly Rigid). My comments on this point are based on a study over many years of the radically different paths to development by Western and East Asian societies – and examination of Muslim societies from those perspectives.
In my opinion getting widespread recognition of the adverse consequences of the legalistic and coercive way compliance with Islamic law has been sought is the key to discrediting the ideology of Islamist extremists such as the so-called ‘Islamic State’. This point is developed further in many contexts in Discouraging Pointless Extremism (2002+).
I suspect that ‘militant secularism’ can also be put in its place by pursuing the implications of the fact that Jesus freed his followers from religious legalism. Christians are to love God and others. They are individually responsible directly to God for the morality of their actions. Christians are not to impose religious discipline as agents of God. A truly Christian community can therefore be treated as likely to act responsibly on the basis of individual consciences – without coercive supervision by social / political elites. This creates massive practical advantages for reasons outlined in Increasing Understanding of Secularism and Freedom and Cultural Foundations of Western Progress: The Realm of the Rational / Responsible Individual.
The point is that ‘liberal’ institutions in a society (ie those that presume individuals will act reasonably-morally-responsibly without supervision) have massive practical benefits, but those benefits (including the notion of a secular state) can only be achieved and sustained in a Christian environment (because it is only in a Judeo-Christian framework that individual accountability directly to God exists). The erosion of moral behaviour in Western societies is making ‘liberal‘ institutions increasingly risky (see Erosion of the Moral Foundations of Liberal Institutions). Examples of how a case can be made that freedom and a secular state are unsustainable without widespread Christian adherences are in Keeping Religion out of Australian Politics – and thus that those who favour liberty and a secular state had better encourage Christian adherence.
|Articles on Religious Education||
Articles on Religious Education - email sent 21/10/14
Re: Seeney B., Even in a secular society, religion has a place in our schools, Sunday Mail, 19/10/14
Might I suggest that religious education is a more important issue that is generally recognised, and that it needs broader coverage than has been apparent in recent articles. For example, Belinda Seeney’s article last Sunday contained some dubious assertions.
My Interpretation of the Ms Seeney’s article: The Chinese philosopher Confucius recommended study of the past to know the future. This suggests the need to include religious studies in the Australian curriculum. People can no longer afford to be theologically ignorant. Religion has long driven social values as well as lawmakers / politicians. More war has been waged in the name of faith than for any other reason. While Australia is increasingly secular, the 2011 census found that 80% of Australians declared a religious affiliation. So why does religion get little attention from schools. Margaret Wenham recently argued for the adoption of the French system of laicite (secularism). This meant that all religious beliefs should be kept out of schools – and limited to homes / places of worship. However the opposite approach seems better – introducing religion into the Australian curriculum for the sake of knowledge and understanding. This would not involve faith-based instruction in secularschools – but rather teaching religion as a component of history, the humanities and social sciences. Students should be encouraged to discuss, dissect and scrutinize religion in all its forms – objectively and without fear of favour. Arguments against this include the desirability of separating church and state or concerns about indoctrinating impressionable young minds. Children need knowledge and understanding to have any hope of achieving global stability. Religion should be taught in the same way as politics – also a polarising subject. Politics is taught in a non-partisan way – and fact-based religious education would not convert young minds any more than studying the history of WWII would rally students to Nazism. Religion is already taught in most secular schools in an imperfect way – through religious education classes. These are elective, faith-based and largely delivered by unpaid volunteers. There is no historical or cultural context to these classes, no balance no fact-based holistic approach to learning. Student’s opportunity to learn and understand the influence, scope and power of religion in its many forms is very limited. Religion also creeps in through the chaplaincy program administered by Christian-affiliated Scripture Union. Such roles would be better played by trained social workers and guidance counselors. It also introduces Christian-biased theology into classrooms by stealth. This could be countered by teaching religion fearlessly and openly in schools. This is justified on the grounds of the curriculums commitment to history as understanding ourselves and others. The only objective fact-based theology course in Queensland is Study of Religion that is available in Years 11 and 12. This allows students to study religious diversity (eg aboriginal spirituality, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam) – to increase learning and understanding. We should not bury our head in the sand any longer in relation to a force as dominant / defining and as capable of changing history as religion.
Ms Seeney’s article drew attention to a similar article earlier this month by Margaret Wenham (Free and equal society founded on secularism, Courier Mail, 9/10/14). However Ms Seeney proposed an essentially opposite way of achieving a ‘secular’ approach to religious education (ie that governments should take direct responsibility for religious education - rather than trying the keep this as a purely private matter). Ms Wenham had seemed to over-simplify the subject (for reasons suggested in Increasing Understanding of Secularism and Freedom). And Ms Seeney’s contentions seemed equally simplistic for reasons outlined below.
Ms Seeney implied that Australia has a ‘secular’ society (ie one unconcerned with religion). However a ‘secular society’ can’t exist. Ms Seeney acknowledged that 80% of Australians indicate a religious affiliation on census forms. And those who do not subscribe to census-recognised ‘religions’ will none-the-less have some sort of ‘religion’ (ie world-view that is not objectively provable) - eg see Celebrating a New Evangelical 'Religion': Atheism (2010). It is only the state that can be ‘secular’.
Ms Seeney also suggested that religion should be taught as a component of history, the humanities and social sciences. However it is anything but clear where the appropriate historical / cultural context; the balance; and the fact-based holistic approach to learning that Ms Seeney believes to be necessary would come from. There seem to be serious weaknesses in the humanities and social science faculties of Australia’s universities in dealing with religion (eg see Its Time to Expel Religious Naivety from Universities). Ms Seeney cited the history curriculum as a precedent for enabling students to gain an understanding of ourselves and others. However the National History Curriculum was anything but a success in this regard (see Proposed National History Curriculum: Information without Understanding, 2010). Culture (including religion) is a primary determinant of a societies’ ability to be materially successful and to live in relative peace and harmony. Culture affects: people's goals and aspirations; the way they understand reality (and thus how they go about solving problems, and whether they can develop technologies); their ability to learn, to cope with risk and to change; the way people relate; the scope for initiative; and the institutions their society maintains (see Culture Matters, 2001+). Despite this the National History Curriculum explicitly treated culture as a consequence, rather than a cause, of history. This was presumably because of the dominance in humanities and social science faculties of ‘post-modern’ ideologies which regard claims about truth and knowledge in human affairs to be simply ‘social constructs’ that suit dominant elites rather than having any practical consequences (eg see A Crisis in Education at QUT?). There is certainly a case for ensuring that students understand why religious education matters (eg see Religious Education: The Need for a Bigger Picture View). But it will take a lot of work (and arguably major changes in ‘post-modern’ mindsets) before this is likely to be possible.
It was suggested that primary school students can gain a sufficient understanding to discuss, dissect and scrutinize religion in all its forms – objectively and without fear of favour. In order to have such understanding it is critical not only to know what religions teach, but also to understand the practical consequences of those teachings (eg consider Muslims have Similar Moral Goals and Damagingly Different Methods of Achieving Them). And this requires a depth of cross-disciplinary understanding of cultural, social, political and economic systems which would be challenging at a post-graduate university level and certainly well beyond primary school teachers and their students (see also Could 'Regular Teachers' Reliably Teach Religion in State Schools?). In practice religions can’t be taught as ‘fact’ – because the issues involved are incredibly complex. They can only be taught and accepted as a matter of faith / belief. While those who provide such teaching should preferably avoid the more improbable interpretations of their faith, it needs to be remembered that the universe is more complicated that simple-minded rationalists would like to believe (see How Solid are Science, Reason and Critical Thinking?).
Ms Seeney argued that the state should take it upon itself to teach religion by introducing religious education courses into a national curriculum. However if the state claims authority in teaching about religion it could no longer be secular (as Ms Seeney acknowledged by referring to the risk of breaking the separation of church and state). A truly secular state has massive advantages for the effectiveness of both governments and citizens – for reasons suggested in Increasing Understanding of Secularism and Freedom). If the state tries to be the source of religious authority, those advantages would disappear. Groups with supposedly-secular agendas who try to make religion into a political matter will, like Ms Seeney, merely tend to make it difficult to maintain the advantages of a secular state (eg see Challenges Facing the Secular Party, 2013).
It was suggested that religions have been primary drivers of wars. Wars (ie large scale conflicts between states) can only result from religion if religion becomes the foundation of a state’s ideology – and this can’t happen in a truly secular state. With the exception of Shinto (a non-theistic religion) in Japan in WWII and the Cultural Revolution in China, the conflicts with the biggest body-counts in the 20th century arguably had nothing to do with religion - see Do Religions Foster Violence?
Ms Seeney quoted Confucius’ view of the importance of studying history. Yet the belief that sufficient wisdom about what the Imperial bureaucracy should train Chinese people to do could be gained from a study of history (which was the basis of Confucian government administration until 1911) was arguably the reason that China failed for so long to cope with Western influences. There were important lessons that simply could not be learned from a study of history by bureaucratic elites.
I suggest that a much broader approach to this issue is needed if the community is genuinely to gain an adequate understanding of the importance of religious education. Perhaps it might be useful to ask writers who are actually involved in religious education to contribute.
|A Deeper Look at Religion||
A Deeper Look at Religion - email sent 5/1/15
Re: Religion, terrorism and free speech, Online Opinion, 2/1/15
I should like to suggest that there is a need to look more deeply at what is involved in ‘religion’. Your article was headed in that direction, but I suspect that there is a need to go further because: (a) official definitions of religion are too narrow; (b) Islamism (which motivated the Martin Place events) is more a political ideology than a religion; and (c) the practical consequences of particular religions (ie broad world views) for affected societies need serious consideration.
My Interpretation of your article: Under Commonwealth law a ‘terrorist’ act is defined as involving an attempt to advance a political, religious or ideological cause. UN conventions however do not regard motivations as important in characterising actions as ‘terrorism’. Statements couched in zealously religious / pious terms can however indicate an intent to intimidate some section of the community. The events in Martin Place involved an individual whose motivations were religious. Despite this much debate has suggested that those events were unrelated to religion. Religion is involved even where the individuals involved espouse a non-mainstream version of a religion. The ‘nothing to do with religious faith’ claim is a method of censoring debate about controversial religious practices. Religiously-inspired mass murder and destruction has re-emerged around the world. The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) gives a baffling definition of religion. This encompasses the three main monotheisms (ie Judiasm, Christianity and Islam). It does not say this, but a failure to believed in a supreme being and an afterlife would be incompatible with its definition. Each such system asserts that it has a divinely revealed / inspired complete system of truth governing all earthly life. Any claim that violent behaviour has nothing to do with religion needs to take account of religions’ historical association with: dogmatism / fanaticism; disagreements about sacred texts; both claims of doctrinal unchangeability and ongoing adjustment (eg as science advances); competition for adherents; persecutions; charlatanism; psychological disorders from zealotry; a favourable view of martyrdom; political entanglement leading to state religions / theocracy; and violence against non-believers. No matter what positive contributions religions make, in this modern (secular) age religious ideas / beliefs should not be held to be have a special right to legal protection. Ideas that should be immune from questioning / denigration should be limited to those that survive because of their intrinsic merits, not because of indoctrination. Multiculturalism has the worthy goal of promoting diversity – though it may incorporate insoluble contradictions (ie the fact that some religions regard homosexuality as evil or women as men’s inferiors). Criticism of religion is impeded by claims that this involves racism. Claims that discussing the Martin Place events in religious terms might trigger real religiously-inspired terrorism are deceptive. The AHRC’s sectarian censorship of public debate about religion is strange given the constitution’s protection of freedom of religion in Section 116. Some recent arrivals in Australia have been misinformed by authorities about the secular nature of Australia’s polity and about the freedom of / to reject religion involved in Section 116. [Unclear comments on ‘secular heresy’]. There is a great deal of emphasis on ‘de-radicalization’ of those with terrorist propensities (under the 2006 National Action Plan to Build on Social Cohesion, Harmony and Security). There is however no certainty that this can be useful. The state can only emphasise that violence is intolerable no matter what its motivation. The 2006 plan entangles Australia’s governments in religion through promoting what is supposed to be the true / correct / moderate version of those religions. This risks stirring up trouble because even ‘moderates’ exhibit resentment / resistance thus promoting alienation from Australia’s secular system of government.
The core of your argument seems to me to be that mainstream versions of ‘religion’ (ie theisms such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam) gain special positions and protection under Australia’s current institutional framework, and that it is not a good idea (as in recent debates following the Martin Place terrorist attack) to block criticism of belief systems (noting that these can at times be associated with violence) merely because they involve a designated ‘religion’.
Your article implied that the definition of ‘religion’ adopted (for example) by the Australian Human Rights Commission is essentially theistic (ie involves a belief in a supreme being) and involves claims about complete systems of earthly truth. There is no doubt that this definition is too narrow. There are well-recognised religions (such as Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Shinto) that are non-theistic. And the religions (ie broad world views) that have emerged in Asia tend to involve a rejection of the notion of truth (see Epistemology: The Core Issue). I would suggest that a far better official definition of religion would be something like: ‘a shared belief system based on its adherents'’ unproveable assumptions’. This would enable non-theistic religions to gain recognition as religions. At present non-theistic Western belief systems such as Atheism (for example) can be portrayed as not being religions. This allows Atheism’s adherents to make unjustified claims that beliefs founded on a presumption that there are no significant limits to human reason and science should have some special status within a secular state (see Should Atheism be recognised as a religion?).
Your article argued (validly) that it is counter-productive to claim that the Martin Place events had ‘nothing to do with religion’. Man Haron Monis seemed to see advancing the cause of Islamism (ie the politicisation of Islam as the basis for government) as the justification for what he did. It can be fairly easily shown that Islamism could not be a basis for effective government (eg see Discouraging Pointless Extremism, 2002+ and Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State, 2014). This fact needs to be exposed both to discourage violence by Islamist extremists and to help Muslims to find a viable path to a future that is better than their recent past (eg see Helping Muslims Resist Islamism). Cover-ups in public debates of problems associated with a political ideology (Islamism) because of its association with a religion (Islam) are highly dysfunctional. Also it needs to be made widely known that religions (ie broad world views) do not tend to be associated with violence unless they have a political / state connection. Thus it is the existence of a political / state connection (which Islamism has) that should be of concern in relation to violence (rather than religions themselves).
Belief systems have major practical consequences for affected societies (eg see Culture Matters). Thus current practices in Australia (eg those associated with official multiculturalism) that attempt to block consideration of whether the practical consequences are likely to be constructive or dysfunctional are highly undesirable (see Moving Australia Beyond Traditional Multiculturalism, 2010). Likewise the fact that universities do not get involved in considering the practical consequences of religions because of a desire to avoid challenging anyone’s beliefs is not helpful (see It's Time to Expel Religious Naivety from Universities, 2014). The consequences of ‘political correctness’ (in the sense of intentionally perpetuating ignorance about the practical consequences of various belief systems) seem increasingly likely to be catastrophic (see Reducing the Risk of Financial / Economic / Political Crises, 2014)
I would be interested in your response to my speculations