By Janine Gebert
The Census will happen next month, August 9. Given many of us still feel blistered by the anthems of self-interest surrounding the election, and the deal dust is still settling, this might seem somewhere between onerous and annoying. Now normally I have an allergy to comparison, but stiffen the sinews because the Census is even more important. In the recent election most of us voted for the agendas of candidates we hardly know. In the Census we vote for our own. How we respond decides future funding, resource allocation, public policy, city planning and even who and what gets public media time and attention. It translates what we say we value into the realities of goods and services.
Personal information collected is always confidential. The Census question about a person’s religion has always been optional, but most Australians choose to mark a box. It was historically assumed that most Australians had a Christian religion of one denomination or another. The Census question itself reflected this assumption and was a leading one, asking What is the person’s religion?” There was no recognition that some people do not embrace a ‘God’ at all and some have a personal rather than the doctrinal one definitively outlined in the Nicene Creed. So for a long time the census designers had the same approach to nonbelievers as some religions have to sex. The position was not an option.
This Census, however, ‘No Religion’ is in the missionary position – up there at the top of the question options. This is a further significant advancement in the understanding that Australians now hold a range of views, and Gods, and some are godless, and thankfully free to be so. Being an atheist still carries the death penalty in thirteen countries.
We are all born atheist and most of us are indoctrinated as children to the religion and tribal dynamics of our parents. As an adult atheist I have little in common with most other atheists, except the belief that no credible evidence exists for a supernatural being. Not held captive to any doctrine of dogma, atheists have a range of social and political views. Some are pro-life some pro-choice, some support voluntary euthanasia, some don’t. The word ‘fundamental’ therefore can only be applied to us in ignorance. We share nothing to be fundamental about. Except perhaps keeping religion separate from politics, which is why atheists are such a threat to authoritarian regimes.
Two things, however, are universally offensive to atheists. Being told we believe in nothing. And being told we cannot be moral without a ‘God’.
Religion largely evolved as an antidote to not feeling special in face of the massive indifference of the universe. The Bible was written as several books over a period of several hundred years by self-appointed men who still believed the world was flat. Technologies to prevent diseases, and women from endless childbirths were centuries away.
So not believing in Bronze Age myths marketed as fact, does not mean I believe in ‘nothing’. I believe in the power of knowledge and science. I believe there is sufficient evidence to show that most of us are designed by nature to be caring and supportive of others, as our very survival depends on it. As for eternal life, Atheists believe in it, seasoned with science. Our atoms continue forever. They will help form other things in an evolutionary reenactment more meaningful that any fragile ego or fairy story.
The morality question in revealing. The Bible has been one of the greatest weapons of mass destruction on earth. The Dark Ages were when religion ruled much of the world. Religion has caused wars, famine, poverty, ethnic cleansing, and slavery of other humans. Inhibiting social reform is endemic to religion and in this country it has railed against almost every major social reform including ending the White Australia Policy, rape in marriage, contraception, votes for women and the First Australians and now marriage equality.
The power of Christianity in Australia has become so entrenched that its outrageous privileges go largely unchallenged. Which brings me to the issue of tax avoidance. And why we need to be very careful with the religious census question. For an organization to avoid paying tax in Australia they have simply to state they believe in a supernatural being, which includes aliens as Scientology is embraced within this definition.
Rallying devotees to greed is the robust foreplay of the churches, which results in massive wealth no way intended for the masses. We ALL pay for those that PRAY. The Australian Christian Lobby receives massive funding. The Chaplaincy in Schools Program, which largely evangalises Christianity, is funded to the tune of $243.8 million over four years. Latest figures show $7.7 billion is voluntarily gifted by taxpayers for Christian education, including over I billion to schools that still teach Creationism. It is generally agreed that if churches were taxed for their non-charitable works and holding we would have around $20 billion a year extra for hospitals and other crucial services. Religions THINK they can avoid death. They KNOW they can avoid taxes.
Atheists generally don’t evangelize. Reason does that for us. But this Census it might be time to consider rearranging the cognitive furniture and to disguard an ancient loyalty program. If you don’t believe in, or are uncertain about a god, or simply do not want your taxes used to privilege or preference a particular religion, please mark the ‘No Religion’ box this Census. And this is serious people business. Describing yourself as a Jedi or similar might seem funny but it relegates you to the “Not Defined” category, giving your response the same status as a vegan at a meat lovers convention – zilch.
So this Census let’s all be honest about the religion question. Let’s inform the Government of our diversity on this issue and the need for non-discriminatory policy and planning. Let’s make a real stand for a fair go for all, including the faith free.
Also by Janine Gebert: