Because my maternal grandfather was a Minister in the UK Church of Christ – very similar to the Methodist Church – I grew up in a household with a library of moral tales.
Books like Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies, with its Mrs Do-as-you-would-be done-by and Mrs Be-done-by-as-you-have-done, were the underpinning for developing a conscience and an awareness how our own behaviours affect others.
Like C S Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, which was read by my children’s generation, there is an implied overtone of Christian values, yet it is actually morality rather than Christianity which is at the core of the message.
IMHO you do not need to believe in a god or gods in order to understand that, living in a community, we need rules for communal living which avoid covertly or overtly harming others.
Where I feel the religious have led us astray, is in planting themselves, as ‘believers’, between us and the goal. And by making the goal an after-life, they avoid a lot of awkward questions!
After all, no one has returned from that after-life to confirm its existence, and to think we can hurt other people, even killing them on too many occasions, say sorry to some omniscient being, directly or through some often self-serving intermediary, and waltz off to paradise when we die, is at the very least naïve. Or so, as a now agnostic, I am inclined to think.
I have my own philosophy on this issue. I try to help, not harm others, and if, after I die, a few people remember me favourably – for however brief a period – then I will have life after death!
I hasten to add, I am no saint, I have many regrets over past behaviours and I try (sometimes successfully!) not to repeat past mistakes.
Ethical or moral behaviour involves empathy and a high degree of selflessness to be truly effective, and leading by example is necessary if the message is to have an impact. If you hypocritically say “Do as I say, not as I do” then your message will fail.
My doubts over Christianity were probably triggered by the religious organisations’ strong linking of morality with sexuality.
When I was growing up, unmarried mothers were shunned and shamed, children born out of wedlock were bastards and would remain so for life, homosexuals who put a toe outside the closet were vilified and chastised, even killed, in many cases, and the fact the Christian missionaries followed closely behind ‘Christian’ colonisers has meant that a totally undesirable legacy for those colonised has been warped attitudes and ignorance about human sexuality.
Any education expert will tell you that what is learned early in life is best remembered and has most effect on future attitudes. The, in my opinion, appalling reaction of religious people – Muslims and Hindus as well as Christians – to the same sex marriage debate, highlighted how hard it is for deeply ingrained beliefs to be cast aside and new knowledge embraced.
In speaking or writing these days, I try to avoid using ‘I believe’, preferring to say ‘in my opinion’ or ‘I accept’ or ‘it appears to me’, because in my mind, to say ‘I believe’ implies acceptance without proof.
The Catholic Church ‘believed’ the Bible was the source of truth, so they accepted that the sun went around the Earth, and fought long and hard against the proof that they were wrong.
Countries like Australia are, IMHO, very slow in accepting that, as a multicultural country with no national religion, government must leave religious issues to individuals and develop Human Rights laws to ensure that people are free to follow a religion – or not – while avoiding adverse effects on others of the choices they make!
The law of Australia imposes on ALL its citizens an obligation to report to police if they know or suspect that an adult is abusing a child sexually, or if an adult is being abused by a present or former partner in a domestic relationship.
It is my understanding that the canon law of the Catholic church requires that anything divulged to a priest in the confessional cannot be disclosed to anyone. Therefore, if, during a confession, the priest learns that the one confessing his sins might be guilty of child sex abuse, the Vatican insists that cannot be reported to police.
The offender can be recommended to self-report, but who, if anyone, polices that?
What is so special about one group of religious believers that they can deny the law of the land?
What is more – what human being is entitled to judge that someone has truly repented of their sins and may then be forgiven?
The history of child sex abuse has clearly revealed that priests who preyed on children for sexual gratification, regularly did so over and over again, and the offender was often moved on by a hierarchy which was well aware of the offending, and of the likelihood of further offending.
What value can you put on a religious organisation which allows damage to children in preference to having its power limited?
So, we now have the Attorney General, Christian Porter, being tasked with over-sighting the drafting of legislation to protect people who wish to practice a religion! He has been so unsuccessful to date that it might be better if he instead drafted a bill to ensure the non-religious were safe from the religious practices of the rest!
Actually, it appears that defining a religion is a precarious business, because many genuinely harmful cults would seem to be covered by the definitions attempted to date.
Please can we have something simple like:
Each and every adult Australian citizen is entitled to worship such gods as (s)he chooses, and live according to the laws which her/his faith has dictated, if and only if, in so doing (s)he does not harm, mentally or physically, any other living being and (s)he continues to obey all laws of Australia.
Feel free to try to re-word that but, in my opinion, it captures the essence of what is required.
Because some cults and religion have practices and beliefs which contradict those accepted by mainstream Australians, it is my opinion that no religion should be taught in schools by religious leaders, but, instead, a syllabus leading discussion on Comparative Religion should form part of a common curriculum, required by all government funded schools, at least at secondary level.
At the same time, I think a group of educators and religious leaders should agree on the content of a course on ethics and ethical behaviour which, again, should be part of the common syllabus.
Whatever our current leaders might have learned during their own paths through education, ethics and morality must have been conspicuously absent or totally ignored by many of them.
There have been fears for many in recent years that we have been moving ever closer to fascism and a police state.
Under an immoral and clearly corrupt governing body, which fails to be bound by ethics, this is a frightening prospect. Given the urgent need for a proper policy to combat global warming and an equally urgent need to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, I am deeply concerned that the current government lacks both the motivation and the skills to lead us effectively – which is why I am exhorting everyone who shares my fears to engage with their local Extinction Rebellion group!
Once more – this is my 2020 New Year Resolution:
“I will do everything in my power to enable Australia to be restored to responsible government.”
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