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Religion and ethics

I have just read online what I regard as a brilliant and honest article about our public holiday system.

I was brought up in the UK in a Christian household – one verging on puritanism – and we did not confess and get absolution. Life was far less comfortable, because we had to live with a guilty conscience when we knew we had broken the rules!

Over time, having a scientific, logical background, I have become an agnostic (hedging my bets – maybe there is a god! – so not quite becoming an atheist!) but I largely share Stephen Fry’s attitude.

I am sure we all have our ideas about how religions have developed, and those who claim to be Christian need to acknowledge that there are other religions which are followed legitimately and just as ardently as Christianity.

I was fortunate, in that my C of E secondary school taught not only the Scriptures (as an academic subject, with the option of taking ‘O’ Level and ‘A’ Level GCE exams), but also, in the senior years, Comparative Religion.

We explored all the world’s major religions and I was left with one very clear perspective.

As communities formed and disputes arose, there was a need to develop rules to maintain a reasonably peaceful and cohesive existence. In addition, many natural phenomena, like lightning and thunder, earthquakes, etc, caused extreme fear and concern. So strong men (and possibly occasionally also strong women) claimed to be able to interpret these events (the gods are angry and must be appeased) and as they gained credence and status, they became the high priests who could dictate the rules the community must follow. Basically, they were developing a system of ethics.

As is obvious from Greek and Roman mythology, both cultures had a whole pantheon of gods, as does Hinduism. The Jews and the Arabs were possibly unique in having only one god, whose dictates were interpreted by the prophets.

So, we come to today’s materialistic world, where many still pay lip service to a religion and, because the Church of England is the recognised established church in the UK, as England colonised, so too it also left its religious footprint on its colonies.

Many parts of Ireland were more influenced by the Roman Catholic church, hence in part the ‘troubles’, and many Irish and European migrants have ensured a strong Catholic influence in Australia.

BUT – and it IS a big BUT – the Australian Constitution Section 116 states:

“The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.”

The State and Territory legislatures are not bound by this clause although Tasmania does share a similar one in its Constitution.

Unfortunately, we are blessed (or bedevilled!) with elected representatives who regard their religious beliefs as taking precedence over their duty to represent their electorates’ views. Historically, recognition of major Christian events, reflected in public holidays, is quite understandable. But time does not stand still. Australia is now a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural country and – as noted above – our federal government should not favour one religion over another.

It has long been recognised that many Christian festivals have simply taken over the place of previous pagan events. The December solstice in the Northern hemisphere was celebrated as Midwinter but is now Christmas, Easter has replaced the Spring Equinox so that now, given we have many religions, with many festivals, is it not time to rationalise the public holiday system?

There is nothing to stop people who have genuine religious beliefs from celebrating their special occasions, but, as a secular country, I suggest we need to detach our public holidays from any single religion.

Just as we have the Queen’s Birthday holiday (which will no doubt disappear when and if we become a republic), we can designate appropriately timed public holidays without religious affiliations.

We are already being asked to choose another date for Australia Day, while there are many who feel it appropriate to wait until we have suitably recognised the status of our First Nations and make that date Australia Day.

Underneath all this is the recognition that we do need a common system of ethics, divorced entirely from any religious beliefs yet still compatible with those beliefs. The foundation for that system is respect for others, irrespective of their religion, sexuality or origin and most recognised human rights statements would seem like a good starting point.

At risk of labouring an issue I have raised elsewhere and often – the expansion of scientific knowledge enables us now to travel in the air as well as on land and sea AND communicate wirelessly across the world in ways not even imagined when the world’s religions were founded. More recently, research into genetics has established that not all human beings are born as straight males or straight females. So, recognising the truth – that the LGBTIQ community has no choice in the orientation of their sexuality, we now have to fight an uphill battle against those who insist on relying on the scientific ignorance of the founders of their religious beliefs.

After all this, I wonder if we are not too late. After all, the dilatoriness of recent national governments, and not just in Australia, in taking necessary and urgent action on global warming, aka climate change, with its accompanying, and increasingly damaging, severe weather events, leaves me alarmingly and uncharacteristically pessimistic about our having a future!

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  1. Diannaart

    I agree, we need to take religion out of public holidays.

    Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc, manage their religious festivals or special days of observance, Christianity can do the same. Besides more people register “no religion” than Catholics and many people simply tick a familial religion out of habit than out of any deep sense of religiosity.

    In the Australia(n Census) in 2016, the largest religious group was Western (Roman) Catholic, 22.3% of all people, while 29.9% of people had no religion and 9.1% did not answer the question on religion.

  2. Alcibiades

    Second coming ends prematurely as Jesus killed in American airstrike

    Syria, Sunday: The second coming has ended prematurely this week after Jesus Christ was amongst the latest civilian casualties of fighting in the Middle East. Witnesses on the ground are reporting that a man claiming to be the son of God was killed after his message of peace failed to deter an American carpet bombing campaign against Syrian anti-anti-pro-Assad supporters.

    .Jesus’s father, God, and close relative, the Holy Spirit, have both expressed grief at the death.

    I told him that the middle east was too dangerous nowadays,” said God. “I’m never wrong about things like this, or anything in fact. But do you think he would listen to his father? Course not…”

  3. Josephus

    We need to be a secular state like France and remove prayers in Parliament as well as faith based holidays. We can substitute a Republic Day and a First Nations Day.

  4. RosemaryJ36

    I agree with Josephus. Half the problems over same sex marriage would not have arisen if churches and other religious organisations were not authorised to conduct a legal union. And in all this there is a tacit agreement that Christianity is the established religion in Oz. John Howard has much to answer for!

  5. Alcibiades

    Hm, perhaps …

    January 26 to Invasion Day
    Good Friday revoked, replaced with an appropriate First Nations Day
    Easter Monday revoked, replaced with a Federation/Australia Day
    Queenies Birthday to Republic Day

  6. Lambert Simpleton

    Nicely put, Alcibiades.

    Both sets.

  7. Kerri

    A friend, who is Jewish, explained to me once the origins of the no pork, no shellfish, circumcision, women separated from food during menstruation stuff. Centuries ago the Jewish elders could se their citizens dying from tainted food, poor hygiene, STDs etc. they suggested people be more careful. It didn’t work. So they linked these health issues to their faith and voila. Health problems averted. When you consider this alone it is clear that religion needs to move on and give way to scientific knowledge.
    Do we need to be told fairy stories to maintain our safety? As educated adults we should recognise that religious rules and indeed religion, pertains to an ancient time when life was little understood and hence more dangerous.
    We are better informed now. Let’s be better citizens and more accepting of the world.
    And yeah let’s not be hypocrites and celebrate a religious event most of us couldn’t give a damn about.

  8. RosemaryJ36

    Kerri I think most of the religious food rules were pre-refrigeration safeguards. It seems, unfortunately, once these rules and constructs (like homosexuality being an abomination) are embedded in a religion, it becomes impossible to abandon them. Yet, by all accounts Jesus modernised the 10 commandments, reducing them to just two but his followers refuse to follow his example and accept that new knowledge is developed every day.

  9. pierre wilkinson

    When we become a republic, with a Bill of Rights and Indigenous Recognition, then that day should be the new Australia Day.

  10. DrakeN

    “We are better informed now.”

    Facts, however, are a great inconvenience to the avaricious, the power hungry and the priesthood’s perpetration of religious frauds.

  11. Kronomex

    This is more than a little disturbing when you consider that Scummo, the hand waving happy clapper and rolling on the floor and speaking in tongues, is the “leader” of this country.

    “Bill of Rights”? Good luck with that occurring. Both major parties run and hide in their bunkers whenever those three words are uttered in serious conversation. Open lid, make sounds about it then close lid until it blows over and people forget until the next time it’s mentioned. Rinse and repeat ad nauseam.

  12. Zathras

    I suspect the religious dietary rules have no real basis in genuine health issues but were created as simple acts of adherence and token gestures of membership, like not trimming beards or the hair on the side of the head.

    Reverse-guessing issues that likely predate many of the written instructions are like finding a rational explanation for irrational ideas, such as where Santa gets his toys by simply adding magical elves into the myth – problem solved.

    Many of the more bizarre Levitican dietary rules don’t fit the “health” solution either. Bats aren’t birds and rabbits don’t chew their cud, and here are the explicit ways describing how animals should be slaughtered.

    There’s also a sinister side to some of those matters. For example the European diet swung sharply toward pork during the Spanish Inquisition and was conveniently used to flush out secret Jews and Muslims by challenging them to eat pork products.

    Lessons learned from history suggest the title should be Religion OR Ethics as they don’t necessarily mean the same thing.

  13. RomeoCharlie29

    A lot of good points here but which brave/ foolhardy politicians are going to cut religion free. Even dumping the Lord’s Prayer from the start of parliamentary proceedings, a good start, would take a very brave group of people. Given the furore over SSM, I can imagine the outrage such a move would cause. However I reckon the majority would accept it if it came to a vote. Then we could move on to removing chaplains from schools, absorbing the catholic schools into the state system, making all private schools self supporting, and taxing all religions while removing subsidies for those that want to start their own schools. No, no religious schools of any kind. Sorry, got a bit carried away there but you see where I’m coming from.

  14. Kaye Lee

    I made a comment on Israel Folau’s facebook page and all hell broke loose. Religious people can be really nasty. There was a lot of “burn in hell bitch” stuff but my favourite was this.

    ” I LOVE Trump. Hooray. He’s doing Gods work here on earth. He has been annoited by God. He is a praying president. Trump can dismiss anyone he wants and so can God. If you don’t like.Trump you’re against God. Trump was prophesied. You’re just a raging feminazi who’s been programmed by the mainstream fakestream narrative. You think you can mould God around you and manipulate His word to make His law acceptable to you. You can’t. That’s why my words upset you. 😆 Give it a rest feminazi.”

  15. Michael Taylor

    Hooley dooley, Kaye. That one’s a real hoot.

    Sometimes – when in need of a laugh – I head over to Trump’s Twitter page. Ninety-five per cent of the comments are from we lefties giving it to the old fool, but among the five per cent there will be those who believe he is God’s chosen one. They are sick people.

  16. Florence Howarth

    Time for us to be more like France when it comes to marriage. One has a civil marriage, followed by a Church service if desired. Very few are now married in churches, that if they bother getting married at all.

    All religious service should be dropped from parliament.

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