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Society’s spooked with sacred superstitions

By Brian Morris

There’s a critical element missing from the whole debate on ‘Religious Freedom’ — and it’s one that must be addressed when Scott Morrison’s ‘Religious Discrimination Act’ is finally rolled out during the May election campaign.

Why is it — as a secular nation — we have become spooked on the topic of religion? We don’t communicate beyond our own sphere of beliefs! How is it that basic questions about religious faith are seen as “offensive”? For what reason do media outlets maintain a strict taboo — avoiding discussions which probe the provenance and foundational fallibilities that underpin all religions?

It’s time to confront religion as a man-made concept.

Currently, it’s a minefield. No pun. Discuss Palestine and you’re condemned as either pro-Israel or anti-Semitic; for Syria it’s pro/anti Shiite or Sunni; in Ireland (still) you’re for/against Catholics or Protestants; for Kashmir it’s Hindus vs Muslims; in Surabaya ISIS attack Christians; in Thailand, Buddhists persecute Rohingyas; and in Jerusalem — all three Abrahamic religions claim it as their own. Visualise every current conflict and almost all are internecine or involve two historically combative religions.

Religion is a ‘choice’ — it is not determined by skin colour or gender. And the ‘cultural’ argument just doesn’t wash. Children from every country on Earth are born without any religious DNA — all doctrines are learned, and at some stage in their lives, individuals can choose another faith; or none at all. True; with some faiths, that decision can be hazardous, but it does not change the fact. This is one illustration of how religion divides us.

Religious origins and dogmas remain incomprehensible to the public majority, including many who claim a specific belief. This confusion about religion and its various manifestations — of being “out of touch with the real world” — is just one psychological marker for schizophrenia. And it does seem insane that we cannot openly discuss the fundamental flaws of religion in today’s evidence-based society — four centuries on from “the enlightenment”.

At the core is “Religion” itself; its questionable histories, myths, and man-made dogmas.

God is not the issue here! There is no scientific evidence either way, ‘tho mounting material and circumstantial evidence would suggest no deity. But for Australia, where Christianity is predominant, there are highly relevant questions of provenance surrounding all Christian denominations. Contemporary historians and biblical scholars point to a faith that is built on highly unstable foundations in a Middle-Eastern desert.

Christianity dominates politics, education, and social administration in this country. It is the non-religious voice that has been silenced in the “public square” — not the privileged and well-financed Christian denominations. Token secular views are rarely heard on voluntary euthanasia, pro-choice, and a score of current issues — the loudest media voice comes from archbishops, devout politicians, and a plethora of Christian Lobbies.

A shrewd conservative strategy — promoting a myth of religion being “silenced” — began when the 2011 Census showed ‘No Religion’ had reached 22.3 per cent, pushing out Anglicanism, and falling just 3 per cent short of the Catholic vote. By 2016, ‘No Religion’ ranked highest, at 30.1 per cent (with Catholics at 22.6 and Anglicans 13.3) — and that secular figure will top 50 per cent when the Census question on Religious Affiliation is finally revised.

“Freedom of Religion” became a mantra following the Religious Round Table in 2015 — the meetings of church leaders in 2015, run by the then Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson. Regrettably, belated meetings for secular groups were cancelled at the last minute when Wilson resigned prematurely to prepare for his Liberal Party campaign for the federal seat of Goldstein, which he won in June 2016.

This mantra has run consistently, through to Philip Ruddock’s ‘Religious Freedom Review’ — a last-ditch strategy by (then PM) Malcolm Turnbull to placate his conservative party room, and squeeze through the vote to legalise same sex marriage in December 2017. Ruddock’s Review fielded more than 16,000 submissions — the vast majority coming as proforma emails from church congregations, organised by Christian lobbyists.

Detailed submissions from secular groups — calling for the winding back of religious privileges that provide legal means to discriminate against the non-religious — were swamped by the flood of Christian emails. Religion has this inherent advantage to effectively lobby all governments — even with their diminishing congregations. The secular public do not ‘congregate’ and ultimately lose an effective voice on all progressive social policy. It’s not surprising, too, that Australian parliaments are among the most Christianised in the Western world.

Recommendations from the Ruddock Review have been drafted by the Morrison government which will codify existing discriminatory privileges for all religious institutions. This Religious Discrimination Act will be a significant plank in the Liberal Party’s election platform. And for Scott Morrison, himself a devout Pentecostal Christian, his voice has echoed on the floor of parliament that we need a crusade to save Christianity.

So, will a reduction of religio-political influence come anytime soon?

A turning point could well be the 2021 Census. For decades, Question 19 on Religious Affiliation, has read; “What is the person’s religion?”. That is a ‘closed’ question which assumes every citizen has one! The Australian Bureau of Statistics has been urged for years to adopt an ‘open’ question, similar to other OECD nations — “Does the person have a religion?”. The ‘No Religion’ figure will then run closer to Europe, which is well over 50 per cent.

Meantime, secular and atheist organisations look to the media to be more even-handed and provide equal time to the Christian churches — whose voice has not been silenced, as their leaders claim. Religion does remain divisive; it has lost its moral authority, and it is long overdue that its flawed foundations are openly discussed.

With 40 per cent of secondary students now attending private religious schools, mostly Catholic, it is essential that these students think rationally about the religious doctrines and historical myths they are being taught through 12 years of education. Are we simply creating a new generation with schizoid perceptions of religion?

Philosophical ethics and critical thinking provide the moral and ethical foundations that allow for a rational and compassionate approach to facing the challenges of life. It is long overdue that public education bureaucracies (in every state) provide these essential life-skills to all public school students. But we can expect the mythical Hell to freeze over long before private religious schools deign to teach PE and CT in place of religion! Will mainstream media ever step up and join the debate?

Brian Morris is a former Journalist and Public Relations professional and the author of Sacred to Secular, a critically acclaimed analysis of Christianity, its origins and the harm that it does. You can read more about him here.


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  1. New England Cocky

    The DOGS case lost to private schools in the 1960s has made religious institutions rich on the back of the public purse as both major parties outdid each other to buy the “religious vote”.

    We are told that the Roman church has about $1.2 BILLION in assets to afford to pay out victims of priestly pederasty so it is reasonable to demand that the Roman church fund its own child minding facilities masquerading as school education from their own assets and private tuition fees. This was the case before 1963 and state funding was supposed to bring private schools, particularly parochial Roman schools, “up to scratch” in every conceivable way.

    But state funding has become addictive and compulsory to keep the priests in the manner to which they wish to remain accustomed, and provide funds to Rome.

    If private school education is so good then it should be able to stand on its own finances and fees without parasitising state funds. Perhaps Principal’s remuneration in private schools could be cut back from over $600,000 per year in some cases to not more than twice a state school principal of the same size.

    Philosophical ethics and critical thinking can readily be taught without priestly intervention, just as the protestants believe that worshipping can occur without priestly intervention. Really, the priests are irrelevant and in recent times a danger to parishioner’s progeny.

  2. Dr Tristan Ewins

    Ideally government should not finance privilege via the private schooling system. But this does not rule faith out. The author argues that evidence suggests God does not exist ; but does not go into detail. Perhaps one of the reasons why this may appear to be the case is because of literalism in religion ; where in fact the truth is hidden behind symbolism and metaphor. Religion should not be ‘suppressed’ ; although open debate could be a good thing. Enlightenment and liberalism went ‘hand in hand’ ; and today also we should continue tolerance ; including of dogmas we do not agree with personally. There are also some mysteries which have not been penetrated: such as those of consciousness and free will. Religions are often used to bolster Conservative power ; and religions have been abused over the centuries in pursuit of worldly power. But they are also about more than this. When considering religion we should also have the modesty to recognise that we don’t have all the answers. Religion has been abused for centuries for worldly power – but that does not mean ‘there is no truth in it’.

  3. Frances

    People can be ethical, moral and spiritual without belonging to a religious institution, which is really a control mechanism. There may be a mysterious X behind the creation of the universe, but why do people have to grovel and worship this entity.

  4. ChristopherJ

    But what a business model, eh? It may be on decline, but more people offsets

    Develop an un-provable theory of how the earth was created by a Deity and add some facts. (Don’t mention who created the Deity though)… cough

    Convince people to believe the Deity exists and is ‘watching you’ and his creation

    Tell everyone that only believers go to heaven or paradise.

    Convince the believers that those who support the religion financially get preference.

    Oh yes, and sins can be forgiven, esp for money

  5. Phil

    ” Religion has been abused for centuries for worldly power – but that does not mean ‘there is no truth in it’. ”

    Utter bollocks. Where is Cristopher Hitchens when you need him? People that believe in this nonsense should be in a straight jacket, in a padded cell. Problem is, as soon as we atheists start debating these religious cracka jacks, we give their nonsense credibility where there is none warranted what so ever. I will never forget the words of the Jewish Rabbi recorded by one of the survivors as the Nazi’s were shovelling his people into the gas chambers, he said ” There is no God ” Religion give me strength.

  6. Dr Tristan Ewins

    The way forward is tolerance, pluralism, personal liberty. You have no right to force a person to abandon faith ; just as no one has the right to force a faith upon you. The Holocaust forces Jews and Christians to face some tough questions. Either God let it happen, or God does not have unlimited, unrestricted and absolute power. I choose to believe the latter. But I still have belief.

  7. Dana

    If state funding for private, independent or religious schools was discontinued, most of those schools would close and students would have to attend the public school system which would not be able to accommodate them.

  8. Phil

    “You have no right to force a person to abandon faith ;”

    I’m not asking them to do anything of the sought.

    I have a right to ridicule people that believe this nonsense, as I have a right to ridicule politicians I don’t like. Religion does force it’s view on me, my taxes help pay for Catholic schools etc. The current government wanted to put a chaplain in every school. I tolerate this, because I am as well as an atheist, I am a socialist. The Holocaust btw in the scheme of human history, is small fry compared to other atrocities in the name of religion. The American Red Indians comes to mind. If you want to believe in some invisible man in the sky go for it I could give a flying fluck. Btw you said there is no proof that God does or doesn’t exist. I repeat, utter bollocks. That debate was over a long time ago.

  9. RosemaryJ36

    Like Frances, I believe that we need a common ethical set of rules. To be moral is to both avoid harming others and actively seek to assist. Having a god is an optional extra.

  10. Alcibiades

    Hm, belief & faith. Belief that the invisible pink unicorn exists. Faith that it is indeed pink, even though it’s invisible.

    As a Catholic who was brought up as one, hence why I am not a Catholic, have experimented with others. Frisbee-anism was fun for a while, was fond of the concept of being reunited with lost long frisbees from inaccessible rooftops in the afterlife. yet it seemed to, I dunno, lack depth.

    Mormonism was briefly intriguing, but the weird underwear and intrusive intimate questions from the unqualified bishop was just too much. Not to mention the countless logic/dissonance issues with the gold plates, leather books, gimpy leg, awful plagiarisation of the then King James Bible, etc.

    Eventually became a devotee of the Great Flying Spaghetti Monster in the Sky, may one and all be so fortunate as to be blessed by Her noodly appendage. (Recommend Her gospels too)

    She also has figured out the direct correlation between the Pirate Population & increasing Climate Change. Therefore RWNJs that commonly have both belief & faith in abundance, can adopt Her, and thence calmly rationalise how/why they can then support climate change action. 🙂

    Couldn’t find a suitable Dave Allen sketch on the ‘net, so this will just have to suffice instead, sorry ! :

    Rowan Atkinson – collected religious comedy sketches (Youtube 48m 08s)

    PS As that Pope fellas plenipotentiary advised re the inevitable mass slaughters of mixed devout, heathens & heterics, men, women & children too, in the predominantly Cathar cities & towns of Southern France circa 12th century :

    “Kill them all. The Lord will recognise his own“. Popemobile fella, what a guy.

  11. Paul Davis

    Thanks for the link David, interesting manifesto from Solzhenitsyn published by the Russia Insider…….(hmm)

    Cannot possibly agree with this quoted generalization: “Godlessness is always the first step towards tyranny and oppression!”

    Always? Don’t think so, though some of the intellectual heavyweights here could arbitrate.

  12. Alan Nosworthy

    It is Dave Allens closing line
    “and may your god go with you”
    that is most appropriate.
    The arguments pro and con of private schooling are largely those for and against P.H.I. and private hospitals.The issue of religious indoctrination is similar to the coverage of chiropractic and naturopathy in certain insurances.
    The agressive work of Hitchens while cathartic does little to progress debate and serves to alienate people of genuinely held religous conviction who are not all fools.These people would be useful allies against those who feign religiosity to further ulterior motives.

  13. Matters Not


    is no scientific evidence either way

    Indeed! But surely the onus of proof lies with those who make a claim (any claim – one would hope)). If you were asked to disapprove the existence of Santa Claus, you’d probably laugh. As for the tooth fairy …

    Here’s a link – for those who might need one.


    But if you believe – you probably will.

  14. Ken

    Brian, I totally agree it’s time to confront religion as a man-made concept. Keep up the good work. Ken

  15. New England Cocky

    @Dana: This is the same argument used by Archbishop Mannix to bluff the then Menzies LcP government into funding Roman schools from the public purse. There is a very simple solution; declare an emergency and take charge of all the private school premises until the emergency is over.

  16. Dr Tristan Ewins

    treating faith as a ‘mental illness’ could be a precursor to suppression into the future. Just respect people’s personal choices as a matter of liberal rights. And again: I agree the government shouldn’t be funding privilege via the private schooling system.

  17. DrakeN

    SImple, valid solution to the fable of “better” private/religious schooling.

    Actually, by being pro-active and creating more State school places ahead of defunding the private ones, the problem would be solved.

    But that is really not the problem; it is the state of religious indoctrination of Party leaders: They will not accept the fictitious nature of their beliefs.

  18. Pingback: Opinion: Society’s schizophrenia with sacred superstitions | Plain Reason

  19. Peter

    Buddhists persecute Rohingyas in Burma not Thailand……. people might call them selves multinational or multilingual but rarely multirelegious.

  20. Neil

    State funding of church schools got me into a fundamentalist church school as a kid (50 odd years ago) and it took me many years to shake off the conditioning and brainwashing I received there. I have several great nephews who are even now actually believe that god (the most unpleasant character in all fiction – to quote Dan Barker) actually created everything in six days. This anti-science is actually taught to them in school. Government funded!

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