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Tony Abbott needs Marriage Equality

By David Ayliffe

Tony Abbott needs Marriage Equality, even though he doesn’t know it. So does Corey Bernardi and so too Pauline Hanson and, believe it or not, the Australian Christian(?) Lobby. They and we need it to become a nation of greater humanity, if not a more Christian nation too.

To be clear, I’m writing this as a 63 year old eligible voter, a husband of 41 years, father, grandfather and Christian. I write appealing to the common sense of my fellow citizens, those who have not yet decided yet whether they will vote, or what they will vote in the Plebiscite that will soon arrive in our mailboxes.

Typically, Aussies pride ourselves as being “a fair go” country. Often that is true, but on a number of issues we have to recognise that we have failed miserably in giving a fair go to all and increasingly this is recognised throughout the world to our shame.

Much of the argument against Marriage Equality has come from conservative elements within Christian churches. The Australian Christian Lobby has almost exclusively campaigned on issues relating to the LGBTIQ community since its inception, and blatantly ignored other issues that demanded a Christian response. We know those issues well; consider asylum seekers, offshore detention, homelessness, and the cover up of sexual abuse of children in churches and religious institutions. Consider equal pay for women.

Their silence in these areas completely discredits the “Christian” aspect of their name for me and therefore what motivates their words and actions.

My understanding of the historical Jesus was that he was about a fair go. His treatment of women in the Gospels – at the time a whole gender that were second class citizens with no rights in marriage, divorce or survival after widowhood. A woman without a man had little opportunity to support herself other than by becoming part of what some call “the oldest profession”.

Children in that society were the same – no rights, no voice to speak up for themselves, and if their father the breadwinner left them either by death or desertion there was no provision generally for their care except where another man stepped in, be it an uncle, grandfather or older brother.  Without this the child was left begging on the streets.

Jesus treatment of lepers – cast out of the village to live ostracised from family and friends for the rest of their lives has quite a message for us. In the Gospels Jesus does the worst thing imaginable – he touches a leper. He treats him as a fellow human being. That was unthinkable.

The most Christian lives that I respect have always been those who have aligned themselves with outcasts – those wrongly judged by society as not being equal to the rest of “us”. The Salvation Army was started to do just that and at its best continues to do so. The same can be said of other churches and denominations as they have provided for the poor and included the refuse of society as part of their own.

Churches and Christians are at their worst when they stand in judgement on society, when people moralise sitting as it were on high and looking down on those around them.

Yesterday I met an elderly man Jim, in a nursing home. Jim is in his 80s and is still grieving the passing of his lifelong male partner Stephen. As Jim talks about life with Stephen I can’t help comparing his relationship to that of my 41 year marriage to my wife Meg. There are so many similarities and all of them centre around two words “love” and “commitment”.

There are also, little differences. The difficulties and joys of sharing lives together. The fact that you each get to know the other so intimately and yet still never completely. His love and his grief no different to that of other male friends of mine who have recently lost their wives. Love is love is love.

There is a big difference though. As valuable as the relationship between Jim and Stephen remained over 50 years, it was never recognised by society in the way that my relationship with that of my wife Meg.

In our society for all those 50 years Jim and Stephen were second class citizens. Modern day lepers, their relationship never legally acknowledged or to be touched by the official world around them.

“So what,” you say?  I hope you don’t.

A Christian – or rather truly human – response in a secular society of people with many faiths and no faith at all, would be to secure equality before the law for all. That would be a fair go.

Consider Jim and Stephen’s situation as compared to married couples.

I am a Marriage Celebrant, so yes I stand to benefit if there is a change in the law but that is not why I’m for Marriage Equality. I support it because it is the right thing to do and in my view, clearly a Christian response.

Many years before I decided to become a celebrant I started campaigning for marriage equality.

When Meg and I married in St Michael’s Anglican Church Surry Hills Sydney on July 31 1976 our union was immediately recognised under Australian law.

As you read the following please remember Jim and Stephen enjoyed none of the following that Meg and I enjoyed, with serious consequences.

The moment the Minister pronounced us Man and Wife we enjoyed:

  • Equal protection under law
  • Next-of-kin status – should either of us have ended up on life support that afternoon after being run over by a bus, the spouse would have had the determining right as to what would happen in treatment of the other to the point of termination
  • Immediate property and inheritance rights – should I have suddenly that day inherited a $1,000,000 my wife would have immediate property and inheritance rights
  • Benefits and Insurances (and today, Superannuation rights as well in the event of death)
  • Our legal marriage could not be denied by our blood relations
  • Our Marriage was a sworn, binding contract that could only be broken in a court of Family Law
  • Our Marriage was instantly understood in every country of the world.

The legal protective aspects of marriage are not achieved through the religious ceremony but through the secular aspects of the ceremony affirmed by Act of Parliament. Changing the law is about that secular legally binding ceremony. If some religions decide to change their definition of marriage, so be it. If they don’t, more’s the pity, but it is their right.

Denying Jim and Stephen legal recognition of their union in marriage meant that they had to every three years confirm their wish that superannuation be inherited by their life partner. Had that been overlooked nearest of kin would have inherited. It meant that should they not have applicable Power of Attorney that estranged family members had a right over the life partner in determining medical treatment in hospital including when to turn off life support. It meant that the life partner could even be denied access to the bedside vigil should a close family member determine so, and so on.

In short, Australia’s lack of legal recognition of loving and committed relationships that were not heterosexual marriage has treated a whole section of our society as lepers not worthy of being included by the rest of us and second class citizens.

When you receive your postal vote please don’t disregard it, but Vote Yes for a change in the Act. It is not only the right thing to do but in my view it is the Christian thing to do.

It’s too late for Jim, but not for many others who continue to suffer because we, as a nation, cast them out.


83 comments

  1. Bob Kavanagh

    Beautifully put David. The logic of the argument for yes is irrefutable on any grounds other than predjudice or ignorance.

  2. Kaye Lee

    It’s not just the marriage ceremony that is important in this case. It is the acceptance by society as equals. It is an end to discrimination and a step forward in addressing the mental health issues that exclusion causes, exclusion that implies (or outright says) you are not normal.

    If marriage is about love, vote yes.

    If you care about children, vote yes.

    If you see value in the support and security offered by a monogamous marital relationship, vote yes.

  3. sandrasearle

    Here,here. Thanks David for great article. As a 70+ straight woman, my husband and I will definitely be voting yes. We want to see that all people of whatever group whether it be straight de facto or LGBT have the same protections as we do. Love and commitment in a union would make our world a much better place for us to live in.

  4. Miriam English

    Thanks David. I hope as many people as possible read your article.

  5. diannaart

    Thanks David,

    Sad that the ones who need to read your well reasoned essay remain too locked in their beliefs to ever consider whether they are actually Christians – the Tony Abbotts, the many Catholic priests (the known and unknown), a doctor I attended when I was very young and soundly lectured on “proper” behaviour for a young woman…

  6. Eldon Tyrell

    What a beautiful, moving piece.

    Could I suggest you change both the headline and picture – it doesn’t capture the story. More people will share it I think, and such a great piece of writing deserves better.

  7. Peter

    Compassionately put, and yes, it demands a Christian response, but while Jesus would also love Jim and Stephen as people, He would never condone their same sex relationship, as it is against His created order.
    While Jesus never mentioned homosexuality per se, He did say that he didn’t come to overthrow the (Old Testament) law, but to establish it more fully, in peoples’ hearts.
    So all Christians are called to love all people unconditionally, but that does NOT mean we are to condone what God has identified as sin, firstly within our own lives, and secondly in the lives of others. Not to judge them, but not to approve of their sin either.
    You have every right not to agree with this, but to say that Jesus would vote yes is an extreme aberration and utterly untrue from the evidence of scripture.

  8. Roswell

    Thoroughly enjoyable, David. Written with passion.

    And for what it’s worth, the title and the picture didn’t bother me. I think it was simple enough to link them all together. Besides, it was refreshing to see something different.

    And the more I think about it, the more appealing they are.

  9. Kaye Lee

    Peter.

    I do not believe you can possibly know what Jesus would have said. I do not believe you are in a position to determine what is sinful. You say you should not judge but that is exactly what you are doing. You have decided that same sex love is sinful. Why?

  10. Miriam English

    Peter, do you cut your hair? If so, you’re in big trouble. And I hope for your sake that you haven’t shaved your beard off, or even trimmed it. That’s condemned in the Old Testament.

    Do you have any defects? You’re not permitted to approach the altar, or probably even in church.

    Do you wear cotton polyester blends? Wool blend? Oops. That’s an abomination.

    Do you eat shellfish? Calimari is a kind of shellfish? Another abomination.

    Do you eat any fat? That’s banned in Leviticus.

    I hope you never eat black pudding. That’s banned too.

    Do you like bacon? Pork? Ham? All banned in Leviticus.

    I hope you’ve never eaten dog or snake or lizard. They’re all banned too.

    If you own a business I hope you pay your staff daily, because Leviticus forbids you to hold back their wages overnight.

    God disapproves of inbreeding in humans, but strangely requires it in animals.

    I’m sure you know that you’re forbidden from eating fruit from a tree within 4 years of planting. But considering we can’t know when the fruit in supermarkets has been picked it’s best to never buy fruit again.

    If you’re a priest then don’t ever enter any funeral homes. Totally forbidden.

    Have you ever sold land? Oops. Forbidden.

    You have to be careful about the calendar too, and not just for making an effort on the Sabbath (that’s punishable by death), but also because you can’t go to church for 33 days after the birth of a baby boy, or 66 days after a baby girl!

    Have you considered selling your daughter into slavery? That’s okay. In fact the Bible gives an outline of how to do so. Strangely, you can sell foreigners into slavery, but are compelled to treat them as if they’re native-born — a bit of a contradiction. No worries there’s more than 200 clear contradictions in the Bible that I know of, so we’ll ignore that one like you do all the other inconvenient things in the Bible, right Peter?

    So tell me again how homosexuality is to be condemned, but you’re happy to turn a blind eye to all these other things.

  11. Kaye Lee

    Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

  12. Roswell

    Miriam.

    Best. Comment. Ever.

  13. Carol Taylor

    Miriam, isn’t there also something about God being the only judge and who are we in our ego to pretend to know His will?

  14. Miriam English

    Carol, yeah. 🙂 That comes up a few times if I remember rightly. My favorite is Matthew 7:1-3

    7:1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.

    7:2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

    7:3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

    7:4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

    7:5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

  15. Kaye Lee

    John 4: 18-20 .

    18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts fear out, because fear restrains us. Indeed, the one who is fearful has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love, because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and yet is hating his brother, he is a liar. For the one who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

  16. Michael Taylor

    Peter is going to have his hands full if he dares to take on you ladies. 😎

  17. Kaye Lee

    The bible is great like that…see your quote and raise you 😉

  18. Kaye Lee

    We used to own the pub in my local town and donated the sherry for communion. Apparently that was really bad

    Leviticus 10:9 “Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die.”

    Another rather harsh one….

    Deuteronomy 23:1 “A man whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off may never join the assembly of the Lord.”

    I put this next one in the “how much for the little girl” category

    Deuteronomy 22:28-29
    If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

  19. Kaye Lee

    There are Christians like David who bring the message of love and acceptance, and there are Christians like Peter who seek justification in the bible for their prejudice.

  20. Miriam English

    Kaye, I’d forgotten about communion wine being forbidden. I mean, I knew alcohol was forbidden in church, but forgot that all Catholic churches ignore it. Death penalty too, so it’s not one of the little sins like being gay.

    Yeah, the one about the rapist marrying the victim is a “you broke it, you bought it” kind of law. Of course, it never sees how deeply horrific and unfair it is for the girl. [shudder]

    I’d also forgotten something in my comment about the Bible instructing men not to cut their hair, including their beards: I should have noted that Paul the nutter said that men should have short hair because long hair is unnatural and disgraceful. (He’d been hanging around the Romans too long.) Just another in the many contradictions in the Bible.

    The Nobel-winning physicist, Steven Weinberg, said, “Religion[…] With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”
    I think that’s one of the most perceptive comments ever made about religion. It applies to any dogma, really.

  21. Miriam English

    Kaye, I couldn’t get your description “how much for the little girl” out of my head. I found where I keep hearing it from — John Belushi’s voice.
    The Blues Brothers — that classic restaurant scene.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDXYzUlv0S8
    It never hit me that it could be seen as a jab at religion and how it always condones selling women.

  22. Kaye Lee

    Yes I’m a Blues Brothers fan.

  23. Peter

    Kaye Lee, I do not presume anything as you incorrectly put it. I can simply read and comprehend.
    Jesus said the whole of the Law is summed up as this, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself”. Loving your neighbour does not mean you have to love everything they do in and with their lives.
    Jesus did not mention homosexuality per se, but he did reaffirm God’s intention for marriage as being between one man and one woman.
    Miriam, you’ve obviously never read in the New Testament, “What God has made clean, do not call unclean”. Your examples are incorrect.
    And to both you ladies, I am not judging anyone, I am merely stating what God has said through His word.
    If you don’t like it, take it up with Him, not me.

  24. diannaart

    Peter

    I see you found an article from way back in 2015 in the Jewish news to support your unfounded paedophilia claim.

    Abuse of children remains and will remain a criminal offence. Most paedophiles are heterosexual BTW.

    Now what were you saying about love thy neighbour… or was that someone else?

  25. Möbius Ecko

    Peter. Now that it’s 2017, 2 years since that piece you linked to, did those paedophiles asking for the same rights as homosexuals get them?

    No they didn’t. So the slippery slope argument fails in the first instance.

  26. Harquebus

    Religion is bullshit and so are its arguments.

  27. Kaye Lee

    I think Benjamin Law’s tweet was horrible and I am very disappointed in him. As has been pointed out, you have shown no proof for the slippery slope argument, yet there is plenty of proof of how marriage equality has a positive effect on kids – both the children of same sex couples and same-sex attracted kids.

    You can’t suggest we must adhere to things written in the bible whilst rejecting the whacko stuff we pointed out. Surely you don’t think that people thousands of years ago should be setting the laws for today? If it’s the word of god then the whole thing is the word of god including the bits about a child marrying her rapist and the prohibition against eating oysters, in which case, god and I will have to disagree.

  28. Miriam English

    Peter, in what way are my examples incorrect? They come from the Bible. I am merely stating what God has said through His word. If you don’t like it, take it up with Him.

  29. Miriam English

    I’m disappointed in Benjamin Law. He played right into the hands of the anti-gay loons. That was really stupid of him. While it isn’t as bad as the worst things the anti-gay people are saying, it was nevertheless wrong.

    We need to be not just a little better than them, we have to be scrupulously honest and above-board. They will go low with their lies and emotional blackmail — that can be relied upon.

    We need the difference between them and us to be as clear as night and day.

  30. Matt

    Peter,

    Wasn’t there something about throwing pearls before swine?.

    Matt

  31. Kaye Lee

    “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11)

  32. Kaye Lee

    I think the gist of the pearls and swines verse was that you shouldn’t thrust your beliefs on others.

    “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town” (Matthew 10:14).

  33. jimhaz

    [The moment the Minister pronounced us Man and Wife we enjoyed: ]

    X, Y, Z

    Glad you listed those things. I’ve never bothered to find out what else SSM might provide other than a recognition of acceptance.

  34. Ria Young

    Where in the Bible, both old and new testaments, are the parts written by God, and Jesus? I know we have Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. All parts were written by men, it is full of contradiction, and is the reason why we have so many different religions that pick out what they do or don’t want, and build a religion around that, conveniently disregarding any parts that don’t suit their purpose.

  35. Miriam English

    Yep, we can certainly use the Bible as a guide to morality. It contains all sorts of useful things, such as instructions on how to beat your slave, who it is okay to sell into slavery, when it is acceptable to murder your wife, how to slaughter animals for God’s pleasure and which entrails he prefers you to burn. It even gives a very handy rationalisation for genocide.

    I’m sorry. I much prefer the morality conferred by the wisdom of knowledge, empathy, and modern civilisation. Now we know it is immoral to enslave other people. Now we know women deserve the same rights as men. Now we know children have rights. Now we know animals have rights. Goodness me! We even know that gay people are born that way, so it can’t possibly be a sin, and that they deserve full human rights too!

    If you look around the world, morality works exactly the opposite to how you’d expect if there was a God. It is fascinating that where Christianity is strongest, morality is worst. Where society is more secular, people are more moral. Murder is most common in the more Christian nations, and least common in the most atheist nations. This is so for a whole slew of social ills. Gregory Paul examined statistics from all over the world and the results are damning for religion.

    Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies
    http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.pdf

    You can see this working in Australia too, where the most religious people are happy to deny full human rights to gay people whereas non-religious people are overwhelmingly in favor of equality.

  36. Kaye Lee

    “What God has made clean, do not call unclean”

    Leviticus 18-20:

    18 If a man lies with a woman so that there is a seminal emission, they shall both bathe in water and be unclean until evening. 19 When a woman has a discharge, if her discharge in her body is blood, she shall continue in her menstrual impurity for seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. 20 Everything also on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean, and everything on which she sits shall be unclean.…

    Let’s face it, the church has always had enormous hangups

  37. Michael Taylor

    And to both you ladies, I am not judging anyone, I am merely stating what God has said through His word.

    Please do tell me, Peter, who God told that to.

  38. Michael Taylor

    Religion is bullshit and so are its arguments.

    Harquebus, I am enthralled with the debate unfolding here. I see it as logic versus the illogical.

    Don’t be so quick to turn your nose up to it.

  39. paul walter

    Thoroughly enjoying Kaye Lee, are you the only one here who gets nuance? But ignore the OT, it is pretty much tribal stuff.

    Peter has a point but is himself unconsciously doctrinaire, perhaps this masks an unChristian unconscious reaction toward gay people?. But Miriam, why such an (equally?) intolerant response to Peter?

    Now, Harquebus’ response is blind subjective to the point of meaninglessness, too reactive and flat earther-ish.

    An educated response would have that been religion is probably bullshit, which makes such issues more amenable to contextive ethnological, psychological and sociological investigation as well as philosophical consideration.

  40. Miriam English

    Peter said, rather enigmatically, “What God has made clean, do not call unclean.”

    This is a reference to a story in the Bible when Saint Peter had a vision (a dream — he’d fallen asleep) in which he saw a sheet holding a lot of animals lowered down to him from above. A voice spoke to him telling him to kill the animals and eat them, but he protested that they were forbidden food animals. The voice assured him that “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” This happened 3 times and then he woke. He later mentions the vision to Cornelius, saying “God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean”.

    Nobody’s really certain what this story is about. There’s disagreement among theologians. Some say it was God telling Saint Peter that the dietary restrictions are lifted and all things are now okay to eat. Other theologians think it just applies to people — that no man is unclean (could he be referring to prejudice, for example against gays?).

    See, this is why it’s so dangerous to try to get your moral direction from a book that uses enigmatic dreams, superstitions, and parables as a guide.

    Julia Sweeney said it well in her wonderful monologue Letting Go of God:

    Jesus says that he speaks in parables because the people, they just don’t understand anything else. But the parables are often foggy and meaningless. And Jesus is snippy when even the disciples don’t get them. He says to them, “If you don’t understand this parable, then how can you understand any parable?” And “Are you incapable of understanding?” I kept thinking, “Don’t teach in parables then. It’s not working! Even your staff doesn’t understand them! Why don’t you just say what you mean?”

    That’s why there are more than 800 versions of Christianity now. Each version thinks it’s the only one that’s right. They all insist they’re interpreting the Bible correctly and all the others are wrong.

    What really bothers me about this is that any half-competent lawyer can write a document that can’t be misinterpreted… yet the all-powerful creator of the universe can’t???

    (By the way, I heartily recommend watching Julia Sweeney’s humorous, bittersweet, touching story of her journey away from religion. She has such patience and affection for religious people, yet such a gentle and clarifying wit. It is 2 hours very well spent. Here is the address again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiU5ht5W_lk )

  41. Miriam English

    paul walter, you think my response to Peter is intolerant? I’m puzzled. I thought I was being very fair and indulgent. (That’s not intended as a smart-arse retort — I genuinely am puzzled.)

  42. paul walter

    Why am I thinking of Galileo’s “Dailogue” and Simplicios?
    I felt your comment, 9.41, really missed the point as to what Peter was saying, as an explanation for his viewpoint. He likely sees many behaviours as self indulgent and selfish and to be opposed for that. And no, I am not saying the viewpoint is my own. Kaye Lee dealt well enough as to a critique of finger pointing as self indulgence without needing to commit as to her own beliefs one way or the other.

    And it is not to say I favour Pete’s comment. He may believe something, but that does not make it true and I think the tone of his writing indicates that this may not have occurred to him. It does reverse the obligation to prove a point behind the excuse that (his) God said so, but is that really much use?

    Harquebus likely makes the same mistake. He believes religion is bullshit and may well be right, but where is his ultimate evidence, or any evidence at all.?

    Without it, it becomes an absurd proposition, which is a shame since much of many religions would be just that- bullshit.

  43. paul walter

    Shit pushed button at wrong time….Galileo’s “Dialogue” repudiation of the Pope and Papal doctrine relative to Heliocentricity. Nearly got scrunched for espousing Copernicus.

  44. Miriam English

    What I was trying to do is to show that he’s mistaken to rely upon the Bible for his belief that gays are bad. How can he believe that gays are an abomination when he has no problem with many, many other things that it condemns?

    Perhaps you think I made it too pointed and personal… I was trying for something that brought it home and made it real.

    I don’t think Peter was decrying homosexuality for being self-indulgent and selfish. I think he genuinely believes it’s an abomination — a sin… because the Bible says so. But he’s somehow able to cut his hair and shave, wear blended fabrics, and do many of the other things forbidden by the Bible, some even with death penalty attached.

    The religious mind is strange the way it can pick and choose from holy books, ignoring the horrible, the ridiculous, and offensive, only taking in the things that confirm their own prejudices.

  45. Roswell

    And there I was thinking Miriam’s responses were not just outstanding, but intelligent and civil.

    I still think that.

  46. Kaye Lee

    Father Frank Brennan was just on Lateline and he made exactly the same point Miriam about how wrong it would be to think that the Bible can be used as a basis for modern civil law because it says a whole heap of stuff like the examples we have been giving. For the record, Father Brennan will be voting yes.

  47. Miriam English

    paul walter, you ask about Harquebus’ evidence.

    The best evidence that religion is wrong is religion itself.

    If you use logic against religion, the believer sooner or later falls back on the argument that you can’t prove God with logic; you need faith.

    The trouble with that is that there are thousands of religions. Believers of every religion say faith is not sufficient for all the others. All the different Christianity variants do this too. In effect they all disprove each other because they all say that faith is not enough. It becomes particularly clear when you view fake religions like Scientology and Mormon, both begun by con-artists. They say the same thing.

    One of my favorite ways to see that religion is wrong is to ask what the world would be like if God did exist.

    We’d see societies with high proportions of religious people being the most peaceful and moral in the world, and secular societies crumbling into iniquity.

    But we see the exact opposite.

    Where religion prevails, immorality and social ills are much more common than where secular values rule.

    And look at religious people themselves. The strongly religious people are hateful and intolerant and disregard other people’s pain with what amounts to psychopathy. Moderates are generally nice, well-meaning people, but even they use their religion to justify and reinforce their prejudices and, in doing that, give strength to the extremists.

    All this makes the notion of a loving God absurd. A scary, crazy God, though… maybe.

  48. paul walter

    Ahhhh noooo, Miriam, you’ve misread me. I am basically AGREEING with you.

    Gee, maybe I should go away for a while, maybe hit the bottle after all these years, having finally accepted the inevitable failure of all efforts to develop a mind intractably not amenable to improvement, regardless of source. My writing skills still appear to fail dismally.

    Kaye Lee, what you say is what I failed to say clearly enough, that any given religion is based on a metaphysics that can only be speculative but unprovable unless it be part of a process as yet incomplete. Peter could be, but is not necessarily, harbouring under a delusion involving “belief”, but this would only be a judgement based on a speculative reading of his comments.

    Five in the morning. Glances sadly at four walls, crushed. Determines to return to bed, go back to sleep and perhaps wake up again:.. it will all look different, perhaps. Pfffftt!

    No unicorns here, sighs…

  49. Peter F

    As an AIDS carer during the decade of the ’90s I witnessed several occasions where the family of the deceased completely overran the rights of the surviving partner, even to the extent to stripping all property for the home without regards to ownership. The privileges granted by marriage, as mentioned above, would have prevented much heartache,

  50. Peter F

    As for the discussion of the bible’s meaning: we must remember that the assembly of the bible occurred some 300 years after Jesus was alive, and most of the books of the ‘new testament’ were written decades after the events. How many of you can remember word for word what was spoken decades ago. There are exceptions, of course : ‘Well may we say god save the queen…’, or ‘ One small step. these we remember because of our ability to replay then through modern technology.

    As for anyone believing that ‘Jesus said’, I find this to be more a reflection of the believer’s needs than anything else.

  51. Miriam English

    paul walter, no need to hit the bottle. 🙂 Your writing is fine. I did understand what you wrote. I was merely offering the evidence that you admonished Harquebus for not providing. He was blunt… perhaps rude even, but correct. I just added what he didn’t, while also recording my thoughts. I should have made it more clear why I was replying. Sorry.

  52. Harquebus

    Michael Taylor
    I hear you. I try to keep my comments short and simple these days. Less chance of misinterpretation.

    Miriam English
    “I much prefer the morality conferred by the wisdom of knowledge, empathy, and modern civilisation.”
    I knew there was a reason, despite our differences, that I like you. Not so sure about the modern civilisation part though.

    I don’t think that being tolerant of religion is the way to go. In my opinion, we should be attacking (not physically), denigrating and humiliating its practitioners at every opportunity. You are not going to win a logical argument with the religious who, are all gullible fools, except for the kids. They are victims of psychological child abuse. Adults should know better and if they don’t then, they do not deserve any respect.

  53. Matt

    Look this argument about the provability of God is one I have had here before, if you really believe in only what you can experience with your outer senses, then can you believe in love, sadness, depression – all these things are inner feelings? – and that is what religious feeling is. There is plenty of room to argue about what Jesus said – we have to rely on witnesses accounts, he only ever wrote one thing – in the sand. The only account of what Jesus said that is given by a geniune eye-witness, is the gospel of John – that should be ultimate source of truth in Christianity (Matthew’s gospel was written by another Matthew, based on witness statements later) – the old testatment cannot be relied on, as Jesus explains he came to correct the errors of thinking of the partriachs.

    In any case, there is a saying among Christians that one should rely on the spirit of God’s word rather than the letter- as God is a spirit of love, and speaks most clearly through the heart of those who have come close to Him, the letter is just to get you started on that path. i.e:

    2 Corinthians 3:6, “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”

    Miriam, let me just put forward the possibility that if there is evil in the world, there is surely good- He is the good. Also consider that if there are evil forces seeking to corrupt mankind, surely the centre of the fight would Christian communities and Christian people? That may well explain:

    ” It is fascinating that where Christianity is strongest, morality is worst.” – if such a statement could even ever be proven.

    For my discussion on proving God, the understanding of the bible and the old testament please see here (as I have posted before):

    http://www.candobetter.net/node/3778

    Perhaps if you know nothing of religious experience and feeling you would better to declare your ignorance of it rather than your expertise in it?

    I want to add, that you have no idea of the hidden forces at work in the world, I have experienced them first hand- they are terrifying and powerful.

    Matt

  54. Miriam English

    Peter F, heartbreaking. How much better the law could be if it matched morality and was not corrupted by religion.

    As for the record of Jesus, there is actually very good reason to think he never actually existed. There is absolutely no independent record of Jesus, nor of many of the events that supposedly took place. The legend of a prophet/teacher being born of a virgin, leading 12 disciples, performing miracles, walking on water, raising from the dead a guy with a name very similar to “Lazarus”, being killed, and returning 3 days later to then go on to join the god(s) — that legend occurred a number times before in the historical record, hundreds of years earlier. It is a persistent myth.

    Perhaps it recrystallised around an actual guy that last time. There were apparently many revolutionaries around then, most preaching violent overthrow of the Roman occupiers, perhaps one who spoke of peace and love captured the popular imagination. And then, when the church demanded the Romans kill him, perhaps it was so crushing that the old myth gained new life, as people grasped for hope in the face of such cruelty.

    Well put, that what people take from the Bible is a reflection of themselves. The Bible is a Rorschach test.

  55. Kaye Lee

    If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

    And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

    No mention of penises and vaginas, but a call to hope and persevere in the name of love.

  56. Miriam English

    Matt, thanks for the reply.

    Certainly, I understand emotions exist. They are independently provable.

    We definitely have emotions. They can be scientifically measured now. This is important because without emotions we would have no motivation to do anything. (I chuckle when I see humanlike machines in popular science fiction portrayed as having no emotion.) We can see different emotions happening in the brain as they happen. That includes religious experience, which is localised in the temporal lobe on, I think, the left side.

    They are also extremely fallible. Have you ever had one of those days when you felt unaccountably sad, or a day when you remain bright and happy despite everything seeming to go wrong? How about the times when you felt slighted by someone even though you knew they never truly said anything wrong?

    The reason why science is so powerful, and why it has been so successful at understanding the world is that it has developed a number of very useful cognitive tools to prevent emotion, prejudice, and bias from misleading us and corrupting information.

    Emotion is wonderful. It is motivation, but we are very bad at separating it from what we learn because of the way we evolved.

    Matt, you may be surprised to learn that I actually do encourage religious experience in myself.

    Almost every day I ponder the vastness of space — the 100 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy, and the 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe.

    I watch the ants in and around the house I live in, and how each is a tiny, busy mind hurrying about its day, with some limited awareness of its surroundings, and in all likelihood a simple consciousness (this is why I can’t bear to kill ants).

    I see in the leaves of the trees billions of microscopic photosynthetic factories quietly assembling sugars from carbon dioxide and water, and I see the water and minerals being drawn up from the ground from the roots through the xylem tissues and other water and nutrients descending in the phloem tissues.

    I look into my doggy companion’s eyes and see a mind very like mine, with personality, bright consciousness and emotions. I tingle when she is happy and I’m so sad when she is depressed after leaving her playmates at my parents’ place.

    I watch the parrots at the bird feeder that I fill every day, how each bird is different, and how there is an impressive intelligence behind their eyes, minds near to rivaling our own. And I look at the world through their eyes, seeing the much roomier landscape they inhabit, being able to wander among the branches of the tall trees here instead being bound to the much smaller surface of the ground.

    I try to bend my mind around how gravity, electromagnetic fields, the and strong and weak forces work and how they might be natural outgrowths of a single mathematical formula.

    I marvel that our brains, which evolved gathering food on ancient shores of rivers and seas (not the savanna), have the ability to so manipulate symbols that I can write long computer programs that actually do wonderful things.

    Oh! And our marvellous computers! We have learned how to chain together billions of tiny switches so that their cascading actions can generate beautiful music, display movies, and let us communicate with friends on the other side of the planet. Because I grew up as a child during the early days of computing I understand how those switches work and I ride on a wave of pure joy perceiving their astoundingly complex patterns of interaction.

    I love the way our minds have evolved to be superlative pattern-matching devices. I’m enthralled by the ways that works and fascinated by how it goes wrong.

    I gain great joy from all this contemplation. It delivers mind-bursting euphoria and peace. It makes me one of the happiest people I know of. So, yes, I understand the value of religious experience, but like all emotion it has to be seen for what it is: despite its great value as our basic motivator, it is highly flawed and liable to error because of the environment it evolved in.

  57. Matt

    Miriam,

    That is all good – and I would not denigrate that experience at all – I too take pleasure in the works of creation. But actually, I think a far deeper religious experience is inside us, it comes from looking inward, not outward.

    I have had a long interest in consciousness (even before I became a Christian) I did much reading and research on the issue – my PhD was in artificial intelligence, driven by this interest I built a system that could learn, and it surprised me what it could learn and the solutions it came up with. However, I came to realise two things – firstly how incredibly complex learning and understanding is – and despite all the modern tricks of AI, we are really far from anything like a human brain and human understanding – what we are used to seeing in AI is really more an Eliza Effect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ELIZA_effect). I would ague that what our instruments may pick up of emotions in the brain is one of their effects, and no doubt evidence of their presence, but not the ‘I” that is experiencing that emotion. I am convinced we will never produce a machine that experiences emotions as humans do, and I have seen no evidence in any literature that such a thing is possible, beyond science fiction fantasy.

    And I am not alone in this belief, Roger Penrose as one of the leading experts in the field questions whether consciousness can be realised on a computation framework as we understand it: http://nautil.us/issue/47/consciousness/roger-penrose-on-why-consciousness-does-not-compute

    Matt

  58. Miriam English

    You would think that religious people would be the most avid students of the natural world, after all, to their way of thinking, that is the direct hand of God, whereas the holy books are written by men and as such, are flawed. But the stronger a person’s religion, the more they turn away from the real world, denying evolution, and psychology, and stunting their understanding of sexuality.

    It is depressing.

  59. Miriam English

    Matt, it’s unfortunate that you cite Roger Penrose. He is not an expert in AI or psychology. He should stick with mathematics, where he truly is an expert. He is definitely wrong about consciousness.

    As for AI, there are a few different kinds.
    – Chatbots are brilliant examples of programming that use the rules of language to construct something that looks like meaningful conversation.
    – Expert systems are basically databases with cool programming to let them compare and match information.
    – Neural nets mimic some of the architecture of the brain.

    I’m quite confident that the first two will never achieve consciousness. However I think it’s almost guaranteed that we will eventually create a neural net that is conscious. Numenta has been achieving very cool things, though they’re still a fair way off from creating a conscious mind.

    Language processors (chatbots) and expert systems will always be useful in the same way a calculator is useful. They don’t need anybody to be “home”.

    But there is great value in consciousness. It appears to be a shortcut that evolved to let an animal do more with less brain. That’s very useful because brains are very costly of energy to run (about a third of our calories power our brains). There is a lot of evidence that all animals with brains have consciousness, even insects. In a similar way, consciousness will be useful for some (not all) of our machines to let them be more efficient.

    [I should note that there are two distinct ways people use the term consciousness. One is for the feeling of being here, now, experiencing the world around me, feeling happy, sad, pain, anger. The other describes a mind that watches itself. The consciousness I’m discussing above is the first kind. It hasn’t (as far as I know) been built yet, though I’m certain we will, and as we build more and more complex AIs I think we will eventually create the second one too.]

  60. Harquebus

    Miriam English
    Your comment September 12, 2017 at 8:21 am
    That is one of the best comments that I have read coming from you. Well done!
    I also ponder about the same things in pretty much the same way. Another reason why I can help but like you.

    “Animals have their instinct; we don’t have that luxury because our brain is in the way.” — Davy

  61. diannaart

    @ Miriam you are tireless, patient beyond mortal ken and very succinct in expression.

    @ Paul Walter, you swoop in, spread wide your pinions, pronounce judgement and having opined fly off. Perhaps your writing skills could be put to good use in contributing to the topic. 🙂

    @ Harquebus, if you so enjoy Miriam’s work, why do you continue to so determinedly dismiss most everything she says – maybe she is a little bit right about some things and, maybe, you’re a little bit wrong.

    Oh dear, I have also fallen prey to the very human flaw of judgement, I need to soar high and return when feeling less discombobulated.

    Apologies, dear AIMers.

  62. paul walter

    Yes. How can we soar like eagles when we have have walk with turkeys?

  63. paul walter

    My mere presence is a contribution to the topic.

  64. Johno

    Harquebus
    “Animals have their instinct; we don’t have that luxury because our brain is in the way.” — Davy

    Or, could it be our ego is in the way ?

  65. paul walter

    Yes, am glad you have observed my, eh, peregrinations (as in raptor). Soars like an eagle, busts gooses…

  66. paul walter

    Did you watch the repeat of “Underground” on the ABC last night, with Anthony LaPaglia and Rachel Griffith, about Julian Assange?

    Learn anything?

  67. diannaart

    Paul

    For pinion spreading, I confess to recalling the cockatoo mafia which attempted to intimidate me after spying my relationship with a local pair of King Parrots – these cockatoos would tear chunks from my veranda rails and spread their wings – up 20 parrots arrived together sometimes. I never expected the cockatoo mafia.

    I stopped putting out wild bird feed, I wish I could explain to the friendly and delightful King Parrots it wasn’t personal, it was the white mafia.

    If your media question was me for – I did not watch “Underground”. Does that mean I have failed again to learn something your worthiness deems I should know?

  68. Miriam English

    jimhaz, wow! That’s a great article. In it he covers a lot more than the dozen or so indicators of social ills in the first paper. He goes on to add statistics on divorce, alcoholism, unemployment, poverty, and more.

    Almost every social ill which religion presents itself as a cure for, it actually worsens. I wish religious people could see that. But they refuse to. They still think religion is the center of morality. Even pointing out the obvious connection of religion to slavery — one of the most evil things humans have done — how the Bible promoted slavery and how secular society rid us of it… even that doesn’t seem to break its spell on them.

    Anybody who doesn’t want to read the article(s) might want to listen to Phillip Adams interviewing Gregory Paul some years back on Radio National: http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/2005/10/lnl_20051004.mp3

  69. paul walter

    Yes, as usual.

  70. Miriam English

    Here is another wonderfully hilarious Julia Sweeney monologue. In this one she tells how she was asked by her young daughter about sex. It begins with frogs, but moves inexorably onward to more uncomfortable aspects. It’s only about 10 minutes long.

    Julia Sweeney has a genius for turning personal anecdotes into great comedy.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R008tfWzch0

  71. diannaart

    Miriam

    Thank you for Julia Sweeney link, much appreciated.

  72. Miriam English

    No worries, Dianna. I love her humor.
    This one touches very briefly on same-sex relationships near the end of the monologue, so is slightly relevant to the topic of the above article.

  73. diannaart

    Miriam

    I have never heard of Julia Sweeney before, am now a fan. As for relevance to topic, totally relevant. I wonder how much pain and suffering would be spared humans if we just left our eggs in a pond for a male to, um, ejaculate over, while female holds after-party with her gal pals in the swamp.

  74. Möbius Ecko

    diannaart. Futurama; Amy Wong and Kif Kroker

  75. diannaart

    Möbius Ecko

    Exactly, Futurama is really way more clever than Simpsons – not that I am dissing the Simpsons.

  76. Möbius Ecko

    Though it was Kif, who got pregnant. Forgot about that, so not really relevant to your analogy. Sorry about that.

    Yes Futurama is clever.

  77. diannaart

    Möbius Ecko

    🙂 – yeah, true, Kif did the male seahorse thang.

    Back to the pond.

  78. corvus boreus

    Matt (7:00am, 12/9),
    Non-belief in the Abarahamic deity (ie; the bloodthirsty humanoid male solo-god of the bible) does not automatically preclude basic belief, or even open-mindedness, in metaphysical or theological concepts.
    You should not assume that those who shun to prostrate themselves before your ‘Yahweh’ do so through a lack of personal revelation regarding divinity or morality, for many of us, whilst happy to pray to the greater silence for spiritual guidance, seek no counsel from a voice that has reputedly demanded the mass–murder and enslavement of innocent children.
    Just as I do not need to be a literal re-incarnationist to see wisdom in some of Siddhartha Gautama’s words, nor do I have to believe that divinity has a dick to see the sense in some of Jesus’ attributed words.

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