A vision for humanity, and religious tolerance … in song

I can’t embed it, but it helped wash out the bad taste from thinking of people in Mexico being thrilled to host PZ Myers as a guest in their city … 

 

Livin’ in a city of immigrants
I don’t need to go travelin’
Open my door and the world walks in
Livin’ in a city of immigrants 
Livin’ in a city that never sleeps
My heart keepin’ time to a thousand beats
Singin’ in languages I don’t speak
Livin’ in a city of immigrants
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City of black
City of white
City of light
City of innocents
City of sweat 
City of tears
City of prayers
City of immigrants

Livin’ in a city where the dreams of men
Reach up to touch the sky and then
Tumble back down to earth again
Livin’ in a city that never quits 
Livin’ in a city where the streets are paved
With good intentions and a people’s faith 
In the sacred promise a statue made 
Livin’ in a city of immigrants 

City of stone
City of steel
City of wheels 
Constantly spinnin’ 
City of bone
City of skin
City of pain
City of immigrants

All of us are immigrants
Every daughter, every son
Everyone is everyone
All of us are immigrants – everyone
Livin’ in a city of immigrants
River flows out and the sea rolls in
Washin’ away nearly all of my sins
Livin’ in a city of immigrants 

City of black
City of white
City of light
Livin’ in a city of immigrants
City of sweat
City of tears
City of prayers
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

City of stone
City of steel
City of wheels
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

City of bone
City of skin
City of pain
City of immigrants
All of us are immigrants

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@PZMyers blocks me, then posts that Mexico is “weird” … my continuing plea for sanity

Well day two of my campaign to insist that a core value of liberal democracy is religious tolerance is making me a pariah.  

Upon questioning the merits of celebrating the “enfant terrible” of the New Atheism as some kind of revered figure, I was attacked, called a “moron” and then “blocked” … first by “activists” who formerly were eager to support the developing agenda to reform the biased RI policies in Victoria, but now by the great Atheist Himself, PZ Myers.  

Supporters and friends have told me quietly that they agree with me, but they don’t want to dampen the momentum of the “New Atheism” … which to my friends, who are too busy to weigh in, is exactly how things get out of control.  When moderates refuse to take on, and shape the extreme factions in a clique, things go wrong, “peace movements” turn to violence.    


This isn’t really surprising … but I won’t be able to get the same level of “push” on PZ’s doings.  I was really enjoying seeing what is like when a man who has spent his formative years investigating aquarium fish ventures out among, you know … people. 

Well, it turns out that he thinks, no surprise, people are “weird”.  

PZ Myers incredibly self referential cultural assessment of the poeple of Mexico:  WEIRD!

It is a good thing that Myers works with embryos and not people since … well things get pretty “weird” when you think about how people aren’t just like you.  All wonder bread, yellow mustard, flannel and holding a god dammed iphone.

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This is the epitome of arrogance, fused with ignorance and blended with a “&**()& you too, mindset.  Here he is gawking.  You can hear his acolytes laughing.  Its like he is an evangelist for mockery of the things that others feel convey meaning and some sense of purpose.  I can guarantee you if a bunch of campesinos took a break from their back breaking farm work outside his lab on the endless former prairie, they’d marvel at how weird it seemed too.  

 

http://www.youtube.com/v/BdpwKVcSfc0&hl=en_US&feature=player_embedded&version=3

I’ve been to Mexico many times, I’ve even made the pilgrimage of the El Niño Fidencio and I’ve never have I been tempted to write home and tell the folks “look how weird” things are.  

It never occurs to PZ that what he does from the perspective of others might seem equally “weird”, does it?  

It also never occurs to PZ Myers what sort of opinions people who actually work among these people, or move between our cultures think?  Do they laugh at these people?  Likely not.  I suspect that many of the people who work with farm workers who deliver PZ Myers’ fresh vegetables everyday to his nice clearn store in the ultra rational value chain of commerce that science has made possible, actually find motivation and meaning in their own religious instincts and religious beliefs.   They are, after all, people.  

The image of Myers wandering around Mexico with his fanny pack on backwards with his little hand-cam is just the epitome of “ugly american” in my mind.  His is a bleak vision of humanity, and all I can say friends is that this narrow view of things will never earn you respect or admiration.  Go ahead, celebrate this man, I never got on the tram, but you can pull the string any time and get off.     

PZ, like other forms of “cultural revolutionaries” are really just despots, of course PZ has no power, so he poses no threat, but his thinking, when fused with power should terrify us all.  

Democracy, human rights, equality under the law, religious freedom … these are not the aims of men like PZ Myers.  The freedom to crawl on your knees in an act of penitence or to pray in devotion to your image of God – is pitiable in his eyes, not something to celebrate, and woe begone, one would actually go to church or pray.  That does nothing.

No, PZ Myers knows that this “primative” and “irrational” devotion, this prayer and groveling can all be lifted … if people would just be more scientific, like him.  He does not even consider for a second, that it is their very suffering that enables his existence and life free of toil.  The word “toil” doesn’t even mean anything to him.  

Guess what PZ … people have culture and history and stories and traditions and things that are important to them … for you to waltz into their lives, film them for the sole purpose of (as you say) “ejaculating” to your internet followers that they are “weird” … is as insulting an idea as I can imagine.  

If you can’t look at the arc of your own life, and see how see how it is just another form of crawling on your knees though the Zócalo, and how the lives of these people are tied into your own, then you are a fool.  

You couldn’t have given me a better illustration of my case against your arrogant bleating.  Thank you. 

To readers who are reflective and thoughtful freethinkers (as opposed to the ones who get their back up at my observations) and wish to make a tangible difference in your culture and home, please don’t celebrate this man.  It only reflects a lack of insight into our condition here on earth, and worse, a lack political principle and compassion.    

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Should atheists celebrate PZ Myers?

This “State Religion VIC blog, has, among its readers a fair fraction of “Atheist Activists”, I know this from reading who’s following the twitter feed … and it is clear that their interest of living “free from religion” is served by the agenda we’re pursuing.  Some of the comments I’ve gotten though from people who have strong views about religion, have concerned me.

They reflect a desire to see a society not guided by “religious toleration” but one “free from religion”.  The former I consider a matter that has legal implications and involves political principle which must find expression in policy.  The latter, I view as a personal opinion, that can not and should not be advocated as public policy or law.    
Pointing out these concerns to “Atheist Activists” triggers a variety of responses from them, few of which include, “You know, the way I say things does hurt my cause by making me seem dogmatic, intolerant, and unintelligent”.  So there have been recent yelps registered against my concerns, but it has made me wonder, just what do “atheist activists” want?  <!–more–>

One can argue with others about what is true or not but within the realm of law and human rights, the question of how to arrange society according to various preferences remains.  Among people of differing opinions how we structure things so that one group’s convictions don’t trample on another’s is indeed difficult.  The general formula that exists in democratic society is some kind of “state neutrality” combined with affirmative recognition of the special status of religion as a form of human expression.  This “special status” is therefore, central to our society, yet at odds with the commitments of some atheists, who seem to be saying religion should have no special status in society.  

The name of these core freedoms in our system of law is not easily reduced to a single word—for that reason, one often hears the expression “freedom of conscience, of convictions, and of religion.” However, for brevity we speak of “religious freedom”.  “Freedom of worship” was also often used, but no longer is.  In Australia (barring the issues surrounding Aboriginal religious practices) it fell to the colonists and their English Governors to navigate these issues and create a system of policy and law.   Immediately, in the colony religious issues surfaced over whether the Catholics could worship (follow Rome) as they felt compelled by their beliefs to do.  There was also a strong “anti clerical” feeling in the colony and this came to a head over questions of how to educate and train children – which, it turns out involve the religious identity of children, and ties into core issues of the boundary between church and state.  Education policy has always been a core policy challenge in the area of “religious toleration”.     

The word “secular” was adopted in Australian education laws to separate “religious” from “non religious” ideas (the state having say over the latter, and the church over the former).  These questions were always, and still are discussed in the context of rights, what rights to conscience do people have?  Does the state have a right to compel children to attend school?  Does the state have a right to prevent church teachings?  

If you accept that a person can claim special rights regarding their “conscience” or “beliefs” , which is something dealt with in human rights law … then you are no longer talking about whether religion is good or bad, right or wrong, but rather how the rules of our institutions should be arranged in respect of these rights.  

It seems that “Atheist Activists” are not primarily interested in protecting freedom of conscience, but advocating for a system where religion does not exert any influence in law and policy.  Advocating for state neutrality in matters of religion, exposes one to the criticism by people who feel religion is bad, of being too “accommodating” toward religion, and simultaneously of being accused by religious believers as being a front for atheism.  Such is the peril of neutrality in a shooting war.   

The other day I suggested on twitter and this blog that calling the people at ACCESS Ministry “awful people” was not as useful as saying something specific about what they were doing wrong and why it was wrong.  Calling people “awful” wasn’t an objective or useful analysis of the people in question.  I also said that the “insult” could be used against the accuser.  To which I was told that the description of “awful” was perfectly accurate.  

For people who like to think of themselves as guided by reason, and the view that other other people are “wrong” about religion, and exercise their freedom to insult the things others claim are “sacred” … the litmus of deciding whether speech is appropriate seems not “how will others perceive it” or “how it would work in practice” but whether it is true.  The movie “The Invention of Lying” imagines a world like this where people only say things that are true, and have no ability to take into account other people’s feelings.  This world is then transformed when the character played by Gervais, learns how to say things to get things he wants, and most critically to help his dying mother deal with her anxiety over the unknown.     

However, turn this around on them and you see all too clearly the human emotional response.  It is hilarious how touchy they can get when their own powerful idols are under fire.  Among idols and “atheist activists” no one seems to inspire more “devotion” than PZ Myers, this is in part for his “followers” and his ability to direct eyeballs, one commenter here wrote of him:

PZ Myers is one of the highest ranking bloggers in the world. The demands on his time are onerous and he has been exceedingly generous since the Global Atheist Convention in taking up a number of Australian issues. PZ does more to disseminate arguments for reason and against religion than either you or me and to criticize him for failing to pick up on an issue *you* think is important overestimates your importance in the scheme of international atheist activism.

 I’m not sure why the commenter offset *you* that way (of course I’m representing my views??), and definitely don’t see myself as having a role in “international atheist activism”. I just want to change a few policies in Australia (which I think are very important) … and encourage others to do the same.  Those of you who are working on the international atheist program can you link me to its aims?  

Apparently though her comment was her “final word”.  I was blocked from her twitter feed and then called “twisted” and “incoherent” by PZ Myers, who took a break from his onerous duties in Mexico, to assure all the atheists in OZ that he could handle the insults I was dishing out!  Can PZ send Locusts? 

The idea that PZ Myers is “one of the highest ranked bloggers in the world” is depressing.  Kind of in the same way that Paris Hilton is one of the biggest celebrities in the world.

I find his commentary often puerile and analogous to junk food for atheists, washed down with the swill of language selected to piss off people who find meaning in the tenants of religion.  While it is empty calories it has a kind of “cultural revolution” feel to it.  

Like eating junk food a diet of PZ does affect your health.  It fills you up, but leaves you empty, or worse, convinced that you are right, religion is just “superstition”.  Like junk food filling up on it means you don’t have an appetite for good and nutritional writing.  It is no mistake that a literary talent like Christopher Hitchens did not choose to include anything from PZ Myers when he compiled “essential reading for the non believer”.  Nothing PZ Myers has said would amount to essential.  

While as a form of humor or sporting blasphemy PZ has his moments, I confess, his popularity bugs me, and, I think in the spirit of “what is good for the goose”, does “poison everything” (aw not fair!).  

I say this because PZ Myers seems oblivious to central role that religious tolerance plays in a pluralist society.  Religious tolerance involves, by necessity, some deference to the category of thought called “religion”, and on this count, the “non-accomodationist” seem a bit like prohibitionists, no amount of religion is healthy, or conducive to human welfare.  

In his eagerness to exercise his freedom to caricature and ridicule the trappings and ideas found in religion, Myers fails to be self critical and thoughtful.  Amidst the grand cathedral plazas and history of Mexico, he tweets, “more bleeding Jebi, they are everywhere”  We are not going to hear Myers reflect on why these expressions hold value for people, or what how this culture understands these things.  Ironically, the photo adjacent to this one on Myers’ “twitpic” list is a photo of a Norwegian style church, presumably taken in his home state of Minnesota.  Myers is fascinated by ecclesiastical expression, but can’t seem to accord it any “respect” and heaven forbid should he be moved by the emotional power of these things as his ancestors and fellow travlers clearly are.  That would be “irrational”.   Like Paris Hilton, his fans reward him for unreflective observations and saying undignified and provocative things.        

While I think there is a role for the “enfant terrible” in any movement  (this was my original message regarding him), it becomes ever more incomprehensible to me what the aims of the so called “atheist movement” actually are.  Unlike suffrage or civil rights or gay rights movements – where the aim is “rights”… in the west at least, atheists long since won the right to be atheists (there aren’t any laws in AU against being a non believer … right?).  It appears then that what atheists want is to be accorded some kind of “respect” in the political arena and not thought of as lacking ethical and moral seriousness because they are “non believers”.  

Given this then, what motivates Atheists to celebrate people like PZ Myers?  Is it his willingness to charge whenever someone waves a crimson robe at him?   

Is it his willingness to publicize college pranks? Myers whole m.o. is “confrontationalist” crossed with “science nerd”.  I suppose that this identity appeals to lots of people because you don’t need expensive suits, or the weight of uncertainty or self doubt to be like this, anyone without much effort can manage to model themselves on PZ.  He is the “volksatheiest”.  

A common complaint one hears in the US, at least, is that you can’t get elected if you say you are an atheist.  Given this, it would seem that acting “morally and ethically serious” which I would take to include being respectful and courteous, while also being explicit about one’s atheism would be in order, not a celebration of a man who uses polemic and overstatement to get the “cheers” of the crowd.     

Like I said, every movement can use the “terrible child” … but they can’t accord this child the status of “leader”.    

In the course of my comments on the school religion issues, I pointed out that I thought PZ Myers would be useful to point out how ICCOREIS statements about evolution exposed their explicit anti science bias, and that the St. James crew didn’t want to confront them on this … so this was an example of how PZ could be “useful”, to use his “courage” to call attention to an issue where a group of religious activists were asserting privilege in Australian schools, and doing it on terms that were clearly undermining the educational process.    

These are just examples of the things I keep tripping over as I find myself increasingly annoyed by what I think is best understood as “tone deafness”, but may actually be outright cluelessness by people who profess to advocate atheism.

What is more surprising to me is that I’m finding the complaints about the “Gnu Atheism” from the religious, who until recently I thought were just examples of thin skinned victim card playing, more and more plausible.  The more uncompromising atheist appeals are the more intolerant and ugly they seem.

On the issue of religion in schools I find myself continually begging people who are against the current rules and policies, to use language that makes more sense to people who are not anti religious, and I keep getting treated like I’m a traitor to some cause (the international atheist cause) or not sufficiently respectful of the prerogative atheism … or something. 

I am completely supportive of the “non religious outlook” but when I see it how it is expressed by Myers and those who accord him deference and admiration, I begin to wonder of its pedigree, usefulness, even its sanity and definitely about its intellectual rigor.

Just thought I’d share this thinking, and give you a heads up if you hear me saying increasingly critical things about people who profess to be motivated by atheism …  Cults of personality definitely can happen with or without a “faith basis”.

Here are two links to the two previous posts about this FYI

http://statereligionvic.posterous.com/australian-atheists-happy-to-give-criticism-n

interested to hear your thoughts and where I might be not understanding what atheists want and how they plan to go about getting it?   

 

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Australian Atheists, happy to give criticism, not so happy to get it. What will PZ think?

Well it seems that I’ve proven that I’m not an Atheist Activist!

Which at this point might be useful for me to log here in case anyone should accuses me of being an “Atheist Activist”.

Seems that if you have something critical to say about whether a particular thing is effective or wish to suggest how a thing might be alternatively considered or approached or if you say something even remotely critical about the people lauded among the atheist pantheon of important bloggers, you’ll get the “la la la I am not listening” treatment pretty quick.  

 

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Australian Mint ignores our Christian Heritage, whose side are they on?

This is terrible, we are, according to Brigadier Jim Wallace, a “Christian Nation”, and the mint just goes off the narrative and produces a coin, that reproduces the Wedgwood, “Sydney Cove Medallion” and no one reminded them to put a bible verse, or reference to God on the thing?  

This is clearly going to cause a tsunami or something.

What is worse is that this thing references pre Christian thinking!  The Classical Characters are not “Judeo-Christian” and therefore do not represent our “values” … or, wait, do they?  Hope, Labor, Art, Science?

Of all the things that the great artist Wedgwood could have thought to send Gov. Philip he chose something from Classical times and not from a relevant section of the bible.  My heart goes out to the ACL … who is under assault from every angle, now the mint is even undermining their narrative.  Because they can’t be all places at once, we’ve gone to the trouble of reissuing the coin in a “Christianized” version that won’t confuse anyone about how absolutely foundational the Judeo-Christian tradition is to our democracy.

Don’t listen to them, Jim, the mint really meant to celebrate our “Judeo Christian” heritage they just overshot and ended up with this Hellenistic clap trap, and don’t worry the girls on the coin aren’t going to a prom.  

They’ll probably issue a coin with a nun from Fiztroy soon. 

 

Original


Coin edited by Christian lobby to get rid of the pagan garbage and reflect our proper Christian heritage.

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On telling others what is and is not called for … my thoughts.

I’d like to put a few thoughts down out of respect for my many non-religious readers, who are from time to time, and often understandably frustrated when they are told to “tone it down”.  

It wasn’t but a few weeks ago when I tweeted that “PZ Myers didn’t understand his strategic value”.  Well I heard about it right away!  The indignant atheist allies of PZ Myers rose to his defense!  Uncalled for! said one active individual who self identifies as an “atheist activist”.  Seems as though it is fine to gore oxen so long as they are not your sacred cows.

For the record, my comment was just to point out that Myers has strategic value and that I think in the NSW ethics debate (which is about the rules for teaching religion in schools in NSW) that PZ has overlooked the clear anti scientific agenda of the ICCORIES group and its spokespeople.  Myers should be, but to my knowledge isn’t “all over this”.  He should be though, this is right up his alley.  

He’s too busy riding dinosaurs in Kentucky to realize that to design a Ken Ham you need a Peter Adamson.  Gladly the Cross Eyed Bear, for some reason thinks PZ Myers deserves nothing but accolades for his “help”.  I say a third tier professor in a small MN town should be flattered that people in the Antipodes give him a second thought.  PZ at this point depends on being “followed” and having influence as a figurehead in the atheist movement. It is very exciting for a middle age white guy whose science is read by dozens of people to be treated like he’s important.  

My comment that “oz hates being mocked” was meant to convey that Myers should mock the practices in NSW (because they are backward) – ie that he should use his profile as a public intellectual to get outsiders talking about the statements of the leaders of ICCOREIS and just how retrograde these are.  I say this issue is important because this group influences the intellectual lives of hundreds of thousands of children living in what should rightly be a place where the state is neutral to religion is not facilitated by the state.    

“To make a Ken Ham, you need a Peter Adamson” … which means, the transmission of creationist thinking in AU is being directly overseen and supported by the government, by giving special policy making positions to people who are openly “anti-science” (anti evolution).

This is may or may not seem like a fair thing to point out (I didn’t threaten anyone for heavens sake) – I just pointed out that this dialog has pretty well neglected this angle – and the people who feel some value in defending “evolution” as important intellectual territory should take note.  

I didn’t tell anyone to shut up, or say what they could or couldn’t say, but I did suggest that people keep their criticisms focused more narrowly.  

One commenter said that the people doing youth ministry in Australia were awful people, to which I replied “they can toss that back at you”, and it weakens your credibility.  Instead of calling them “awful people”, accuse them of something less sweeping, so the discussion doesn’t devolve into a conversation about your insult vs. the actual issue. 

This happens a lot, for instance, the “Religious Defamation” debate, the “you are not helping” debate with the smackdown between Chris Mooney (Republican War on Science) and the Gnu Atheism that is currently on a roll, and the general “you are being too strident” meme that gets tossed at Oxford Don, Richard Dawkins whenever he says anything.

The sole topic here is the role of “State Religion”.  I am concerned with “state neutrality” in religious matters.  Full stop.

I think that is important because I don’t want to argue over personal opinions about God or debate if people “should” be religious.  The questions I’m trying to tackle are what public policies should be made regarding religion.  

A word about my perspective:

I believe that Australia is best served by the principles, broadly stated of “liberal democracy” and that one of the key principles of this is the competitive and pluralistic nature of political ideas.  

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Liberal democracy in the modern world traces itself to an intellectual movement in the west called “The Enlightenment” and has roots in and inspirations from a time broadly known as “Classical Antiquity”.  For Christians reading this, Jesus did not invent Democracy, and within our English heritage, Democracy emerged in not a few cases though force of arms against those who believed their authority was the “Will of God”.  It turns out that a large part of the Old Testament deals with “Kings” and God’s anointing of same.  Please bone up on “history” if any of what I’ve just said here seems controversial or “not fair”.  

With that out of the way, let me turn to the matter of “being insulting” or “attacking” other people with whom you “disagree”.

It is necessary in our political system to disagree.  Liberal Democracy is a pluralist and adversarial system.  A fight, A battle, A contest.  This contest is not however taking place against people we wish to destroy, but persuade.   We recognize that our “adversaries” are our neighbors even members of our own families.  There are better and worse ways to be persuasive.

This is not saying we can proceed without insulting other people, but rather a belief that if you are criticizing others and their motives it is best if you “stick to the facts”.

It is often useful to insult someone, it usually doesn’t help them see your point of view, but sometimes, if done well, others agree with you and it discredits your opponent.  it is tricky to do well, but it feels good to “vent”.  

For example, we are very critical of the aims and methods of parachurch youth ministry in Victoria, but I try very hard to focus my displeasure with them, not on their desire to transform others though the love of Jesus, but rather that they expect to have the support of our government in this specifically religious objective.  I do this because I feel they are violating important principles.  

Their “rights” allow them to inform others of their views, where we think their views are wrong, we will say so, but in a political and legal sense, what we seek is an end to “state support” for their ministry, not to end their ministry.    

By all means talk about this issue, but we urge you to speak with precision and clarity.  

If you are going to speak out about the people involved in the para-church youth ministry system (and we hope you will) keep in mind that doing it in such a way that allows the advocates of the system to appear “oppressed” or “wronged” by you, for instance when you choose to use a “broad spectrum insult”, for example, (people in the youth ministry are) “awful people”, because this is not a targeted argument, it can be tossed back, “I’m not awful, I’m a loving person, I want to help children”.

I suspect that the leaders, and volunteers at “Access Ministry” are not “awful” but rather self interested and motivated by religious convictions that cause them to lose sight of the need to respect the law.  Much in the same way that people on their way to fight a fire feel that this gives them liberty to speed, or a nation at war feels that the urgency of combat trumps the affairs of peacetime.  The people at ACCESS Ministry feel that their issue grants them some latitude in the policy making discretion of the Minister for Education.   They believe that because they are doing good things for children, they have a right to some special consideration.    

I simply do not believe that our government should EVER discriminate among its citizens according to the content of their religious beliefs or lack there of.  No activity in the public schools should invite parents to “opt out” … on grounds of religious creeds, and the focus of religious education in schools should be to educate children about religion, and religious traditions so they understand them.  Parents should be expected to attend to the religious identity of their children, not the government.  

One last point.

The point of view I’m taking is a “dead white male” perspective of things with particular focus on the founding fathers of this Colony.  It is unfortunate that these men were not perfect, they definitely did not accord Aboriginal Australians the same rights as their fellow tribesmen, and they definitely did not accord women the same status as men.  On these counts they were simply wrong, so merely pointing to tradition is no proof of its validity.  However, In so much as many of them were “making progress” toward change, they deserve credit for the changes they did usher in.  

Among them were many deeply religious people who understood and advocated for the ideals of the Enlightenment.  

The broad outline of history in Australia is an embrace of “religious toleration”.  These ideas were not invented here, however they were positively embraced and form therefore the “traditions” of this society.  Until such time as one can demonstrate to me how some system other than “liberal democracy”, with attendant protections for matters of private conscience and explicit protections designed to recognize rights to religious expression, or abstention from religious expression, is more conducive to the welfare of mankind it will remain the thing I advocate.  This is very different than advocating atheism.  

People like PZ and the evangelists of all kinds are free to editorialize, sermonize and broadcast the merits of their views about religion … I hope they use those liberties for the betterment of society.  

 

 

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Cathy Byrne, one of Australia’s leading religious education academics has a modest proposal:

Cathy Byrne, one of Australia’s leading religious education academics has a modest proposal.

Ask yourself, how difficult would this be?

Blueprint to weld ethics and religion exists: here it is

from:

http://www.smh.com.au/national/letters/better-places-for-children-to-learn-than-at-the-altar-20101108-17keg.html

 

Jessica Stewart (Letters, November 9) asks how her child can attend both special religious education and ethics classes.

Picture this: each week, children gather in unsegregated classes with their regular, professionally trained teachers. They learn about a variety of belief traditions and philosophies, religious and non-religious.

The class sometimes incorporates ethics material, perhaps developed by the St James Ethics Centre, and activities developed by approved religious providers, who sometimes visit the classrooms to discuss ideas and practices in depth. The yearly excursion takes children to churches, mosques, temples and synagogues – so they ”know what those buildings are”.

The main project is one of social engagement – a charity or environmental endeavour where children from different religious and philosophical backgrounds work together. Schools have international partner schools to learn together about religions and world views.

The national curriculum and teaching approach emphasises active listening, building children’s skills to take up and defend a position without belittling other points of view. The children learn the basic differences and similarities between a variety of Western, Eastern and indigenous forms of spirituality, including the practice of stillness and silence.

At an appropriate age, when the basics have been covered, they debate interesting and difficult topics and engage with their world in a complex way.

This multi-tradition approach is used and is being researched in many countries. It contributes to a greater ability to think laterally, to explore ideas deeply and practically and to develop empathy. It does not urge belief or non-belief. It builds confidence with the language and concepts of philosophy and theology.

That is how. If only the educators would stand up and make their case.


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