Miranda Devine: your god, not mine

I resent the charge that modern Australian society is the product of a Judeo-Christian heritage. In fact, if Miranda Devine wasn’t such a shining example of a literate simpleton I’d be offended by her saying so; and perhaps if she had any semblance of authority, we all should be.

The dextral dickhead columnist is yet again pining for the 1950s. This time her ire has been roused by the proposed switch from religious dating conventions (BC and AD) to secular dating conventions (BCE and CE) in the Australian school curriculum. At least she’s giving the rabidly inane homophobic rambling a rest.

To get stuck into the nuts and bolts of Devine’s thesis: where in the Bible is a democracy like ours supported? Or intelligence praised? What we actually find in the scriptures is a great deal about the virtue of blind faith in an all-powerful but deeply insecure Invisible Father Figure who wants us to feel guilty about being born and as penance, to worship His bloody murder of His own son (who is really Him in disguise). Logically, blind faith in such flagrant absurdities is violently incompatible with the scepticism intrinsic to a functioning democracy.

According to the Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen, to drop the ‘Before Christ’ and ‘Anno Domini’ (Latin for “in the year of our lord”) designations from dates represents an “intellectually absurd attempt to write Christ out of human history.” (This is one of the several quotations present in Miranda Devine’s tedious whinge, I’ll get to the rest.) Intellectually absurd? Really? What about the fact that there is very little evidence that Jesus of Nazareth actually existed? While we’re at it, even Isreali archeology has totally debunked the historical claims made in the Old Testament. But then, it’s supposed to be a ‘faith thing’, yeah?

One hopes that the argument being alluded to is that we’re writing the influence of the Bible out of history. (You can never be sure with these people.) We’re not. Children will still study the Dark Ages in the history curriculum, and the Bible was undeniably the beacon of the stultification of reason and progress that put the ‘dark’ in the Dark Ages. Familiarity with the Bible is also a prerequisite to gaining a proper appreciation of the works of Shakespeare. But what of the supposed biblical influence on modern Australian society?

Fred Nile, a serious contender for this year’s coveted No. 1 Dextral Dickhead Award, said making the letters that follow dates more accurate was “an absolute disgrace … the direction of the national curriculum is towards almost a Christian cleansing to remove from our history any references to the role Christianity had in the formation of Australia and still has today.” This act of intellectual high treason was echoed by the (aptly named) Federal Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne. Well, Fred, Chris, one could quite trivially make the case that a cleansing of the role of Christianity in our present society can only be a good thing. Watch me.

Last year, I attended the annual StepAhead Australia conference for spinal cord injury research. Many of the speakers agreed that curing literally thousands of complete spinal cord injuries is well within the grasp of modern science with the help of unused IVF embryos. So what’s stopping these treatments from being clinically trialled and deployed? The occasionally pervasive and reliably pernicious influence of Christian leaders on Western society, of course. Not bad, hey?

What happens when secularism increases in other democratic countries like Sweden, Denmark and Norway? Well, a cursory glance at the facts about the de-Christianized state of these countries supports the notion that we’re much better off without the superstitions, magical thinking and bankrupt morality of the Middle Eastern Bronze Age.

Australia was demonstrably not founded on Christian values, and we should thank goodness for that. Monotheism is inherently totalitarian, as demonstrated in countries like Iran where they still take the Man in the Sky seriously. Christian regimes are no better. Two minutes on Wikipedia will show you that the Vatican that existed when Australia was being settled was not a fine example of moral integrity, and things haven’t really improved in the interim. And as polemicist Christopher Hitchens rightly points out: the Church of England was founded on the family values of Henry VIII, and its ‘divine’ mandate has been abused to bolster some of the more objectionable behaviours the British Empire committed when they still believed their ridiculous theology was true. (Actually, the Church of England did sanction the genocide of Australia’s aboriginal population when the British first settled, so I should probably concede that the brutality of Christianity did have some influence on our nation’s early history, in synergy with the brutality of the settlers.) Even without factoring in the cruel homophobia and blatant sexism integral to these faiths, the case for Australia being in any way a Judeo-Christian society is a deeply problematic one.

What is so good about Judeo-Christian values, anyway? Why would anyone want to claim them as the valid foundation of a just society? The Ten Commandments aren’t stellar by any modern standard. Apparently God was more concerned about his sheep whoring with rival deities than with preventing child rape. If you must draw morality from a religion, what about Buddhism, which really does teach compassion (despite its flaws)? Or Jainism, perhaps the only religion that is actually centred around pacifism (Jainist extremists will fret over accidentally stepping on an ant, rather than decide to bomb unbelievers)? How about the reasoned ethics of Aristotle?

To get back to Jesus: turning the other cheek can be deeply unethical, but then the man-god Himself wasn’t exactly consistent with that point, was He? (See Luke 19:27.) Is sending sinners to roast for all eternity, as Jesus supposedly taught, an example of turning the other cheek? The profound inconsistencies in the Christian scriptures creates an egregious problem for everyone who wants to call their morality Christian. When practically everything can be justified by a proactive reading of the scriptures, the fact is that anyone can correctly claim their morality as Christian; therefore to call Australian society Judeo-Christian is at best meaningless, and at worst disingenuous.

To further complicate things, in order to meaningfully attach the label ‘Judeo-‘ to ‘Judeo-Christian’ in the strict context of religious ideology, you kind of have to profess the goodness of some really heinous shit in the rabbinical literature, including the Old Testament. Does Miranda Devine really propose we do that? Old Testament teachings certainly would have resonated with our nation’s early history, but we currently live in the 21st century.

When you strip Christianity down to its core teachings, to an outsider it’s clearly a cult of human sacrifice which revolves around the observance of necessary redemption by proxy because humans are born hopelessly abject (as the result of the original sins of a couple that simply didn’t exist) and in need of saving. I don’t think human sacrifice, self-hatred and vicarious redemption are very moral or (dare I say) very Australian. For perhaps 200,000 years before this Jesus figure is supposed to have existed, was the human species bereft of altruism, tribalism and empathy? If so, how did they learn anything, or even survive together? What about the overwhelming evidence garnered from recent advances in neurobiology that suggests solidarity and altruism had to be innate in humans from the dawn of the species?

Perhaps I’m not being fair. There is a general consensus of what constitutes Christian morality professed by the majority of those afflicted by this virulent memeplex, fundamentalists and moderates alike. This generally accepted narrative teaches that anyone can be saved from eternal punishment, regardless of how disagreeable or antisocial their behaviour is (see Acts 13:39). What you can’t be forgiven for is questioning the existence of the Holy Spirit. So the only thing you’re really not allowed to do is ask difficult questions, because to do so will quite literally land you in the lake of fire. Fortunately, this attitude isn’t exactly enshrined in Australia’s laws.

Often parroted by the faithful and accomodationists on the secular side is the refrain that Christianity can make people be more charitable. In contrast to this common misperception, neuroscientist Sam Harris conjectures that Christian values can be understood to be inherently psychopathic; good deeds are supposedly ‘rewarded’ with a ticket to heaven, sins are to be avoided because they lead to, well, that aforementioned eternal suffering thing. Never mind just being good just because it’s the right fucking thing to do. I don’t even need to break out the Euthyphro dilemma to demonstrate just how incredibly flawed the idea of theistic morality actually is. Australian values simply do not gel with biblical values.

A parsimonious and more optimistic explanation in light of evolution for the apparent charitableness of some devout Christians is that they are simply indulging their natural altruism, and they are choosing to dress this up in the language of Christianity. The same must be said of those who push the notion that there is anything biblical about the society we live in. But language is clearly misleading. Moreover, if religious groups want to claim acts of goodness done by themselves or their fellow adherents as earnest expressions of faith, then they automatically have to claim the countless wicked acts committed in the name of faith too. I’m not saying that religious faith inexorably leads to cruelty, I’m simply addressing this bullshit on its own terms. People are good or wicked regardless of their faith. But sometimes, really evil things can only be done with a great deal of faith.

I don’t believe that we live in a psychopathic or delusional society. Australia was not founded on the principles of guilt, blind faith or superstition. Australia, like any real democracy, is a direct product of the Enlightenment, also referred to as the Age of Reason. The Enlightenment was marked by a rise in secularism and the wider dissemination of ideas which lead to modern democracy. Since it was the Age of Reason that gave rise to our society, our public schools should be run in accordance with that noble tradition. To deny children secularism is to deny them the progressive spirit that has driven the phenomenal progress made in recent history.

We live in the Common Era, not Anno Domini. No one aside from a handful of illiterate Middle Eastern tribes was sitting around waiting for the messiah to show up before two thousand years ago; and only a fraction of their very literate descendants are still waiting. The Chinese were inventing writing and gunpowder. The Sumerians had cities built and complex mathematics long before the God of Abraham and Jesus was even dreamt up.

The thing about facts is that they’re indifferent to incoherently nebulous concepts frequently invoked by Devine and her ilk like ‘political correctness‘. Sorry Miranda, you can have your own opinions, but you can’t have your own facts. The little facts indicate that the big fact is, to put it simply: we do not live in a Judeo-Christian society. No one is murdered for not keeping the Sabbath holy. We prefer psychiatry to exorcism. Most people have sex before they get married. The Australian summer is far too uncomfortable to make modest dress practical. People tend to be afraid of death despite what they say they believe about the afterlife. Miranda, we’re really not that stupid.

This seems like a fairly innocuous topic to get worked up over, but it has its consequences. When we pay lip-service to the intellectually barren notion that Judeo-Christian values are influential on our culture, we give vocal Christian leaders like Fred Nile, Bob Katter and the Pope a chance to have their poisonously ignorant public ejaculations taken seriously. Generally we don’t listen to them, but sometimes those in power do, and that’s why we can’t have nice things like stem cell therapies or institutionalised tolerance for homosexuality. I propose we just drop it. The idea that our society is in any way biblical really is an absurd thing to cling to.

Australian society as it is today is not a product of anything that could accurately be called a Judeo-Christian heritage. Our society is the product of the values rooted in the tradition of the Age of Reason. The values integral to our democracy exist in spite of our frequent mistaken nods to a dubious Judeo-Christian tradition. It’s time we grew out of our superstitions and ritualized lip-services. So no, I’m not insulted by Miranda Devine because as ever, she clearly has no idea what the fuck she’s talking about.

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2 thoughts on “Miranda Devine: your god, not mine

  1. Re:

    “What happens when secularism increases in other democratic countries like Sweden, Denmark and Norway?”

    Matt you may not know that Denmark have a state church which taxpayers are automatically required to fund and be members of, unless they opt out.

    Norway has a constitutional monarchy and in that respect is quite similar to Australia. Stable, prosperous and supportive of freedom of religion.

    Sweden also is a constitutional monarchy, and like Australia is stable and prosperous. But they have not had as much freedom of religion as Australians. For many years the Swedish had no choice but be Lutherans. It was only in recent history that people could choose what church they would like to belong to. And it was only in the last 11 years that the church of Sweden became actually separate to the state machinery. About 70% of Swedes are Lutheran, and they pay a ‘church tax’ to the state.

    Re:
    “we do not live in a Judeo-Christian society. No one is murdered for not keeping the Sabbath holy.”

    You will find that Australia has a Christian-values-based society and our history supports this. If you look into our education system, hospitals, parliaments, judiciary, you will find that it is all Christian-values-based.

    The concepts of equal human dignity, the value of human life, forgiveness rather than retribution, are all enshrined in our Crimes Acts, Anti-Discrimination laws, employment law, and in our humane sentencing policy. (These are in contrast to some countries, which have different heritages.)

    There has never been the punishment of capital punishment for not keeping the Sabbath holy in our history in Australia. However, you will find that in the area of industrial relations, for example, employers are not permitted to sack a worker who would not wish to work on the sabbath for religious reasons. And Christmas and Good Friday are public holidays in Australia. The oldest schools in our country are either Catholic or other denomination of Christian eg Anglican. The hospitals, hospices and homeless agencies were all started by the churches.

    Matt you don’t need to be cynical, even where there are flaws. Humans are not perfect. If you start from a position of curiosity and gratitude, the world will start to look different, and you will appreciate Australia’s heritage immensely – and give credit where it is due.

    You could beging by reading about the life of Mary McKillop, who started 117 schools for the poorest children in Australia.

    You are obviously a deep thinker, which is great. You don’t need to ruin it with cynicism.

    Reply
    • I’ll rebut your first point with an article published in the Montgomery Advertiser on the rise of secularism in Norway (link), and here is a tellingly biased account from another perspective (link).

      My point was that secularism is rising in the Scandanavian countries despite the churches, and so is the standard of living. I’m arguing for a jettison of the irrelevant and incorrectly revered chaff of past orthodoxies – namely religion.

      As for “Judeo-Christian values” being enshrined in Australian law, what makes you think forgiveness is anything other than a surreptitious modern ascription on Judeo-Christian doctrines by the church in an attempt to stay relevant in post-Enlightenment polite society? It was actually a lot easier for the Inquisitors to justify their atrocities from the scriptures than it is for the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, to justify his more sanitized and I suppose watered-down to the point of homeopathy version of Anglicanism. In Luke 19:28 Jesus said, “…who would not have me reign over them, bring them hither and kill them before me”, and he also said a lot of things to communicate the impression that he was quite content with Old Testament-style tyranny (link).

      Why continue to bother with this brand of unenlightened medieval barbarism? Because knowing that we can threaten people who wrong us with eternal hellfire (another example of Jesus’ forgiving nature, to be sure) makes us feel better? What does a bloodthirsty puritan regime, genocidal tribalism and modern Dominionism have to do with our Australian democracy?

      Reply

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