Why it’s OK to hate religion

Religion, by any precise definition, is based on faith, and faith is about preserving assumptions at all costs.

Evidentialist philosopher Peter Boghossian defines faith as “pretending to know things you don’t know”; so by definition, faith entails what the late Christopher Hitchens termed “the surrender of the mind”. The cost of faith is reason. Wilfully surrendering one’s reason to the dictates of a higher authority is not only stupefying, it also sets a dangerous social precedent.

My argument against faith is a consequentialist one: when polite society is conditioned to extend “politeness” to deluded assumptions about the nature of reality, the venom of epistemic relativism has been injected.

For this reason, hating religion is not just OK, it is practically a moral imperative. Religion is by far the most obvious manifestation of the faith disease.

In response to one of my recent attacks on the ejaculations of a faith head, I was told something to the effect of “but that’s just your opinion, and you will respect mine.”

Why should I? And why should anyone? That perverted wisp of wisdom emanated from someone who believes that holding off her child’s vaccinations is a just and socially responsible thing to do, which it isn’t. Perhaps such a potentially infanticidal sentiment is not quite as extreme as those motivating acts of faith-based terrorism, but it does certainly resonate with Voltaire’s timeless dictum:

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

As I’ve written elsewhere, opinions that are not informed by evidence are worthless opinions. Religious convictions eschew evidence entirely; they write any empirical evidence that doesn’t gel out of consideration.

Occasionally, in the “pluralistic” media, we are forced to endure the cognitive putrification of some disingenuous religious figure distorting science to justify his brand of faith-based garbage, but we should always consider the myriad things this professional rationaliser is not saying.

Religion is based on faith, and for that reason, it’s OK to hate religion. This contempt should extend to more liberal interpretations of the various religions too, because such prescriptive worldviews remain grounded in faith. The theocrat is right to assert that her faith should be afforded respect when the faith of the liberal theist is considered impervious to scrutiny.

If we wish to distinguish between “acceptable” and “unacceptable” religious dogmas, which criteria should we employ? Almost without exception, the various holy books of the world claim that the normative delusions they describe are absolute truths. Their doctrines are not mutually inclusive. Individual theists may hold beliefs that roughly align with liberal democratic values, but their motivations are still delusional.

Of course, religiosity should not rob anyone of the right to vote or to contribute to our discourse; but a person’s faith, like their politics, should not be exempt from scrutiny. Asking Mitt Romney whether or not he adheres to some of his church’s more contemptible doctrines should be a necessity, not a taboo.

Scientific knowledge, and the scientific approach to knowledge, on the other hand, is truly democratic. If we agree that science is about uncovering reality, anyone who cares enough to do the background reading can contribute. The culture of science is distinguished in other ways too: it’s worth noting that string theorists do not engage in holy wars with other quantum gravity theorists.

When made acceptable, the faith precedent rears its ugly head elsewhere in society.

I spend a lot of time arguing with global warming deniers, and ultimately their arguments will come down to “I have a right to my opinion”. Yes, they sure do, and I’d hate to disabuse them of their rights, no matter how much and in what manner they abuse those rights. But I don’t think their opinions deserve undue respect.

The precedent that everyone’s assumptions should be exempt from criticism in public space runs counter to free speech. Free speech is supposed to be a social mechanism for the self-correction intrinsic to modern liberal democracy.

The public have a right to know the truth, so it follows that the merchants of comfortable delusions deserve to be ridiculed and alienated. Free speech thus provides the rope for the Chris Moncktons and Rush Limbaughs of the world to publicly hang themselves with.

The reason we should not disabuse people of their faith, so we’re told, is that faith brings people comfort. Comfortable delusions are virulent infectious memes, and they do harm.

When confronted with a serial killer, nobody confuses tolerating with enabling. I think that the only reason people don’t readily equate enabling religion with enabling serial killers is due to the average homo sapiens’ inveterate environmental and temporal cognitive myopia. It’s the same myopia that causes people to stop and save a child who is drowning in front of them at the expense of their designer shoes, but to rarely even consider that giving money to alleviate poverty elsewhere in the world is equivalent.

On a personal level, I find the idea of healthy people with access to adequate nutrition and shelter pretending to know things they don’t know for a little extra comfort to be the height of self-indulgence. It takes a special kind of solipsism to take solace in the notion that something is looking out for a First World thirty-something, while millions of children who live in abject poverty die horribly every year.

Less seriously, for many people, use of the word “religion” is suspiciously correlated with a sudden transient drop in the user’s IQ score. Since this essay was originally posted, I have been told that I should identify my religious affiliation as “consequentialist” on the Australian census. I find the notion that the idea of minimising the palpable, measurable phenomenon of human suffering is on equal ground with childish, solipsistic delusions about reality more than a little distasteful.

Religion is like junk food. As psychiatrist Andy Thomson has pointed out, the evolutionary psychology of religion is almost analogous to the evolutionary psychology of junk food. The reason we modern humans like junk food, despite the fact that it’s so bad for us, is an evolutionary one. Sugars, salt and saturated fats were hard to come by in prehistoric times, but they provided fast energy and nutrients, so our taste buds evolved to seek them out.

Humans have succeeded as a species because we also evolved to spot patterns, and this trait has allowed us to refine our resource-gathering skills. Today, junk foods are available in quantities sufficient to choke our arteries to death; but still, we eat them because we can reach them, just as our ancestors would have done.

As with junk food, humans are apt to become pattern-greedy. Religion provides humans with the comforting illusion of an invisible intentional stance to attribute to the random events that make up our lives.

Clinging to religion also gives us a sense of relief from the knowledge of our impending death, which seems to be an unfortunate consequence of our evolved conscious self-awareness. But if we really get to live forever in some magical hereafter, why bother taking responsibility for the future and improving life here, on this planet?

Finally, it gives the faithful the illusion of a kind of moral safety net; we know that we are in the Higher Order’s hands, and that’s why we don’t have to take responsibility for our prejudices. Southern Baptists don’t hate gay people, God does. Psychopaths can defer to the supernatural and be forgiven. Ethics are predicated on delusional whims and wishful thinking rather than a careful consideration of the effects of one’s actions on the well-being of others. This is no way to think about building a just society.

And the faith of global warming denial, like religious faith, brings people mental (and often material) comfort. It is predicated on the faith that the resources on our planet are inexhaustible, designated as ours for the taking, and that our use of them must be inconsequential — these assumptions absolutely fly in the face of the evidence.

These delusions are again rooted in our evolutionary history: the smaller tribes of our Pleistocene ancestors could not possibly exhaust all of the resources available to them. Greed then was indeed good.

The Higher Order, or the conveniently simplistic Greater Good that buttresses the faith underlying global warming denialism can be religious or political, but usually both. In any case, it is a comfortable delusion based on the denial of evidence. The precedent for such harmful denialism was set by our cultural respect for the odious institution of faith.

I submit that respecting religion does not respect the religious individual. The health department has no right to ban junk food, but it does have a right to circulate evidence-based dietary recommendations. (And maybe proposing extra taxes on fatty foods, but that’s a discussion for another post.)

Secularists should not make the condescending and paternalistic assumption that religious people cannot live without their comfortable delusions. Everyone has a right to the best truth the evidence provides, and everyone who participates in a modern democracy has an obligation to the rest of society to at least be familiar with what constitutes the current best guess at the truth.

Faith therefore surrenders the modern mind to seductive delusions, to evolutionary hyper-stimuli. It is a fearful retreat to the terrified infancy of our species. The comparatively limited life spans of our ancestors have written a dangerous myopia into our genes; a disabling affliction that we must overcome.

Atavistic convictions only serve to placate yesterday’s evolutionary needs and they are not sufficient to address today’s problems. Evolution, with its blind brutality, does not intentionally furnish its products with the predispositions necessary for science or philosophy.

Those things are side-effects, perhaps glitches, emerging from our pattern-seeking minds. We can therefore ratiocinate, and today, we must ratiocinate if we want to overcome our evolutionary baggage. The ability to think is a happy accident, and we need to seize upon it to survive. We have to work at it and get better at it. Reason must become human nature.

All faith-based beliefs must be eradicated. We shouldn’t even say that we have “faith” in someone else’s abilities — instead, we should say that we have “confidence”, because confidence implies evidence. Even trust among adults typically involves the sort of basic reasoning and scepticism that faith must eschew.

We should not respect comfortable delusions aired in public space. We should be allowed to express hatred towards the idea of religion, and the notion of faith generally. For if we care about democracy, we should detest the precedent that such “toleration” sets. And we should respect our religious peers enough to tell them that their faith-based assertions poison our discourse.

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Nature doesn’t care about us

Excuse me while I flit about like a rabid humming bird with a penchant for empurpled ranting. I hope my oblique reasoning isn’t too alienating. (Or no more alienating than that pretentious shiny new site title I’ve emblazoned above.)

Nature owes you nothing. Conversely, you owe Nature absolutely everything. Out of respect, you should be doing everything you possibly can to get the fuck out of Nature’s way. Nature is impersonal and indifferent. It’s time to divorce our deluded romance with all things ‘natural’.

Nature is awesome, but Nature is deadly. It’s easy for us to feel as though we’re blessed by Nature. The Earth seems so amenable to our kind of life; so atavistically idyllic, especially when you visit a rainforest. But we’re not blessed. We could never have evolved in any other environment. As far as we can see, we’re basically alone in the cosmos. We can be certain that we’re a rarity, and we’re an ephemeral one in extremis. We’re not blessed, we’re stupifyingly lucky. The distinction between blessedness and luck is an important one.

I think it smacks of intrepid hubris to be against ‘artificial’ things because they’re ‘not natural’. This is tantamount to giddily expostulating “nature cares about us!” No it doesn’t. It never has. Never will. Doesn’t even know we’re here. Doesn’t give a shit about what we eat or how we generate power. Probably doesn’t even give a shit about the fact that oxygen exists. Definitely doesn’t give a shit whether or not we extinguish life on this planet. Such insipidly narcissistic presumptions are all too human.

Why would Nature care about us? We live on such an infinitesimal, insignificant speck somewhere in the visible matter pollution that makes up 1% of this big dead cosmos. Everywhere we know about in spacetime with the exception of the Earth will kill trespassing humans instantly.

We owe Nature our respect, but we shouldn’t for a moment think Nature respects us, our hopes and dreams or our children. Nature isn’t going to add nitrates to soils all over the planet of its own volition just so we can farm enough organic food to accommodate the needs of the 7 billion people who live here. There isn’t even enough space on the planet for enough organic agriculture to feed a fraction of the world’s population – even if you’re happy to clear a lot of land. That wouldn’t be good for biodiversity or the travel industry.

If you like organic food, eat organic. Go for it; it’s tasty stuff, and why waste food? Just don’t expect organic farming to feed anywhere near as many people as GMO technology already can, and should already be doing. (Thanks for that, by the way.)

And global warming? That’s Nature doing what Nature does on terrestrial planets when an ‘intelligent’ species (or an earthquake that releases trapped underground methane, whatever) unwittingly increases the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Things die. Big deal. Global warming isn’t some karmic cockpunch – we’re products of Nature, and there is no reward or punishment in Nature; there is just Nature. Death and entropy are perennial parts in the Nature deal.

So many parochial humans miss the fact that Nature will snuff out all life on Earth without batting a proverbial eyelash. It has almost happened here before. You can bet all the bottom dollars you want that it has happened on other planets. Shit, it probably just happened somewhere else in our neck of the galactic filaments while you read that last sentence. The conditions for any life at all in the cosmos will only exist for such a small percentage of its whole lifespan that I simply don’t have the space to post it here without screwing up the formatting of this entry. That figure works if you assume an infinite undifferentiated entropic expanse cooling down to absolute zero marks the end of the universe. Yeah, that’s why they call it heat death.

Forget fluke arrangements of amino acids like us and whatever lives under our fingernails, not even heavy elements like carbon are the stars of the show. (Stars almost totally consist of hydrogen and helium – and they make up, that’s right, a very small fraction of the current mass of the cosmos, so not even stars are the stars of the show.)

Our Sun, a middle-aged G2V spectral-type yellow dwarf star, will, upon its inevitable demise, consume our planet, utterly erasing all traces of life that might remain. That’s total annihilation at the molecular level.

That’s Nature: sunlight; gravitation; thermal radiation; the arrow of time; mass extinction; thermodynamics; the laws of chemistry. We’re freaks of Nature, not pinnacles. We aren’t the Platonic apples of Nature’s multifarious eyes. And neither, for that matter, are the whales, or the shrews. Or the fucking lions. We care about that stuff, Nature doesn’t. If Nature cares about anything, Nature cares about Dark Flow – which could be a different Nature cutting in on our Nature’s action. But Nature doesn’t care because Nature just is. And so apparently is Dark Flow.

Respecting Nature simply means not gearing the laws of Nature up to kill us. That’s pretty easy to do, because the laws of Nature that apply to life on this planet are reasonably well understood. Nature isn’t an entity, or an intelligence – it’s just a set of laws that work on space and matter. You can’t reason with it. You certainly can’t appeal to its ‘humanity’. You need to shut up and pay attention; because if you don’t, you’ll die – and if there’s no one left to remember you, it will be as if you never existed. Nature will not remember you, or any of us.

Nature doesn’t care if we want to genetically modify foods to feed starving children in Africa. Volcanoes will erupt when they’re good and ready regardless of what gene sequences we put where. Gene sequences are not sacred – we think they are because we happen to be gene sequences. Nowhere in Nature will you find the Vitruvian genome.

Neil deGrasse Tyson once said: “What’s going on between our legs? It’s like an entertainment complex in the middle of a sewage system! No engineer would ever design that, ever.”

There plainly is no design in Nature; just ask anyone who has suffered appendicitis. Or just wait until medical genome sequencing becomes cheap and mainstream; then you can ask your doctor how long you’ve got to live with yearly bouts of hay fever before malignant tumours have you pissing blood while they ravage your reproductive system, requiring major surgery and weekly intravenous doses of emetic etiolating poisons to keep the rogue cells at bay before they inexorably attack your brain through your spinal cord to finally, painfully kill you. Top design, that.

Again, what Nature consists of is coincidences. Not design.

Being against advances in agricultural biotechnology seems to be logically analogous to harbouring genocidal tendancies. Logically, it’s pretentious, elitist and heartless. The whole notion grounded in the baseless delusion that natural selection does a better job at dictating our diets than we do. It misses the point that practically everything we eat has been the product of ten thousand years of artificial selection by us humans. But the people who are against it are well-intentioned and illogical, so you can’t impute elitism and heartlessness onto them – but you can call a lot of them out on wilful ignorance and dogmatism.

Nature doesn’t even care if we give baby gorillas yellowcake uranium dust to finger paint with – we do. And we should. We should care more about feeding children than regressing to pre-germ theory pagan superstitions, and we should know better than poisoning gorillas for artwork to sell on eBay. Nature doesn’t know or care. Nature made yellowcake uranium radioactive, evolved most humans stupid and rendered Africa mostly arid.

This natural organic bullshit is just dualism for the cosmopolitan generation. We are not separate from anything. Nature isn’t some sky daddy, it’s what makes up reality by definition. This ‘return to nature’ crap is a delusion, and a delusion perhaps as dangerous for us as a species than any fairy tale propagated by any holy book. We should not be ’embracing’ Nature; again, we should be learning how to get the fuck out of its way. We should never ascribe anything to Nature borne of our misguided human hubris.

I’ve discussed Chernobyl here before – in America especially, how egregiously that incident was distorted reflected the hippy movement’s anxiety with anything big with a logo and shareholders. It had nothing to do with the environment. That myth was born of human selfishness and stupidity.

I actually wish hell existed just for the disgusting arseholes who singled out those Ukrainian children who suffered birth deformities (not because of the Chernobyl accident, just because birth deformities happen) to exploit for the anti-nuclear agenda. The real victims of Chernobyl were the locals who were marked by the media as ‘exposed’ and left in far too many cases irreparably psychologically scarred.

Nature was responsible for evolving pattern-seeking, tool-using primates on this little blue oblate spheroid. Nature has no agency, obviously, but we did evolve to proliferate on this planet in a certain way. Not the right way, just a certain way. Unfortunately we also evolved to be superstitious, guilt-ridden conservative idiots.

This has little to do with politics – the superstitious, guilt-ridden conservative idiots on the right blush when you say a naughty word, but the ones on the left yell and scream when you put on a lab coat. (Well, the ones on the right do too when there’s no way to convert the lab results into capital, but I think my point is obvious.)

Nature gave us measles, mumps and rubella; science gave us a vaccine – then Nature hit back with Jenny McCarthy (another person I’d hope to see in hell).

The thing I’d like to point out about the deaths caused by withholding vaccines from children is that not all victims were themselves victims of their parents’ credulousness. Many of them were victims of the credulousness of other parents. Those victims contracted these terrible diseases before they were booked in to be vaccinated. Vaccines only eradicate diseases when everybody plays along. Withholding vaccines now sounds an awful lot like biological terrorism, without actually being biological terrorism; it’s really just a tragic manifestation of ignorance.

Nature gave Africa inarable land; agricultural biotechnologists gave us drought-resistant crops – and Nature gave us hordes of superstitious conservative idiots, legally incorporated as Greenpeace. “Greens” worry about Gaia, progressive people worry about Nature. We humans transpose genetic information for a purpose, Nature does it blindly. Nature will eventually kill every single organism that will ever exist anyway. The important thing to notice is that transposing genetic material only works if you play by Nature’s rules. If you don’t, the new genome will be unstable. If it isn’t natural, it won’t work. Nature didn’t design anything for us. But by some stroke of fortune, we’ve been able to develop the skills to design things for ourselves – provided we accept that Nature has the final word.

Science is what Nature blindly evolved us to do for our own survival. We ignore that at our peril. It’s amazing how many people against nuclear anything will gladly accept chemotherapy for carcinomas. Guess what? Chemo drugs don’t grow ready to inject safely in the Amazon. We synthesize that shit in a lab.

Thanks to breeder reactor technology, nuclear power is now safe, affordable and it basically cleans itself up. Do you know what it means when Malcolm Turnbull says Australia needs nuclear power, while Bob Brown calls modern nuclear power technology evil? It means the conservatives think more progressively on some very dire issues than the progressives do. There’s nothing progressive about stultifying progress. I suppose I naïvely assumed ‘progressive’ wasn’t a synonym for that particularly insidious manifestation of misanthropy.

Bob Brown strikes me as someone who wrote off nuclear power decades ago and hasn’t bothered to look at it since. He’s a religious person, really. If he cared more about mitigating global warming than ‘sticking to his environmentalist principles’, he’d be campaigning for a breeder reactor program in Australia and promoting the technology to the rest of the world. Until then, or until something else comes along, Bob Brown is simply another well-intentioned part of the problem. Thanks for helping to facilitate Australia’s continued fossil fuel dependency, Bob.

And guess what? Atoms, nuclear reactions and energy are natural. The demarcation between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial is an erroneous one, dreamt up by scared hairless apes. Hairless apes that evolved naturally. Getting the fuck out of Nature’s way means using our faculties to work in harmony with what Nature actually is, not what we think it should be. If we don’t want Nature to kill us, we should play by Nature’s rules.

It’s our business if we want to protect all the organisms we like and depend on. Nature won’t do that. We are close to engineering meat in a lab, which will do away with the need for livestock. We should not reject this because labs scare and confuse us. We’ve been engineering food for millennia through artificial selection. There’s nothing wrong with progress, especially if it reduces the suffering we inflict on our animal cousins. Real sustainable sources of nutrition should have as little to do with the biosphere as possible. For land use alone, a lab is far better than a paddock or a crop field. If we think biodiversity is important, we should use science to learn how to stop interfering with it.

(An aside: that’s not to say that we shouldn’t use geoengineering if we need to – we know that geoengineering will cool the planet because volcanoes have done all the experiments for us. That isn’t controlling Nature, that’s playing by Nature’s rules – rules uncovered by science.)

I’d like to close by saying that I’m not against idealism in principle. I’m against pinning hope on some psychadelic ignis fatuus that reflects nothing more than the fevered collective human ego.

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.