What the fuck is wrong with you people?

I’m sure you’ve all seen all the repugnant things religious leader fuckheads have said in the last few days. I’m not going to comment on that because it makes me feel ill.

This post has three sections.

Gun Control

Seriously, the sheer number of American pathological gun nuts I’ve dealt with online in the last two days is staggering.

I’m finding exactly the same problems I have with religion, especially when religion is driving good people to kill and giving bad people an excuse to kill (and an excuse to get good people to kill). It’s a faith-based claim that offers no rationale except for bullshit cliched arguments that have clearly not been critically examined by someone who cares about anything other than feeding on confirmation bias.

So my problem is faith. I just typically go after religion because it’s the largest and most prevalent manifestation of this defective way of thinking; and so it just happens to piss me off more often.

But now I find myself forced to go after the American gun cult.

Something about children being killed with legal weapons just makes me fucking mad, you know? There’s also something about the callous self-justifications from trigger-happy traditionalist idiots, while families are mourning, that just begs to be called out.

So here it is.

America’s gun laws fail so hard at preventing homicides, robberies, accidental shootings and suicides according to evidence from peer-reviewed literature (not reports from “think-tanks” and other bullshit sources); but that doesn’t matter. The solution is moar guns! It’s a Second Amendment right!

Yes, more guns is exactly what America needs.

Here, by the way, is the Second Amendment:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Hmm.

The Second Amendment argument is stupid, and clearly nobody has read it — if it were still relevant it’d imply that citizens should be allowed access to nuclear weapons. Besides, interpreting the Second Amendment on an individual protection level is problematic and unsophisticated.

Then times changed, democracy got better (fine, it’s actually a polyarchy, but whatever) — making revolution less meaningful. Also, civilisation is qualitatively different now than it was at any other point in history.

Violence, all over the world, is in decline (help speed it along!), and liberalisation is rising, despite some other depressing statistics (I’ll get to them). The revolution in the United States will not be televised, because it won’t happen; it’s little more than another American Dream.

Second, guns for personal protection? Bullshit.

I looked through a bunch of my university library’s research databases and all I came up with, from reputable psychological and medical journals, was strong evidence that legally owned guns for self-defence are rarely used for self-defence; they’re more likely (22 times!) to be used in homicides, accidental deaths, suicides and to intimidate family members. This general trend of this study has been corroborated by numerous others.

(In light of those studies, which, most charitably, paint private gun-packers as highly incompetent and dangerous people, rather than autonomous agents capable of defending themselves; would a militia comprised of these people really capable of overthrowing a hypothetical tyrannical government? That might be a little too much to expect…)

Here are two charts that should hit this crime rate point home:

Number of guns per 100 people, OECD

Interesting, because “Switzerland” I hear a lot. I guess nobody bothered to look up how that actually works.

Gun-related murder rates in the developed world.

That’s another bullshit claim I hear: “What about Mexico? That’s what gun restrictions on law-abiding citizens does to reduce crime!” Yes, what about Mexico? Where do Mexican cartels get their guns from?

A more in-depth analysis can be found here. I guess facts really do have a progressive bias.

The cost-benefit analysis, if you care about protecting people, just doesn’t justify guns for personal protection.

Some might be tempted to use this against me when I advocate full drug-legalisation. They’d be wrong. Drugs are an individual choice, and you can’t use drugs to kill lots of people, only yourself (if you’re so inclined, or if you’re an irresponsible user, or by accident — but then, mountain climbing can kill you in that way). Drugs should be illegal in situations where they can play some causal role in harming others: like when you’re driving. If you drug-and-drive, fuck you. You’re a criminal because you put others at risk.

(Incidentally, in some U.S. states, car licenses are more heavily regulated than gun ownership.)

So, being a rabid supporter of “the right to bear arms” is to buy into a bullshit faith-based enterprise, with its own mythology and various off-shoot sects. The fact that it’s about providing false-consolation and a false sense security and the fact that it’s totally contrary to the evidence makes it exactly like religion.

And, on exactness: this is exactly why I go after religion. Religion is based on faith, which is essentially pretending to know things you don’t know. Appeals to faith are used to justify tribalism, delusion and all manner of bullshit. When someone says “that’s what I believe” you’re supposed to avoid being disrespectful. Fuck that I say.

People can be wrong, and there’s nothing wrong with exercising your own free speech to hold them to account. And making light of the majority hard-headed among them in front of fence-sitters.

So fuck those idiots against gun control. There is blood on their hands.

Mental Health

This is important to me.

I have lived with bipolar disorder since my early teenage years and I’m now in recovery.

I’ve never shot anyone, but I’ve faced discrimination in personal, professional and schooling situations due to the stigma associated with mental illness.

I don’t care about it, personally, because I’ve been lucky; it hasn’t ever really gotten in my way. But discrimination affects others badly. Really fucking badly. And I totally understand why.

The mentally ill don’t need to be singled out based on the actions of criminals. It’s offensive to do so, and it doesn’t even make sense.

The amount of demonisation I’ve seen the mentally ill as a group subjected to — surreptitiously by the hard right (because it wasn’t guns!) and inadvertently hiding in articles in the PC left media (smacked down here) — since this recent mass murder in the United States is mind-boggling.

It’s quite simple: the United States has worse healthcare than some developing countries (Columbia!); but look at these fucking statistics. Now, what should the priority be following Friday’s Connecticut shooting? It’s pretty fucking obvious to me.

To start with: to demonise people with autism spectrum disorders is to demonstrate a profound ignorance of established facts about abnormal human psychology.

Second; what effect does mental illness have on crime? The first clear-cut example is psychopathy; but does psychopathy predict criminal behaviour? A bit of arithmetic carried out on Baylor College’s neurolaw-focused blog, using some estimates and some quantified statistics indicated that 15% of all psychopaths currently living in the United States are incarcerated for some crime or another. Would increased mental health funding, and more accessible high-quality treatment help these rates? No. Psychopathy is untreatable, and very difficult to diagnose.

What about the mentally ill population as a whole? That’s a point of contention too, and it shouldn’t be, because there are more of these things called facts — and they’re in. The mentally ill, as a population, are overwhelmingly more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Check this in the peer-reviewed literature for yourself, and look through other articles.

This is the crux of my argument: if the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators of violence, then taking measures to reduce violence also protects the mentally ill. Tackling gun violence is a step towards protecting the mentally ill, and a step towards protecting everyone else.

Better healthcare is an absolute imperative. There are some shocking stats associated with mental illness in the United States. The one I find scariest is that only one-third of adults and one-half of children with diagnosable mental illnesses actually get to talk to a professional in any meaningful capacity.

Clearly, mental health services in the United States need to be fixed, and they need to be fixed soon; but right now, a scourge that infects American culture as a whole must be fixed. This is gun culture.

This is a hard calculation to make with objectivity, but right now, America’s progressives and concerned conservatives should try to rewrite the gun laws.

Now is the time. This isn’t an either-or thing; it should be a both thing — but smart progressives should not lose sight of the myopia of their fellow countrymen.

Help everyone first: fix your fucking gun culture.

Ethics

Now, you could say that who am I, an Australian descended from undesirable colonisers (I’m not, but that’s what I was told) — to derive morals from facts (as Hume supposedly prohibited) and moreover, how dare I use my moral standards to judge another country’s laws and culture?

Because fuck you. If ethics aren’t about minimising suffering and maximising flourishing for all conscious creatures, then ethics is a waste of everyone’s time — and anyone who believes that has no grounds to support any moral cause, or to judge the behaviours of others. That’s why.

Why should we be interested in minimising suffering and maximising harm? Well, would you apply the same standard to medical research? How about physics? No. I didn’t fucking think so. So why do people hate it when you try to come up with a normative system of ethics? Out of respect for unjustified, unsubstantiated bullshit faith-based opinions.

Also, you didn’t read Hume properly. He used inference to the best explanation (induction) all the time, despite pointing out a “problem with induction” (that modern epistemology and philosophy of science has easily accommodated in the form of evidentialism; even verificationism), and he was an empiricist. He’d be fine with physics and medicine; and if he knew about consequentialism, he’d be fine with that too. (The problems in that BBC link have largely been resolved, it just covers naive consequentialism really, but you can find that shit out yourself. Go read some Peter Singer and even Sam Harris — neither of whom I totally agree with — and make up your own mind.)

My thoughts go out to all the families who lost loved ones last Friday. If children, a teacher and a psychologist being murdered in cold blood with legal weapons isn’t a wakeup call for America, there’s something wrong with the American leadership, and by extension, the people who elected those leaders.

Disagree?

Before you tell me, read what I wrote. Read it again. Check my sources. I don’t like repeating myself. I will approve your comments (I do that anyway), but only to enshrine you as a dunce.

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Fractal wrongness

I wish to cast this image into the aether of the net.

Fractal Wrongness

You are not just wrong; you are recursively wrong. The wrongness of every possible iteration of any of your arguments is self-similar with the wrongness of your entire worldview.

This image is adapted from the demotivator poster described on RationalWiki. The caption offered there says: “You are not just wrong. You are wrong at every conceivable level of resolution. Zooming in on any part of your worldview finds beliefs exactly as wrong as your entire worldview.

The sentiment expressed is clever, but I found the caption unwieldy, unlettered and technically incorrect. Fractals are resolution-independent. They scale indefinitely.

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.

Devinely inspired, again

Apparently [the] alarmist clock is still ringing on anthropogenic climate change – at least it is according to that paragon of scientific learning and wisdom, the inimitable Miranda Devine.

In response to her latest abuse of The Daily Telegraph’s server space, I posted a slightly edited version of the following comment:

So she acknowledges that 97-98% of climate scientists (this is known as a scientific consensus) believe that human activity is dangerously altering the climate, then she quotes one dissenting atmospheric physicist and one unqualified meteorologist (different from climatologist, GOOGLE IT) on the subject. Good work Miranda. Two dissenting opinions against how many qualified climatologists? You’re a journalist, you tell me. I am, after all, a mere student.

This probably looks to those who suffer the same pathological parochialism as Miranda like an egregious display of bigotry or intolerance. Do you lot also find the physicists who refer to well-established equations that describe gravity and the laws of motion intolerant to any cretinous prejudices you each might hold about the way matter moves through space and time? Or, as with climate science, are you all simply annoyed that you clearly lack the cognitive acumen and education to comprehend how and why those esoteric-looking numbers and symbols work?

Also, the charge of “superstitious nonsense” is a bit rich coming from a self-professed Catholic. I mean, don’t you people actually believe that magical words turn a cracker and wine into the flesh and blood of the mythological victim of a 2,000 year old human sacrifice?

I think my favourite part of Devine’s dizzying screed was when she called Al Gore’s outrageous displays of sound evidence which plainly contradicts the claims of deniers “insidious”. Yes, evidence, obviously the work of the devil. And besides, as Homer Simpson has aptly pointed out: facts are meaningless, you can use facts to prove anything that’s even remotely true; facts shmacts.

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.