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Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Melbourne writer Pamela Bone speaks up for secularism in an opinion piece in today's The Australian. For me, she hits the nail right on its head, when she writes:

Non-religious people are fed up with all the talk about the emptiness, the barrenness and lack of meaning in "secular society". It may surprise religious people to learn that our lives are not empty. Some people might need to believe in an afterlife in order to find meaning in this one; others don't. Some might need to believe in a creator in order to be awed by the majesty of nature; others don't. Some might believe in something higher than themselves and call it God; others believe in something higher than themselves and call it humanity or nature. It makes no difference to how morally they behave. Everything good in religion can be had without religion.

Exactly. Although I normally don't read opinion pieces, seeing that this one was written by a writer, I made a rare exception. While I can't say reading it has changed my way of thinking (since it reflects pretty much what I think anyway) I feel gratified that I'm not the only person with such thoughts. So although it's not an earth-shattering read, it does make good sense.

As she points out, "the fact is that the most peaceful, prosperous and healthy countries in the world, as judged by the UN's annual Human Development Reports, are the least religious".

She also points to a number of books that have been, or are being, published by people who think that religion needs to just back off. In addition to the big-hitter, Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion, there are:

Atheist Manifesto by French philosopher Michel Onfray; Against Religion by Melbourne philosopher Tamas Pataki; Have a Nice Doomsday by American writer Nick Guyatt. The one I am most looking forward to is Christopher Hitchens's God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

I forsee no need to read any of these myself, as it is a case of preaching to the converted. Nevertheless, I am always angered when books that question religion are banned in some countries, notably in our region in Malaysia, because they are “detrimental to public order” or because they are "deemed to be able to disrupt peace and harmony", as happened recently.

Finally, she talks about the recently-selected leader of the federal Labor Opposition, Kevin Rudd. Rudd is an admitted god-botherer, and has made some statements, notably in The Monthly magazine, to the effect that religion has a place in politics. His example in one piece they published focused on a German priest who spoke up against the Nazi government, and paid for his temerity with his life.

Now although I'm all for speaking up against the Nazis, I see no connection between the case of this priest in Nazi Germany and a politician in twenty-first-century Australia. Two cases could not be more different. It's, frankly, pathetic. A grab for attention that is worthy of the other self-confessed god-botherer politician Tony Abbott (just typing his name makes me angry), who is the federal Liberal health minister.

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