The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Why I am an atheist – The second bit

The story so far: Young impressionable boy attends wacky Opus Dei school until he and his parents start to think Opus Dei might be a bunch of weirdos so they decide to try the Jesuits instead.

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After renouncing the flagellating wackiness of the Opus Dei guilt machine, my parents and I packed up our rosary beads and set out for the wild west of Catholic schooling – the Jesuits. Mr Mullins, the Opus Dei assistant principle, made it clear that he thought this was a terrible decision, telling my mother that my soul was in great danger, and that he would pray for me. Mum told Mr Mullins to go fück himself. Not out loud, of course, because she’s a lovely young lady and would never speak to anyone like that, unless they reeeally deserved it. Which he did. But she still didn’t say it because, as I said, she’s a lovely young lady. And so off to the Jesuits I went.

The most remarkable thing about the Jesuits was that they weren’t really that remarkable. Sure, they were all monumentally overweight (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and they all had terrible haircuts (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and one of them was eventually sent to prison for being a kiddy-fiddler (not that the Church thinks there’s anything wrong with that), but I was generally just amazed at how normal everything seemed.

For starters, there was no talk about it being a sin to kiss girls, which allowed me to carry on not kissing girls, but with the added bonus of not being able to claim it was for religious reasons. Popularity seemed to be determined by more normal things, too, like sporting ability or what suburb you lived in or sometimes even personality, rather than naff reasons like knowing the Catechism off by heart or going to confession. Speaking of confession, my new school showed an exceptional lack of enthusiasm for guilting us all into going to confession. Or to Mass, for that matter. They didn’t even guilt us into going to confession before Mass to confess that we hadn’t been to the previous Mass. In fact, the only confession I really remember is Brother Healy confessing that humans actually evolved from apes, and not two functional idiots wearing fig leaves in the Middle East.

This was, I admit, a little bit strange at first. But it didn’t take long to get on board with the Jesuit’s refreshingly non-judgey vibe. Free from the Sauron-like gaze of the Opus Dei Fasholics (a brilliant portmanteau of “Fascist” and “Catholic” that I just invented), I decided to stop going to Mass every Sunday. I also stopped going to confession to confess that I wasn’t going to Mass every Sunday. And by the time an authority figure with poor judgement asked me to give the farewell speech at the end of Year 12 dinner, I didn’t mention God or Jesus at all. Not deliberately, mind you, but because I was too busy being outrageously funny and it just didn’t occur to me.

Continuing my trend of attending increasingly secular educational institutions, I then trotted off to university where, for the first time ever, I wouldn’t have to take an exam about God or Jesus. I probably should have, given my first year results, but I digress. The main thing to note was that, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t subjected to daily reminders that there is a God and a Jesus and they need to be worshipped. The void was filled by other things like beer and maths and statistics and beer, and conversations with my new classmates became less “How good is Jesus” and more “OMG like what’s the eigenvalue of that case of beer”. Before I knew it, I had become the sort of Catholic that Opus Dei had warned my mother about, and I started only going to Mass at Christmas and Easter. On the one hand, this kind of meant I was definitely going to hell, but on the other hand, Mr Mullins had said he would pray for me, and mum hadn’t told him to go fück himself so he was definitely still praying for me, so I was sure it would be fine. And it was fine, until two things happened that made me stop going to Mass for good.

The first was that, like every other cool idea I’ve had (e.g. jet engines and socialism), this one had been invented already, and pretty much every normal Catholic already only went to Mass at Christmas and Easter. This meant the church was packed on those days, and a packed church seemed to make this particular priest very, very grumpy. To wit, instead of dedicating his sermon to the birth or resurrection of Baby Jebus as the occasion required, he dedicated it to telling us all we were annoying, ungrateful little shïts for only coming at Christmas and Easter. Somehow it failed to occur to him that he was basically wishing for the church to be that packed every week, which was odd, since we knew from what he had just told us that a packed church made him very, very grumpy. In any event, it didn’t take long to realise that the best way to avoid a lecture on diligence from someone who drew his salary from a collection plate was to just not go to Mass. Ever.

The second thing that happened was that I went back to Mass.

Yes, I had already decided that I would just stop going, but a friend of mine asked me to go one day, coincidentally to the same church as the above, and I thought that since it wasn’t Christmas or Easter, maybe the grumpy priest would talk about something interesting rather than being grumpy. And he didn’t disappoint, spending a good 25 minutes reinforcing traditional gender roles in heteronormative family units. Men do the jobs, you see, and women do the kids, and that’s how God wants it. I should add that this was about 20 years ago, and I had never even heard the words “traditional gender roles” or “heteronormative family units”. But even then, listening to a religious justification for entrenched sexism from an unemployed celibate man in a bright green muumuu struck me as odd, and it turned out to be the final straw. When it came to Mass, I was done.

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Questions are an interesting thing. You grow up believing something without question, and then one day, a lone, innocent little question presents itself. In my case, I was told that if I accepted communion in my hands, there was a chance Jesus would end up in the washing machine, and that would be bad. And the question I had was, if Jesus was God and God was all-powerful, why would he allow himself to be put through the washing machine? And even if he did allow it, why on earth would he care? Surely an omnipotent being that conquered death could conquer a Fisher & Paykel 8kg WashSmart front loading wachine machine with SmartDrive™ technology for a quiet and reliable wash. And that’s the thing about questions. If the answers prove unsatisfactory, they invariably lead to more questions.

My next question was around how Jesus came to be inside the communion wafer in the first place. For those who are unaware, it happens through the power of transubstantiation – a very silly word for the very silly belief that a grumpy celibate man in a bright green muumuu is imbued with the power to turn a small flavourless cracker into the actual flesh of Jesus Christ. For an extra ten points, he is also able to turn a shït Hunter Valley shiraz into Jesus’ actual blood. And no, I am not joking. This is what practising Catholics actually believe. And while it does shed some light on why you might be careful not to put some of the wafer through the washing machine, it doesn’t really explain why it’s apparently OK to chew Jesus up and subject him to our digestive process. I mean, if Jesus knows how to exit the wafer before he encounters the wonders of the lower intestine, surely he can figure out how to avoid the much more hygienic process of a spin and rinse.

While such questions led to the gradual waning of my Catholic belief system, there remained some things that, to me, were still obvious and irrefutable. In other words, I came to realise that while the Catholic version of God may not exist, surely there is some being that created everything and transcends us all. That seemed like a reasonable position to take.

That was until I read a little known book called The God Delusion. And that’s when things got even more interesting. But you’ll have to wait for Part 3, so there.

– Tim

Keeping them honest hasn’t worked. Let’s kick the bastards out.

Once upon a time, there was an Australian political party called the Australian Democrats. They were formed in 1977 via the merger of two existing parties – one with the geographically-accurate name of the Australia Party, and the other the somewhat optimistically named New Liberal Party. Following the merger, they stepped forward with the noble purpose of disrupting the exhaustingly monotonous Liberal-Labor political dichotomy. Or in the words of their founder, Don Chipp, they wanted to “keep the bastards honest”.

The bastards, of course, were whichever major party happened to be in government, and keeping them honest basically meant having enough people in the Senate to stop the damn bastards from doing whatever they liked. And keep them honest they did, at least for a while. At one stage they held nine of the 76 Senate seats, so if the bastards wanted to do bastard stuff, like, say, implement the GST, they were forced to play nice. It all turned a bit cräp for them at the 2004 election, however, and the last Democrat Senator left office in 2008. They were then de-registered in 2016 for not having the required 500 members. Which is all a bit sad.

Or is it?

Maybe the Democrats aren’t needed any more. Maybe politicians have reformed. Maybe they’ve returned to the once precious ideals which underpin our noble democratic institutions. Maybe they stride purposefully into the halls of parliament, fully cognisant of the magnitude of their office, and intent on fulfilling the wishes of their constituents.

Maybe.

Let’s have a look.
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1 – It’s OK to be white

I’m going to mention this first, because it’s the one thing that I absolutely cannot wrap my head around.

The facts are these:

  1. Pauline Hanson proposed a motion in the Senate stating, among other rocks of wisdom, that it’s OK to be white.
  2. “It’s OK to be white” is a well-known white-supremacist slogan.
  3. When the motion was put to a vote, 23 members of the Coalition voted in favour, including a number of ministers. As a result, the motion was only narrowly defeated 31-28.
  4. In response to the inevitable backlash against this infantile ridiculousness, the government’s Senate leader blamed support for the motion on an “administrative error”. It’s not clear how administrative errors cause people to raise their hands, but, to his credit, the Prime Minister called it “regrettable”.
  5. Despite this, several prominent Senators later tweeted their support for the motion, including the ironically named Christian Porter, who said that the vote obviously proved that “the Government deplores racism of any kind”. At this stage, it is unknown whether it was an administrative error or Jesus that led a Christian to tweet in favour of a racist Senate motion, but we’ll keep you posted.

Honestly, if there is one event that sums up the complete lack of respect the government has for our intelligence, their position as our elected representatives, Australia’s parliamentary processes, or the vaulted ideals of democracy itself, it’s this.

2 – The leadership merry-go-round

Nelson vs Turnbull. Nelson vs Turnbull (again). Turnbull vs no one. Turnbull vs Abbott. Abbott vs no one. Abbott vs Rudd. Gillard vs Rudd. Rudd vs Gillard. Gillard vs no one. Rudd vs Gillard. Abbott vs Gillard. Abbott vs no one. Turnbull vs Abbott. Dutton vs Turnbull. Bishop vs Dutton vs Morrison vs Turnbull.

Thirteen leadership challenges in twelve years, leading to six different Prime Ministers, and the most boring Game of Thrones season in the history of the Seven Kingdoms. The most recent circus, initiated by the Liberals in 2018, saw two challenges in four days, and even has its own Wikipedia entry.

Whatever your political leanings, it’s pretty clear that our elected officials aren’t really that interested in serving the country, but love wasting everyone’s time playing leadership musical chairs.

3 – Expensive human rights polls

Speaking of wasting everyone’s time, how about that Marriage Equality plebiscite? Originally forecast to cost $122m, the eventual cost of $81m was still $81m more than the cost of the countless readily-available polls that showed that a large majority of Australians were in favour of this minor legislative change that adversely affected no one.

One year later, it’s pretty clear that life has moved on, no one really cares, and we wasted $81m to find out something we knew already.

4 – Adani #1

Speaking of things we knew already, it should come as no surprise that even if the proposed Adani mine was the very last place in Australia to dig up coal, and even if climate change is a huge world-wide hoax, it’s still utter madness to give billions of dollars to a foreign company to open up a coal mine right next to the Great Barrier Reef.

But it’s not the last place in Australia to dig up coal. And Climate Change isn’t some world-wide hoax. So going through with it isn’t just utter madness, it’s outright lunacy.

5 – Adani #2

Speaking of outright lunacy, you may have heard that the Federal Environment Minister, Melissa Price, recently signed off on Adani’s groundwater management plans, after the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia found that the plans complied with all environmental and scientific standards. Following this clearance, the only obstacle remaining is the approval of the Queensland Government. Hooray!

The only problem is that the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia said no such thing, advising instead that the modelling “does not ensure the outcomes sought by the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Protection Act are met”. They further said that Adani’s approach is “not sufficiently robust to monitor and minimise impacts to protected environments”.

According to the ABC, which received a copy of the actual advice tendered by the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia, “Adani had underestimated the toll on bore water that farmers in the region rely on, which would be drained more severely and more quickly than predicted. And the mine could drain an ecologically sensitive and ancient natural springs complex, exceeding strict limits on draw-down of the springs’ waters.”

So basically, it would appear that the Minister’s advice was the exact opposite of what the government-appointed scientists had said, and the whole thing stinks. What on earth could be going on? Incompetence? Stupidity? An inability to read?

Whatever it is, it seems clear that scientific advice is no great barrier to destroying reefs, and everyone has their Melissa Price.

6 – The Great Barrier Reef Foundation

Speaking of the Great Barrier Reef, who could forget that time the Government gave nearly $450m in one year to a tiny foundation that only asked for $5m over five years?

Now, I know I’m only a partially qualified actuary, but according to my hastily concocted but beautifully formatted spreadsheet, that’s 450 times what the Great Barrier Reef Foundation actually asked for. If that happened to me I’d now have 902 arms, 540,000 bottles of whisky, 225m of hair in a man-bun, and 450 tropical islands.

Add to that the fact that the foundation had only six employees, was assisted by the government when preparing their submission, and approval was granted in three days with no proper tender process, and the whole thing not so much stinks but results in the complete destruction of all olfactory senses.

7 – Opaque government tenders? That’s a Paladin

Speaking of big fat stinks, there is the curious case of Paladin, a company with no previous security experience, registered to a shack on Kangaroo Island, that was awarded $423m in a closed tender to run security at the Manus Island detention centre, despite one of the company’s directors being banned from entering Papua New Guinea (where Manus Island is located), and another charged in Papua New Guinea with money laundering and fraud. Or in the words of Labor Senator Murray Watt, “I think the very biggest question to be answered is — how on earth did this tiny unknown company with no track record ever get $423 million in contracts from the Australian taxpayer?”

Good question, Murray.

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Speaking of good questions, I have another one. Are you still wondering if politicians are bastards?

If your answer is “yes”, you need to give yourself an uppercut, and then look up the definition of “bastard”. Because if the above seven stories show anything, it’s that our elected officials are not just bastards, they are well and truly taking the pïss.

This goes beyond Labor and Liberal, progressive and conservative, left and right. This is about whoever is governing the country having a massive laugh at our expense, and not even trying to hide it. And with no well-meaning, relatively sensible third-party alternative to check their worse impulses, there’s really only one option.

We need to kick the damn bastards out. It’s the only way they’ll learn.